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I found Arion Berger’s assessment of Cradle Will Rock (“Not So Shocking Pinko,” 12/24/99) sorely off the mark. Tim Robbins’ new movie is not without its clumsy missteps, but the net result is hardly the embarrassing morality play described in the review.
Your reviewer misses altogether the principal conflict of the film: the conflict between the desire to remain true to oneself and the inevitable prostitution of self and work. This requires a precarious balancing of principles and is no mere question of right or wrong. All characters in the movie are indebted to patrons, or a public, or propriety to one extent or another. Orson Welles’ appearance in the film as an outrageous ghost of his onstage persona is indeed jarring unless viewed within this context. Welles is symbolic of the struggle to find a balance between dynamic personal vision and a patronage for works—in his case, a nearly failed struggle.
Yes, questions of politics do seem to blaze with a certain Technicolor obsequiousness in this film. It would be my contention that this merely reflects the overtly theatrical nature of the musical as an artistic convention within the film. Robbins borrows from many sources, from nearly extinct theatrical traditions, from ’30s and ’40s film classics that he obviously loves dearly. Your reviewer fails to see the affectionate homage—in fact, fails to see any separation between the joyful exuberant simplification of these borrowed voices and the more complex human and ultimately redeeming side of nearly all principal characters.
Finally, regarding your reviewer’s baffling comments on gays in the Communist Party: If your reviewer could take some time out from spewing bile to develop something akin to political awareness, she would know that homosexuality is expressly forbidden in Communist Party doctrine. I thought this was common knowledge, and so, apparently, did Robbins. Perhaps we both assumed and expected too much.