My critique of "Rebels With a Cause," a new film about Students for a
Democratic Society, apppears in Film & History, 31.1 (March 2001), as
"Students for a Democratic Society, Heroically Portrayed, Before the
Inexplicable Fall: Consensus History in a Left Film" (to see the article,
click "Students..." for plain text or "Setup..." for pdf. In order to read
the PDF file you need to have Adobe Acrobat Reader present on your system.
For a free copy of Adobe Acrobat Reader, go
For information about Film & History, see its website,
While "Rebels With a Cause" is often moving and evocative, I also find
it stunningly uncritical, self-congratulatory, first-person heroic,
triumphalist -- and thus at odds with much that the SDS I knew stood for.
Largely avoiding the question of why SDS collapsed, and presenting little
about internal conflicts within SDS, the film won't help younger people who
encounter related conflicts and dangers in the new movements that they are
Focusing on but moving beyond the film itself, my critique also deals
with larger issues of left aesthetics and truth-telling. Why can't we build
conflict into our films? Can't we get beyond old-time Popular Front
agitprop? Can't we move beyond this stodgy stuff to edgier left film-making?
And why can't we tell the truth?
This critique is in some ways continuous with an article that I
published in The Nation, "Pop Front Culture: I Dreamed I Saw MTV Last
Night," October 18, 1986. This created a great deal of controversy, to which
I responded in a second article, "The Politics of Left Culture," The Nation,
December 20, 1986.
I welcome comments, criticism, discussion, forwardings, postings, etc.
Jesse Lemisch firstname.lastname@example.org
This archive was generated by hypermail 2b30 : Thu Mar 22 2001 - 18:16:08 EST