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New Left Review I/212, July-August 1995


Paul Buhle

The Hollywood Left: Aesthetics and Politics

Two generations after McCarthyism, the Hollywood Left has almost receded from living memory. Its principal figures now show up mainly in the obituary columns of the New York Times and Los Angeles Times, their experiences with the blacklist reduced to a sentence or deleted entirely. [*] This essay was greatly assisted by the suggestions of Thomas H. Roberts and Alan Trachtenberg, and changed considerably through a presentation and discussion with Walter Bernstein at the New York Marxist Forum, April 1995. The most politically notorious turncoat of the Hollywood community (according to other and equally credible versions, an fbi plant), Ronald Reagan, has himself quietly slid from an ominous or embarrassing presence into historical Americana. Even the issue of unionization, which more than any other ignited the Hollywood Red Scare, has been reduced to insignificance by the collapse of organized labour. Only a rare artistic vindication, such as Martin Scorsese’s championing of Force of Evil (1948) and its writer-director Abraham Polonsky (now a garrulous and often interviewed octagenarian), and an occasional treatment of the subject in films and television, reminds most observers that a blacklist once existed at all. [1] Scorsese devoted great attention to Polonsky in a Public Broadcasting System series on Hollywood during 1994–95, and shortly afterward re-released Force of Evil in a package of five of his all-time favourite films.

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