The art of dobbing in

Issue 

By Tom Jordan

Guilty by Suspicion
Written and directed by Irwin Winkler
USA 1991The Ear

Czechoslovakia 1969
Written by Jan Prochaska and Karel Kachyna
Directed by Karel Kachyna
Both features of the Sydney film festival
Reviewed by Tom Jordan

It's a pity double features have become so rare! These two films should be shown together. I'd like others to see, as I did, the similarities.

Both films are about the hard times of high-ups, people living high on the hog: a top Hollywood screen writer, a Czech deputy minister. Both men are in trouble with their systems. One is dogged by McCarthyism in the 1950s, the other by Stalinism in the 1960s.

In Guilty by Suspicion, the North American "just wants to make films", but Fox studio head Darryl Zanuck won't let him unless he first cooperates with the House Un-American Activities Committee. Cooperation means: tell us whether your best friend and your (soon to be fired and blacklisted) teacher wife are communists.

It's not very clear what the Czech wants. To keep his villa and privileges? To stay out of jail? Perhaps to do a good job, build up his country. His wife Anna would like a bit more sex, and to live honestly.

When her husband's boss, neighbour and friend is arrested, Anna's instinct is to phone him and ask if she can help. Terrified, her husband slams down the receiver. He discovers his house too has been filled with "ears" (electronic listening devices). He prepares himself for jail.

Good films, both of them.

Why can such films be made and shown today (The Ear was banned in Czechoslovakia until the Velvet Revolution)? What broke down the systems that were then so powerful, systems in which "dobbing in" was praised and deemed necessary? What stopped Stalinism, what stopped McCarthyism?

We need films which examine how that happens — how people with power lose it — for, too often today, it appears that the new scum is immovable.

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