CRITICS CHAPTER

'Criticism is the only thing that stands between the audience and advertising.' - Pauline Kael


WHO WE ARE


Dr David Archibald, University Of Glasgow
Film International, Financial Times, Cineaste


Steve Ashton,
Filmvision.net


Dan Bessie

Filmmaker and Culture Critic

Prof. Dennis Broe

Jump Cut, NY Newsday, Boston Phoenix

Dianne Brooks

The Film Files, Writemovies.com

Paul Buhle
Brown University

Lisa Collins
Filmmaker

Benjamin Dickenson
Bright Lights Film Journal, UK

David Ehrenstein
Quarterly Review of Film and Video

John Esther
Los Angeles Journal

Miguel Gardel
Proletaria Press

Michael Haas
Culture critic

Laura Hadden
Pacifica Radio

Gerald Horne
University Of Houston

Reynold Humphries
British Film Historian

Sikivu Hutchinson
BlackFemsLens.org, KPFK Radio

Jan Lisa Huttner
TheHotPinkPen.com, Films For Two

Cindy Lucia
Cineaste Magazine

Pat McGilligan
Film Historian

Bill Meyer
People's Weekly World

Prairie Miller
WBAI/Pacifica National Radio Network

Logan Nakyanzi
Go Left TV, Huffington Post

Victor Navasky
The Nation

Gerald Peary
Boston Phoenix

Louis Proyect
Counterpunch, Marxmail.org

Ed Rampell
Los Angeles Journal

Luis Reyes
Film historian

Nancy Keefe Rhodes
NPR Radio WAER-FM,
Syracuse City Eagle

Nancy Schiesari,
BBC, Channel 4,
Univ. of Texas, Austin

Rebecca Schiller
Culture Critic

Michael Slate
Beneath The Surface, KPFK Radio

Christopher Trumbo
RIP, January 8, 2011

Dave Wagner
Mother Jones, Film International

Linda Z
LFC Film Club

Noah Zweig
UC, Santa Barbara
Film and Media Studies

Paul Robeson With Oakland, Ca. Shipyard Workers, 1942

Black August

So in order to best cover all bases, progressive film critics tend to consider three categories of assessment, rather than two: The Good, The Bad and The Ugly. The first two are self-explanatory. And the third category is reserved for movies that may have been impressively put together, but there's just something offensively anti-humanistic about them.

Stay tuned......

