Festival focus on McCarthy era

Radical or subversive points of view, either in politics or the arts, have always worried those in the seat of power. When the two meet, furthermore, the result has often proved fateful for those who choose to express their positions freely or who were even accused of doing so. The House Un-American Activities Committee established in the 1940s and ’50s in the USA, which blacklisted hundreds of Hollywood artists and ostracized many more who were accused of being communists (therefore anti-American), is the main focus of the 17th Panorama of European Cinema running from Friday to October 14 at the Greek capital’s Apollon and Athinais movie theaters. «Are you or have you ever been a member of the Communist Party?» This was the dreaded question directed to artists by the Senator Joseph McCarthy-appointed committee during Hollywood’s darkest years. In the early 1940s, the committee had already begun pointing the accusatory finger at the purveyors of the most popular form of mass entertainment, film. The turning point, however, came in 1943 with the film «Mission to Moscow,» directed by Michael Curtiz, which the committee saw as the last straw and decided it was high time to take tough measures. Nevertheless, the first interrogations by the House Un-American Activities Committee were not held until 1947. A string of directors, actors and screenwriters were questioned in order to weed out Communist Party members. Nineteen artists were summoned by the committee during its first round of interrogations. Of them, 10 refused to cooperate with the committee’s requests and stated that they found the whole affair to be in violation of their constitutional rights – Alvah Bessie, Herbert J. Biberman, Lester Cole, Edward Dmytryk, Ring Lardner Jr, John Howard Lawson, Albert Maltz, Samuel Ornitz, Adrian Scott and Dalton Trumbo have gone down in history as The Hollywood Ten. The second wave of interrogations took place in 1951, when all the artists summoned by the committee were coerced into testifying against their colleagues and accusing them of un-American activities. In total, the Hollywood blacklist contained 324 names – people who were all fired by the studios and banned from ever again working in the motion picture industry – while another 200 or so artists were forced through other means to abandon the film business. The manner in which the testimonies were taken down by the interrogators sparked a chain reaction. For example, Larry Parks (who later disappeared completely from show business) was the only actor among the first 19 people called to testify before the committee. He admitted to having participated in a communist organization and then went on to name other artists he «suspected» of being involved in communist activities, such as Anne Revere, James Cagney, John Garfield, Sterling Heyden, Gregory Peck, Humphrey Bogart, Edward G. Robinson and Lee J. Cobb, among others. Cobb stood at the next step of the ladder from Parks: the committee pressured him for two years to cough up the names of colleagues suspected with communist activities, until he succumbed and pointed the finger at several artists, including Lloyd Bridges. One of the most striking personalities during these troubled times was filmmaker Elia Kazan, who rather than risking his career chose to turn in many of his closest associates. The determined nature of his actions made him one of the most reviled figures in the film industry at the time; his notoriety followed him to the grave. Some artists, furthermore, were forced to work under a pseudonym; the most notable was Dalton Trumbo, who received two screenplay Academy Awards – after moving to Mexico with Ring Lardner Jr and Albert Maltz – for the films «Roman Holiday,» which he wrote under the name Ian McLellan Hunter, and «The Brave One,» written as Robert Rich. Others, such as Jules Dassin, preferred to leave America in self-exile. The McCarthy era focus of the Panorama is composed of seven films by directors who were affected by the blacklist, including Curtiz’s «Mission to Moscow,» which served as a catalyst for what has now become known as the McCarthy witch hunt. The other films are: Abraham Polonsky’s «Force of Evil,» Jules Dassin’s «Naked City,» Edward Dmytryk’s «Crossfire,» Herbert J. Biberman’s «Salt of the Earth,» Martin Ritt’s «Front» and Dalton Trumbo’s «Johnny Got His Gun.» Other highlights The competition section of this year’s Panorama, organized by the Eleftherotypia daily, is composed of 10 films that have not as yet been purchased by Greek distribution agents. The program also includes avant-premiere screenings of films that will be shown at mainstream theaters later on in the year, such as «The Manchurian Candidate» by Jonathan Demme, «Eros» by Michelangelo Antonioni, Steven Soderbergh and Wong Kar Wai, «De-Lovely» by Irwin Winkler, «Life is a Miracle» by Emir Kusturica, «A Fond Kiss» by Ken Loach, and «Notre musique» by Jean-Luc Godard, among others. There will also be an avant-premiere screening of Greek filmmaker Panos H. Koutras’s «Real Life.» Other tributes in the Panorama include those to Ken Russell, Mario Monicelli and Elia Kazan with screenings of one or more of their films. Russell is also one of the two special guests at the festival and will be receiving a special award. The second guest is Max Von Sydow, who will preside over the panel of judges. Other highlights in the festival are a screening of G. W. Pabst’s «Joyless Street,» with live music by Nikos Platanos, as well as screenings of classic films such as «Lola Montes» by Max Ophuls and «Tokyo Olympiad» by Kon Ichikawa. The events will also include an exhibition on «The History of Film Censorship in Greece: 1906-1981,» which will be held at the Stoa tou Vivliou arcade (5 Pesmazoglou & Stadiou) from October 1-9.

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