Thursday, February 11, 2016

I Have Seen The Hail, Caesar!

Hail, Caesar! is funny for old movie buffs. It pays homage to Hollywood Westerns, Musicals, Drawing Room Melodramas, Film Noir, and Bible Epics, among other genres. It has an All-Star cast, plus nice singing, dancing, and rope tricks. You could play Trivial Pursuit for hours with cinematic references both missed and noticed.

However, in addition to being superb entertainment, the film is  filled with astute political analysis, for the major plot device, upon which the entire story of Hail, Caesar! hinges, is the infiltration of 1950s Hollywood by Communists at every level--from movie extras to screenwriters to stars.

In this film, they work as a criminal gang which calls itself "The Future." Which makes Hail, Caesar! a meditation on the past--a form of Ancient History, with the studios as our American equivalent of Roman Ruins: The Glory that was MGM! The Grandeur that was Paramount!

The type of Biblical Epic in which George Clooney stars in Hail, Caesar! has become so politically incorrect these days that it is now the province of fringe production companies or Mel Gibson. Yet in the 1950s, "the Story of the Christ" was bread-and-butter to Hollywood studios.

In Hail, Caesar! the pivotal Communist cell--named as such by narrator Michael Gambon (Harry Potter's Dumbledore)-- is composed of screenwriters who kidnap and brainwash Hollywood star Baird Whitlock (Clooney) in a Malibu beach house. They subsequently attempt to turn over the ransom money along with a defecting Musical Comedy star to a waiting Soviet submarine, so that it might be used by Moscow to spread revolution--because, they say, merely putting Communist messages in Hollywood films is no longer enough.

In a telling scene, the Hollywood cell is joined by a Professor Marcuse (John Bluthal, Professor Pacoli in The Fifth Element), smoking a pipe and speaking with a German accent, just as the real-life communist professor, who served as intellectual father to the New Left during the 1960s, did. Marcuse's critique of "false consciousness" is alluded to in Bluthals dialectical explanation of history and economics to the kidnapped Clooney.  In his real-world essay "Repressive Tolerance," Marcuse also called for censorship of politically incorrect perspectives:

They would include the withdrawal of toleration of speech and assembly from groups and movements which promote aggressive policies, armament, chauvinism, discrimination on the grounds of race and religion, or which oppose the extension of public services, social security, medical care, etc.

A leading light of the Frankfurt School, as Wikipedia tells us, Marcuse had been an OSS agent during World War II, CIA analyst after that, and eventually chief of the US State Department's Central European section until 1951, when he went into academia and gave birth to the theories calling for revolutionary alliances between students, intellectuals and oppressed classes other than workers (such as Blacks, Hispanics, Women and Homosexuals), since the working class had become unreliable due to material prosperity. He was an influence on Angela Davis, Abbie Hoffman, and others, as well as a friend of scholars like Barrington Moore and Noam Chomsky (who criticized his work).

While presented as satire, the Hollywood cell in Hail, Caesar offers a convincing portrayal of the type of thinking prevalent among Hollywood Communists, including stultifying "study group" meetings, endless discussions of economics and class struggle, and the reading of Soviet Life magazine in luxurious beach houses. The Soviet submarine is undoubtedly a cinematic reference to the 1966 comedy, The Russians are Coming, The Russians are Coming. The naive faith of the screenwriter-kidnappers in Communism, as portrayed by the Coen Brothers, is one of the finest depictions of the mechanics of the Red Menace in the history of American Motion Pictures.

The Coen brothers are telling us with their nostalgic pastiche of 1950s movies, that the Golden Age of the studio moguls has ended forever--and that, unfortunately, Hollywood is no longer able to continue what Parker Tyler called the "Magic and Myth of the Movies" because that studio system is dead.

Which means that Hail, Caesar is a very funny movie with a very serious message--because "The Future" has arrived, and every one of the genre pictures shown in the film could no longer be made today due to withdrawal of toleration advocated by Profesor Marcuse, as enforced by his Hollywood disciples today.

So, go out and see Hail, Caesar! before the protests begin...