Critics' Pick

Red Hollywood (NR)

Documentary 118 min. January 31, 2014
By Calum Marsh
Red Hollywood, a video essay co-authored by Thom Andersen and Noël Burch, begins with a succinct declaration of intent: “This is a compilation film about the filmwork created by the victims of the Hollywood Blacklist, an effort to isolate their contribution to the Hollywood cinema.” But there is a crucial addendum: “It is not about their politics or their martyrdom.” The film is therefore a corrective — not only for our sense of cinematic history, shaped around a half-century of blacklist elisions, but for our sense of the blacklist itself, which has for years remained incomplete. The actions of the House Un-American Activities Committee have long been a source of fascination for filmmakers and critics alike. But as in Los Angeles Plays Itself, the more widely known film Andersen completed nearly a decade later, Red Hollywood is distinguished by the sophistication of its approach. The blacklist is confronted not as an event against which one’s values must be defined but as a moment of historical significance whose implications are still being felt. The critical readings here reject the usual biases, sometimes provocatively: “As often happens, left-wing isolationism came uncomfortably close to right-wing isolationism, with all the racism intact.” Rigorously argued and exhaustively researched, Red Hollywood isn’t interested in familiar narratives. It’s interested in criticism: the reading of films, and the history to which they belong, with intelligence and nuance.
Thom Andersen, Noël Burch


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