It’s safe to say that the interspersing of political ideologies or themes into film is as old as the art form of cinema itself. Countless screenwriters, directors and even governments have taken advantage of the expressive nature of film. And we’re not just talking Propaganda or Anti-War films.
Below are three classic films that have cemented themselves into the ever-changing landscape of politics in cinema…
Amidst the volatile backdrop of the Cold War and at the height of the McCarthyism era came this politically charged film based on the long and arduous workers strike of 1951 against the conglomerate ‘Empire Zinc Company’ of New Mexico. Written by Michael Wilson, directed by Hebert J. Biberman and produced by Paul Jarrico, all three had been subsequently blacklisted by the Hollywood establishment due to their alleged involvement in communist politics and refusing to answer to the allegations in court. Infamously banned in the USA and Canada for many years, ‘Salt Of The Earth’ is also heralded for the advanced social and political ideology of feminism and the workers union. Independently produced on a shoe-string budget, the film used actual workers and their families alongside real actors. At a time when McCarthyism was in full force, unsurprisingly it was not well received within the Hollywood establishment and was labelled by many in America as communist propaganda.
‘The Battle Of Algiers’ (1966)
Widely regarded by critics as simply one of the greatest films ever made, Gillo Pontecorvo’s ‘The Battle Of Algiers’ is a cinematic masterpiece. Based on the Algerian war against the French government (1954-1962) and shot on location within the Casbah and French Quarters of Algiers, the film has a documentary/newsreel feel, albeit staged and scripted. It’s clever mix of actors and amateurs is not unlike fellow Italian Neo-Realist directors Rossellini and Fellini. Pontecorvo indiscriminately shows the toll of violence from both sides (French and FLN) and the realism behind the conflict is equally unnerving and moving. Upon the release of the film the producers received threats from Fascist groups which prevented screenings for the next 4 years despite Pontecorvo’s attempt to make a politically neutral film. ‘The Battle Of Algiers’ won the Golden Lion at the Venice Film Festival and was nominated for 3 Academy Awards including best screenplay, best director and best foreign language film.
‘The Conformist’ (1970)
This political drama and stylised film by Bernado Bertolucci stands out as one of the fore-runners for post war Italian cinema. It follows Marcello Clerici (Jean Louis-Trintignant) as he prepares to assassinate his former college professor, an outspoken Anti-Fascist intellectual, now living in exile in France. Beautifully shot by cinematographer Vittorio Storaro (who went on to work with Coppola in the USA on ‘Apocalypse Now’), the film is expressionistic and deeply moving. The set design depicts huge halls and sterile rooms with 30’s art and decor reminiscent of the Fascist era from which it derives. Bertolucci’s influence can be seen in such Hollywood directors as Martin Scorsese and Francis Ford Coppola.