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June 16, 2003

when the wind blows...

Posted by Phil on June 16, 2003 11:19 PM

Tim Robbins and Susan Sarandon were among those celebrities singled out for special criticism for having the gall to take advantage of their status to speak out against President Bush's war in Iraq. Those who follow baseball will know that for their views they were disinvited and festivities cancelled by the Baseball Hall of Fame for this spring's planned 15-year anniversary of the release of the film Bull Durham. (The Hall's chairman is a Republican who worked in the Reagan administration. Republicans' disdain for free speech is well documented. The once-ubiquitous Kevin Costner, the star of the film, failed to comment publicly.)

In addition to being an outspoken lefty, Robbins is a funny guy, so no doubt some part of him appreciated how being blacklisted by an American Institution paralleled some of the themes of Cradle Will Rock, the 1999 film he directed (which stars Sarandon as well as many others).

Cradle Will Rock is a kaleidoscopic, entertaining, "mostly true" tour of 1930s America and the political and creative energies unleashed by Roosevelt's New Deal--specifically the Federal Theater Project, which became a lightning rod for grandstanding politicians for the alleged prevalence of dangerous Communist thought in its productions. As Orson Welles and John Houseman were preparing to premiere the class-conscious musical "The Cradle Will Rock," the project's funding was suddenly cut, the theater company was put out on the street, and the performers unions pulled out. A guerilla theater version went on anyway. In addition to Welles and Houseman, heavyweights like William Randolph Hearst, Nelson Rockefeller, and Diego Rivera inhabit a swirling, clashing ecosystem of money, power, and radicalism, as a homeless young American woman and a struggling Italian father try to stay afloat and stay true to their ideals.

It's a funny, moving, politically and artistically inspiring history lesson, and a dynamic piece of cinema to boot. It also speaks loudly in such times as these. I don't know what Mike's criteria are, but for everything it attempts and how much it succeeds at, I'd say Cradle Will Rock goes to 11.