Friday, August 07, 2015

Two Film Reviews

Film Review from the August 1988 issue of the Socialist Standard

Richard Attenborough's film, Cry Freedom, tells the true story of white newspaper editor Donald Woods (played by Kevin Kline) who was forced to flee South Africa as a result of his championing of Steve Biko, the black consciousness leader who was brutally killed in police custody. It takes as its central theme the apparent dilemma of a white liberal committed to ending apartheid but who, at the same time, benefits from it to the extent that he and his family live in the kind of luxury (complete with black maid) available for the most part only to whites.

Woods is challenged to go and meet Biko after his paper publishes a story accusing him of being a "black racist". He revises his opinion and the two become friends. However, his political education is less about the realities of apartheid shown to him by Biko, than about the realities of state power that the Minister for Police, Kruger, teaches him. His liberal perspective on the state, while it allows that there is sometimes corruption, "over-zealousness" and individual acts of brutality on the part of the police, does not permit him to see that the idea of "the rule of the law" is little more than a facade; that in fact the state operates in the interests of those with power and will take whatever steps are deemed necessary in their defence.

The high point of the film comes when Woods is forced to question that liberal viewpoint. He realises that his complaint about police thugs smashing up a craft workshop run by Biko has simply resulted in him being dubbed a subversive, banned and ultimately harassed by the police to such an extent that he is forced to leave South Africa for good. That realisation is confirmed when Biko — like numerous other black prisoners — is murdered while in police custody.

Cry Freedom is a glossy, at times sentimental, film which towards the end degenerates into little more than an exciting "escape" story as Woods and his family make their getaway. It's a pity that, no doubt to secure the film a broader audience, its politics ultimately take second place to the sentiment, the gloss and the excitement.
Janie Percy-Smith

Film Review from the December 1974 issue of the Socialist Standard

A correspondent in South Africa has sent us this account of the screening of a film based on life there.

"Gold" has well-known actors in the leading parts, and several hundred Africans — of whom two are named in the printed programme. This film, recently screened in Johannesburg, was made in and around this city and London. It was produced with the co-operation of a major South African gold-mining corporation, so it would be safe to assume that it does not misrepresent the gold mining industry — adversely, at least.

The plot revolves round (apart from the cuckolding of the villain by the hero) the machinations of an international syndicate of investors led by the grandson-in-law of and heir to the good-natured, scrupulously honest, uninvolved big boss of the Mining House. Their aim is to flood the mine secretly (with the loss perhaps of a hundred or so miners' lives — "but then there's a price on everything") in order to cause a sudden rise in the price of gold and a drop in the share prices for this particular mine. With their foreknowledge of the event they hope to make a "killing" on the Stock Exchanges of the world.

Near the beginning of the film a "normal" mine disaster occurs with the usual fatalities and injuries among the miners, of course, though this time the underground mine manager is also killed. At a ceremony in an open-air stadium, to signify the company's appreciation of the sacrifices of the miners, a black hero is presented with a "gold" helmet and the widow of another African miner is awarded a pension for life of R120 — about £80 — per annum. (The pension of the mine manager's widow is not mentioned.)

I noticed that the sleek preview audience made no audible response; maybe they were asleep. Later, I looked at my seat-ticket (a complimentary one, I hasten to add!) and saw that the price stamped on it was R20, about £13.50; and it was not for one of the best seats by any means. This "Gala Première" was in aid of charity — oddly, not for silicosis or other mining diseases but for teaching aids for dyslexic pupils. Either way, the need for charity from the wealthy springs from the very social system which maintains them in economic supremacy.

Scenes of magnificent homes with high living and conspicuous consumption for the mine-owning minority and their scenic playgrounds in the bush-covered mountains alternate with shots of working conditions underground — though we are not shown the barrack-life living conditions for black miners in the mine compounds.

I can recommend the film for its scenes of how some of the rich live in South Africa and for shots of (typical ?) underground working conditions here. Also, for those interested, some fine aerial views of the Highveld bush and mountain scenery in the Transvaal. Mainly, however, one sees how false issues — a "moral conflict" — are made from different evaluations of human beings in the search for gold and profits.
Alec Hart

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