Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Jules Dassin Paralysis of the creative impulse MCCARTHYISM

The second cite gives background to the work of Dassin and to his role as director /actor in Rififi and the mention of other filmmakers stymied by thje paralysis of the McCarthy years.

His next project turned out to be Rififi, a crime thriller filmed in Paris.
Dassin adapted it from a book that he hadn’t much liked. He wrote a screenplay
with a collaborator in seven days. One of its most famous sequences is a
33-minute scene without music or dialogue, the scene of the crime itself. The
scene is much praised for its unremitting tension, but Dassin points out that
one of the chief reasons for the lack of dialogue was his unfamiliarity with the
French language and his desire to produce as short a script as
“Critics are divided over the work. Fran├žois Truffaut apparently
considered it one of the greatest crime dramas ever made, at least at the time.
Sarris regarded it as overrated, and Jean-Luc Godard, then a critic, commented
superciliously in 1959: “Jules Dassin wasn’t at all bad when he was shooting
semi-documentary style among Italian fruit-workers of San Francisco, in the old
wooden subway of New York, on the dreamy docks of that charming city which, as
Sacha Guitry said, the English insist on calling London. But one day, alas, our
Jules began to take himself seriously and came to France with a martyr’s
passport. At the time, Rififi fooled some people. Today, it can’t hold a candle
to [Jacques Becker’s 1954] Touchez pas au Grisbi, which paved the way for it,
let alone [Jean-Pierre Melville’s 1956] Bob le Flambeur, which it paved the way
for.”> Be that as it may, Rififi is a competently and intelligently made and
acted film, with Dassin playing one of the criminals. Berg notes, “While writing
the screenplay, his [Dassin’s] experiences of the hard times he and many of his
colleagues were living through had a profound influence on the script. ‘I was
thinking when I was writing about my character’s death,’ he says. ‘There’s a
close shot of me saying, “You’ve got to shoot me,” and I was thinking so much of
the guys who were blacklisted. [In the scene] they want [Dassin’s character] to
give names to the gangster that’s going to kill me and I was thinking, No, you
don’t give names. I was thinking of all my friends who during the McCarthy era
betrayed other friends.“Dassin became romantically and artistically involved
with Greek actor Melina Mercouri in the mid-1950s. Some of their films together
are forgettable, or worse (He Who Must Die [based on a Nikos Kazantzakis novel],
The Law, Phaedra). Never on Sunday (1960), with Mercouri as a lighthearted
prostitute, is something of a fantasy and a trifle, but it helped open the
American cinema up to a more realistic, or at least less prudish, attitude
toward sexual matters. It’s not coincidental that the cheerful work came out at
the same time as the end of the blacklist. Topkapi (1964), another heist film
(with Mercouri and Peter Ustinov), but this time in a comic vein, is also a
slight work, but it too helped loosen up American audiences and introduced them
to a more knowing, cynical European attitude toward cops and robbers.“Dassin’s
life was bound up with critical events in the 20th century. He became a victim,
along with many other talented figures, of the anti-communist frenzy of the
1950s, a frenzy that crippled artistic and intellectual life in the US for
decades. The film industry still suffers from the purge of left-wing and
critical spirits.
What kind of work he and others of his generation might
have produced under more favorable circumstances is obviously an unanswerable
question. No one seems to have doubted his sincerity or honesty.
Tavernier, French filmmaker and film writer, observed: “McCarthyism, in reducing
to silence a whole generation of young filmmakers (Dassin, Losey, Berry, Rossen,
Polonsky, Enfield), important screenwriters (Trumbo, Wilson, Maltz, Buchman,
Ring Lardner Jr., Hugo Butler), paralyzed an entire creative
Comment by Edward Yablonsky — November 26, 2009 @ 5:51

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