Saturday, November 28, 2009

What We Can Learn from Movies

by Rich Miles

Those who know me well know that I am an inveterate film buff. I would rather watch a film from the 1930's than from the 2000's, and Turner Classic Movies is the best thing that ever happened to television, as far as I'm concerned.

Well, anyway - the reason I mention all this now is that I am in the process at this very moment of watching a film that has much to say to us. It's not a terribly well-known film, though it has some quite popular actors in it. James Stewart, Margaret Sullavan, Robert Young, Maria Ouspenskaya, Ward Bond, Frank Morgan, among others whose names and faces most of us would recognize, film buffs or no.

The film is called "The Mortal Storm". It was made in 1939 and released in 1940, even before the full ramifications of its subject matter was known worldwide.

And quite a subject matter it has, too. The film is about the beginnings of Nazism in Germany. ALL the beginnings, most especially the ugly ones.

And in addition to being something of a historical document showing how fascism took root in Germany back then, and the powerlessness of the average man and woman in the face of such psychic and physical violence, it also manages to be something of a precursor to the world as it is today.

I know, I know, everyone always calls his adversaries Nazis. Rush Limbaugh has been doing it for years with his "Feminazis" shtick, among many others on both sides of the political spectrum.

But if ever there were a filmic demonstration of what fascism actually looks like, at ground level and in the daily lives of men and women, this film is it.

An eerie moment, reminiscent of far too many things, takes place early in the movie. Here's a short description of it:

Germans were well known for their fondness for singing - group singing in bars and restaurants especially. Such a group sing takes place with the local Nazi cell leading the song.

And they sing an early Nazi anthem, with their arms raised in the traditional Nazi "Heil Hitler" salute.

And it reminded me for all the world of the way fundamentalist Xtians often raise their hands while they sing supposedly rapturous hymns to the alleged almighty.

It's not a perfect analogy, but it is a spooky reminder, or precursor if you prefer.

Those who seek to control the hearts and minds of others often make the same outward moves and gestures every time it happens.

And now - how did we get to this point? Where supposed "Christians" have become our 21st century Nazis?

And more to the point - what do we do about it now?

As Jimmy Stewart and Margaret Sullavan are about to escape over the border into Austria, he gives her one last chance to change her mind: "Shall we go, over the border? Or shall we go back?"

And she says, "Back to what?"

Good question.


Anonymous said...

As they say now "we must take our country back".

I assume their "back" would be to the 1950's. For some reason the Teabaggers are in love with that period.

Commie under every bush, and Sen. McCarthy pointing them out.

Ozzie and Harriet and the boys spending a quiet evening at home.

You never saw a Mexican, unless you traveled out West at harvest time.

We learned about blacks from the high school minstrel shows.

Gay's were so deep into the closet, you hardly never heard of them.

If you were wealthy and became pregnant you traveled overseas, if not, you were then "married".

Simple times, for simple minds.

Jack Jodell said...

Thanks for the info on that film, Rich. I'm going to try to see it or order it on DVD. And I agree with much of what "Anonymous" has posted here. Those teabaggers are delusional. Nobody ever solved a current pressing problem by turning the clock back 60 or 80 years.