Political Film Society - Newsletter #296 - December 28, 2007

December 28, 2007


There Will Be BloodSocialist Upton Sinclair’s novels are not heartwarming. Oil! (1927), written in the context of President Harding’s teapot dome scandal, is no exception. The film version, directed by Paul Thomas Anderson, exposes not only the ruthlessness of capitalism but also the hypocrisy of evangelists--both at a very personal level. The slow-moving There Will Be Blood of somewhat over 2½ hours seems much shorter due to the loud punctuation by a Beethovianish filmscore. The main villain, Daniel Plainview (played by Daniel Day Lewis), begins in 1898 trying to find silver in an abandoned Texas mine but finds oil instead. He then becomes an oil wildcatter, either buying up land in Southern California if he can or getting oil leases if he cannot. To persuade humble Christians to do business with him, his main prop is H. W. (played by Dillon Freasier), whom he claims to be his son and partner. He knows what to say to poor but honest people in order get their cooperation, confident that the real reason that they allow him on their land is money. One day, his fame attracts the attention of Paul Sunday (played by Paul Dano), who comes calling to sell for $500 some information about property where oil is definitely to be found. The deal is struck, Paul takes off for a new life somewhere, and Daniel persuades Paul’s father Abel (played by David Willis) to agree to drilling on his land. But Paul’s twin brother Eli (also played by Paul Dano), an evangelist, drives up the price, presumably to help his church. Daniel and Eli, thus, are enemies from their first encounter to the last. (Filmviewers should consider them as paradigmatic roles, rather than biographies of J.P. Getty's father and Billy Sunday.) Subplots include Daniel’s abandonment of his son when the latter becomes deaf due to his proximity to a sudden gusher, for which he must later confess himself to be a sinner in order to secure consent from a property owner to build a pipeline for the oil.

Standard Oil and Union Oil try to buy him out. Union Oil, which also controls the Union Pacific Railroad, eats most of his profits in freight charges. A man one day arrives, pretending to be his half-brother, but ultimately Daniel learns that he is an imposter, just seeking easy money. H.W. (now played by Russell Harvard) later gets married and leaves with his bride for México to start an oil business, whereupon Daniel tells him that he was only a foundling. The blood theme can be counted from among the few who die as well as the hymn “There's Power in the Blood” during Daniel’s bogus testimonial to get the pipeline. For demonstrating cutthroat capitalism in its nakedness, the Political Film Society has nominated There Will Be Blood as best exposé of 2007. MH

Southland TalesTwo atomic bombs hit Texas in 2004. America is transformed. More civil liberties are lost by a renewed Patriot Act that is specifically credited to the Republicans. By 2008, Democrats and others opposed to the new order, in which surveillance is combined with vigilant snipers on duty 24/7, are hunted down as neo-Marxist traitors. The United States is on a permanent war footing--simultaneously in Afghanistan, Iraq, North Korea, and Syria. But rather than a strictly political thriller, science fiction enters the plot along with Hollywood excesses. Directed by Richard Kelly, the political competes with the trivial in a surreal Los Angeles. Although some may walk out before the ending of the film because of too much sexploitation, the Political Film Society has nominated Southland Tales as best film on human rights of 2007, having projected present trends into a future that most filmviewers may not want to believe is only one more megaterrorist bombing in the United States away from reality. MH