How was the Cold War Represented in Cinema

Cold War and Film

Generally speaking, the Cold War has been depicted as an era of spy games and paranoia in popular films from the 1960s to the present day, but the reality of the era was much more complex. The Cold War was a period of military and political tension from 1947 to 1991, or from the end of WW2 to the collapse of the Soviet Union, in which the “politics of war” masked the business and social agendas of multinationals and ideologues. The era was marked by myriad issues: East-West mistrust, proxy wars, espionage, the threat of nuclear war, domestic and foreign propaganda, the rise of the military-industrial complex and multinational corporations, assassinations, detente, de-colonization, new nationalism, neo-colonialism, the vying for control of resources, alliances (NATO, Warsaw Pact), and an inculcation of the “deep state.” [footnoteRef:1] It can be divided into five basic periods: 1947-53, 1953-62, 1962-79, 1979-85, and 1985-1991, and the films from each period reflect certain preoccupations of the time and people who produced them. This paper will examine each period of the Cold War and show how it was perceived through film by different people at different times in different places and compare these films with what was really happening in socio-geopolitical terms. [1: Peter Dale Scott, The American Deep State (MD: Rowman, Littlefield, 2015), 13.]

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Cold War (1947-53)

The first period of the Cold War saw the rise of secret intelligence agencies (CIA, KGB, Mossad) and espionage, which gave inspiration to the popular spy films that would be produced en masse in the 1960s. Yet some filmmakers had already a sense of things to come. Hitchcock had in a way foreseen the coming tension between super powers in Notorious, which debuted in 1946 and pitted the gentleman spy Cary Grant and his attractive counterpart Ingrid Bergman against a nest of Nazis in South America. The success of the film, along with the novels of Ian Fleming, whose James Bond debuted on the big screen in1962 in Dr. No (as well as Hitchcock’s own spy thriller North by Northwest, again with Grant in 1959), positioned the public for the warm reception of Bond films, Hitchcockian suspenses, and realist adventures that rolled into American theaters in the ’60s and ’70s, one after another. The real backdrop of these films was the conflict between the West and the Soviets, which was essentially rooted in a global play for power and influence. Every “spy” was a “prince,” as Raviv and Melman described it in their depiction of the creation of Israel’s Mossad.[footnoteRef:2] The spy was certainly glamorized by Hollywood — but the truth was different from the image projected on screen, in many ways. [2: Dan Raviv, Yossi Melman, Every Spy a Prince (MA: Houghton Mifflin, 1990), 1.]

The CIA had been given carte blanche and a bottomless purse thanks to the Marshall Plan — an economic project of containment “designed” to limit the spread of Soviet influence and to protect Western interests not only in Europe but also in Asia, South and Central America, Africa and the Middle East.[footnoteRef:3] Its members, like Allen Dulles, who had served previously in the OSS, operated largely autonomously — independent of any oversight in Washington. Like the James Bond films of the 1960s, the agents reported (if at all) to a station head — a “Q,” for example, in the Far East — and these reports were sent back to headquarters. Typically, “plans” were approved or, more often the case, individuals were put in positions of authority in the field and encouraged to use their imaginations in order to get the job done. Not all agents resembled the “gentleman spy” glorified by Connery’s Bond in the ’60s and resurrected in 2015 by Colin Firth in Matthew Vaughn’s Kingsman: The Secret Service (ironic, considering the rise of Cold War 2.0). True, many agents were recruited from Yale and other Ivy League colleges or came from elite backgrounds — but few possessed the glamorous savoir-faire that the movie-going public associated with the spy ring throughout the Cold War. More typical was the adventurer sort, who mugged with the locals, making contacts and using cash to influence elections. [3: Oliver Stone, Peter Kuznick, The Untold History of the United States (NY: Gallery Books, 2012).]

