Marxism

EUROPEAN CINEMA BEFORE AND AFTER WORLD WAR II

Other manifestations of a Marxist cinema in Europe include the work of the Spanish director Luis Buñuel (1900–1983). His early films Un Chien Andalou ( An Andalusian Dog , 1929) and L'Âge d'or ( The Golden Age , 1930), made in collaboration with the surrealist painter Salvador Dali (1904–1989), combined a Marxist slap at the bourgeoisie with surrealism's contempt for all social norms. Deeply affected by European fascism, Buñuel, throughout his long career, continued to lambaste bourgeois society with extraordinarily witty satires, the most notable of which include Belle de Jour (1967), Le charme discret de la bourgeoisie ( The Discreet Charm of the Bourgeoisie , 1972), Le Fantôme de la liberté ( The Phantom of Liberty , 1974), and Cet obscur objet du désir ( That Obscure Object of Desire , 1977).

Surrealism, like many art movements of the post–World War I avant-garde, had a strong if conflicted Marxist orientation. Buñuel and his old schoolmate Dali had a falling out during their collaboration on L'Age d'or : Buñuel, who at the time had strong communist sympathies, meant the film as a deliberate undermining of all bourgeois institutions. Dali, who eventually supported the Spanish fascist dictator Francisco Franco (whose rule ran from 1936 to 1973) and various figures of the European aristocracy, wanted merely to cause a scandal through the use of various scatological and anti-Catholic images. André Breton (1896–1966), the author of the 1946 work Manifestoes of Surrealism and the movement's leading theoretician, visited Trotsky in Mexico during the Bolshevik leader's exile in the late 1930s from the Stalin-controlled Soviet Union. During that visit Breton had a brief association with Frida Kahlo, Diego Rivera, and other Mexican avant-garde painters. Breton's concern was to place surrealism as a movement in service of revolutionary action by creating works that would transform bourgeois consciousness. Yet many aspects of Breton were conservative and exclusionary, especially on the subjects of gender and the rendering of sexuality. Breton did not hesitate to "expel" surrealists whose works he deemed effete or gratuitously sexual.

Jean Renoir (1894–1979), perhaps the greatest figure of the French cinema, was a member of the French Communist Party, then a supporter of the Popular Front coalition of various leftist factions. He examined prewar French society from a sophisticated left perspective. His most acclaimed film, La Règle du Jeu ( The Rules of the Game , 1939), offers a class critique in depicting the deceptions and self-deceptions of a marquis, his wife, and their circle of friends, servants, and hangers-on. The film, influenced by Pierre-Augustin Beaumarchais's The Marriage of Figaro (1784), presents a decaying bourgeois civilization in microcosm, showing how the facade and cavalier appetites of this society reflect the dominant assumptions that bring about both the horrors of war and the taken-for-granted forms of repression and denial that are the substance of capitalist life. In the 1930s Renoir directed films regarded by many to be his most self-consciously political, including Boudu sauvé des eaux ( Boudu Saved from Drowning , 1932), about a derelict who disrupts a bourgeois household, and Le Crime de Monsieur Lange ( The Crime of Monsieur Lange , 1936), in which a collectively owned comic book company becomes an allegory of communist society and its internal and external opposition.

The German filmmaker Max Ophuls (1902–1957), who worked in Germany, France, Italy, and the United States, is one of the first directors to introduce the ideas of the Marxist playwright and aesthetician Bertolt Brecht to the cinema. Ophuls, like Renoir, took as his subject the examination of bourgeois mores, especially assumptions pertaining to gender relations (which he saw as foundational to economic and all other relations). He used a high degree of camera artifice both to engage the audience and focus it, in the manner of Brecht's theories, on ideas rather than the melodramatic content of his films, from Liebelei ( Flirtation , 1933) and La Signora di Tutti ( Everybody's Woman , 1934) to La Ronde (Roundabout, 1950), Madame de … ( The Earrings of Madame de … , 1953) and Lola Montès (1955), and even his American films. The Reckless Moment (1949) is a deceptively simple but comprehensive analysis of American postwar bourgeois society, especially its impact on the female. Letter from an Unknown Woman (1948) is one of the cinema's most perceptive meditations on gender relations under patriarchal capitalism, exemplifying the fusion of psychoanalysis and feminism with Marxism in artistic discourse.

Bertolt Brecht, the distinguished Marxist playwright and theorist, was influential on a host of left-oriented filmmakers beyond Ophuls. Brecht's notion of "distanciation," the idea that the illusionist tricks of the filmmaker or theater director should be revealed to the audience so that it might become fully engaged with the assumptions of the author, would influence a generation of artists on various continents. The cleverly anti-bourgeois Hollywood melodramas of Douglas Sirk (1897–1987), especially All that Heaven Allows (1954) and Written on the Wind (1956), show the Brechtian influence on the expatriated German director through his deliberately artificial-looking color and set design. The French New Wave filmmaker Jean-Luc Godard (b. 1930) is Brechtian through most of his films in the 1960s and early 1970s, which invite the spectator to interrogate the conventions and codes of representational cinema.

