Metro Retro Movie Love In Conversation

American History Lesson in Army-McCarthy Movie

April 26 2018

The idea for making [Point of Order!] was conceived exactly three years ago. The sources for the idea were various: (1) the fact that the Army-McCarthy hearings were, to us, perhaps the most dramatic political experience of our time—it was essentially the drama of it that captured our imaginations; (2) we thought that the notion of turning TV on its head—i.e. using TV kinescopes for a movie-going experience—was a rather interesting angle; (3) and finally, in our lighter moments, we thought of the hearings as a kind of Western morality play—a takeoff on Shane, with McCarthy playing Jack Palance and Welch playing Alan Ladd. Somewhere along the line, we identified McCarthy's diabolism with the comic nihilism of W.C. Fields.

But beyond these things, we found that we had inherited some unusually "explosive" material, so much that as we went along in the endless task of reducing 188 hours to our present 97 minute (this amount of film unspooled would reach from New York City halfway to Washington, D.C.), we felt that constant pressure of having to be "objective" in every frame. And at the same time, we wanted to inlude all of the entertainment properties that captivate the audience. At one point we had even considered making a 12-hour film and of distributing it in neighborhood theaters—the idea being here that each neighborhood theater would be in effect a local TV set. For one salient point about the hearings is that back in 1954 all work in America came to a virtual standstill as 20 million Americans were glued to their sets during the Spring. Neighborhood bars became suddenly like neighborhood movie houses.

In the summer of 1961, for three months, night and day, we screened the Kinescopes in the living room of Dan Talbot's apartment on Riverside drive. Long stretches of boring procedural action would suddently be punctuated with a booming "Point of Order," and the theatrical magic of the hearings would take over.

Our interest was not in simple "pruning" down but in "extracting" and "weaving" the material in such a way that not only would we present a coherent, reasonably objective cameo of the hearings but one that was characterologically accurate as well. The task was endless and there were times when we thought it well night impossible. But once we had arrived at a three-hour version, we began to see the final formal structure of Point of Order! and then faced the most painful job of all: to knowck out pure filmic gold. Someday, perhaps, we will make another film from the outtakes of our original material.

As to the objectivity and point of view of our films, undoubtedly a good deal of fuss will be raised. We knew what we wanted. We are proud of our work and, although beleaguered by countless friends to make changes of various kinds in order to stress this or augment that, we have stuck to our point of view from the very beginning, which is: to present a piece of American history in its pristine form, to show—with all fairness—that the land was haunted terribly by a spectre, to serve as a warning to all demagogues of the future.

February 9, 1964