Saturday, July 31, 2010

Kathleen Recommends "Trumbo"

Okay, this isn't the best shirtless cover I could tempt you with, but you know me. Story trumps pecs, and character is everything. So while we await news from Orlando I thought I'd recommend a terrific documentary that's out on DVD. It's about what happened to screenwriters during the McCarthy era back in the 1950's, and it serves as a chilling reminder that...









...this can happen to writers if we let our guard down and forget what freedom of speech really means.

Dalton Trumbo was a successful screenwriter ("30 Seconds Over Tokyo" and "Kitty Foyle" and many more) and a National Book Award winning novelist (Johnny Got His Gun) when the House Committee On Un-American Activities sank its teeth into investigating Hollywood for its supposed communist connections. This was a standing committee in the House of Representatives from 1945 through 1975, and its hearings led to the Hollywood blacklist. Trumbo was one of the "Hollywood 10"--writers who may have been members of the American Communist Party (Trumbo was a member from '43-'48) but who refused to name other people who might be Communists. They stood their ground either based on the First or Fifth Amendment, and they all paid a heavy price. (There were many who famously cooperated by offering names, but that's another story.) This film serves as a timely warning, yes, but I recommend it here mainly because it is a tribute to Trumbo's writing as much as his courage. It is a must-see for readers and writers.

"Trumbo" is no preachy-teachy documentary. It's based on the play written by Trumbo's son, who also wrote the screenplay for the documentary, which is a combination of film clips, interviews, and readings by actors like Josh Lucas...







...Josh Brolin...







...Joan Allen, David Straithairn, Paul Giamatti, Michael and Kirk Douglas and many others. The man's letters are amazing. They were written to his family and friends--many from prison--and they add sparkle and richness and character to the story. (My favorite is Trumbo's letter to his son letting him know that masturbation is normal. It's SO funny and--forgive me--touching!)

During the late 50's and into the 60's Trumbo used pseudonyms and actually wrote screenplays under the guise of cooperating fellow writers. He wrote the screenplays for "Spartacus" and "Exodus," among others, and his screenplay for "The Brave One," written under a pseudonym, won an Oscar that no one showed up to accept.

Has anyone seen "Trumbo"? What did you think? With all the talk of censorship and freedom of speech going around these days, it behooves us to look back even as we look forward. When we hear someone suggesting that the government or the media should investigate who's "pro-American" and who's "anti-American," we should take a look at where this kind of thinking has led us in the past. We should use a variety of resources, the way we were taught to (I hope) back when we were in school. Even entertainment and pop fiction writers can find themselves unexpectedly in the line of fire. This documentary is a viewpoint well worth considering.

2 comments:

Whalehugger said...

This sounds like it's definitely worth watching. I've added it to our 'want to see' list. Thanks for sharing.

Michele Hauf said...

I always get nervous when my research leads me to some weird site that lists terrorist organizations (not sure how I get there, but it's happened) or even when I'm researching weapons. I figure if any government agency looked through my history they'd have to wonder.

Looks like a great flick, Kathy. May have to look for it.