The Organizer

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

BBC Radio4 Interview with Reynold Humphries for Ayn Rand Programme


Monday, 8 September 2008

Why was Ayn Rand chosen to be a “friendly witness” at the HUAC hearings?
There are several reasons, concerning Rand personally, the situation in Hollywood and the international situation. Rand was born in Russia and left the country in 1926 when she was 21. Thus her testimony is meant to have the aura of truth, although one can be sceptical, inasmuch as she never set foot in the SU again. I would argue that her remarks are purely ideological and have nothing to do with knowledge of the terrain. If, for instance, I were asked to comment on life in the region of Britian where I was born and raised, I would hesitate to do so: I have not lived there since 1972 and things evolve. As far as the international situation goes, her background brings grist to the mill of HUAC: she can stoke the fires of the Cold War, so to speak. If we must not lose from sight the fact that Hollywood did not appreciate the testimony of the “friendly witnesses” for washing dirty linen in public, the background was nevertheless favourable to the Hearings. Rand was member of the Motion Picture Alliance for the Preservation of American Ideals, set up in April 1944 as an explicit rejection of what their manifesto called “crackpots and Communists”. The fact that the war was still on and the MPA made no mention of America’s fascist enemies did not go down well within the film community and the MPA was denounced as unpatriotic. The MPA was created by the most conservative figures in the industry as a reaction to the setting up of the Screen Writers’ Guild in the 1930s. Most of the members of the MPA worked for the highly conservative studio MGM but the real reason was ideological: the MPA rejected the very idea of a union which they saw as demeaning to them as artists. However, the SWG had attracted some 750 members, the vast majority of Hollywood’s writers, going from Communists through radicals and liberals to impeccable conservatives such as Charles Brackett. However, the impetus for the union came from Communists with whose struggle for recognition most writers were in agreement. Writers had no say over the definitive form given to their scripts and it was the final victory of the SWG that gave them certain rights they had never had before. Hence the indignation over the MPA’s claims and the massive rejection by Hollywood. Rand, however, could be counted on to excoriate anything remotely contaminated by the collective, such as unions.
I understand that Rand originally planned to testify about two movies, Song of Russia and The Best Years of Our Lives. Why were these films of significance in this context?
Song of Russia was part of a sort of sub-genre of the war movie: films made to glorify the Soviet war effort and to promote understanding between Russians and Americans. This was obviously anathema to Rand. The other films are Mission to Moscow, The North Star and Days of Glory. Song of Russia has been described by film historian Bernard Dick, who is critical but sympathetic to the plight of the Hollywood Ten (the “unfriendly witnesses during the Hearings of October 1947), as a “Stalinist tract”, but this comes over in the film more as a hymn of praise to the Soviet people. Mission to Moscow, however, is a paean of praise to Stalin himself and aroused much fury on both Left and Right. North Star is a genuinely pro-Bolshevik film that extols the ordinary men and women, peasants and soldiers, who defended the Revolution and their homeland against Nazism. Strangely enough it did not draw the same flak as the other two films, perhaps because it concentrated more on the fight against Nazism than on the supposed joys of Bolshevism. Days of Glory similarly praises Soviet courage and sense of sacrifice. For the record, it was written by Casey Robinson, one of the first members of the MPA. The film is never mentioned as pro-Communist propaganda, for the simple reason that it was not written by a Communist. All the films were made in 1943-4. Rand denounced Song of Russia as pro-Communist propaganda, by which she meant: “I use the term to mean that Communist propaganda is anything which gives a good impression of Communism as a way of life. Anything that sells people the idea that life in Russia is good and that people are free and happy would be Communist propaganda”. Rand evoked the fact that the film shows “happy little children”, adding: “They are not homeless children in rags, such as I have seen in Russia”. Let us, for the sake of argument, accept this testimony as accurate. If we return to the US and 1933, the film Wild Boys of the Road, a Warner Bros. production, shows homeless children in rags roaming the length and breadth of America during the Depression, searching desperately for food and lodgings and stealing in order to survive. Rand would probably also call this pro-Communist propaganda but the film puts things in a somewhat different perspective. The Best Years of Our Lives is an even more complex matter. Briefly, we could say that the film would arouse Rand’s suspicion on the grounds that it denounces bankers for refusing returning veterans loans to buy homes on the grounds that they have no collateral. Within a short time, however, veterans were no longer a source of concern and were either denounced for complaining about their lot or simply forgotten. This was repeated during the war in Vietnam and veterans returning from Iraq are never mentioned, despite their appalling psychological problems. Rand is notorious for a pamphlet she had published by the MPA which listed a series of “Don’ts”: “Don’t smear the free-enterprise system” “Don’t deify the ‘Common Man’” “Don’t glorify the collective” “Don’t glorify failure” “Don’t smear success” “Don’t smear industrialists” I should point out, as others have before me, that pillorying bankers was frequent in Hollywood movies. An excellent example is Capra’s American Madness (1932), and Capra was a conservative. In 1941 he directed Meet John Doe. One character is a fascist businessman with a private army who dresses up like a cross between Mussolini and the Gestapo. And while we’re on the question of bankers and banking, it is not irrelevant to point to the current economic crisis, in particular the subprimes crisis where hundreds of billions of $ in taxpayers’ money are being used to bail out private banks which have speculated. So ordinary Americans will now pay for the criminal activities of those who have already destroyed homes, jobs and savings. The same thing is happening with the nationalisation of Freddie Mac and Fannie May. An official report estimates at six and a half million the number of foreclosures in the US by 2012. The same thing is starting to take place in Britain. This, too, is part of the legacy of Ayn Rand. I might add that one of her greatest admirers is Alan Greenspan, former President of the Federal Reserve Bank and therefore responsible for allowing to exist the conditions leading to the subprimes crisis. In The Best Years Wyler also put his finger on something that rankled with the witch hunters in 1947. One of the heroes is a soldier