thatcow

History can be better than this

I find the early twentieth century to be fascinating. Those events that led to the Cold War, which was fundamentally a conflict over ideas.

Herbert Biberman is the "one" of the title, sent to prison for contempt of congress with the rest of the Hollywood Ten as an example during the HUAC (House Unamerican Activities Committee) hearings. We begin as the trouble begins for Biberman, his wife Gale Sondergaard, and their like-minded friends. We know what's coming. It's not really a big surprise when the mild distate apparent among some people becomes outright harrassment and government bullying.

The film mixes in occasional black and white moments in an attempt to remind us of old-time newsreels, but the effort is poor, almost an afterthought in most places. Perhaps this was just a misguided attempt to underscore the importance of the times. Better to show it in the story.

The story itself before long becomes the making of Salt Of The Earth, Biberman's film about striking miners done largely by blacklisted filmmakers and non-professional actors. The conflict over making this film becomes a microcosm of the larger political struggle. The film was eventually completed, and was been placed into the US National Film Archives in 1992.

The film ultimately is not so much about the blacklist, or the conflicting ideas of the time, but merely a struggle in the face of oppression. It suffers from a certain lack of focus - that sort of thing happens when adapting historical material. It's hard to do a piece on Salt Of The Earth without explaining Biberman's history, and a piece on Biberman would require a sizable dedication to this one project.

I'd like more on HUAC, more on the blacklist, especially more on the actual debate at hand. The movie doesn't have to be what I want, but it's not strong enough with the limited scope it's really trying to tackle. A narrow plotline can indeed be worked successfully - consider The Pianist, which effectively showed the Holocaust on a much smaller scale than the epic of Schindler's List.

I like One Of The Hollywood Ten, but I must concede that this feeling is owed to the particular subject matter, and not the overall quality of the film. It merely retells some historical events with neither a strong point of view, nor any attempt at explaining a variety of perspectives. Those who share my affinity for the period ought to find it interesting, but I fear the rest of you will find the film lacking.

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