On Marxist Films

5 posts


Eva Ras in Love Affair, or the Case of the Missing Switchboard Operator (1967)

There was talk in the squawk box earlier about films by Marxist directors. Nic made the point that Marxists made excellent films because, as modernists, they understood the propagandistic power that this new visual media would have. Marxists in general and Leninists in particular understand that proles and peasants are simple people who are more easily swayed by powerful images than persuasive arguments. It for this reason that Communist countries and countries with strong Communist parties (i.e. Italy, France) have produced remarkable directors. For a quick list of Marxist directors of note consider Bertolucci, Pasolini, Makavejev, Godard and Antonioni.

I feel most comfortable discussing Makavejev as I've seen most of his movies, including the garbled and somewhat pro-capitalist Coca Cola Kid (1985). One reason his films are so successful is the way they seemingly disprove Western propaganda about the Eastern Bloc. The young people of his masterpiece Love Affair are not drab automatons forced into life of endless factory work but sexualized and independent beings living in a country with a level of consumer luxuries on par with the capitalist West. Of course, the best propagandists are best at presenting a skewed version of reality as fact and it should be noted that the bohemian and care free lives of Makavejev's characters surely did not resonate with the realities of most Yugoslavians.

The level of sexuality in Makavejev's films is one of the most striking features. He frequently characterizes women as care free sexpots, a point that I'm sure wouldn't go over to well with most Western feminists. In fact, the conclusion of Love Affair could be interpreted as moral tale about what happens to such women when they screw around on their loyal boyfriends (either that or a proto-neocon tale about the dangers of dating Muslim men.)


Makavejev's Sweet Movie is his most overtly sexual and he features the exquisitely erotic Carole Laure as the protagonist. This movie is apparently about the Sexual Revolution but I must confess that I don't quite understand Makavejev's intended point. As a visual exercise the film is quite good as it goes from scenes of genuine sensuality to outright grotesqueness. A litany of degenerate paraphilias are explored from coprophagia to miscegenation to a lithe Bolshevik woman seducing/molesting prepubescent boys. Given the macabre ending, I took it to be a warning about the excesses of the Sexual Revolution but I doubt this was Makavejev's intended aim. As a the visual medium of film provides for many interpretations, the skilled propagandist is aware of how this amorphousness can benefit one critically in terms of being all things to all people .

Outside of a critical review of Makavejev's works, I find that Marxist directors have a knack for combining the personal with the political despite the dubious claims of the latter. Bertolucci and Godard in particular create films where a romantic relationship, friendship or personal-developmental tale are nestled within a narrative of Marxist influence. Consider Il Conformista or Masculin/Féminin as examples. From this one thinks of the Che Guevara quote, " At the risk of seeming ridiculous, let me say that the true revolutionary is guided by a great feeling of love. It is impossible to think of a genuine revolutionary lacking this quality." As vacuous as this statement is, it gets at the heart of why Marxist directors are so successful in creating great works. While the depth of the story depends on such relationships, the added infusion of political ideology strengthens the individual-personal narrative with the cohesiveness of the social-universal. Given the inability of one to create a work of art while promoting the Anglo-American ideology, even a Western (in the Cold War sense) audience will find itself impressed.

What is to be done?

Given the wealth of Marxist films, it is almost impossible to consider a fascist film outside of something like Triumph of the Will or Deathwish . Similarly, capitalist films ( Wall Street , Risky Business ) could be easily enough interpreted as anti capitalist with enough word play. Indeed, Hollywood is only successful at diseminating bourgeois utopianism as a propagandistic feature. Hence we see movies with protagonists who are vicious warriors, masculine dominators, sensitive domestics, tolerant HR personnel, animal lovers and neat, quiet family men all at the same time. Here we see the trope of being all things to all people presented to audiences in the most vulgar and obvious manner possible. As such, when it comes to propaganda it's not hard to see to why almost every country in the world has a Communist Party while liberal-democratic parties count membership in the single digits outside of the Atlantic sphere.

Another director would be Peter Watkins, though I don't know if he's strictly speaking a Marxist so much as a director with Marxist sympathies. Anyone seen La Commune , Culloden or Punishment Park ? In Punishment Park he cast non-actors with the same political sympathies as the characters they play - and he allowed them to write their own dialogue. Interesting stuff.


The aesthetics and morals of the more celebrated Marxist filmmakers (Pasolini, Godard et al) strike me as being largely contrary to mass-taste. Popfop, do you know whom the directors you name considered to be their audience?

Most of the renowned Marxist directors tended to be from the more permissive West. Of course there were great filmmakers on the other side of the Iron Curtain (who tended not to be Marxists), but they often fell foul of censors e.g. Tarkovsky, Kieslowski, Wadja. The strictures of real socialism seemed to inhibit more interesting work that would not necessarily be so uplifting of the people. I was trying to recall any famous GDR films and thought of “Der Untertan” and “The Legend of Paul and Paula” but without googling could not think of the directors’ names.

Fascism certainly didn’t have much time to develop many directors, and post-WW2 no longer existed as an animating principle for many artists; especially if they wanted much funding. Fascist thinkers were of course interested in cinema: Robert Brasillach wrote what is meant to be a well-regarded book on film. Maybe Drieu could say something about Brasillach’s ideas and also if there was anything of note produced by Italian fascism? Mishima’s “Patriotism” could probably be considered a “fascist film”.

President Camacho
I think Sam Peckinpah could be interpreted as a major "fascist" director... fascist tendencies show up in all his most important films-- The Wild Bunch, Straw Dogs, Cross of Iron , etc.

Peckinpah is still apparently infuriating to Hollywood Jews... that whatever studio had the rights to his original film authorized liberal Jew Rod Lurie to remake it-- in order, to paraphrase Lurie, to rebut Peckinpah's body of work. The changes to the plot-- both subtle and hamfisted-- stand the original film's intent on its head.