Saturday, November 7, 2015

Trumbo: Naming Names - Richly Satirical Roll Call Outing The Hollywood Blacklist Persecutors Instead

While most movies are just movies and nothing more, there are some that stand out, not only as exemplary social artifacts succinctly representative of their historical moment in time. But in the case of a raw visionary work like the striking dramatic feature Trumbo, a mainstream film that could in no way have been made before now.

In other words, it took another century and a generation at least once removed from the traumatic  state terror of the 20th century McCarthy period in the United States, to grasp a clear sense of the repression and harm done to the ensuing damaged population and soul of a people. And to at least have partially recovered from that reeling PTSD emanating from the anti-communist purges in this country back then. And oddly enough, without a collective clue, subconsciously or otherwise, as to why or how it all ended up this way.

And a shameful US history so concealed and buried, that any collective consciousness sense of recall is a blurred vision of a barely conceived political reality today. In which nowhere beyond the left and alternative media in this country, is there a discussion or even awareness of why communist candidates flourish in national elections elsewhere around the world, but in the United States a mainstream politician would be as likely to declare themselves a communist ideologically, as running on the pedophile ticket.

But Trumbo, as courageously and candidly scripted by John McNamara and based on the Bruce Cook biography, unearths that repressive time when, following WW II during which the Soviet Union in the vanguard of defeating Nazi Germany and an ally and friend, became demonized instead as an emerging world power and a formidable ideological competitor to capitalism. And suddenly those Americans with communist ideals and affiliations were deemed criminals, and were in substantial numbers systematically destroyed economically, imprisoned and driven into exile or suicides.

And among those were the politically outspoken Hollywood filmmakers like Dalton Trumbo, brave and unrepentant, and willing to sacrifice their careers and even freedom as political prisoners, and known as the Hollywood Ten. And as conceived with cartoonish satirical flair by director Jay Roach in 'I'm a communist and it's okay' Trumbo, these movie martyrs are afforded not only celebratory redemption from a dark period in time, but in the stinging wit devised to 'name names', there's a bold switchup in exposing by roll call instead, the Hollywood honcho and actor villains who perpetrated the horror.

Likewise commendable, is that while most conventional and misleading recollections of that period tend to portray HUAC's accused communists as either dupes or a case of mistaken identity, this film not only defiantly declares personal ideological convictions to be a civil right, but that one can be a communist and proud. A point which is perhaps most vividly emphasized in a conversation Trumbo has with his young daughter in one scene where she asks, am I a communist too. And he replies through a compelling anecdote that, yes you are if you share your lunch with a hungry classmate in school.

And Breaking Bad's Bryan Cranston, who winks his way with determined honor and devilish dignity through the subversive escapades as Trumbo, disappears so thoroughly into this role - as Trumbo himself triumphantly did when demolishing the Blacklist by continuing to write scripts under assumed names - that if he doesn't grab this year's Oscar for Best Actor, there's no justice at that podium. Along with supporting actor John Goodman as a producer and Trumbo ally, who relishes a more furiously confrontational approach to dealing with a studio red baiter stopping by.

And a stage in question which sixteen years ago, shamefully saw the lavish honoring of the Blacklist's supreme snitch, Elia Kazan, while many Academy members immune from that convenient memory lapse protested during the Oscar ceremony. So will the Oscars this year celebrate a movie that not only emphatically redeems their persecuted colleagues but ironically accuses and shakes up Hollywood itself as the perpetrator? An Academy Award moment that will surely be indelibly inscribed in movie history.

Prairie Miller

Arts Express: Airing on WBAI Radio in NY and the Pacifica National Radio Network and Affiliate Stations.

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