by Emil De Antonio and Bill Nichols
Cut, no. 19, December 1978, pp. 37-38
Year of Pig Marxist film
by Emil De Antonio
I want to reply to two lines in Bill Nichols's "New from California Newsreel" in Jump Cut, No. 17, p. 10.
IN THE YEAR OF THE PIG was/is an organizing weapon, a collage/history of the people's struggle in Vietnam. That collage was made with the help of the DRV, the NLF, French Marxists, film and television friends of the Czech Democratic Republic (1967), the German Democratic Republic, U.S. deserters, antiwar veterans and the antiwar movement itself. It was made when the Movement was young, large, high on struggle and emotion, and without knowledge of what had happened in Vietnam, when it happened and why. No U.S. protest was shown in the film because it was the other addressing itself to us, frequently in our words and images. It was also the way we saw them from the mid-1930s to the Têt Offensive. It was a Marxist, historical line, not free from error.
Its audience was varied, intense, in some places even wide. It played European television but never U.S. Not even now. It played the U.S and Europe theatrically. Theaters were attacked. Screens were painted over with hammer and sickle (Los Angeles, among others); bomb threats to the theater in Houston; in Paris during a long, successful run, the cinema was systematically stink bombed. It was used as a tool by the Moratorium; it was a benefit for the Chicago Seven at the opening of their trial; the Australian antiwar movement used it as its primary film weapon; it played GI coffee houses; it played teach-ins. I still meet people who say, "Your film turned me to antiwar activity." And yes, it still plays colleges.
It was the first U.S. Marxist film to be nominated for an Academy Award. That didn't mean as much to me as the ring a DRV officer solemnly gave me in Leipzig where the film won a prize, a ring made from a plane shot down over the DRV.
If we forget history, we are only a convulsive twitch to today's media output. That output is false, bad and works to blot out yesterday's reality. The struggle is always the same; the ultimate goal is always the same; but the currents, the cast, the emphases, the disguises change. I am not a left liberal and neither is the film.
Bill Nichols replies
The Los Angeles screen I saw was painted "PIG"; our own screen in Kingston, at the National Film Theatre branch here, was severely slashed (1977!). De Antonio is right. His film emerged from the heat of the New Left, helped mobilize many, and fully deserves the support it's received. IN THE YEAR OF THE PIG was also a little different from Newsreel's films. Newsreel was an ongoing collective, making films for circulation primarily within the community-based New Left (anti-draft groups, GI coffee houses, war resistance groups, the Black Panthers, the Young Lords, prisoner support groups, specific defense efforts like that around Los Siete in San Francisco, the Chicago 7, etc.). Until THE WOMEN'S FILM in 1971, Newsreel never even attempted theatrical release, seeing that as a step toward co-optation within the commodity system of circulation that sucked the political life from leftist films. Films that entered that system were left-liberal to Newsreel. Much debate went into this position, some even arguing that no Newsreel film should ever go out without a Newsreel member to help lead discussion, most agreeing that discussion in some form should occur whenever a Newsreel film was shown. Again, failure to insist upon the necessity of discussion around films when they are shown and to make explicit provisions for it seemed a liberal lapse, trusting aesthetic power to do what only political organizing could actually achieve — an ongoing, self-sustaining struggle to change our political and economic system.
But that was then. Today Newsreel's films circulate in a manner not radically different from de Antonio's films. The label "left-liberal" does not adequately describe the difference now, nor does it do full justice to de Antonio's films in any case. Its use continues a political position that grew up in a climate of confrontation and polarization and sometimes failed to distinguish friends from the myriad enemies. The question of how a film is distributed — by whom, at what rates, to what groups, shown in what context, with what kind of discussion or supporting materials — remains a vital and perhaps somewhat neglected one. It is not a question that should be glossed over. Hopefully, all leftists actively engaged in the use of film and its related media, including both Emile de Antonio and Newsreel, will continue to contribute to an understanding of how to make the best possible political use of the context in which films are shown.