Make Songs, Not Films

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One theme of Ron Randosh’s “Red Star Over Hollywood” (Encounter, 2005), among other recent books, is that scribbling warriors in the Communist-inspired Popular Front of the 1940s have had an insidious influence upon popular filmmaking. No doubt they tried, but they were ultimately foiled, not only because of unfortunate blacklisting during the 1950s but, equally unfortunately, by the commercial designs of their bosses.

The Popular Front has had more influence on folksongs. Initiated by a few during the 1940s, mostly centered on Pete Seeger (whose father Charles was the czar for Communist classical music during the 1930s), PF ditties spread during the 1950s in groups like the Weavers and then the Kingston Trio, in the ’60s with Joan Baez and Bob Dylan, and in rock groups like the Byrds (whose lead singer David Crosby was a Red Diaper baby as we now call them). PF songs are heard today in the work of Bruce Springsteen, who recently recorded an album of Pete Seeger songs (sung ineptl~ alas), and in a recent NET feature on Woody Guthrie, whose masterly “This Land Is Your Land” has survived better than any Popular Front film.

May I wager that every reader of this magazine knows at least one of these songs, while the reddish movies are forgotten? Since Radosh was, like me, at Camp Woodland in 1951, where PF folk music was disseminated prolifically, I am surprised that he, now a late anti-Communist, didn’t notice this. (We also performed that summer a cantata, “Boney Quillan,” by Herbert Haufrecht, a composer who descended from Charles Seeger’s influence; but it has not survived.) But why has PF folk music survived better than PF film? It was produced with less censorship and thus less compromise, not only political but also economic. Shorter and more pointed, the best songs were better pop art. And nobody wrote books about them reflecting a Communist conspiracy that, needless to say, eventually moved beyond the control of Communists.

I can recall, four decades ago, a Red Diaper baby named Kathie Amatniek telling me that she wanted to make political films that would have the influence of folk songs. This didn’t happen for her or anyone else like her at the time. (Instead,

Graduates of the Bronx High School of Science include seven Nobel Prize-winning physicists. With vouchers, many more such schools would sprout.

 

Kathie became the founder of the radical feminists called Red- stockings, as she took· the name Kathie Sarachild.) It couldn’t happen because filmmaking is a much tougher, more expensive business.

Libertarians who tried to make politically engaged films should have thought about writing songs instead. With examples from Woody Guthrie in mind, consider writing a classic merely entitled “Liberty.”

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