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James T. Farrell

[Response to Note on The Open City]

(January 1947)

Originally published in New International, Vol. XIII No. 1, January 1947, p. 31.
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’Callaghan for ETOL.

If one dismisses a few irrelevancies in Meyer Schapiro’s A Note on The Open City, one is likely to be surprised by the discovery that he disagrees with my interpretation less than he realizes, and that his criticism of my article contains little point. His comments on how the film “assumes the pattern of a familiar Christian legend” are, to me, utterly without significance. Here he was trying to write a political article but the art historian overcame the man of political interest. It is surprising to read in the opening of his note that he is going to write a more political analysis of the film than I did, and then to read that the character of the priest, Pietro, suggests Saint Peter because of the fact that Saint Peter was crucified upside down, and, in the film, the priest was shot in the back. And how does the connection of Manfredi with Saint Paul add to our political understanding of this film? Also, at one point in his note, he disproves me by pointing out that reviews of the film in Italian and American magazines do not agree with my review. This is merely an irrelevant appeal to authority.

If we strip aside such features of his note, the real question becomes the following: Is or is not what Meyer Schapiro writes consistent with my analysis? Those who have read my review, his note, and have seen the film will be able to answer this question themselves. I venture to remark that a number of them may be surprised to discover that there really isn’t much of an issue here. Meyer Schapiro says that I insist “that the film neither contains nor implies a political program.” He must have misread my article. At one point I stated: “Formally, the film embodies the idea of national unity: more intimately, it establishes the leadership principle.” At another point, I wrote that for its interpretation, the film “relies on historic events in terms of their presentation and interpretation from the standpoint of an all-class, Popular Front, National-Liberation conception of fascism.” I was writing for an audience of Marxists, which, I assumed, understood the character of the Popular-Front, National-Liberation, politics as well as I might. Hence, after indicating that the film had this as a general character, I attempted to analyze it by emphasizing what I considered to be the significance of the main protagonist, Manfredi. He is a Stalinist and a leader. The worldwide Stalinist movement is hierarchically organized in terms of leadership. The zigzags of the Stalinist line are familiar political events. But at the same time, their leadership remains and this leadership is constantly built up in the public eye. For years, in fact, Stalinists in America and elsewhere, have striven to have Stalinist heroes, leaders and apparatus men, introduced into art, I don’t know why Schapiro should be surprised that I discussed this phenomenon when it occurs in a motion picture.

Meyer Schapiro raised the question – who made this film? While interesting in itself, this is a question to which I am indifferent insofar as my analysis is concerned. We must judge here not by the intentions of the film makers, but by the content of what they do. And except for the points I have made above, as well as for one or two small details, what Schapiro writes is interesting in itself, and not at all a contradiction of my analysis.

James T. Farrell

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