Film, Media and Music

Creating a model for a ‘commercial’ political cinema
Andy Willis

It is widely acknowledged that one of the most significant films to emerge at the end of the 1960s, that widely captured audiences’ attentions and could certainly be labelled a political thriller, was Z, directed by Costa-Gavras and written by Jorge Semprún. Together, as well as apart, the pair would have an enormous impact on the development of the form of the European political thriller as the 1970s progressed. Key to their collaboration in this period was the work they undertook on three landmark films: Z (1969), The Confession (L'aveu, 1970) and Special Section (Section spéciale, 1975), some of the most powerful political dramas of the period.

in States of danger and deceit
Reflections on putting together States of Danger and Deceit: The European Political Thriller in the 1970s
Andy Willis

Creating a major film season such as States of Danger and Deceit is a major undertaking. This can be broken down into three distinct components: firstly, researching possible titles for the season and engaging with the critical writing about the form of the political thriller in Europe; secondly, the selection of the films and designing of supporting events and materials; and finally, the actual delivery of the season. In this part of the dossier, these three areas are outlined, offering some thoughts and reflections on the process which represents a clear combination of research and practice. This approach is something that has been developed at HOME, and its previous incarnation Cornerhouse, through the major film seasons that took place in Manchester and on tour across the UK: Visible Secrets: Hong Kong’s Women Filmmakers (co-curated by Sarah Perks and Andy Willis in 2009) and CRIME: Hong Kong Style (curated by Andy Willis in 2016).

in States of danger and deceit
Eleftheria Rania Kosmidou

When asked to introduce Days of ’36 as part of the States of Danger and Deceit season at HOME, this chapter’s author thought to herself, what can she say about Theo Angelopoulos and the film in just a few minutes? She had written about his films and about the ways in which his films affect Brechtian aesthetics (Kosmidou, 2017). She had gone against the grain and argued that his films cannot be considered textbook Brechtian despite being considered by many as such (Horton, 1997; Jordan, 2000; Karalis, 2006; Rollet, 2012). It is precisely his ability to affect and alter Brechtian aesthetics that makes him one of the best and most important contemporary filmmakers, a master of cinematic style and a master of allegory, a modernist, a ‘poet of images’ (Mania, 2012), an auteur indeed.

in States of danger and deceit
Declan Clarke

Die Flucht is an unusual film, made at an unusual time, in an unusual place, under unusual circumstances. An unusual film in that it is about a successful doctor who is looking to flee the German Democratic Republic (GDR) to begin a new life in West Germany, and made at an unusual time because in the late 1970s, Warsaw Pact countries tended not to make films about the potential failings of their own political systems. From a contemporary perspective, this made East Germany possibly the last place one would expect such a film to be made. The 1970s in the GDR were rather different to the late 1980s when the country was sliding towards extinction. In fact, the 1970s were different across Central and Eastern Europe in a manner that is rarely considered in retrospect. It was a period when Eric Honecker was viewed as a liberal, moderate voice by the West, having replaced Walther Ulbricht as General Secretary of the Sozialistische Einheitspartei Deutschlands (SED, Socialist Unity Party of Germany) in May 1971. His Romanian counterpart, Nicolae Ceaușescu, was similarly viewed; successive US Presidents Nixon and Ford had been to visit Romania, each hoping it could be turned into an ally against the Soviet Union were a third global conflict to break out.

in States of danger and deceit
Andy Willis

A number of concerns that revolved around social issues involving social class, gender and race, as well as the post-colonial anger that was in the air and the protests against the US involvement in Vietnam, came to a head in the spring of 1968 in Paris. The build-up to May ’68 had seen a number of protests, strikes and occupations. These impacted upon factories, university campuses and other institutions within France. The widespread upheavals and the anger that was driving them caused many within the ruling institutions of France to fear that civil war was a real possibility. The reality of this concern is clearly reflected in the fact that in late May, President De Gaulle left Paris for West Germany. The response to the protests from the police and other elements of the state apparatus was heavy-handed and led to violent clashes on the streets.

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Abstract only
Rachel Hayward
,
Ellen Smith
, and
Andy Willis

The introduction outlines the subject area of the political thriller in Europe. It also outlines the concerns of the book, in particular, the need to revisit these films in the twenty-first century and why the political thriller of the 1970s in Europe is a cycle of film production that is still highly relevant today.