While the CIA was formed in 1947 out of the Office of Strategic Services in order to contend with “threats” abroad, the Red Scare and McCarthyism were foisted on the public at home. The same year that Truman signed the National Security Act, giving the CIA its official mandate, the House Un-American Activities Committee (HUAC) began rooting out Communists within Hollywood. The eagerness (and shallowness) with which disaffected Americans within the intelligentsia turned to Communism as an economic alternative to “capitalism,” holding issues like equality and worker’s rights at heart, indicated it to be little more than an ideological fad, the natural evolution of a de-Christianized West still pre-occupied with the principles of Americanism. However, Communism offered the perfect boogeyman for the deep state, and soon the CIA was co-opting the Catholic Church in the state’s goal to drum up support for its partners’ corporate and political ambitions overseas.[footnoteRef:4] Certainly there were Communist sympathizers in Hollywood — but the debate between Communism and Capitalism was only the surface of Cold War politics. Were one to strip away the categorical classifications and objectively view the operations of the two foes’ intelligence communities, one would not be able to tell a difference: both were engaged in sinister, worldly, underhanded gambits involving bribery, blackmail, murder, espionage, revolution, incarceration, and drug trafficking. The Good War had shuffled the deck and a new dealer (the U.S.) now took to making sure the hands dealt were the ones it wanted dealt — and the success of that subterfuge depended partly on making sure everyone at home knew the dealer was the “good guy.” [4: David Yallop, In God’s Name (NY: Carroll, Graf, 2007), 104.]

Israel declared statehood in 1948, prompting a wave of Jewish pride throughout America, at the same time that Jewish liberal Hollywood was being investigated by HUAC. This conflict mirrored a deeper one that existed not only between the Jewish underworld and the rising Catholic political power in America but also between the Jewish intelligence community (the Mossad, whose motto was “make war by way of deception”) and the rest of the world. The CIA had its hands full juggling relationships with the KGB, Mossad, MI6, and other intelligence communities, and often the lines between friend and foe as well the extent of one’s loyalty became muddled in the increasingly complex world of espionage and covert operations. In any event, the domestic message to the public in the early years of the Cold War consisted of simplistic propaganda, as the 1982 documentary The Atomic Cafe illustrated with chilling effect, quoting one Army informational film as saying, “When not close enough to be killed, the atomic bomb is one of the most beautiful sights in the world.”[footnoteRef:5] Beneath the bombastic rhetoric of world leaders gone mad was the Cold War’s Strangelovian perversity. The death of Stalin in 1953 would do little to change that in the West, though Khrushchev would offer a bit of light for Russians hoping to throw off the shackle of Stalinism at home.[footnoteRef:6] In reality, the Cold War was just heating up, with the Korean War serving as the first of several proxy wars fought between the “capitalist” West and the “communist” East, and the Warsaw Pact serving as the East’s response to NATO’s embrace of Germany. NATO and the Warsaw Pact, of course, were simply a macrocosm of the basic struggle inherent in Cold War politics: the need to control the “ebb and flow” of business while maneuvering nations, making threats, and using provocation to achieve effective consolidation.[footnoteRef:7] [5: Jayne Loader, Kevin Rafferty, Pierce Rafferty, dirs, The Atomic Cafe (UK: Journeyman Films, 1982). Film.] [6: Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn, The Oak and the Calf (NY: HarperCollins, 1980).] [7: Sidney Lumet, dir, Network (LA: MGM, 1976). Film.]

Cold War (1953-1962)

Allen Dulles, who “believed in the romantic notion of the gentleman spy,” and found such spies in various men like Bill Harvey and Tracey Barnes, became the 5th Director of Central Intelligence in 1953, succeeding Walter Bedell Smith and further uniting the goals of the CIA with the aims of big business. Dulles’ career at the head of the CIA began with the orchestration of a coup in Guatemala and ended with the Bay of Pigs incident, the failed plot to overthrow Castro in Cuba. With Dulles in Washington, the international law firm Sullivan and Cromwell that had employed him formerly and which represented a host of archetypal multinational corporations like United Fruit, now took advantage of its position and used Dulles and the CIA to further the aims of its clients, as it did for example in Guatemala where the United Fruit Company had big interests and where Arbenz, the democratically elected Guatemalan leader, had opposing aims. [footnoteRef:8] Well-bred Barnes oversaw the terror campaign against Arbenz in Guatemala that resulted in the early 1950s under Dulles. [8: Tim Weiner, Legacy of Ashes: The History of the CIA (NY: Random House, 2007), 107.]

