‘The Company You Keep’

Robert Redford’s Eulogy For 70’s Radicalism

Robert Redford of course famously played Bob Woodward in ‘All the President’s Men’, so if any star was identified with progressive politics in the 1970s, it was Redford. He continues to be that liberal voice through films such as ‘Lions and Lambs’ so it’s not surprising that he has gone back to the well for one more look at the 1970s.

What’s Good About It

It’s solid entertainment. It’s not exceptional film making. It’s good fun to watch, but pretty forgettable because it doesn’t really dig all that deep.

It’s a fun romp tinged with a certain yearning and sentiment that somehow got buried in the 1980s, and it does make a strong appeal to our better side through out. That’s a good film. A bit like watching ‘the Seven Samurai’ or something – but not as exciting or cathartic.

What’s Bad About it

Robert Redford’s just not holding up all that well in his dotage. It’s not a bad performance, but it’s not a great performance; and considering how much screen time he has, he might have done better casting somebody else – or getting somebody else to direct. It’s just one of those instances where directing oneself didn’t really help the film.

It’s not a minor quibble either. It’s evident he’s no Woody Allen who can be directing and acting in the same movie. His scenes aren’t as good, and all the stars he hired to play the bit parts are blowing him off the screen.

The only reason the scenes with Julie Christie towards the end works is because she’s not much whack as an actress.

What’s Interesting About It

‘The Company You Keep’ drags quite a few names out of the mists of time and across the era to tell its story. The star power deployed to tell this story is quite staggering. You have Susan Sarandon playing what turns out to be a 4 scene bit part; you have Nick Nolte making a cameo; Chris Cooper playing the brother of Redford’s character in about 10 scenes at best; Sam Elliott and  Richard Jenkins get about 3 scenes each, and Stanley Tucci plays a rather miserable editor for about 5 short scenes (the waste, the waste!). Oh, there’s Terence Howard playing an FBI man with Anna Kendrick in tow but they’re not big roles either. It’s actually quite weird because you spend half the time going “wow they got this great actor to play this bit role?”

If anything the casting sensibility reminds one of an old Warner Brothers movie from the 1930s.

When The Party Is Over

The vexing issue in this film is what people did when the epoch ended. The radicals with blood on their hands all went into hiding, but this seems rather pat. The real world radicals who bombed things ended up in Jordan, in the case of say, the Japanese Red Army. They spent the 1970s getting into all kinds of trouble, and some even worked through the 1980s. That’s the kind of radicalism the film is talking about and it seems it was really unlikely that they just took up jobs in the burbs to stay hidden.

Here’s a list of things the JRA did from Wikipedia:

