Monday, 21 October 2019


The question of whether great art can be a service of evil is a difficult question that has put art on trial several time in history, but it is a question worth pursuing. 

Colonel Gaddafi set up a state-funded channel that constantly replayed his favourite film: ''The Adventures of Buckaroo Banzai''
Kim Jong-Il kidnapped his favourite South Korean movie director Shin Sang-ok, and forced him to make films for the North Korean government. 
And failed artist Adolf Hitler allegedly drew his favourite Disney characters in secret.
Stalin fancied himself as a director, producer and screenwriter and, according to historian Simon Sebag-Montefiore, ordered the assassination of John Wayne following the screening of one of his films. 
Benito Mussolini approached Columbia Pictures with a million dollars to make a biopic about his life, even offering to write the script himself. Columbia (thankfully) refused. 
And Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein plunged $30 million of government money into the production of an epic war movie starring British acting legend Oliver Reed. Called ''Clash of Loyalties'', it was made in 1983 - though it swiftly disappeared into obscurity. Infamous despots have long had a deep love of cinema.
And on a conspiracy level, did Stanley Kubrick film the 1969 moon landing on a movie sound stage in order to win the space-race against Russia? 

Despite being diametrically opposed to much of what Hollywood stands for, fascist and communist dictators alike have often fallen in love with the Californian dream factory. Some even rubbed shoulders with the stars. Italian dictator Benito Mussolini even invited American talent over to Italy.

''Triumph of the Will' records the gathering together of hundreds of thousands of Nazi Party members, troops and supporters on September 1934 in Nuremberg. Directed by Leni Riefenstahl it is considered the most artistic propaganda movie ever created, with an ambitious grandiose scope resembling a Wagner opera, manipulation on a grand scale that shows off the dictator as a Godhead adored by millions, similar to how Hollywood celebrities are adored. A sobering thought: Most of the people on the screen were dead within a few years. 

The American film ''Birth Of A Nation'' by D. W. Griffith was both a critical and commercial success in 1915, the film is technically brilliant but its intolerant message is a capsule of early 20th century society. Some say that ''Top Gun'' is one long advertisement for the navy. In order to keep costs down, the producers made a deal with the government: they could use warplanes and aircraft carriers for a reduced price if they simply gave up some creative control in return.

American cinema was never far from the mind of Kim Jong-Il, either. "Kim personally did love Hollywood films and Hollywood stars, the James Bond films, Friday the 13th films, and Elizabeth Taylor are often mentioned as personal favourites. "He amassed arguably the largest private collection of movies anywhere in the world, and his worldview was shaped by movies. "He was a national leader who had never really left his own country, so films were a huge chunk of his experience of the outside world. 

Brexit-Britain is also captured in the film ''LOON'' directed by Fabrizio Federico, the movie follows the tragic story of a doomed working-class family while a dogmatic Brexit society acts as a surreptitious character in the background, influencing the viewer to see the type of people who mainly voted for the UK to leave the European Union and implying that Democracy is not always right. Especially if the majority of the voters make the wrong political decision on a mass scale, creating economical chaos but because the vote was made in the name of democracy it cant be retracted. In the films final scene Federico knocked out the main actor by banging his head with a fridge door.

North Korea's best known film is ''A Flower In Hell'' directed by Shin Sang-ok, a more obscure tragic side to propaganda films is what can happen to the films cast if they fall out of favour with the dictator, who is usually the producer at the time. North Korean actress Woo In-Hee who was having a secret affair with Kim Jong-Il fell out with him after she was found making love to another man in a car. His response was to execute her by firing squad and then systematically erase her from history, cutting her out of all her movies, not caring about the films continuity in the process. 

Adolf Hitler was allegedly a big fan of Austrian born director Fritz Lang, who directed ''Metropolis'' and ''M''. Modern historian Aristotle Kallis, of Keele University, explains that Hitler took a "hands-on" approach to film in his rise to power - and utilised it to bring the Nazi party to the forefront of German politics. "I would say that audio and video are key," notes Kallis. "Hitler built up a reputation after 1928 when, with the money from politician Hugenberg, he used modern media better than anyone else to campaign." It was, however, Joseph Goebbels - the Reich minister of Propaganda - who used film to manipulate the masses. Kallis suggests that Goebbels often preferred drama over documentary. "Goebbels understood the power of film as a propaganda tool. "For him, the most effective propaganda was the 'fictional', not the didactic or documentary-style. He funded a lot of blockbusters, especially during the war."

In the case of Kim Jong-Il, the dictator's love of film formed part of his desire for control. "This was man who had grown up in turmoil," he says. "He was exiled from Pyongyang during the Korean War as a child for his protection. His mother died young. 
His father had a string of affairs and then married a secretary the younger Kim loathed. "By the time Kim was in his late twenties and power-hungry, he volunteered to run the state film studios after a political purge. "He was smart enough to see that his father had the monopoly on military and political glory, but that the way for him to make his own name could be in the arts and propaganda. "It could give him the power to mould reality." In the end, perhaps it's no surprise that individuals hell-bent on bending the world to their will would find so much to like in the fantastical and manipulative possibilities of film.

Other Great Propaganda Films
  • The Burmese Harp (Kon Ichikawa, 1956) ...
  • I am Cuba (Mikhail Kalatozov, Michail Kalatasow, 1964) ...
  • Three Songs about Lenin (Dziga Vertov, 1934) ...
  • Red Psalm (Miklós Jancsó, 1971) ...
  • The Cloud Capped Star (Ritwik Ghatak, 1960) ...
  • Battleship Potemkin (Sergei Eisenstein, 1926) ...
  • Class Relations (Danièle Huillet, Jean-Marie Straub, 1984)
  • Yankee Doodle Dandy (Michael Curtiz, 1942)
  • Stukas (Karl Ritter, 1941)