The dark days of the Hollywood Blacklist takes focus at the Film Society of Lincoln Center beginning August 15. Screening in conjunction with the series is Thom Andersen and Noël Burch’s Red Hollywood, the groundbreaking documentary about the men and women whose careers were destroyed. The trailer for the film debuts today via the Film Society's YouTube channel.
Red Hollywood, which screened at the Film Society's Art of the Real series last spring, takes a look at the period by focusing on the ideology of the filmmakers involved and how the red scare of 1947-54 (also known as the Second Red Scare) influenced the content of movies. Based on Andersen’s 1985 essay, Red Hollywood features interviews with several of the people, including Paul Jarrico, Ring Lardner, Jr., Alfred Levitt, and Abraham Polonsky who were blacklisted by the House Un-American Activities Committee.
While much focus centered at the time on the House Committee on Un-American Activities, industry insiders were complicit in purging those who were considered left-wing sympathizers.
“We will forthwith discharge or suspend without compensation those in our employ and we will not re-employ any of the ten until such time as he is acquitted or purged himself of contempt and declares under oath that he is not a communist,” said Eric Johnson, president of the Motion Picture Association of America (MPAA). Johnson was referring to the initial list of 10 writers and directors who were cited for contempt of Congress for refusing to testify to HUAC. The ten were subsequently fired by a group of studio executives through the MPAA.
Thom Andersen & Noël Burch, USA, 1996, digital projection, 120m
Working from extensive original research, this revelatory documentary—an elaboration of Andersen’s 1985 essay of the same name—offers a unique perspective on Hollywood filmmaking from the 1930s to the 1950s, when “Red” screenwriters and directors worked within the studio system to make films that challenged issues of class, war, race, and gender. Andersen and Burch use clips from 53 different films spanning numerous genres in order to demonstrate how this network of filmmakers’ ideology affected the meaning and reception of their work, as well as interviews with many of the artists (such as Paul Jarrico, Ring Lardner, Jr., Alfred Levitt, and Abraham Polonsky) who were blacklisted by the House Un-American Activities Committee.
Screening in conjunction with Red Hollywood are a selection of features from the era including two from Joseph Losey (The Prowler and Big Night), as well as a pair from Cy Endfield (Hell Drivers and Zulu). Losey’s The Prowler (1951), written by the blacklisted Dalton Trumbo, features Van Heflin and Evelyn Keyes in a film noir driven by Heflin’s ex-jock cop character’s class resentment, and Losey’s final American film, The Big Night (1951), co-written by fellow blacklistees Ring Lardner, Jr. and Hugo Butler, tells the story of a teenager trying to become a man in one night. More details and films in the selection can be found here.