janan.ganesh@ft.com warns of ‘these over-politicised times’. American Writer comments

Never fear, Mr. Ganesh has never even approached books like the collection of essays published by Harvard University Press of the Cahiers du Cinema edited by Jim Hillerman,  What is Cinema 1 & 2 by Andre Bazin published by University of California Press, nor the engaging collection of essays by Truffaut in his  ‘Films in My Life’.

It is with the most awful dread that you sense cinema becoming another field of politics in these over-politicised times. Detectable in the pre-Oscars mood is a creeping indifference to art as art — a demotion of aesthetic judgment to tests of ideological soundness. Even if the intentions are mostly good, it amounts to philistinism by another name. A critical culture that rates work by what it says about populism, identity and the rest of the nightly news will end up begetting a lot of “woke” but low-quality film-making.

The American movies have always been ‘political’ ! Look to Birth of a Nation, that D.W. Griffith epic based on the racist The Clansman. Hollywood has always kowtowed to the American State’s Wars! But look also too the 1943 Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer anti-fascist ‘Keeper of the Flame’ and the State of the Union 1948. Or ‘Gentleman’s Agreement’ of 1947.

And of the vexing question of ‘over-politicised times’ : the Hollywood Ten, HUAC, the Blacklist, that was still alive in 1999 when Eli Kazan received his honorary Oscar.

The Vietnam War and its divisions produced John Wayne’s jingoistic  ‘Green Berets’, ‘Coming Home’, Apocalypse Now, Full Metal Jacket, etc.!  Or the more recent films ‘Zero Dark Thirty’ and  ‘Hurt Locker’ linked to the CIA in terms of money and logistical support!

Did the world really need another Winston Churchill hagiography (Darkest Hour) or crusade against Watergate (The Post)?

Yes! Hollywood, the American Movie Industry, needs to produce reliably profit-making ‘entertainment products’ !

One can only marvel as Mr. Ganesh uses of this paraphrase from John Banville: ‘Describe a familiar object in an original way,’ The Untouchable’: a roman à clef, a fictional  biography of the  ‘fourth man’ of the Cambridge Spies, Anthony Blunt, the Surveyor of the Queen’s Pictures is a political novel! That follows the literary imperative of Mr. Banville  described by Ganesh, but is a complete expression, a portrait of a life in all its expressions and much more! The portrait of the ‘Graham Greene’ character in the book shows him to be as nasty, even malevolent as his biographers have depicted.

Famously, the great Irish novelist John Banville fears for any aspiring young writer who tells him that they have important things to say about the world. Describe a familiar object in an original way, is his preferred test of suitability for his profession. The essence of art is the technique, not the message.

Mr. Ganesh makes the ludicrous assertion that Alan Bloom, in his screeching polemic titled The Closing of the American Mind , somehow had an effect on ‘Literature‘ qualifies as the expression of a ideologically cultivated ignorance. ‘The Closing’ a mendacious exercise in Straussian Mythologizing,  about a generation of ‘Students’ addled by ‘Rock Music’ and their inherent narcissism, not to speak of nihilism. Those ‘Students’,  more importantly, ignored the modern Plato in their midst , who could have led them into the sunlight, out  from the play of shadows in the cave!    American novelist Saul Bellow provided the introduction to the Bloom screed, and wrote a roman à clef of Bloom’s life titled Ravelstein. Perhaps Ganesh is obliquely referring to this, to speak charitably?

What Bloom’s book produced was a valuable collection of replies titled Essays on The Closing of the American Mind, edited by Robert L. Stone and published by Chicago Review Press in 1989.

And the Movies, are by their very nature ‘Art by Committee’, a triumph of the Age of Technology wedded to Capital, and its necessary corollary Propaganda. The French Cinema Theorists seemed to have missed or ignored the insights offered by their philosophical/political contemporaries.

American Writer


About stephenkmacksd

Rootless cosmopolitan,down at heels intellectual;would be writer. 'Polemic is a discourse of conflict, whose effect depends on a delicate balance between the requirements of truth and the enticements of anger, the duty to argue and the zest to inflame. Its rhetoric allows, even enforces, a certain figurative licence. Like epitaphs in Johnson’s adage, it is not under oath.' https://www.lrb.co.uk/v15/n20/perry-anderson/diary
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