This operation like most that the CIA performed throughout the Cold War was where the reality split from the film fantasy: in the Bond films, James typically foils plots of fantastical villains single-handedly, without resorting to the hiring out of local thugs, mercenaries, the publication of propaganda in foreign lands meant to stir up revolt (in order to topple dictators unfriendly to the U.S.), the bombing of harbors, or the training, arming and unleashing of death squads. Robert De Niro’s 2006 The Good Shepherd, based loosely on the birth of the CIA, comes closer to depicting the shadowy, underhanded nature of the spy world but the film focuses more on the personal conflicts of its main character than on the real-life actions of agents like Barnes, Angleton, Sullivan, Donovan, Helms, Dulles and others. The only things that De Niro’s agents drop from planes are the occasional body and, at one point, locusts on a Soviet-supported public ceremony in Central America. In reality, the CIA dropped far worse than locusts — like “bombs, dynamite, hand grenades, and Molotov cocktails” on Guatemalan troops during Arbenz’s reign, after a bout of psychological warfare conducted over the airways “through a pirate radio station called the Voice of Liberation, run by a CIA contract officer, an amateur actor and skilled dramatist named David Atlee Phillips.”[footnoteRef:9] In reality, there was much more to the intelligence community than the shuffling of spies, the obsession with secrecy and security, and the gathering of information: Central Intelligence was more about covert operations, acts of war of which the American public and Congress had no awareness. In a way, the public was busily being spoon-fed films about how heroic the “good guys” were, how great times were now that the Good War had been won, and how serious the Soviet threat was. [9: Weiner, Legacy of Ashes, 113.]

Human beings cannot stand very much reality, however, as T.S. Eliot notes in “Burnt Norton,”[footnoteRef:10] and the films from the first part of the Cold War era did not reflect the seriously disturbing actuality of the “shadow” governments that operated willy-nilly, conditioning publics, both foreign and domestic, to believe in the familiar ideologies of democracy and freedom, yet acting behind the scenes in the same vicious and psychotic manner as the “enemy” it professed to oppose on moral and ideological grounds.[footnoteRef:11] (“Wild Bill” Donovan, for instance, had tested a theory of strapping bombs to the backs of bats in order to wipe out Tokyo when with the OSS).[footnoteRef:12] Not until Stanley Kubrick’s 1964 Dr. Strangelove: Or How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb, would American cinema begin to reflect a sense of the absurdity at the heart of the Cold War and the hypocrisy evident at every turn and at every level. [10 T.S. Eliot, “Burnt Norton,” The Four Quartets. Web. 10 May 2015. ] [11: Weiner, Legacy of Ashes, 1-4.] [12: Weiner, Legacy of Ashes, 5.]

North by Northwest (1959), The Manchurian Candidate (1962), and Dr. No (1962) each revealed characteristics of Cold War paranoia, obsession, and dirty politicking. Hitchcock’s spy thriller was yet another rendition of the mistaken identity narrative that concluded with a climactic showdown on Mt. Rushmore. It was the overthrow of substance by spectacle as the ludicrous plot was designed merely to serve as a vehicle for attractive stars to mingle, make eyes at one another, share witticisms, dodge bullets, and find love. It was Jeffersonian adventurism, Cold War Hollywood-style. The Manchurian Candidate was far darker and more original. John Frankenheimer’s film of brainwashing and Communist infiltration gave audiences a surprising and unnerving glimpse behind the mask by turning Angela Lansbury into a sadistic plotter with grandiose designs, who brainwashes her son into becoming a murderer, only to be killed by him in the end. The film’s violence was shocking (the son kills mommy and daddy before killing himself) just as much as the overall substance of the plot was. Considering that governments were experimenting with hallucinogenic drugs and mind control (the CIA’s mind-control program MKUltra had begun in 1953), the film was a somewhat disturbing revelation for audiences used to popcorn entertainment like Hitchcock’s North by Northwest. Frankenheimer would go on to helm Seven Days in May two years later in an attempt to “put a nail in the coffin of McCarthy.”[footnoteRef:13] The film followed a group of plotting hawks within the Joint Chiefs of Command, who lay the groundwork for a coup in Washington. The Pentagon opposed the film’s production, but Kennedy supported it, even surreptitiously allowing shooting around the White House, saying of the novel upon which it was based that the events depicted therein could conceivably happen if there were a second and even a third “Bay of Pigs”-type of incident. Kennedy, ironically, insisted a coup would not happen on his watch.[footnoteRef:14] [13: John Frankenheimer, Seven Days in May DVD Commentary (LA: Warner Home Video, 2000). Film.] [14: Arthur M. Schlesigner, Robbert Kennedy and His times, (NY: Houghton Mifflin, 1978), 450.]

