Oct 24, 2013

Trains of Thought Redux, or The Collective Subconscious At Work (Part One)

I am embarrassed that I did not make the connection.  And, I had just watched Andrzej Wajda's film Danton a couple of days ago, to boot.

The first stop on my Eurail Pass was at Balloon Juice this morning.  Where I saw this, Anne Laurie's open thread post about the damage done to the economy by the shutdown, and her link to Harold Meyerson's brilliant column last week.

The next stop on my journey was on the platform of my recollections of seeing Danton for the first time.  While watching Danton, which is a fine film, if not the ultimate Masterpiece it seems to have been swinging the fences for, I was far too busy recognizing the obvious Polish Solidarność allegory that Wajda was making, comparing Lech Wałęsa's struggle to that of Georges Danton's. How obvious is the allegory? Plenty.  Wajda shot the film, which was released in 1983, at the height of Solidarność's battles with their Soviet overlords, in France, and had Polish actors play all the Jacobin roles (the dominant bloodthirsty "East"), and French actors play the more moderate Danton throng (the underdog Wałęsa-led "West").  Naturally, the film was banned in Poland at the time.

"The last mass trials were a great success.  There are going to be fewer but better Russians."


But, per your indulgence, let me arrive at the next train station, which is a Hollywood version of Warszawa in 1942.  

Ernst Lubitsch is an absolute hero of mine, and one of the finest filmmakers who ever lived.  He was a German jew who escaped to Hollywood before Hitler took power.  Lubitsch was always testing boundaries, but before World War II his main battle was with the Puritanical way Americans looked at sex.  Lubitsch was one of the Pre-Code directing/writing legends that projected a sophisticated European  attitude towards sexuality and relationships.  And, he was no flop.  In fact, the phrase, "The Lubitsch Touch" (a way of describing the seemingly artless verisimilitude that pervades all his best pictures) was attached to him during the Pre-Code era, and is perhaps only rivaled by Hitchcock's moniker as "The Master of Suspense." Lubitsch was a smash at the box office his entire career, and a critical darling, as well.  Peter Bogdanovich said (I am paraphrasing), "Looking now at Trouble in Paradise, or any of Lubitsch's Pre-Code pictures, you wonder, 'What happened? How were American audiences so sophisticated at that time? And what has happened since then?'" 

But, two days after Hitler invaded Poland, and on the same day England declared war on Germany, an English cruise line ship was torpedoed and sunk, the SS Athenia.  Lubitsch's ten-month old daughter, Nicola (and her nurse) were on board and were saved.  Ninotchka, Lubitsch's brilliant satire of Stalinist Russia and Communism was already in the can (Billy Wilder was one of the co-writers), and would be released the following month.  

Everyone at the time must have known that Lubitsch would push the envelope again, this time politically, in answer to Hitler and Nazi Germany.  And he did.

... to be continued ... 

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