Propaganda



POSTWAR PROPAGANDA

A classic example of the juxtaposition of neutral visuals with ideological commentary is the little-known documentary Operation Abolition (1960), which uses relatively unbiased television newsreel footage of the House Un-American Activities Committee (HUAC) hearings in San Francisco during 1960 combined with a right-wing narration to excoriate witnesses who refused to testify and the protesters who supported them. As one witness denounces the committee's witch-hunting activities and is summarily escorted out of the chamber, the voice-over refers to the man's cowardice for using the Fifth Amendment; similarly, when protesters are propelled down the steep steps of the city hall by fire hoses, the narrator praises the local gendarmes for performing their legal and civic duties. In 1961 the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) produced a two-part remake of Operation Abolition titled Operation Correction , which used much of the same newsreel footage but with a different voice-over. In the ACLU version, the narrator commends the witness who refuses to testify for standing up to the belligerent committee and exercising his constitutional rights; likewise, when the police hurl demonstrators down the steps of city hall, the ACLU voice-over refers to the lawmen as "goons" who are breaking up a peaceful, lawful meeting. In this case, contradictory messages were disseminated by two separate groups to two different political constituencies by using the same visual images; no reediting was even necessary.

The most well-known propaganda film about the HUAC era is Point of Order (1964) by Émile de Antonio (1920–1989), which used kinescopes of the Army-McCarthy hearings of 1954 to show the gradual self-destruction of Senator Joseph McCarthy (1908–1957) and his red-baiting cause. Although the film begins with an intrusive voice-over—"Everything you are about to see actually happened"—there is no overt authorial voice, music, or cinematic commentary thereafter. However, despite the appearance of neutrality, Point of Order represents a distillation of thirty-six days of testimony into an hour-and-a-half movie. The rhetoric lies in the film's editing, which left a month of footage on the cutting room floor and used footage that both plays up the most dramatic moments of intensity (in particular, Joseph Welch's famous challenge to McCarthy: "Have you no sense of decency, sir? At long last, have you left no sense of decency?") and demeans HUAC. While the film uses objective newsreels, they are edited like a legal brief to make an argument: McCarthy was a dangerous fraud and hypocrite, and the HUAC investigations damaged the republic.

As with much propaganda, on first viewing, Alain Resnais's (b. 1922) Nuit et Bruillard ( Night and Fog , 1955) may seem to be a highly emotional yet factual film, in this case about the Holocaust. After all, its heart is obviously in the right place. Nonetheless, based on a strict definition of propaganda, Nuit et Bruillard is a propaganda film, for it is only because of the juxtaposition of

Triumph des willens ( Triumph of the Will , 1934), Leni Riefenstahl's celebratory documentary on Adolf Hitler's Nazi Germany.
horrific and peaceful images, poetic narration, and mournful music that viewers develop an empathetic stance. In particular, Resnais edits stark black and white newsreel footage from the 1940s of the Nazi concentration camps, especially of hundreds of emaciated corpses being bulldozed into a mass grave, in conjunction with rich color footage of the camps a decade later—peaceful and serene in their quietude. The director also uses black and white footage of the 1945 Nuremberg trials in which one German leader after another denies responsibility for the genocide and cuts to color footage of the calm green meadows of 1955; on the soundtrack the narrator asks, "Then who is responsible?" while heartbreaking music crescendos. Although the film generally remains distanced from its horrific contents, the finale brings home the propaganda point: that humanity needs to be humanized.

Perhaps not surprisingly, the Cubans have been well aware of the power of film propaganda. The Instituto Cubano del Arte e Industria Cinematograficos (ICAIC) took over film production three months after the over-throw of dictator Fulgenico Batista in 1959. Although technically not a state agency, ICAIC emphasized documentary and fictional filmmaking that valorized the ideology and accomplishments of Fidel Castro's regime. Santiago Á lvarez (1919–1998) used Soviet montage style in his documentaries Hanoi, Martes 13 (1967), LBJ (1968), and 79 primaveras ( 79 Springs 1969). The latter film, for example, a tribute to the life of Ho Chi Minh, opens with an intellectual montage that juxtaposes time-lapse photography of flowers opening with slow-motion footage of US bomb strikes against Vietnam. Later, scenes of American military atrocities are conjoined with newsreel footage of US peace demonstrations, suggesting that the American people are not to blame for the Vietnam War, but its political leaders. In the final scene, Á lvarez uses juxtaposed torn/burned pieces of celluloid, bits of paper, and quickly cut individual frames of film to create an animated montage of attractions further enhanced by music and poems written by Ho Chi Minh and Jose Marti.

Another Cuban, Tomás Guitiérrez Alea (1928–1996), started out by making pro-revolutionary shorts, such as Esta tierra nuestra ( This Is Our Land , 1959), for the rebel army's film unit. Later, in fictional feature films such as La Muerte de un burócrata ( Death of a Bureaucrat , 1966) and Memorias del subdesarrollo ( Memories of Underdevelopment , 1968), Alea critiqued the intellectuals of the Batista bourgeoisie. Still later, Alea made Fresa y chocolate ( Strawberry and Chocolate , 1994) whose sympathetic portrayal of Cuba's homosexual community earned it international recognition—yet limited distribution in his homeland. In Lucía (1968), Humberto Solás traced the history of Cuban women through his story of three women named Lucía, living in three different eras. A different cinematic style was used in each episode, although overall the Cuban cinema hews closely to Castro's famous dictum about the arts: "Inside the revolution, all is permitted; outside the revolution, nothing is allowed."