who has lost his hands and he and his war comrades are approached in a bar by a man who deplores what has happened to the soldier. He adds that the US fought the wrong enemy. In other words, the US should have been on Hitler’s side against Stalin. One of the veterans knocks him down. This scene exists to highlight a fact which HUAC preferred to repress: the pro-fascist stance adopted throughout the 1930s by certain categories of American, notable businessmen anxious to do business with Nazi Germany, Southern racists such as HUAC member John Rankin (one of the country’s most notorious anti-Semites) and much of Hollywood itself. We must remember that Communists, liberals and many conservatives united in the fight against fascism, a unity compromised fatally by the Communist Party’s support for the Nazi-Soviet Pact. So getting Rand to testify about this film might have brought to the surface things that the Right preferred to keep under wraps. After all, for most Americans, the war was too fresh in their minds to transform Nazi Germany into a stalwart ally and the SU into a monstrous enemy.
When it came to her testimony, why did Rand only talk about Song of Russia?
I think I have more or less answered that question now. HUAC was essentially concerned with pro-Soviet propaganda, which is hardly the case with The Best Years.
Rand apparently asked to be allowed to give additional testimony at a later date in order that she might be able to talk about The Best Years of Our Lives, as had been her original intention. Why did this not happen?
This is news to me, so I can only speculate. HUAC interrupted the Hearings suddenly and unexpectedly prior to having called to testify everyone on their list. By the time HUAC returned to Hollywood in February 1951, the tactics had changed radically. Gone were the accusations bandied about of films being pro-Communist propaganda. Now the accent was on the “worldwide Communist conspiracy”, aided and abetted by the Soviet Atom bomb, the victory of Communism in China, and the Korean war. And then, of course, there were the accusations made by Senator McCarthy in February 1950. Moreover, Hollywood, under pressure from the Wall Street banks and the Chamber of Commerce, had set up the blacklist in November 1947 and everyone was running scared. Thanks to the files of the FBI, HUAC had a list of every person who had ever joined the CP in Hollywood. If you were on the list, you either collaborated and named the names of former comrades, or you took the Fifth Amendment and refused to speak. In which case you were blacklisted. So The Best Years was an anachronism in the eyes of HUAC by 1951, especially as nobody involved with the film was a Communist or an ex-Communist.
Rand later spoke of the HUAC in disparaging terms. Did she feel it wasn’t sufficiently forceful?
HUAC could hardly be accused of that! However, it is possible that in Rand’s eyes the purpose of the Hearings of 1947 had been abandoned for something else. As I have said, the question of pro-Communist propaganda in films made during the war was no longer the order of the day; now something else was needed to incite voters to hate. Indeed, there is an extraordinary exchange between Congressman Walter of HUAC and friendly witness Clifford Odets, the well-known playwright and former Communist, who testified in May 1952. Here is what was said: Walter: “Isn’t the screening [by studio executives] so thorough it would be an utter impossibility to slant a picture?” Odets: “You are right. There is nothing less possible in Hollywood”. This flew totally in the face of what HUAC was trying so unconvincingly to prove in 1947, but for Rand nothing had changed: any attack on free-enterprise was Communist inspired, so The Best Years of Our Lives was also a form of Communist propaganda. Her view on communist influence in film and elsewhere was summarised as follows: “The principle of free speech requires ... that we do not pass laws forbidding Communists to speak. But the principle of free speech does not imply that we owe them jobs and support to advocate our own destruction at our own expense”.
The exchange between Walter and Odets is a partial reply to that. Friendly witness, writer Richard Collins, openly stated in an exchange when testifying in 1951 that nobody ever put Red propaganda into a film. Communists were hardly being paid to overthrow capitalism. Rand’s statement is ludicrous but it is one shared by other witch hunters, then and now. Listeners should also know that Hollywood did not immediately acquiesce in the setting up of a blacklist. The most powerful studio boss, Louis B. Mayer (whose employees had set up the MPA!), was opposed to it, as was Harry Cohn of Columbia (and liberal independents such as DorĂ© Schary and Samuel Goldwyn who produced The Best Years). Both Mayer and Cohn cited the very argument of free enterprise that obsessed Rand: they were businessmen, their studios were privately owned, they had the right to hire and fire whom they wanted and produce the films they chose. They also made clear what Walter knew and what Odets confirmed: nothing a studio boss disliked would ever get on the screen if it was too obvious, such as calling for the need to create unions, still something that rankled after the defeat of the studios by the SWG. It needed the pressure of their bankers to make them change their minds about setting up a blacklist. It’s ironic that Rand should defend free speech for Communists, as they were denied this right by HUAC in both 1947 and the Hearings of 1951-3. At the time of the first Hearings, many commentators, particularly in the press, denounced the unfair treatment meted out to the Hollywood Ten: whereas Rand and her friends were allowed to say what they liked for as long as they liked and smear their opponents, the “unfriendly witnesses” were cut off as soon as they did not reply “yes” or “no”. As we have already seen, no genuinely left-wing ideas would be tolerated by the studio bosses. It is a sad comment on the mentality of the period that Hollywood’s Communists considered it a victory for change when negroes could be shown in ways that were not inherently demeaning. I might add here that the most left-wing films written and directed by Communists were a number of films noirs made in the years between the two Hearings. On example is The Asphalt Jungle, written by Communist Ben Maddow and directed by John Huston, co-founder with William Wyler (The Best Years of Our Lives) of the Committee for the First Amendment. Rand’s own contribution to Hollywood, her script for The Fountainhead (directed in 1948 by fellow MPA member King Vidor and starring “friendly witness” Gary Cooper), contains an interesting contradiction, where reality triumphs over Rand’s fantasies concerning individualism. Architect Howard Roark blows up the building he has designed but whose construction betrays his artistic and aesthetic values. He is found not guilty by a jury after justifying his act on the grounds of his individual rights. Now a jury is not a simple aggregate of individuals: they deliver a collective verdict. So Rand’s ideology of the individual versus society finds itself in a bind: without such a collective verdict justice cannot function.