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Ellen Smith

Investigation of a Citizen above Suspicion, released in 1970, is the most celebrated work of Italian filmmaker Elio Petri and a significant entry into Europe’s political thrillers from the decade. It takes a sardonic look at the fascist practices of Italy’s law enforcement in the late 1960s, following a high-ranking homicide police inspector (played by States of Danger and Deceit favourite Gian Maria Volonté) who murders his mistress and then watches his own department fail to suspect him, despite his leaving glaring clues pointing towards his guilt. His goal in doing this is not to expose the incompetence of the police and the unjust failings of the law but rather to reinforce his own fascistic fixation with authority to prove that his rank and strength of personality grants him complete legal immunity and unrestrained corruption of power. In his words, it is his ‘sacrifice’ with which he hopes to ‘reaffirm, in all its purity, the concept of authority’.

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MaoHui Deng

Killer Cop, or more accurately translated from the Italian title La polizia ha le mani legate, The Police Have their Hands Tied, is directed by Luciano Ercoli and was released in Italy in March 1975. The film features many actors from the Italian film industry who worked in both commercial filmmaking and auteur cinema, like Claudio Cassinelli, Franco Fabrizi, Bruno Zanin and Valeria D’Obici (who made her debut in the film). It also stars the American actor Arthur Kennedy. The film’s narrative is thrust into action when a bomb goes off in the lobby of a busy hotel in Milan: the protagonist, Matteo Rolandi (Cassinelli), a commissioner, is one of the witnesses and sets out to find the perpetrators, and an honest magistrate, Armando Di Federico (Kennedy), conducts the official investigation but is met with bureaucratic roadblock and corruption. At every step, however, a shadowy organisation that has its tentacles in the police and government attempts to get rid of the evidence before Rolandi and Di Federico can uncover them.

in States of danger and deceit
Andy Willis

Presenting the events surrounding the Ben Barka incident, L'Attentat, broadly speaking, breaks into three sections. The first involves the plot to get rid of the troublesome, in the eyes of the authorities, political activist. Crucially, this is shown to involve representatives of various clandestine security forces including the American CIA, Moroccan Government agents and the French secret service. The second section of the film focuses on the implementation of the plan to ‘disappear’ the film’s version of Ben Barka, a politician called Sadiel, as he attends a meeting with television executives in Paris. The third, concluding section of the film follows the aftermath of Sadiel’s disappearance as the various security forces seek to cover up their actions and attempt to get rid of any potential witnesses or unreliable collaborators who may not keep their involvement secret. L'Attentat, particularly in this final section, uses the thriller format to create a sense of jeopardy as the characters whom it suggests are seen as disposable in the eyes of the authorities are pursued by the agents of the killers as they seek to ensure their silence regarding the plot. The combination of politics with the codes and conventions of the thriller saw the film prove to be a box office success upon its release in France during October 1972 when, according to the AlloCiné website, it attracted a healthy 400,000 spectators.

in States of danger and deceit
Andy Willis

This dossier has outlined the impact of some of the political thrillers produced in Europe in the 1970s. Of course, decades in this context are arbitrary boundaries created to help categorise the output of various film industries based in different countries across the continent. And equally, cycles of production such as this often began before the start of the decade and continue into the following historical period. The season that initiated this dossier reflects this, starting with Z released in 1969 and finishing with Circle of Deceit (Die Fälschung), which arrived in cinemas towards the end of 1981. Whilst films such as the ones discussed in this dossier have had a significant cultural and industrial impact, one also finds that they have a left a legacy that indicates they have continued to influence filmmakers long after their initial release. In this chapter, some of the films and filmmakers that clearly show the influence of European political thrillers of the 1970s are highlighted. This is variously through the way they construct their narratives, engage with contemporary and historical political situations and use well-known performers as a way of attracting audiences. In these ways, it is possible to identify how they operate in a tradition of making commercially orientated political cinema. These films exist across the world in a wide variety of contexts. Here, a brief overview is offered of some of the work that displays the influence and legacy of the European political thriller of the 1970s.

in States of danger and deceit