Cecil B Demille: American Epic
More4, Thu 25 Dec, 1.55pm; Fri 26 Dec, 1.20pm
Martin Scorsese perhaps hits the nail on the head when he admits finding it difficult to watch the movies of a number of his director heroes without experiencing pangs of regret about the political beliefs which drove them on. So, even though the ‘many of my best friends’ defence is wielded by his niece here, it didn’t stop Cecil B DeMille from making life uncomfortable for Hollywood Jews during the Hoover-induced communist witch-hunts, though he did stop short of testifying before the House Un-American Activities Committee. According to Kevin Brownlow’s film, however, this was due to him feeling that the film industry was being picked on, annoyed that communists in manufacturing industries weren’t being picked on.
Yet, when it comes to revolutionary filmmaking, there’s little doubt that DeMille was the master and an artist who made the modern day Hollywood possible. Steven Spielberg, for one, will never be swayed from his opinion that, given its mid-50s context, the parting of the Red Sea in The Ten Commandments remains the finest special effect in movie industry. Others who worked with him virtually tremble with fear at the very mention of his name while the consensus seems to be that while he was the epitome of hard taskmaster, when you got to know him, hell, he wasn’t so bad. So long as you weren’t a commie.