Extra material (which I did not have the occasion to use)
1) Rand opposed to taxes 2) Rand considered that a free nation (according to her own definition) had the right to invade an enslaved nation (again, according to her criteria). Leaving aside the fact that Nazi Germany used similar arguments in the 1930s, one can note that she would happily invade Cuba, Iraq, Afghanistan, Iran – to mention the most obvious - irrespective of international law. 3) Let us not forget that General Douglas McArthur went out of his way to praise the fighting spirit of the Soviets, well aware that their terrible suffering was helping the US by pinning down vast numbers of German troops in the SU. 4) One Cold War specialist has estimated that, without the Soviet resistance within their homeland, another 1 million US soldiers would have been needed to liberate Europe. A similar figure has been suggested if the US had decided to invade Japan, instead of dropping the Bomb. 5) Mr. Wood (HUAC): “Do you think that it was to our advantage or to our disadvantage to keep Russia in this war, at the time this picture was made?” Miss Rand: “That has absolutely nothing to do with what we are discussing”.

Sunday, November 23, 2008

Hollywood Flexes Its Political Muscle In 2008 Election


By Ed Rampell, Columnist
Posted: 11/16/2008 12:00:00 AM PST
DailyNews.com

HOLLYWOOD played a role on the electoral stage in the Nov. 4 election in three primary ways.

First, as the ATM for campaigns.

"L.A. is a great stop for people running for high office to come to fundraisers," said President Nixon's former White House counsel, John Dean.

Second, for celebrity endorsements, which attract press and crowds. Take, for example, September's star-studded Beverly Hills Barack Obama bash headlined by Barbra Streisand. "The View's" Elisabeth Hasselbeck introduced vice presidential contender/hockey mom Sarah Palin at an October rally, while Angelina Jolie, Brad Pitt and Samuel L. Jackson used their star power against California's Proposition 8.

The third way in which Tinseltown influences voters is by using its mass-communications skills for campaigns, candidates and causes.

But did Hollywood really change the election?

It tried. In the months before the Nov. 4 election, Hollywood debuted several political movies. Kevin Costner's get-out-the-vote fable "Swing Vote" debuted in August and was followed in September by Michael Moore's documentary about his 2004, 60-city voter registration drive, "Slacker Uprising."

As the presidential race rediscovered terms that almost vanished from America's political lexicon, including "working class," Charlize Theron, Ray Liotta and Woody Harrelson co-starred in "Battle in Seattle." This September release dramatizes 1999's anti-globalization mass strike
pitting organized labor and eco-activists against riot police and the World Trade Organization.

Shortly before the election, Oliver Stone's biopic of George W. Bush, "W." was released. James Cromwell, who plays George H.W. Bush in the film, said its impact in the election is "a very hard question to answer .... People don't vote on the basis of a film."

Maybe not, but politics was very much in fashion in film this year.

HBO comic Bill Maher's polemically incorrect "Religulous" ridiculed religion even as the evangelical Palin was being nominated for GOP vice president. The documentary by "Borat" director Larry Charles earned $12 million-plus since Oct. 3 and is a nonbeliever's frontal assault on the religious right.