In the postwar period the Italian cinema became noticeable for its strongly progressive, leftist sentiment as Italy became so strong a center of European communism that it was targeted for disruption by the US government. The neorealist movement represented by directors Vittorio De Sica (1902–1974) and Roberto Rossellini (1906–1977) (both of whom were Christian and humanist in their orientation—their works were nevertheless embraced by much of the left) became the most influential style of the period, with its focus on the plight of the poor. De Sica's Ladri di biciclette ( The Bicycle Thieves , 1948) is representative. Luchino Visconti (1906–1976), whose career began within the neorealist style, made La Terra Trema ( The Earth Trembles , 1948), about the hardships of a Sicilian fisherman and his family, with funds from the Italian Communist Party. Visconti, an aristocrat with Marxist convictions, applied his analysis of class to two early1960s masterpieces, Rocco e i suoi fratelli ( Rocco and His Brothers , 1960) and Il Gattopardo ( The Leopard , 1963). His later films, La Caduta degli dei ( The Damned , 1969) and Morte a Venezia ( Death in Venice , 1971), focused on the decadence and irredeemable nature of the bourgeoisie. The Damned drew a connection between industrial capitalism and the rise of fascism. Visconti's work was strongly influenced by Lukács, the Marxist literary theorist, who argued against avant-garde modernism, which he saw as metaphysical and obscurantist in nature, and in favor of realism, for the portrayal of class conflict in art. Visconti's "Lukacsian epics" stick close to the conventions of the nineteenth-century novel, with attention to material reality through period detail to portray the aristocracy and bourgeoisie in various states of decline.

Bernardo Bertolucci (b. 1940) was, until the 1980s, another identifiably political Italian director, whose best-remembered films were very much influenced by the political activity of the 1960s in Europe and the United States. From his first feature, Before the Revolution (1964), his films display nostalgia for the old order simultaneous with its denunciation. The disintegration of macho masculinity in the face of a (potentially) revolutionary Europe was central to Ultimo tango a Parigi ( Last Tango in Paris , 1972), Bertolucci's most controversial film, rated "X" in the United States for its rather explicit sex acts and portrayal of sexual relations. Bertolucci's epic 1900 (1976), a portrayal of the rise of Italian communism and the struggle of the peasantry against the aristocracy, may be his defining political statement, after which he gradually abandoned many of his radical convictions.

Gillo Pontecorvo (b. 1919) is among the most prolific and committed of the Italian Marxist directors of the 1960s, his most stunning film being the Italian-Algerian co-production La Battaglia di Algeri ( The Battle of Algiers , 1966), a documentary-like recreation of the Algerian revolt against French colonial occupation. A subsequent film, Queimada ( Burn! , 1968), which gained brief notoriety in the United States because of Marlon Brando's starring role, is a meditation on imperialism in its colonial and neocolonial phases.

France's most radical filmmaker of the 1960s and 1970s is without question Jean-Luc Godard, the central figure of the French New Wave, who combined Brechtian aesthetics with a love of American genre cinema to challenge traditional representational practices and their ideological underpinnings. A writer for the influential French film journal Cahiers du Cinéma , Godard was among the critics who championed a reevaluation of the American cinema. Le Mépris ( Contempt , 1963) is Godard's Brechtian reflection on the film industry, for which he had both nostalgic sentiment and considerable revulsion. Les Carabiniers ( The Carabineers , 1963) is Godard's radical condemnation of warfare and imperialism. His most political, antirealist gesture appeared in Weekend (1967), an apocalyptic agit-prop collage of events suggesting the decline of capitalist society into barbarism. After the events of May 1968, Godard, by then a committed Maoist, along with Jean-Pierre Gorin (b. 1943), formed the Dziga Vertov Group, a loose filmmaker cooperative that rejected all forms of conventional representation and hierarchal film practices. Le Vent d'est ( Wind from the East , 1970) was the group's anti-Western, a Maoist parable tied to the genre in part through the presence of Gian Maria Volonte (1933–1994), a leading figure of the Italian Communist Party who made an international reputation as the star of Italian Westerns. Tout va bien ( All's Well , 1972) is Godard and Gorin's exploration, done in non-narrative, declamatory style, of events in post-1968 France through a satiric portrayal of a strike in a sausage factory. Although termed Maoist, Tout va bien , like other Godard–Gorin films, owed more to Brecht and the early Soviet avant-garde than the socialist-realist works of Maoist China. The film's companion piece, Letter to Jane (1972), is composed of one still of the radicalized actress Jane Fonda (featured in Tout va bien ), her star image and radical posture deconstructed in a voice-over analysis. Since the 1970s, Godard's radical politics have greatly receded, his recent films, such as Notre Musique ( Our Music , 2004), concerned with issues of representation and human conflict, but from a humanist rather than Marxist perspective.

