Search

"I Am Jan De Licht"



In his new book, Bloody Crossroads 2020-- Art, Entertainment And Resistance To Trump, Danny Goldberg mentioned the story about how America's red-baiting blacklist ended. It was, he wrote, already "1960 when Kirk Douglas, hired Dalton Trumbo to write the screenplay to Spartacus. When the film premiered at the end of the year, the American Legion picketed to protest the legitimization of Trumbo, who was one of the Hollywood Ten. Yet President-elect John F. Kennedy walked past the right-wing protesters and into the theater, putting the final nail in the blacklist's coffin."


You can see why the fascist pigs of the day-- actually, of any day-- would not want this kind of story, directed by Stanley Kubrick and starring, aside from Douglas, Laurence Olivier, Peter Ustinov, Charles Laughton and Tony Curtis, )a;; box-office superstars of the day) about a slave rebellion and very heroic working class solidarity showing in theaters. It was based on the book of the same name by Howard Fast, which had been blacklisted. It won 4 Academy Awards and was the most profitable Universal Studios move in history until being surpassed a decade later. Despite the McCarthys of the era, the Library of Congress selected it for preservation, calling it "culturally, historically, or aesthetically significant." Trumbo had gone to jail for his art and his convictions-- and then, this:


As Alan Grayson mentioned to me this morning, "Right-wingers have never had any problem with the ‘Cancel Culture’ before, as long as they were the ones doing the canceling."


This week, I watched a Belgian Flemish film, De Bende van Jan de Lichte, adapted for American TV and christened Thieves Of The Wood, a kind of Dutch Robin Hood based on the 1957 novel-- so as the McCarthyite blacklist and red scare in our country was still puttering along-- by controversial Belgian author Louis Paul Boon. Boon, who was from a working class family, worked as a journalist for Communist newspapers before writing books about the oppression of the working class. He died the day before he was to be told he had won the 1979 Nobel Prize for literature.


Thieves Of The Wood takes up the cause of internally exiled disposed, impoverished and homeless people living in a degraded state in the forest outside of 18th Century Aalst (in present-day East Flanders, Belgium). The villains are the aristocracy and haute bourgeoisie and the heroes-- those who challenge their ability to oppress and exploit the poor and downtrodden. There is an overlay of the kind of socialist idealism you almost ever find in American films-- and certainly not at that time.


Eventually, Jan de Licht and his gang manage to kill the worst symbols of oppression, the corrupt bishop, the even more corrupt mayor and the pathetic and increasingly brutal chief of police. Oh, yeah, and one of the more repulsive bourgeois oppressors as well, almost as an afterthought. Jan de Licht was tortured to death towards the end of 1748 when-- in real history-- he was 25 years old. This sculptural depiction of him is by Roel D'Haese. Aalst-- ever the bourgoise shithole-- refused to display it but it sits in front of the Place of Justice in Antwerp.