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september 2018, arsenal cinema

Hollywood Blacklist

What do you think of communism? All US artists and intellectuals were expected to have an opinion on this issue in the 1930s. In the second half of the following decade, this was no longer necessary. All possible sympathies for socialist ideas were branded “un-American”. The Cold War had begun. Reactionary forces, which had long been bothered by what they considered decadence and leftist tendencies in Hollywood, used the chance to portray the film industry as being infiltrated by communists. In October 1947, the House Un-American Activities Committee (HUAC) started conducting hearings in Washington. Of dozens subpoenaed to answer questions, 11 – Alvah Bessie, Herbert J. Biberman, Lester Cole, Edward Dmytryk, Ring Lardner Jr., John Howard Lawson, Albert Maltz, Samuel Ornitz, Adrian Scott, Dalton Trumbo and Bertolt Brecht – were branded “unfriendly witnesses”. With the exception of Brecht, who left for Europe shortly afterwards, they all refused to answer the question: “Are you or have you ever been a member of the Communist Party?” A month later, the “Hollywood Ten” were sentenced to imprisonment. The studios succumbed to the pressure of the anti-communist witch-hunters and the Hollywood blacklist was born. There were further HUAC hearings after 1951 and conservative publications also started publishing lists of “suspects”. In the following years, hundreds in the film industry lost their livelihoods. Many were not able to find work in the entertainment industry until the 1960s, if at all.

This retrospective curated by Hannes Brühwiler pays tribute to those affected by the blacklist and features a selection of their films. All 24, including several which have rarely been screened, explore the filmmakers’ key concerns: fascism (THE MAN I MARRIED), exploitation (GIVE US THIS DAY / SALT AND THE DEVIL), racism (CRY, THE BELOVED COUNTRY), feminism (I CAN GET IT FOR YOU WHOLESALE), the greed of capitalism (FORCE OF EVIL) and more than once the despair of the worker-class (THE SOUND OF FURY). In sum, a left-wing vision of the US, which is rarely utopian but always exact and analytical, emerges. It is a cinema of “clairvoyant pessimism” (Noël Burch) that is as pertinent today as it was then.

Most of the films were made before the blacklist was compiled. They shed light on the liberties the filmmakers were able to take within Hollywood’s narrow confines and reveal the conflicts that arose. They also underline the fact that there was a significant creative bloodletting (contrary to popular belief). This retrospective explicitly opposes Billy Wilder’s malicious comment: "Of the ten, two had talent, and the rest were just unfriendly.” JOHNNY GUITAR and RED HOLLYWOOD are two films which comment on the blacklist in different ways.

35mm prints of all the features will be shown; many of them have been restored.

NB: The names of those affected by the blacklist are in bold.

september 2018, arsenal cinema

The Orchestration of Time:
 Deborah Stratman

The Chicago-based artist and filmmaker Deborah Stratman has been making analogue films and video works for almost three decades. She focuses almost entirely on US landscapes, infrastructures and systems of control, exploring the relationship between physical places and imaginary worlds. She is interested in local history and the concrete exercise of power, in natural resources, magic and space, literature and film history. She is particularly interested in how these all influence society. Deborah Stratman orchestrates layers of time and space. One of her most characteristic techniques is a collage of image and sound, and the way this latter is physically experienced is particularly interesting to her. She is aware that cinema has something of the totalitarian and she invites people to get involved with the processes that underlie it. She thinks on the screen, as is clearly visible and hearable. Deborah Stratman will attend all screenings.

september 2018, arsenal cinema

Magical History Tour
 – Forms of the Grotesque

As an artistic stylistic device, the grotesque crosses all boundaries. Its definitions are as varied and subjective as its shifts in meaning in (art) history are numerous and its forms in film are frequent and multifaceted. Grotesque motifs appear in worlds of images, send shivers, combine with fantasy or humor (or both), light up characters, whose behavior ranges from the bizarre and eccentric to the monstrous, provide the basis for whole storylines, deform and transform cinematographic reality or break new ground in dramatic feverish dreams, hysterical excesses or satirical and absurd confusions. Grotesque elements can be found in all genres, from the comedy to the thriller, to Heimat films or romantic movies. Taking in different eras, styles and regions as usual, our 10 Magical History Tour films illustrate the influence of the grotesque’s anarchic force – in ways that can be upsetting at times, or exhilarating, but always idiosyncratic and surprising.