The John McCain-Sarah Palin campaign called Obama a "socialist" while Steven Soderbergh's epic about the world's most famous socialist, Ernesto "Che" Guevara, was screened Nov. 1 at AFI's filmfest in Hollywood.

The movie goes into limited release Dec. 12. Actor Benicio Del Toro depicts the revolutionary icon in "Che," a masterpiece of political filmmaking emerging just as capitalism faces disasters.

Meanwhile, under the guise of investigating a 1929 child-abduction case, Clint Eastwood's "Changeling," starring Angelina Jolie and John Malkovich, may have reminded moviegoers of the Bush regime's legacy of civil liberties violations via the Patriot Act, Guantanamo and Abu Ghraib.

The small screen - television - rang up its own victories with political satire scoring huge ratings.

Tina Fey's flawless impersonation of Republican vice presidential candidate Palin on "Saturday Night Live" might have saved America from four years of Palin.

Social networking sites, blogs and videos also impacted campaigns, as the Internet got into the political act.

In person, Palin touted small-town "real America," but online the "Mayberry" and "Happy Days" votes went to the other team.

To endorse Obama, movie director Ron Howard donned his Opie duds and reunited with Andy Griffith in a skit that went viral. In the same video, Howard sported his Richie Cunningham letterman sweater and talked up Obama with the Fonz.

Guerrilla producer/director Robert Greenwald regularly skewered McCain online, exposing his politically expedient "doubletalk express," wealth and medical history in shorts on YouTube.

Greenwald calls movies "an activist tool." His Brave New Films presented Moore's "Slacker Uprising" online for free.

In that documentary, the Oscar-winner tossed ramen and clean underwear to students pledging to vote. Republicans charged Moore with bribery, while genre spoofer David Zucker ("Airplane!" and "Naked Gun") excoriates him in "An American Carol," starring Kevin Farley as an unpatriotic Moore-like documentarian who wants to outlaw July 4.

"An American Carol" repeatedly derides documentaries as inferior to features, but five weeks after its release, the low-budget "Carol" scored merely $7 million at the box office. (By comparison, Moore's 2004 "Fahrenheit 9/11" earned $250 million.)

"Carol" co-stars ex-anti-establishment actors Dennis Hopper, James Woods and Jon Voight, who won an Academy Award for Best Actor as an antiwar activist in 1978's "Coming Home."

To be sure, audiences generally buy more tickets to escapist flicks than socially conscious ones. In five weeks "Beverly Hills Chihuahua" made more than $88 million, outearning "Battle in Seattle" 412-to-1. Still, the outcome of the vote indicates cinema and other mass mediums do more than passively reflect America; they actively contributed to the outcome.

Despite celeb endorsers and deep pockets, Proposition 8 won - maybe because there was no big screen pro-gay movie, like 2005's "Brokeback Mountain," during the election cycle. Sean Penn's "Milk," about California's first openly gay elected official, opens in December - too late to impact Proposition 8.

But the fact that so many of 2008's topical movies leaned left proves political power grows out of the barrel of a camera lens.

L.A.-based film historian/critic Ed Rampell is the author of "Progressive Hollywood."

Saturday, November 15, 2008

Hollywood And The CIA


An Offer They Couldn't Refuse: Spies Like Us....Body Of Lies


'The spy may have come in from the cold, but he still finds shelter in the dark of the cinema.'



http://www.guardian.co.uk/film/2008/nov/14/thriller-ridley-scott


The CIA is often credited with 'advice' on Hollywood films, but no
one is truly sure about the extent of its shadowy involvement.
Matthew Alford and Robbie Graham investigate

Everyone who watches films knows about Hollywood's fascination with
spies. From Hitchcock's postwar espionage thrillers, through cold war
tales such as Torn Curtain, into the paranoid 1970s when the CIA came
to be seen as an agency out of control in films such as Three Days of
the Condor, and right to the present, with the Bourne trilogy and
Ridley Scott's forthcoming Body of Lies, film-makers have always
wanted to get in bed with spies. What's less widely known is how much
the spies have wanted to get in bed with the film-makers. In fact,
the story of the CIA's involvement in Hollywood is a tale of
deception and subversion that would seem improbable if it were put on screen.

The model for this is the defence department's "open" but barely
publicised relationship with Hollywood. The Pentagon, for decades,
has offered film-makers advice, manpower and even hardware -
including aircraft carriers and state-of-the-art helicopters. All it
asks for in exchange is that the US armed forces are made to look
good. So in a previous Scott film, Black Hawk Down, a character based
on a real-life soldier who had also been a child rapist lost that
part of his backstory when he came to the screen.

