I’ve been think of writing about this for a while, since I saw Reds again in about 2 decades. Very good film, particularly as it portrays the hopes the Russian revolution produced as well as the failure of Bolshevism.
So are there any good anarchist films? I don’t necessarily mean films by or about anarchists, but ones with an anarchist message or which anarchists can enjoy. I’ll mention three good ones, before discussing a not-so-good one based on a classic anarchist comic.
First off is Reds. The actress who portrayed Emma Goldman deserved her Oscar, as can be seen from this clip:
It presents a good summary of the problems associated with the Bolshevik regime. It really was a mess, a mess that cannot be fully explained by the civil war and blockade. I should also point out that Goldman was well aware of the problems associated with the civil war – that was why she took so long to break with the Bolsheviks. However, her understanding of the problems facing the revolution was deeper than the superficial perspective of apologists for Leninism – in part due to her anarchist politics which had always stressed that revolutions are not easy (see Kropotkin’s The Conquest of Bread and Act for Yourselves).
I should also note that Reds portrayal of Reed’s disillusionment with Bolshevism (something denied by modern-day Leninists) echoes Goldman’s opinions on the subject. Unfortunately, it seems impossible to say for sure who is right – but hope that Reed did escape his infatuation with Leninism (an infatuation which saw him, like Victor Serge, defend party dictatorship).
Moving on, the next film I would have to include is Matewan (by John Sayles). This is about a Miners’ strike in West Virginia and is an absolute classic. Here is a simply brilliant scene:
The movie is an impressive piece of cinema on a strike and union organising – something which is rarely covered in movies. Interestingly, what happened next in the strike is even more impressive. The miners’ came out and the whole of the area became a battlefield with an army of strikers fighting it out with the bosses goons. Unfortunately, appeals to their American patriotism got them to unarm.
Of the last good movies, I need to mention Land and Freedom. This is about the Spanish Revolution and is by a Trotskyist director (which explains why it’s about the POUM militia). It is the story of an English Communist Party member who goes to Spain to fight for the Republic, joins the POUM militia by mistake and ends up seeing the counter-revolutionary role of the CP first hand. When he rips up his membership card, we all cheered in the cinema (causing one Stalinist to shout out “Tories” at us!).
As well as action scenes, the film makes the debate to collectivise the land interesting. Here is a moving scene after the militia frees a village and is burying their dead:
I should mention that the words of The International was written by an anarchist, Eugène Pottier (1816–1887), in June 1871 after the Paris Commune (of which he was a member). He was a follower of Proudhon, like most of the French Section of the First International.
Finally, the not-so-good film -- V for Vendetta. The comic book by Alan Moore is a classic. V’s address to the nation is a brilliant piece of anarchist propaganda – unsurprisingly, as Moore considers himself an anarchist. The film, well, gutted the politics from the comic. The only reference to anarchism is when someone robs a shop and shouts out “Anarchy in the UK” as they escape – talk about missing the point!
Here is the trailer:
If you have not read the book, it is passable (the best bits are lifted straight from it). As my partner said, it was quite political for a mainstream Hollywood film and it may get people interested in reading the graphic novel. If so, then I’ll forgive it somewhat! So while an okayish film, please watch it before you read the comic book – you will enjoy it much more.
And here is Alan Moore discussing his masterpiece:
So, have I missed anything obvious? Any other anarchist films people would recommend?
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