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Free from politics

May 26th, 2004 | 4 min read

By Don

Jim (Matt’s brother) writes:
But then you’ve got films like On the Waterfront, which is political, entertaining, and artistic at the same time. (It also has one of the most sympathetic, perhaps most realistic Hollywood portrayals of a man of the cloth–and it’s not unfair to add “religious” as a description.) Why should a producer, or a viewer, have to choose which one is most important?

Point well taken. I don’t object to the combination of art and entertainment, it’s the combination of entertainment and politics, or art and politics, or really politics and anything that I’m not overly fond of. I’m convinced that politics is the ugliest part of human activity whose necessity will be vanquished the moment we die.

On The Waterfront is satisfying because it works on so many levels. I agree, the depiction of the socially conscious priest is one of the best I’ve seen in cinema history. The part I find least satisfying, however, is the political angle of the film. There is not real, legitmate doubt that Kazan made the film in part as a response to his critics concerning his decision to testify before the House Un-American Activities Committee. It’s this politcal angle that allows people to question the film’s intent. How much is truly and expression of Kazan’s view of the world? How much is a rationalization for his choices? How much of his statement is blinded by hatred or the inclination to defend himself?

Politics has the ugly habit of getting its hands everywhere. Especially in places an unassuming individual might not expect it.

Lee J. Cobb in a screenshot from the trailer f...

Lee J. Cobb in a screenshot from the trailer for the film en:On the Waterfront. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I’m reminded of Dagny Taggart and Hank Reardon’s struggle to make the John Galt Line in Ayn Rand’s “Atlas Shrugged”. The John Galt rail is the only thing that will keep the country from economically drying up, the problem is that the government has turned the public against the rail with cleverly worded reports that suggest the rail might not be safe for travel. The political machine does this through a “independent” scientific research institute. The reseach institute was set up to exist apart from any political machinations that might conflict with the progress of real, pure science. The public is supposed to trust the opinions of the scientific organization as a “disinterested” party. The conflict is this: the government funded “independent” research lab has been researching a newer, stronger metal for 15 years and millions of tax dollars. Hank Reardon’s new metal for the Galt Line shows that a capitalistic venture is able to beat the goverment lab without all the tax dollars. If the public sees the inefficiency of the system they’re paying for, the Science Institute will be shut down– so they play the machine’s politcal games, give bogus safety reports about the John Galt Line and Reardon Metal, thus undermining their purpose, but solidifying their existence.

I suppose one could assume the point is that even with the purest intentions, politcal ties are inescapable. I’m just not ready to concede that.

I think there is such a thing as pure art and pure science. Pure art comes when, unswayed by the politics of the moment, an artist looks to his subject to discover the truth of its existence and something true of its essence. Pure science comes as an exploration into the fabric of the universe without catering to one group’s political agenda or anothers, even if that refusal comes at the cost of its own existence. This is where the idea of the suffering artist comes from, as well as artists’ facination with martyrdom. When paying the dearest cost for a cause one can be most clear of their intentions. That isn’t to say that a suffering artist is always a true artist or that true artists must always suffer; there are many things that can cause suffering, but shirking a political life in pursuit of a goal make one vulnerable to a good deal of attack.

Of course, The Day After Tomorrow is much worse. If it intends to “bring the issue of global warming” more to people’s minds it does so by the use of bogus science which amounts to nothing less than a giant scare tactic. I don’t think that democrats are likely to table the war in Iraq issue to launch and environmental offensive on the Bush administration, so the effects of the film will be politically limited. It’s just the fact that these bogus storytellers may have the gual to suggest that this fiction, pure fiction, should help sway people on environmental issues that should be settled by merits of science.

I think there is such a thing as politically unswayed entertainment as well. The unswayed entertainer, of course, often fairs better than the unswayed artist by the nature of their products– which is what makes what TDAT is doing all the more dispicable.

I’m convinced that Heaven will be a place that’s free from politics.