No matter how seemingly craven Hollywood's behaviour towards the US
armed forces has seemed, it has at least happened within the public
domain. That cannot be said for the CIA's dealings with the movie
business. Not until 1996 did the CIA announce, with little fanfare,
that it had established an Entertainment Liaison Office, which would
collaborate in a strictly advisory capacity with film-makers. Heading
up the office was Chase Brandon, who had served for 25 years in the
agency's elite clandestine services division, as an undercover
operations officer. A PR man he isn't, though he does have Hollywood
connections: he's a cousin of Tommy Lee Jones.

But the past 12 years of semi-acknowledged collaboration were
preceded by decades in which the CIA maintained a deep-rooted but
invisible influence of Hollywood. How could it be otherwise? As the
former CIA man Bob Baer - whose books on his time with the agency
were the basis for Syriana - told us: "All these people that run
studios - they go to Washington, they hang around with senators, they
hang around with CIA directors, and everybody's on board."

There is documentary evidence for his claims. Luigi Luraschi was the
head of foreign and domestic censorship for Paramount in the early
1950s. And, it was recently discovered, he was also working for the
CIA, sending in reports about how film censorship was being employed
to boost the image of the US in movies that would be seen abroad.
Luraschi's reports also revealed that he had persuaded several
film-makers to plant "negroes" who were "well-dressed" in their
movies, to counter Soviet propaganda about poor race relations in the
States. The Soviet version was rather nearer the truth.

Luraschi's activities were merely the tip of the iceberg. Graham
Greene, for example, disowned the 1958 adaptation of his Vietnam-set
novel The Quiet American, describing it as a "propaganda film for
America". In the title role, Audie Murphy played not Greene's
dangerously ambiguous figure - whose belief in the justice of
American foreign policy allows him to ignore the appalling
consequences of his actions - but a simple hero. The cynical British
journalist, played by Michael Redgrave, is instead the man whose
moral compass has gone awry. Greene's American had been based in part
on the legendary CIA operative in Vietnam, Colonel Edward Lansdale.
How apt, then, that it should have been Lansdale who persuaded
director Joseph Mankewiecz to change the script to suit his own ends.

The CIA didn't just offer guidance to film-makers, however. It even
offered money. In 1950, the agency bought the rights to George
Orwell's Animal Farm, and then funded the 1954 British animated
version of the film. Its involvement had long been rumoured, but only
in the past decade have those rumours been substantiated, and the
tale of the CIA's role told in Daniel Leab's book Orwell Subverted.

The most common way for the CIA to exert influence in Hollywood
nowadays is not through anything as direct as funding, or rewriting
scripts, but offering to help with matters of verisimilitude. That is
done by having serving or former CIA agents acting as advisers on the
film, though some might wonder whether there is ever really such a
thing a "former agent". As ex-CIA agent Lindsay Moran, the author of
Blowing My Cover, has noted, the CIA often calls on former officers
to perform tasks for their old employer.

So it was no problem for CBS to secure official help when making its
2001 TV series The Agency (it was even written by a former agent).
Langley was equally helpful to the novelist Tom Clancy, who was
invited to CIA headquarters after the publication of The Hunt for Red
October, an invitation that was regularly repeated. Consequently,
when Clancy's The Sum of All Fears was filmed in 2002, the agency was
happy to bring its makers to Langley for a personal tour of
headquarters, and to offer access to agency analysts for star Ben
Affleck. When filming began, Brandon was on set to advise - a role he
repeated during the filming of glamorous television series Alias.

The former agent Milt Beardon took the advisory role on two less
action-packed attempts at espionage stories: Robert De Niro's The
Good Shepherd from 2006, which told an approximate version of the
story of the famed CIA head of counter-espionage, James Jesus
Angleton; and Charlie Wilson's War, the story of US covert efforts to
supply the Afghan mujahideen with weaponry during the Soviet
occupation of the 80s. In reality, this was a story that ended badly,
as the Afghan freedom fighters helped give birth to the terrorists of
al-Qaida. In the movie, however, that was not the case. As Beardon -
who had been the CIA man responsible for the weapons reaching the
Afghans - observed shortly before the movie came out, the film would
"put aside the notion that because we did that [supply arms], we had 9/11".

