Leo Hurwitz

Scen.: Leo Hurwitz; F.: Peter Glushanok, George Jacobson; Mo.: Faith Elliott [Hubley], Leo Hurwitz, Mavis Lyons; Mu.: David Diamond; Commento: Saul Levitt; Voci: Alfred Drake, Muriel Smith, Gary Merrill; Int.: Virgil Richardson, Cathey MacGregor, Sophie Maslow, Jack Henderson, Robert P. Donley; Prod.: Barnet L. Rosset, Target Films 35mm. L.: 1725 m. D.: 62’. Bn.

T. it.: Italian title. T. int.: International title. T. alt.: Alternative title. Sog.: Story. Scen.: Screenplay. F.: Cinematography. M.: Editing. Scgf.: Set Design. Mus.: Music. Int.: Cast. Prod.: Production Company. L.: Length. D.: Running Time. f/s: Frames per second. Bn.: Black e White. Col.: Color. Da: Print source

Film Notes

Preceded by two remarkable films with Paul Strand – the compilation Heart of Spain (1937), the quintessential film about the Spanish Civil War along with Spanish Earth, and Native Land (1942), the greatest of the workers’ films of its time – Strange Victory was the first solo film by Leo Hurwitz, a central character in the radical Frontier Film movement. It is both an exposé and inside view of the facts of the Cold War as experienced at the very moment of its birth. The director’s vision amounts to an almost surrealist network of images and sounds about the perverse consequences of the “strange victory” – how high hopes are destroyed, and the flowers of evil grow instead, with aggressive Capitalism and anti-Semitism taking over, vampire-like, all aspects of everyday life, probably including personalities who had natural goodness in them. It’s not just a Cold War, it is also a civil war. The chilling existence of American fascism is revealed through a puzzle of collage materials. Hurwitz utilizes both archival material («found footage») and material he has shot himself – and, as with some other rare examples, the technically uneven material somehow, on a par with its splendid montage, just blossoms into visual brilliance. Tens and even hundreds of faces flash on screen, with a poignant testimony in them: there are too many terrible faces on the street. There, in the familiar circumstances of peaceful life, we can detect horror and degradation, welling deeper than that of a horror movie. These are flashes that can’t be reduced to the pseudo-ideas of “left-wing” propaganda.

The dramaturgy is an open one, respecting the intelligence of the spectator, and proceeding in sharp turns: dramatic condensations, fascinatingly illusory plot turns (the search for Hitler – “the biggest man hunt in history”), and paradoxes. V-Day is like a ghost: “If we did win, why do we look as if we lost?” The doubts that were growing, even from 1945’s summer of great hope, are delivered as a play of light and shadow, something that is profoundly connected to the very essence of cinema.

Peter von Bagh


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