Terence Young’s Dr. No introduced Bond to the silver screen: it was the first of many sexed up versions of the spy thriller, with girls in bikinis using names like Honey Ryder, and more action. It was escapist cinema, pure fantasy, but very alluring for young men being recruited by the CIA. JFK was a fan of the novels by Ian Fleming and admired the gentleman spy as much as Dulles did. One agent, Bill Harvey was the “CIA’s James Bond,” and was introduced to the Kennedys as such — but fell out of favor after the Cuban fiasco — and took to drinking as hard as many of the other intelligence officers, like Dulles and Colby. The truth of the matter was that suave sophistication was unsustainable in the CIA’s underworld without the aid of liquor, which soon displaced suavity and sophistication altogether in the imbiber.[footnoteRef:15] [15: Weiner, Legacy of Ashes, 239.]

The failure of the CIA to overthrow Castro in Cuba, the Cuban Missile Crisis (resolved only at the last minute by detente with Khrushchev), the prosecution of the underworld by RFK, the continuation of Red Menace propaganda, the growing cries of Pentagon hawks like Curtis LeMay, and the palpable tension between Kennedy and Israel over nuclear proliferation proved to be a fatal cocktail of circumstances for the President. He was assassinated in Dallas on November 22, 1963 — his “alleged” killer gunned down two days later by the known mobster Jack “Ruby” Rubenstein, with affiliations both in the Jewish and Chicago underworld and in the power structure of Lyndon Baines Johnson (Johnson liked to frequent Ruby’s club when in Dallas). The immediate circumstances of the Cuban Missile Crisis would later be depicted on film in 2000’s Thirteen Days, starring Kevin Costner as Kenny O’Donnell, advisor to JFK. The less immediate circumstances surrounding the Crisis would be explored to some extent a decade earlier by Oliver Stone in JFK, also starring Costner, this time as Jim Garrison. The actual circumstances surrounding the Crisis would be far more complex, with players ranging from figures like Johnny Roselli, Bill Harvey and E. Howard Hunt to Castro, Khrushchev and Kennedy. Cuba in a sense was a microcosm of the Cold War political playbook: business first; when that failed, throw money at it; when that failed, use force. Kennedy, for a moment, stepped out of the Cold War paradigm to participate in an actual conversation resembling diplomacy when he and Khrushchev connected over the telephone instead of launching missiles at one another either directly or via proxy, as would later be done in Vietnam and elsewhere. That telephone call, however, would be parodied by Kubrick that same decade, after Kennedy’s assassination proved just how effective detente could be when the deep state was still bent on opposition and powerful enough to get away with murder.

Cold War (1962-1979)

The assassination of Kennedy in 1963 set in motion a chain of events that sparked unbridled cynicism in some, a desire for more escapist fanfare in others. With Johnson in the White House, the war in Vietnam escalated; though few could say why the U.S. was there, beyond the usual explanation of “fighting Communism” (Errol Morris helped to dispel the Gulf of Tonkin myth as justification in his 2003 documentary The Fog of War). The threat of nuclear annihilation remained very real in the minds of many as the body count in Vietnam rose, Israel expanded its borders beyond its UN charter in the Six Day War, and weapons from both East and West were shuffled around among nations as though they were ordinary trinkets and not death-dealing instruments.

Kubrick had wanted to make a film that depicted the fear inherent in the Cold War and the possibility of nuclear fallout, but Fail Safe had already (technically) beaten him to the punch. Besides, the more he had looked into the subject the more ludicrous he had found the entire dichotomy to be. When he enlisted scribe Terry Southern to help with the script, Kubrick’s Cold War film based on a thriller by Peter George began to take shape — not as a serious melodrama like his earlier films but rather as a pitch black, acerbic satire that reflected the deranged perversity of the era and its world leaders.[footnoteRef:16] With characters like U.S. President Merkin Muffley, General Jack D. Ripper, Gen. Buck Turgidson, Group Captain Lionel Mandrake, Ambassador de Sadesky, and Dr. Strangelove himself, Kubrick presented a cast full of denotative meanings (a merkin is a pubic wig, for example) who embodied the nonsense of the Three Stooges to such an extent that Kubrick considered ending the film with a pie fight in the War Room. Instead, he opted for the mercilessly melancholy yet gleefully deranged vision of nuclear apocalypse set to the tune of “We’ll Meet Again” by Vera Lynn.[footnoteRef:17] Peppered with lines like, “Gentleman, you can’t fight in here! This is the War Room!” And “Sir, you can’t let him in here! He’ll see everything! He’ll see the big board!” And “You’re gonna have to answer to the Coca-Cola company,” and “I do not avoid women, Mandrake. But I do deny them my essence,” the film mocked the overall pretentious air and attitudes of conventional “wisdom” regarding “Commies,” the Cold War, the Joint Chiefs pushing for militarization, and the shifting domestic and sexual mores at home, best represented by the following exchange: [16: Gene Phillips, Rodney Hill, The Encyclopedia of Stanley Kubrick (NY: Checkmark Books, 2000), 89.] [17: Phillips, Hill, The Encyclopedia of Stanley Kubrick, 90.]