Beardon's remark provides a clue to the real reason the CIA likes to
offer advice to Hollywood, a clue that was expanded on by Paul
Kelbaugh, the former associate general counsel to the CIA - a very
senior figure in Langley. In 2007, Kelbaugh spoke at Lynchburg
College of Law in Virginia - where he had become an associate
professor - about the CIA's relationship with Hollywood. A journalist
present at the lecture (who now wishes to be anonymous) reported that
Kelbaugh spoke about the 2003 Al Pacino/Colin Farrell vehicle The
Recruit. A CIA agent had been on set as a "consultant" throughout the
shoot, he said; his real job, however, was to misdirect the
film-makers. "We didn't want Hollywood getting too close to the
truth," the journalist quoted Kelbaugh as saying.

Peculiarly, though, in a strongly worded email to us, Kelbaugh
emphatically denied having said such a thing, and said he remembered
"very specific discussions with senior [CIA] management that no one
was ever to misrepresent to affect [film] content - EVER." The
journalist stands by the original report, and Kelbaugh has refused to
discuss the matter further.

So, altering scripts, financing films, suppressing the truth - it's
worrying enough. But there are cases where some believe the CIA's
activities in Hollywood have gone further - far enough, in fact, to
be the stuff of movies. In June 1997, the screenwriter Gary DeVore
was working on the screenplay for his directorial debut. It was to be
an action movie set against the backdrop of the US invasion of Panama
in 1989, which led to the overthrow of dictator Manuel Noriega.
According to his wife, Wendy, DeVore had been talking to an old
friend - the CIA's Chase Brandon - about Noriega's regime and US
counternarcotic programmes in Latin America. Wendy told CNN: "He had
been very disturbed over some of the things that he had been finding
in his research. He was researching the United States invasion of
Panama, because he was setting the actual story that he was writing
against this; and the overthrow of Noriega and the enormous amounts
of money laundering in the Panamanian banks, also our own
government's money laundering."

At the end of that month, DeVore had been in Santa Fe, New Mexico,
working on another project. He was travelling back to California
when, at 1.15am on June 28, he called Wendy, a call she says has been
excised from phone records. She told CNN she was "terribly alarmed"
because he was speaking as though he were under duress. She was sure
"someone was in the car with him". That was the last time Wendy
DeVore heard from her husband.

A year passed, but the case refused to die and speculation mounted.
Even the Los Angeles Times began contemplating CIA involvement.
DeVore was presumed dead, but there was no body, and no end to the
questions. Lo and behold, just nine days after the LA Times reported
the case, DeVore's body was found, decomposing in his Ford Explorer,
in 12 feet of water in the California Aqueduct below the Antelope
Valley Freeway, south of Palmdale - a city located in "aerospace
valley", so dubbed by locals for its reputation as a US
military-industrial-complex stronghold - fuel to the fire for
conspiracy theorists.

The coroner went on to declare the cause and manner of DeVore's death
to be "unknown", but police eventually reached the tentative
conclusion that the screenwriter's death was an accident: he had
fallen asleep at the wheel, they said, before careening off the
highway and into the water, where he drowned. But loose ends remain:
DeVore's laptop computer containing his unfinished script was missing
from his vehicle, as was the gun he customarily carried on long
trips; after his disappearance, a CIA representative allegedly showed
up at DeVore's house to request access to his computer; Hollywood
private investigator Don Crutchfield noted that previous drafts of
DeVore's script were inexplicably wiped from said computer during the
same timeframe; police claimed that DeVore's vehicle careened off the
highway, yet DeVore's widow was troubled by the absence of visible
damage to the guardrail at the scene of the alleged accident; and how
come no one noticed an SUV sitting in the water beneath a busy
highway for a whole year? Perhaps the whole incident is too like a
conspiracy movie to be a real conspiracy - but many remain troubled
by De Vore's death.

Despite the CIA's professed desire to be more open about the role it
plays in Holly-wood, it's hard to take its newfound transparency too
seriously. After all, what use is a covert agency that does not act
covertly, even if some of its activities are public? And if it is
still not open about the truth of events decades ago, many of which
have spilled into the public domain accidently, how can we be sure it
is telling the truth about its activities now? The spy may have come
in from the cold, but he still finds shelter in the dark of the cinema.

Posted courtesy of Louis Proyect
ProgressiveCritics@gmail.com