A key filmmaker of the 1960s Marxist tradition is Jean-Marie Straub (b. 1933), who worked for much of his career in Germany. With his wife and colleague Danièle Huillet (b. 1936), Straub created a Marxist aesthetic far closer to minimalism and structural-materialist film than the montage aesthetic of Eisenstein and the Soviet avant-garde. In fact, Straub sought to do away with montage altogether along with most forms of representationalism as he made films composed almost exclusively of prolonged static shots so as to engage the spectator with the material phenomenon of the image, as well as with their own experience of watching the screen. Among the more famous Straub–Huillet films are Chronik der Anna Magdalena Bach ( The Chronicle of Anna Magdalena Bach , 1968) and Moses und Aron ( Moses and Aaron , 1975). Straub's films were and are infuriating even to committed radicals because of their extremely slow, nonnarrative style and apparently apolitical content—Godard was upset with The Chronicle of Anna Magdalena Bach for its refusal to engage with the events of the late 1960s, although Straub responded that the film was his contribution to the people of Vietnam in support of their struggle against the United States invasion.

PIER PAOLO PASOLINI
b. Bologna, Italy, 5 March 1922, d. 2 November 1975

Pier Paolo Pasolini is among the most challenging and important directors of the postwar European Marxist cinema. A prolific poet and essayist, Pasolini was sometimes confusing in his ideological convictions. His open homosexuality and support of the Vatican's views on abortion caused his expulsion from the Italian Communist Party. His belief in a progressive reading of Christianity motivated his reverential, multicultural film about the life of Jesus, Il Vangelo secondo Matteo ( The Gospel According to Saint Matthew , 1964). Yet his Marxism was caustic, complex but uncompromised.

Accattone ( The Scrounger , 1961) is Pasolini's tribute to neorealism, with its grim story of a young homeless man begging for money in an urban slum. Edipo Re ( Oedipus Rex , 1967) updates Sophocles's play with a framing device featuring a young soldier's jealous rivalry with an infant boy, making concrete Freud's ideas about the structures of power within the male group. Teorema ( Theorem , 1968) breaks entirely with neorealism in its story—often seen as a radical Shane (1953)—of an angelic young stranger who arrives in a bourgeois household, the mere presence of his androgynous countenance tearing the family to bits, suggesting Pasolini's view of the fragility of heterosexual capitalist life. Porcile ( Pigsty , 1969) is a neo-Brechtian film combining a story about a young barbarian in a medieval wasteland with an inter-cut narrative about the machinations of fascist industrialists determining the fate of a perverse son from their palatial neoclassical chateau.

Pasolini's "celebration of life" films, Il Decameron ( The Decameron , 1971), I Racconti di Canterbury ( The Canterbury Tales , 1972), and Il Fiore delle mille e una notte ( Arabian Nights , 1974), exemplified his belief, common to postwar Marxism, in fusing sexual liberation to class struggle, as well as his insistence on narrative experimentation. His final film, Salò o le 120 giornate di Sodoma ( Salo, or The 120 Days of Sodom , 1975), is one of the most controversial works in cinema history. The film recreates the four protagonists of the Marquis de Sade's novel as representatives of the church and state under fascism. They stage an orgy at Mussolini's final outpost in northern Italy, during which they subject a group of captured young people to all manner of sexual degradation, torture, and murder. The film has no specific basis in historical events but is Pasolini's meditation on the psychology of the fascist mind. Through this exploration of sexual libertinage, Pasolini questions the relative sexual freedom of the present world and whether any authentic liberation can exist in a society based on consumerism and exploitation.

Pasolini was brutally murdered on a highway in 1975, ostensibly by a gay hustler, although the case remains open as of this writing. His work remains a milestone for radical cinema. With Godard, he set a standard for innovative, critical uses of Marxism in art.

RECOMMENDED VIEWING

Accattone ( The Scrounger , 1961), Il Vangelo secondo Matteo ( The Gospel According to Saint Matthew , 1964), Uccellacci e uccellini ( The Hawks and the Sparrows , 1966), Edipo Re ( Oedipus Rex , 1967), Teorema ( Theorem ), 1968, Porcile ( Pigpen , 1969), Salò o le 120 giornate di Sodoma ( Salo, or The 120 Days of Sodom , 1975)

FURTHER READING

Greene, Naomi. Pier Paolo Pasolini: Cinema as Heresy . Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1990.

Indiana, Gary. Salò, or The 120 Days of Sodom . London: British Film Institute, 2000.

Schwartz, Barth David. Pasolini Requiem . New York: Vintage, 1995.

Stack, Oswald. Pasolini on Pasolini: Interviews with Oswald Stack . Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1969.

Willemen, Paul, ed. Pier Paolo Pasolini . London: British Film Institute, 1977.

Christopher Sharrett

Pier Paolo Pasolini.

Constantin Costa-Gavras (b. 1933) might be seen as a crossover figure in the international leftist cinema, working in the United States and France as well as his native Greece. Costa-Gavras made an impression with his 1968 film Z , about a coup in Greece that brought a military dictatorship in the 1960s. Z resonates with various events of the 1960s, including the assassination of John F. Kennedy. His 1982 film Missing was a fictionalized account of the 1972 United States–sponsored coup against Chilean president Salvador Allende and its consequences on a meek American businessman and his family. Since the 1980s Costa-Gavras's political commitments and artistic achievements have been inconsistent.

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