  • March 31, 1970: Nine members of the JRA’s predecessor, the Red Army Faction (whose leaders had been a part of the Communist League before they were thrown out), conducted Japan’s most infamous hijacking, that of Japan Airlines Flight 351, a domestic Japan Airlines Boeing 727 carrying 129 people at Tokyo International Airport. Wielding katanas and a bomb, they forced the plane to fly to Fukuoka and later Gimpo Airport in Seoul, where all the passengers were freed. It then flew to North Korea, where the hijackers abandoned the plane and the crewmembers were released. Tanaka was the only one to be convicted. Three of Tanaka’s alleged accomplices later died in North Korea and five remain there. According to Japan’s National Police Agency, another accomplice may also have died in North Korea.[13]
  • May 30, 1972: The Lod Airport massacre: an assault rifle (Sa vz.58) and grenade attack on Israel’s Lod Airport in Tel Aviv, now Ben Gurion International Airport, killed 26 people; about 80 others were wounded.[14] One of the three attackers then killed themselves with a grenade, although some believe this was an accident.[who?] Another was shot in the crossfire. The only surviving attacker was Kōzō Okamoto. It has been claimed that the PFLP was behind the attack.
  • July 1973: Red Army members led a hijacking of Japan Airlines (JAL) plane over the Netherlands. The passengers and crew were released in Libya, where hijackers blew up the plane.
  • January 1974: Laju incident: Red Army attacked a Shell facility in Singapore and took five hostages; simultaneously, the PFLP seized the Japanese embassy in Kuwait. The hostages were exchanged for a ransom and safe passage to South Yemen in a Japan Airlines plane.
  • September 13, 1974: The French Embassy in The Hague, Netherlands was stormed. The ambassador and ten other people were taken hostage and a Dutch policewoman, Joke Remmerswaal, was shot in the back, puncturing a lung. After lengthy negotiatons, the hostages were freed in exchange for the release of a jailed Red Army member (Yatsuka Furuya), $300,000 and the use of a plane. The plane flew the hostage-takers first to Aden, South Yemen, where they were not accepted and then to Syria. Syria did not consider hostage taking for money revolutionary, and forced them to give up their ransom.[15]
  • August 1975: The Red Army took more than 50 hostages at the AIA building housing several embassies in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia. The hostages included the US consul and the Swedish chargé d’affaires. The gunmen won the release of five imprisoned comrades and flew with them to Libya.
  • September 1977: The Red Army hijacked Japan Airlines Flight 472 over India and forced it to land in Dhaka, Bangladesh. The Japanese Government freed six imprisoned members of the group and allegedly paid a $6M ransom.
  • December 1977: A suspected lone member of the army hijacked Malaysia Airlines Flight 653.[citation needed] The flight was carrying the Cuban ambassador to Tokyo, Mario Garcia. The Boeing 737 then crashed killing all onboard after he shot both pilots and himself.
  • May 1986: The Red Army fired mortar rounds at the embassies of Japan, Canada and the United States in Jakarta, Indonesia.
  • June 1987: A similar attack was launched on the British and United States embassies in Rome, Italy.
  • April 1988: Red Army members bombed the US military recreational (USO) club in Naples, Italy, killing five.
  • In the same month, JRA operative Yū Kikumura was arrested with explosives on the New Jersey Turnpike highway, apparently to coincide with the USO bombing. He was convicted of these charges and served time in a United States prison until his release in April 2007. Upon his return to Japan he was immediately arrested on suspicion of using fraudulent travel documents.

Does Robert Redford really think these kinds of people become suburban moms and dads? I don’t even buy the glamorous smuggler played by Julie Christie. The end of the JRA was much grubbier and bloodier than that sort of thing.

Where Did That Activism Go?

When I look back on the activism of the 60’s and 70’s, I always wonder where all the money to do things came from. The driving, the fuel, the printing for posters, the megaphones and PAs at protests… or for that matter air tickets and materials for bombs. Who paid for all that? This isn’t an idle question, but a deeper suspicion that maybe the student activism ended when Leonid Brezhnev decided that funding communist sympathisers in the west wasn’t going to change the west.

When I was a student in the mid 1980s, you could hardly get anybody at university motivated to do anything radical/organised/political in Australia. There was simply nothing around except the ghost of student politics – which is essentially where chudly chumps like Peter Costello, Joe Hockey, Tony Abbott, Julia Gillard, Bill Shorten all cut their teeth – but it had very little money going around in comparison to the 1970s. So much so that the big argument was how the University Student Union money was spent and should the lesbian  separatists of the day be getting such a huge share of it. (Well, seems to me those lesbian separatist types forged a fine career milking government funding in the arts since, so maybe that’s how they cut their teeth, but that is by the by.)

The point is Gen-X often gets blamed for indifference and apathy but where the hell was the money to do anything in the 1980s? I’ve dug around this topic a bit with Baby Boomers a little bit and they’ve all said that there was always money to do these things in their day. So… why did it stop?

I’ve found out that the organised radical politics bodies in Japan were funded out of the Communist Party in Japan. And they got their “Org Money”funding out of the USSR; so it wouldn’t be a stretch to suggest that even the radical student politics of the 60s and 70s in Australia had some communist money in it. So this is why I think Leonid Brezhnev must have hit a point where he thought, “Naaah fuck it. It’s not going to work. Save that money and spend it on more nuclear subs”.

Which is all to say that it’s fine for Robert Redford to be idealising that time, but maybe, just maybe it was just unrest fueled by foreign powers that wanted that unrest? Maybe the gyrating mass that was the 1960s student radical politics was just another proxy war being fought by the Cold War powers? The proof of that pudding is that none of it amounted to a hill of beans. Greed was found to be Good and that was that.

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Filed under Cinema, Film, General, Movies

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