My Gleanings

Friday, January 18, 2008

In the late 1960s, not long before his death, the screenwriter Henri Jeanson on French radio and later in print that Jean Renoir, on the eve of departure from Lisbon for America in late 1940 made anti-Semitic statements to the Portuguese press praising Adolf Hitler and bemoaning his own involvement with the French Communist Party. French film historian Claude Beylie investigated those allegations and, in 1975, in his book Jean Renoir la vie, la spectacle published a rebuttal. Beylie probably had no idea at the time that there existed more information which tended to refute Jeanson's charges. That information was contained in FBI files of Renoir's activities in the USA where he became involved soon after his arrival in america with organizations such as the People’s Educational Association, the Joint Anti-Fascist Refugee Committee and the National Council of American–Soviet Friendship, strange quarters for someone pro-Hitler, anti-Jewish and anti-Communist. That information has been published on-line in An Archive of the (Political) Unconscious

by Christopher Faulkner of Carleton College.

What follows here is
1) Jeanson's charges as published in his memoir Soixante-dix anneés d'adolescence

2) Beylie's rebuttal as published in Jean Renoir la vie, la spectacle

3) an excerpt from Faulkner's article An Archive of the (Political) Unconscious

from Henri Jeanson Soixante-dix anneés d'adolescence (page 359, my translation)

This is what Jeanson has Renoir saying in Portugal in December 1940

"Alas, yes and it is not without regret. But I am a temperamental man, often rash and I have done some insolent things.I have stupidly compromised myself with the Communist party and the people of the Left. But time is working in my favor, I will return to France. Hitler is an agreeable man, I am certain that the both of us understand each other very well. For like all my brothers I have been victimized by Jews who prevent us from working and exploit us. When I return I will be in a France stripped of Jews where man will again find his reason for being."

from Jean Renoir La vie la spectacle by Claude Beylie (page 30 my translation)

"The brief Portuguese interlude in Renoir's life in 1939, we'll let it be known, has touched off a serious controversy. Le Canard enchainé, in the pen of Henri Jeanson, bruited the rumor that he revealed himself there, on the eve of his departure for the USA, by anti-Semitic proclamations. It is high time to restore the truth on this painful affair, magnified form scratch by these one-time bitter collaborators.
The truth. Here it is. We owe it to the archaeological thoroughness of Portuguese friends (from 1975) who have relocated the corpus delicti for us. Welcomed triumphantly on his arrival in Lisbon, as was natural, by the cinephiles of the era (Renoir has always been in Portugal the object of a true cult, we have had the proof of this yet recently), he was promptly interrogated by them on his past and his future. This was during the Salazar regime and feelings are heightened quickly, especially in such a period. In the course of an interview conducted in November 1940 by Fernando Fregedo (which will be published some months later in the magazine Hollywood em Lisboa), Renoir allowed himself to proclaim -which wasn't new with him - that French, Italian and Portuguese cinema (he avoided speaking of Germany), if they combined their efforts, were capable of competing with the great Hollywood machine, not on the economic plane, he made clear, but on an artistic plane. The Latin people had no reason to envy the Americans in the cultural domain. That, really, is the least that one could say when one is returning from Italy where aLuchino Visconti -- who was Renoir's assistant before the war -- was in the act of laying the groundwork for the neo -realist movement. But, his representative seized the opportunity and interpreted, in his manner, curiously, Renoir's proposition, having him literally say this,
"I am certain that the future belongs to the Latins. Up to now, we have witnessed the triumph of the Anglo-Saxon cinematic genius which today finds itself at its apogee; but, all that is changing, evolving, and it is in thinking of this immutable rule that I dare make this prophesy. . . . I let myself be influenced by the idea that the Latins had no gift for cinema. Since I have gone to Italy, to France, yesterday, to Spain, today, to Portugal, I am thinking differently. The Latins are the greatest interpreters of the future. Because of this, it is necessary to organize a commercial and spiritual collaboration among all the people of our race."
Those last words certainly, if they are authentic, do sound bad. this encounter with the Salazarist propaganda machine which was then made an untimely use of this notion of "Latin" was unfortunate. We are persuaded, nevertheless, that Renoir was misused by an unscrupulous - and politically determined - go-between. The commentators will decide.
In another newspaper - Animatografo - dated December 2, 1940, Renoir underwent a different interview by the manager Antonio Lopes Ribero who was definitely more "objective". He spoke there of The Grand Illusion and his other films without flattering any regime whatsoever. The JewRosenthal was indeed discussed, but it was to praise his heart and sensitivity; while von Rauffenstein, the Junker, (which a misprint had rebaptized as "Rischoffen ") represents a nobleness of caste "that the war has eliminated from the surface of the Earth". The 'humanitarian' values of the work banned by Goebbels andMussolinian censorship are highlighted straightforwardly. One looks, in vain, even reading between the lines, for the least anti-Semitic or fascist allusion. And, although the journalist observes incidentally that it is "thanks to MarshallPétain " that Renoir is free to relocate to America, he assures us with this stunning observation of his own. Finally, Renoir returns to his idea of a "Latin cinema able to countervail, in Europe, the American influence."
It is heady to observe that this notion, thirty-five years later, is making progress in a Portugal delivered from the Salazar regime. Maybe, after all, this was a case (as it so often happens with Jean Renoir) of a revolutionary concept only a few years ahead of its time."