General “Buck” Turgidson: Doctor, you mentioned the ratio of ten women to each man. Now, wouldn’t that necessitate the abandonment of the so-called monogamous sexual relationship, I mean, as far as men were concerned?

Dr. Strangelove: Regrettably, yes. But it is, you know, a sacrifice required for the future of the human race. I hasten to add that since each man will be required to do prodigious…service along these lines, the women will have to be selected for their sexual characteristics which will have to be of a highly stimulating nature.

Ambassador de Sadesky: I must confess, you have an astonishingly good idea there, Doctor.[footnoteRef:18] [18: Stanley Kubrick, dir, Dr. Strangelove (LA: Columbia Pictures, 1964). Film.]

The film’s final thrust, that there was some “strange love” in all of us, was carried home by the final flight of Slim Pickens, who rides the bomb like a bronco all the way to its target, yippee-ing with joy. It was a strange love indeed that both brought about a doomsday scenario and simultaneously managed to resurrect the idea of the harem for the world’s elite leaders. Unfortunately, it mirrored too closely the doctrine of Mutually Assured Destruction (MAD) put forward by men like John von Neumann and Herman Kahn, whose work in the RAND Corporation was mocked in the film when Dr. Strangelove makes reference to a study of the doomsday device by the “Bland Corporation.” Reagan’s Star Wars program would later, inconceivably, draw criticism for undermining the policy of MAD, showing that madness abounded no matter which way one looked.

Meanwhile, back in the not-so-distant reality, Ho Chi Minh had gone to Moscow to receive training in leading the underground resistance against the Imperialists in Vietnam. They had resisted the French, now they resisted the U.S. And the U.S.-backed (for a time, anyway) President Diem. At home, the war in Vietnam became a symbol of America’s attempt to police the world and stop the spread of an ideology it condemned (when convenient). Others viewed the war more cynically and saw it in geopolitical terms, the endgame being the possession of Asian resources and waterways, coveted by the West for centuries.

Protests and unrest erupted at home. Civil Rights leader Martin Luther King, Jr. was assassinated (some suspect for criticizing the war), as was Malcolm X and Robert Kennedy. America resembled Rome after the assassination of Caesar. Decolonization in Africa merely led to neo-colonization, and alliances remained unsettled as Egypt sought support from both East and West against Israel, and vice versa. Who was playing whom was a big question, and one that Nixon might have more readily asked (as Kissinger, essentially acting like a double agent for Israel, quite often proved that it was Nixon, in the end, who was being played).[footnoteRef:19] After Nixon’s resignation and the cold water effect of Watergate, the Cold War era tried to put a brighter face on things in the person of Jimmy Carter — but Carter’s way of dealing with foreign policy was essentially no different from his Cold War forerunners, and the sobering effect of Watergate was quickly lost, as the deep state got back to business as usual.[footnoteRef:20] [19: Patrick Tyler, A World of Trouble (NY: Farrar, Straus, Giroux, 2010), 24.] [20: Stone, Kuznick, Untold History of United States, 393.]

Cold War (1979-85)

First Blood and its sequel Rambo: First Blood Part II were very different films. The first described a bleak domestic landscape and what happens when the war literally comes home. Stallone plays a troubled Vietnam Vet who is harassed by local police, escapes from jail and ends up decimating the entire town and hobbling the police chief villain played by Brian Dennehy. It takes the gentle but firm Colonel Sam Trautman to finally talk the now heavily armed Rambo from his standoff. Rambo’s grief is tantamount and rings true: when Trautman asserts, “This mission is over…Do you understand me?…It’s over, Johnny. It’s over!” Rambo shouts back enraged, “Nothing is over! Nothing! You just don’t turn it off!”[footnoteRef:21] Truer words have seldom been spoke in an action film. They are rivaled perhaps by Steve McQueen’s cry of anguish at the end of The Sand Pebbles (1966), “What the hell happened?” — a film that was not specifically about the Cold War but might just as well have been. [21: Ted Kotcheff, dir, First Blood (LA: Orion Pictures, 1982). Film.]

