Thursday, January 14, 2010
BAM and The Red Peril
The post-screening discussion had gained momentum and now the panellists were beginning to enjoy themselves.
"And of course what the film doesn't show is that his wife was one of the richest women in America, the heiress to what became General Foods."
"And you know all those train scenes? Well, really they arrived on their luxury private yacht..."
"THAT'S NOT TRUE!"
Three of the panellists' faces say There's always one crazy in the audience
The fourth panellist clears his throat, a little guiltily.
"And we are lucky enough to have us with us in the audience the granddaughter of Joseph Davies, whose mother and father were portrayed in the film."
His fellow panellists try not to look like they've been slapped in the face. Suddenly their wry critiques and witty asides seem snide and disrespectful. Quick as a luxury sailing vessel, they change tack.
"So, ummm, it'd be great to hear what your mother's experiences of Russia were."
But already the ambassador's granddaughter is making her way to the front of the room and gesturing for the microphone.
"You're all laughing at the film, but my grandfather was there and he said that that was what was so amazing about the trials. The accused men really did just go off and, you know, hang themselves."
There are murmurs in the room. She is talking about the scene of the purge trials, which, as one of the panellists has already pointed out, showcases some of the ugliest and most biddable traitors in the history of cinema.
"And you've got to remember. There's a war on."
The panellists nod sagely at this. Granddaughter holds on to the microphone The event has morphed from a film panel to an awkward q&a. Unwisely, one of them persists with the question of the sailing boat. She's sure that was what her source said.
"Oh that was a different time. They didn't arrive in it."
From then on the discussion is strangely charged. What's at stake is no longer a Warner Brothers propaganda film, but a family's reputation, America's moral integrity, and the true story of the second world war. People start sentences with phrases like "As a person of Finnish descent..." and two historians in front of us almost come to blows over a third historian's assessment of the Trotsky-bloc plot.
It's tempting to join in. Both the film and the audience members talk about brave Russia fighting off Hitler alone, as if as a personal favour to America.
"Twenty-five million people. I mean, you can't even imagine. They died for us," the Granddaughter intones piously.
I half expect someone to shout an A-men.