Friday, 5 June 2009

Emile de Antonio: Radical Filmmaker in Cold War America

by Randolph Lewis

No one expected to make a fortune from the film, and de Antonio even hoped that profits could be given away to radical causes. In fact, some profits were illicit because de Antonio had neglected such niceties as paying royalties for using some well-known songs on the soundtrack. Although folksinger Phil Ochs drunkenly granted permission for his song "The War Is Over," he died before he signed a release, and songs by Nina Simone and Bob Dylan were used without permission or payment. Yet skimping on such legalities made it possible to create an ambitious film from meager resources.

Underground is without question an ambitious film. The filmmakers skillfully intertwine personal narratives of the five Weatherpeople with a visual history of anti-imperialism, which is broadly defined to include everything from the Flint sit-down strike of 1936 to the civil rights movement, from Fidel Castro's musings on revolution to the death of the Black Panther leader Fred Hampton. Much of the film celebrates the success of 1960s radicalism, especially in regard to Vietnam: military helicopters are pushed into the sea while Ochs sings "The War Is Over" on the soundtrack; antiwar veterans toss their medals onto the steps of the U.S. Capitol while a crowd cheers. In the most powerful and unprecedented scene Ho Chi Minh addresses the American people in English while he walks among his countrymen.

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