Review of Cradle Will Rock

It’s been some time since I’ve seen Cradle Will Rock [IMDB link] but surprisingly I’m still finding new things in it. It’s like a strong cup of coffee, well-brewed and with varying textures and flavors. Most of these tinge of politics and the social climate surrounding the great depression so it should be no surprise that it is right up my alley.

The latest little gem comes in the form of a conversation Nelson Rockafeller (played by John Cusak) has towards the end of the film about the new wave of Art that he and Hearst plan to create. A tour of Europe of abstract art so as to control anti-capitalist sentiment. To anyone familiar with the CIA’s connections to Jackson Pollack this should ring quite an alarm bell. As far as the rest of the film it is built upon such gems; Federal Theater’s demise in the midst of communist witch-hunting, Orson Welles’ bombastic attitude, Unionism, the death of Vaudeville, Diego Rivera’s feud over the mural in Rockafeller center.

The framing story is the true story of a musical set to open under the Federal Theater Project. The musical “The Cradle Will Rockâ€? is an overtly political, pro-union satire about struggles in a fictional town called “Steel-town.â€? The movie draws parallels between what the fictional play is representing and the reality of the film world by creating a fictional steel tycoon who is a friend of Rockafeller and Hearst.

There’s something amazing and alive about the film in that it captures the sentiment of a time where truly contrasting ideas were coming into conflict. As we gear up for this election year I grow more and more weary of two-party politics. The arguments and sentiment are skewed so far right that watching a movie like “Cradleâ€? really makes me long for the past. It’s fascinating to think there was a time only a few generations removed where fascism and socialism were considered viable political paradigms.

There was much pain during these times I’m sure but we see a similar trend today with bank’s closing and a mortgage crisis. What we don’t, however, see is a reciprocal rise in workers standing up for their rights. We don’t see large scale organizing and for the most part the greedy robber-barons — in bed with politicians go largely uncheck as society becomes more and more apathetic.

I’m not saying I’m better than the rest of them. It just is somewhat sad and disappointing that I find more interesting political stories in a movie set 8 decades the past than in today when we truly need charismatic leaders and change.

That said the movie has also wonderful stories about art. Aside from the fascinatingly true story of Diego Rivera’s commission for 30 Rockafeller center which alone would make a pretty fascinating movie we get to see Orson Welles in his prime. Pre-Citizen Kane but at the height of his theater and radio popularity Welles is played with over the top charisma by Angus Macfadyen. It’s a scene with Welles that delivers my favorite dialog in the film and some of my favorite all time of any movie.

In a cab Orson Welles the director of the play has a chat with John Houseman the producer and Marc Blitzstein the writer.

Blitzstein: “I am faithful to the ideals of the party.â€?

Welles: “I am faithful to the party of ideals.â€?

Houseman: “You are faithful to the idea of a party!â€?


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