Rambo: First Blood Part II was a different animal entirely, however. John Rambo was transformed from the real-life, troubled Vet to a superhuman mercenary out to save the “good guys” and kill the “bad guys” deep in the jungles of Vietnam. It is, in a way, a complete mental erasure of everything from the first film that made John Rambo unique and special and instead an attempt at capitalizing on the hero in arms stereotype. It was also a final slap at the Vietnamese, who if they could not be eliminated on the battlefield could at least be annihilated on film by a comic bookish superhero named Rambo. If First Blood was a serious film about police brutality/insanity and PTSD, the sequel was little more than violent fanfare, a case of amnesia for escapists looking to forget the deeper lessons to be learned from the Cold War and Vietnam. Oliver Stone would try to bring those lessons back home in his 1988 film Platoon and again with Born on the Fourth of July (1989) and JFK (1991), and Brian de Palma would attempt the same in Casualties of War (1989). What was the lesson these filmmakers attempted to give? As Chris Taylor (the stand-in for Stone) says, “I think now, looking back, we did not fight the enemy; we fought ourselves. And the enemy was in us.”[footnoteRef:22] [22: Oliver Stone, dir, Platoon (LA: Orion Pictures, 1986). Film.]

Cold War (1985-91)

However, it was films like Red Dawn, Rambo II and III, and Top Gun that popularly and cinematically defined the West’s role in the last stage of the Cold War — strong, threatened, but victorious. Andrei Tarkovsky’s The Sacrifice (1986), on the other hand, depicted a world still mad and desperately in need of salvation. Tarkovsky had by that time been exiled from the Soviet Union, and shot the film in Sweden as a testament to the power of faith and a suggestion that a spiritual solution was the only possible one for a world so totally consumed by power-play politics and Mutually Assured Destruction. To whatever supposed degree detente had worked for Nixon and Carter, Thatcher in the UK and Reagan in the U.S. rejuvenated the hardcore right-wing line against Communism, and were unabashedly pro-militarism. Reagan’s Star Wars (Strategic Defense Initiative) was just one instance of the costly and ineffective “strategies” employed by the West. More effective, perhaps, was the actual film Star Wars, in which a small band of rebels, led by a spiritualized warrior (Luke Skywalker), go toe-to-toe with a merciless, monolithic, totalitarian, dark-force Empire. Whether the Empire was supposed to represent the East (Mao in China, the Soviets in Russia) or the Imperialists in the West (the Pentagon hawks and the Israeli Zionist colonizers driving for a Greater Israel, led by such thinkers as Theodore Herzl, 1904; Rabbi Fischmann, 1947; and Oded Yinon, 1982),[footnoteRef:23] was perhaps unclear to all viewers. What was clear, though, was that the Evil Empire was real and it was bad. Deciding who ruled the actual Empire was a different matter altogether: contending with propaganda films like Top Gun and Red Dawn required a serious level of dedication to truth and facts, things that the “Ministry of Truth” was not particularly inclined to promote. Nixon’s 1972 visit to the People’s Republic of China, which might have been more suitably named Mao’s Empire, was called “detente” but the answer to cui bono (“who benefits”) was the same as always: the multinationals seeking new markets (they were, after all, the movers and shakers of New Expansionism). Mao, after murdering millions like Stalin (and the deep state of the West), knew a business opportunity when he saw one, apparently. It certainly was not out of any sense of a Golden Rule that Western and Eastern leaders met. Rather, Tian Zhuangzhuang’s The Horse Thief (1986) embodied the actual spirit of the times, as it told the story of a Tibetan punished and exiled by his community for daring to provide the basic necessities of life for his family. Matched in tone by the actual severity of Eastern totalitarianism, the film’s power lay in its commitment to a distinctly human sense contrasted with a stark, spiritual need for assistance — something utterly lacking in the Cold War era (but later revisited in Terrence Malick’s 1999 The Thin Red Line). Italian cinema had attempted to do something similar, but except the films of Fellini (whose vision was ultimately comic), Italian cinema in the post-War period by and large depicted an empty society, depleted of any sense of meaning, purpose, or spirituality. Then again that was the Cold War in a nutshell — unless one counts crude conglomeration as meaningful. [23: Israel Shahak, “Greater Israel”: The Zionist Plan for the Middle East, Global Research, 22 Mar 2015. <>]