from An Archive of the (Political) Unconscious by Christopher Faulkner (Carleton University)

"Renoir was first of all a supporter of the People’s Educational Association (to which he gave money) from 1943 to 1945. The PEC was an experiment in education for working people that grew out of a 1943 writers’ congress held at UCLA on the theme of “unconscious fascism.” Although it survived until 1948, this organization was condemned in the 1945 Tenney Report (the state of California equivalent of HUAC) because it had been directed by some members of the Hollywood Writers Mobilization, who were also members of the Screen Writers Guild, and of the defunct League of American Writers. (The blacklisted writer Ben Barzman was told that he lost his U.S. passport because he had worked for PECThis Land Is Mine, and many of his remarks about workers’ rights and anti-fascism in that talk are to be found in the dialogue of the film (Faulkner, 1996). According to Larry Ceplair & Steven Englund (1980), among those few groups who really played “crucial” parts in the struggle against fascism, two were the LAW and the Joint Anti-Fascist Refugee Committee (p. 100). To the American right, their anti-fascism was synonymous with pro-communism. [Schwartz, 1982]). The People’s Educational Centre in Los Angeles offered courses “in history, in culture, and in the problems of various ethnic groupings within the community, such as blacks, Chicanos, and Jews, in addition to courses in the arts, which included writing workshops …” (Schwartz, 1982, p. 203). Prior affiliation with the League of American Writers (LAW) was in itself condemnable. On April 23, 1943, Renoir delivered an address to the LAW, just a month before the release of

The Joint Anti-Fascist Refugee Committee was frequently cited in the HUAC hearings as an anti-Catholic communist front, “master-minded by Jews” (Schwartz, 1982, p. 239). Along with people like John Garfield, Dorothy Parker, Irving Pichel, Frank Tuttle, and others no less well known or well connected on the left, Renoir was an active member from 1941 through until at least 1948. In fact, he was, for a time, co-director with Dorothy Parker of the motion picture committee, and then Honorary Chairman of the Los Angeles branch in 1946 and 1947. (Before Renoir’s turn as Honorary Chairman of the JAFR, Philip Merivale had preceded him in the position. In a fortuitous bit of casting, Merivale was the actor who had played the role of Professor Sorel in This Land Is Mine, the editor of the pro-worker, anti-fascist underground resistance newspaper who is executed by the Nazis after having been denounced.) The JAFRC was a coalition of groups like the American Committee to Save Refugees, the League of American Writers, and the United Spanish Aid Committee, all of which had previously been cited as subversive by the Dies Committee. To raise money for medical supplies, ambulances, hospitals, orphanages, and the like on behalf of refugees from European fascism, the JAFRCJAFR programs: “The Varsovie Hospital people are hanging on the phone to proclaim their enthusiasm about your name and Paulette’s name printed on the mail paper. I feel the same and hope that we will very soon get the necessary money to help these Spanish Partisans who, in the real beginning of the war, were the first defenders of our liberties” (in Thompson & LoBianco, 1994, pp. 167-168). With this last sentence, Renoir seems to be recalling the defeated anti-fascist Popular Front governments of the 1930s in both France and Spain, causes to which he had willingly devoted his energies in film and print. Later, in March 1948, Renoir was the committee head for a fund-raiser chaired by Edward Dmytryk and attended by Edward Barsky, the national chairman of the JAFRC, who had earlier been cited for contempt of Congress along with 16 other executive members (Schwartz, 1982). The main speeches at this gathering were about the fate of refugees loyal to the Spanish Republic and the subject of “Atomic Energy for Peace.” sponsored a number of events in the 1940s with which Renoir’s name (and many another name) is repeatedly linked in the FBI files. One such event infiltrated by FBI informants was a gathering called the “Free People’s Benefit Dinner” at the Beverly Hills Hotel on July 2, 1942. The entire guest list is in the FBI files. A letter written to Burgess Meredith on October 27, 1945, gives every indication that Renoir was actively collecting funds in support of

The third important, targeted organization with which Renoir was connected in the 1940s was the National Council of American–Soviet Friendship. It was as a member of this group that Renoir made occasional visits to the Soviet Consulate and with Hanns Eisler attended a reception for the Soviet filmmaker, Mikhail Kalatozov (who later directed I Am Cuba, 1962), at the Mocambo Cafe in Hollywood on August 12, 1943. (Kalatozovtri-coloured flag, the standard of the Paris Commune” (Renoir, 1944, p. 1). became Soviet Consul in Los Angeles.) On behalf of this group Renoir broadcast an address — still unpublished — to the women of the Soviet Union on March 8, 1944, that begins: “Women of Russia, I send you my best wishes. Although these greetings are coming to you from the United States of America, they are those of a Frenchman, a Frenchman among so many others, who has not forgotten that in Red Square, beside Lenin’s Tomb, there rests a

Renoir’s most important role on behalf of the National Council of American–Soviet Friendship was his membership on the committee of administration for the cinema. His most interesting service on the committee’s behalf, and far and away his most interesting political engagement during this entire period, was his stage direction of a spectacle whose existence has until now been entirely forgotten. Renoir took responsibility for mounting an elaborate political rally held at the Shrine Auditorium in Los Angeles on November 16, 1943, to commemorate the 10th anniversary of diplomatic relations between the Soviet Union and the United States. Thanks to the diligence of the FBI, I can report the discovery of a “new” work by Renoir and reproduce the program of the event..."

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