The Front (1976) & Tin Men (1987)
So the award season is here. I must admit that on the morning after the Golden Globes I steered immediately to view the red carpet pictures and ignored any information on who and what films won.
It is strange to find myself so unconsciously and strongly pulled by the star myth. Luckily, I later watched a clip of Ricky Gervais' opening speech as the presenter of the gala. He reminded me that cinema is much more sinister and complex a phenomenon than the glamor and plasticity of the red carpet conveys.
There have been much more serious times for cinema of course. The Front is a great reminder that not so very long ago, American actors, writers, directors and the rest of the professionals in cinema could find themselves on a black list – unemployed and politically victimized. I am especially fascinated by this historic example because it reveals how art has been considered a dangerously influential form of expression. Creativity has threatening explosive potential. Things can change.
Tin Men relates to The Front through their depiction of the times, the middle of the 20th Century. Where The Front discusses how artistic creativity was to be controlled in fear of change or even revolution, Tin Men shows that even the working classes did not survive without being surveiled and tried. There was a general suspicion from the men in power towards everyone else. What was it with this paranoia, is it still in the air? Both films seem to be saying that actually artists as well as the everyman were only consumed by the mundane: love affairs, who has a bigger car, how to pay the bills or keep the tax man at bay.
What about women? Well, these films did not discuss women as artists or as everywomen. Barbara Hershey is one of my favorite actors, but in Tin Men she was just a canvas or a prop.
It's a spineless gutless world and we're all going to hell. I could say this is how I've been waking up every morning, covered in guilt. But I'm not. However harsh the realities of life are for myself, they are obviously a lot harder for other people. Where is my voice of protest through these dark ages? Why am I not making a stand for the things I believe in? Most probably because I'm selfish, and the 'right' cause hasn't come along for me to support, I won't be supporting anything. I'll just be cynically commenting on how everything should be better.
The Front is as close as you can get to a Woody Allen picture without actually being one. It stars Allen, is produced by Allen's regular producers (Rollins & Joffe), co-stars Allen actor (Michael Murphy) and has the pace and the feel of a an Allen picture. Unlike typical Allen, it's political. Allen plays The Front of the title role, a cashier worker who ends up fronting scripts for blacklisted writers during the communist witch hunt of the 1950's. McCarthyism is something Howard Prince (Allen) thinks he can beat as he becomes accustomed to the fake life of a successful scriptwriter. The Front squeezes a great performance out of Allen and has one of the sweetest pay-off lines. It also comes across at times like a public health warning about the consequences of McCarthyism. Despite this it's an enjoyable picture. Martin Ritt directs, from a script by Walter Bernstein. These two, along with many other supporting cast and crew members truly suffered from the black list back in the day.
aluminum-siding sellers who start a running feud after theirs cars collide. Tin Men is witty, well acted and super cruel. It also has the bonus of the love interest being supplied by the underrated Barbara Hershey. Eventually a love story ensues between Hershey and Dreyfuss (hello chemistry) before both men have their selling licenses revoked in court with scenes reminiscent of the McCarthy witch hunts. Tin Men still stands up as a slick, funny film about real people trying to make a living in the USA. Along with The Front, it highlights how America has often persecuted its own. Will I be making a stand soon?