Gorbachev brought with him a mandate for reform (Glasnost and Perestroika) when he assumed power in 1985, but any intention to ease the strain between the Soviets and the West was rebuffed by anti-Russian policies, under which lay waiting the “new oligarchs,” ready to pounce at the first sign of infrastructural weakness. The Soviet invasion of Afghanistan in the 1980s showed the first cracks, and the “coup” which pushed Gorbachev out in 1991 led to the installation of the drunkard Yeltsin (a puppet for the new oligarchs like Boris Berezhovsky whose ties with the West were later illustrated when, exiled by Putin, he met publicly in Latvia with Neil Bush, brother of George W. And Jeb). The new “leader” of the no-longer-Soviet Russia put the nail in the coffin. The Cold War was “ended” as the new oligarchs took control and an era of unbridled corruption ensued. Incidentally, these new oligarchs resembled the ones in the West in that they too had citizenship in Israel.

Bush had taken over where Reagan had left off (and proved that Cold War politics were still well in place seeing as how a former Director of Central Intelligence was now in the Oval Office), and Clinton took over where Bush left off in 1992. But when Clinton failed to do the bidding of the deep state, he found himself sitting on the hot seat, literally, being grilled and publicly shamed by Prosecutor Kenneth Star for “not” having sex “with that woman.” Clinton, to make amends, bombed Iraq, Serbia, Kosovo, Pakistan, Afghanistan, and the Sudan,[footnoteRef:24] proving that the Cold War might have ended with the fall of the Soviet Union, but it was still business as usual in the West. Australian director Andrew Dominik might have described it best when in the concluding scene of his 2012 Killing Them Softly, starring Brad Pitt, Pitt’s character chides his counterpart (and Obama), saying, “This guy wants to tell me we’re living in a community? Don’t make me laugh. I’m living in America, and in America you’re on your own. America’s not a country. It’s just a business. Now fuckin’ pay me.”[footnoteRef:25] [24: David L. Harten, “Clinton’s Worst Crimes,” The Ornery American, 26 Jan 2001. ] [25: Andrew Dominik, dir, Killing Them Softly (NY: Weinstein Company, 2012). Film.]

But then Dominik was only echoing the same sentiment that Paddy Chayefsky had gloriously scripted in Network (1976), when Arthur Jensen, the face of the powers-that-be, has a tete-a-tete with network anchor turned angst-ridden evangelist Howard Beale. Jensen gives the real cause of the Cold War in so many words:

You are an old man who thinks in terms of nations and peoples. There are no nations. There are no peoples. There are no Russians. There are no Arabs. There are no third worlds. There is no West. There is only one holistic system of systems, one vast and immane, interwoven, interacting, multivariate, multinational dominion of dollars. Petro-dollars, electro-dollars, multi-dollars, reichmarks, rins, rubles, pounds, and shekels. It is the international system of currency which determines the totality of life on this planet. That is the natural order of things today. That is the atomic and subatomic and galactic structure of things today! And YOU have meddled with the primal forces of nature, and YOU… WILL… ATONE![footnoteRef:26] [26: Sidney Lumet, dir, Network (LA: MGM, 1976). Film. ]

Sidney Lumet certainly had a sense of the reality, having made his career in film with such pictures as 12 Angry Men, Long Day’s Journey into Night, Fail Safe and many more. With Network, he approached via satire the major underlying cause of Cold War politics — money — but, as Kubrick realized, unless one had a spiritual antidote, the only satisfying approach to that cause had to come by way of black humor.

In conclusion, the Cold War and its depiction in film altered throughout the years, the former originating in a struggle for hegemony based on technological and military supremacy; the latter originating in escapist cinema with Hitchcock and Bond, but finding some semblance of reality in works by filmmakers like Frankenheimer, Stone, de Palma, Lumet and Kubrick. As people tried to make sense of the Cold War and its politics, some sought focus on important themes, others sought to exploit the fears for thrills and fanfare, and still others sought a kind of exorcism by presenting a slice of the era as it was and using the representation to purge the soul. Purgation (in the spiritual sense) most likely was not the intention of political leaders during the Cold War, but it was one of the unintended consequences of a world in which the leading nations went MAD and multinationals, and a hidden, unseen power, described as the “deep state,” pulled strings behind the scenes.


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