The shipyard painter, political activist and razor-sharp cartoonist Bob Starrett has just written a new book The Way I See It on his eventful life and times. Below we reprint one of his stories and review an essential read
Over the last 20 years Clint Eastwood has produced a series of “revisionist” films contradicting his stereotypical image including Unforgiven, Flags Of Our Fathers and Gran Torino.
All of them have have been shamefully attacked as “un-American.”
Eastwood has finally confronted the greatest ghost — J Edgar Hoover, the man most responsible for manipulating US politics by branding all progressives as “communists.”
The prologue opens with the sight of Washington’s FBI headquarters as a creepy voice-over declares: “Communism is not a political party — it’s a disease.”
The camera reveals John Dillinger’s white death mask before stopping on the face of a grotesque monster played by a prosthetically enhanced Leonardo DiCaprio.
It’s Hoover in his lair, dictating his memoirs to an agent which perpetuate the myths first fashioned by The FBI Story. It was produced by Warner Brothers, who also produced this film, in 1958.
Eastwood’s approach to Dustin Lance Black’s script is dialectical, intercutting the personal and political to illustrate the passion that stoked Hoover’s paranoia.
Yet the constant flashing back and forth to illustrate a very complex story will confound some and be unsatisfactory to others. Central to it is Hoover’s domineering mother (Judi Dench), the connivance of his PA Helen Gandy (Naomi Watts) and his love affair with his deputy Clyde Tolson (Arnie Hammer).
Though the latter is portrayed tenderly, Hoover did hound out homosexuals within the FBI. As the New York Times says, it’s the humanisation of Hoover before Eastwood “effectively outs them.”
What we see is an ambitious apparatchik who realised that keeping secret files on everybody, including six presidents, would enable him to manipulate power.
Pressure on Roosevelt and Bobby Kennedy (Jeffrey Donovan) is featured, but not Truman or his close association with Joseph McCarthy, who’s dismissed in one line.
We see his claims of leading the G-Men into action as false. Dillinger and his like were liabilities uncontrolled by the mafia, with the latter in reality blackmailing him.
The scene that will resonate beyond the US shows Hoover telling one of them that Martin Luther King Jnr will not accept the Nobel Peace Prize because his bedroom’s been bugged.
Hoover almost has palpitations as his henchmen — who look like two Spitting Image puppets — sense they’re not holding all the strings.
Thus Richard Nixon (Richard Shyler) demands the files as they’re being shredded.
The effect of Hoover’s influence was to initiate a cold war that created a complementary paranoia in communist circles.
He most certainly would have had Eastwood classified as un-American. In that sense he’s a fellow-traveller who’s outed himself.
Thank you, Mr Eastwood.
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