Gillo Pontecorvo (b. 1919) is best known for La Battaglia di Algeri ( The Battle of Algiers , 1965), a classic example of a fictional film with overt propaganda value. Although an opening credit states that none of the images in the film are real, the movie's cinematic techniques (grainy film stock, hand-held camera, frequent zooms, newsreel style, no expressive lighting, no makeup) suggest the film is presenting the reality of the Algerian revolution. The Algerian government funded the film, but it was later used by many insurgent groups, such as like the Black Panther Party in the United States, to teach urban guerrilla tactics; conversely, the film has been studied often at FBI and CIA headquarters to plan counterterrorist operations.

Although primarily meant as a paean to the Front dération Nationale (FLN; National Liberation Front), one scene in The Battle of Algiers illustrates how even propaganda can be fraught with ambiguity. Following French atrocities against Algerians in the Casbah, the FLN leaders set up a series of bomb attacks against French civilians. Three women are outfitted with make-shift bombs and disguised (with Continental clothing and cosmetics) so they can pass through heavily guarded checkpoints into the French Quarter. Once there, the women plant their bombs in a milk bar, a discothèque, and an airport terminal. Although most viewers probably side with the Algerians against the harsh colonial rule of Libe the French, this partisanship is tested when Pontecorvo shows the innocent victims of the explosions: a youngster licking an ice cream cone in the milk bar; teenagers dancing in the club; and an elderly woman sitting in the airport. Indeed, the film segues immediately after the assaults from the upbeat disco music to Bach's Requiem , the film showing the human cost on both sides of the struggle. Such moments suggest that propaganda need not be completely one-sided and insensitive to be effective.

In the United States, several filmmakers produced films, both documentary and fictional, in opposition to the Vietnam War. The pro-war exception was The Green Berets (1968), an epic codirected by and starring John Wayne (1907–1979) that extolled the efforts of the US military against the Communists. Among the notable antiwar documentaries were Émile de Antonio's In the Year of the Pig (1968), Barbara Kopple's (b. 1946) Winter Soldier (1972), and Peter Davis's (b. 1937) Academy Award ® –winning Hearts and Minds (1974), which used unstaged interviews with participants (soldiers, civilians, politicians) and newsreel footage of combat and speeches to critique US policy. All three films eschewed "voice-of-God" narration, relying instead on editing and other cinematic techniques to skewer the pro-war Establishment.

In In the Year of the Pig , de Antonio presents an interview with General George S. Patton in which the officer, in a caricature of himself, comments on his unit: "They're a great bunch of killers !" His gleeful tone and facial expression convey his underlying sadism and, by implication, the brutal mindset of the Pentagon and White House. Likewise, Winter Soldier , shot in grainy black and white, is composed of extended interviews with twenty Vietnam veterans who describe the atrocities they witnessed or in which they participated: rape, torture, disembowelment, mutilation, tossing prisoners from helicopters, and stoning a child to death. An occasional color photo of a civilian victim of US mistreatment is presented as evidence of the disturbing eyewitness testimony. The film was shot shortly after the My Lai massacre, making it particularly topical. Neither In the Year of the Pig nor Winter Soldier received wide release, hence their impact is difficult to assess. This pattern is often seen with controversial, one-sided movies: their commercial viability is uncertain and their audience is composed mainly of adherents to their cause.

This was not the case, however, with Hearts and Minds , whose Oscar ® victory exposed it to a wider audience. Davis relies on selective editing of stock footage and candid interviews to support his antiwar stance. For example, an interview with General William Westmoreland (1914–2005), commander of the US forces in Vietnam, is juxtaposed with a military funeral in South Vietnam. Westmoreland wears a comfortable seersucker suit and is positioned in front of a peaceful glade as he says, "The Oriental doesn't put the same high price on life as does the Westerner." This statement is in sharp contrast to the images with which it is juxtaposed: the burial of a slain soldier, whose sister cries disconsolately over the man's photo and whose mother attempts to jump into his open grave. The general's comment on the Asian mindset may be insensitive, but Davis's montage—placing these words right after this heartbreaking scene and just before shots of napalmed Vietnamese children—their burned flesh dangling from their bones, heightens the smugness of the "ugly American."

Antiwar sentiment was usually disguised in Hollywood films during—and even years after—the Vietnam War so as not to alienate large segments of the audience who may have supported the war effort. In M*A*S*H (Robert Altman, 1970), for example, the action took place during the Korean War but clearly commented on the Vietnam conflict. The Wild Bunch (Sam Peckinpah, 1969) went back even further—to the Mexican Revolution of 1913—to comment on the war. The unprecedented fierceness of the film's opening and closing massacres—achieved through the innovative use of montage and slow-motion death—allegorically depicted the wholesale killing of combatants and civilians, thus exposing the dark side of America's "noble cause" in Southeast Asia.



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