Review: Dreams and Nightmares

[Originally published in Movietone News 39, February 1975]

With The Sorrow and the Pity and A Sense of Loss, Marcel Ophuls raised historical cinéma vérité to the height of artistic creation. Osheroff’s style of documentary moviemaking, as applied to the political situation in Spain and the ways in which it has evolved since the Spanish Civil War, is similar to Ophuls’s in a number of ways. It employs, for example, the same device of intercutting between old footage and recent interviews with people who went through it all in a manner that lends perspective to the past events and provides a dimension of irony. But the human drama of individuals intersecting with history before our eyes is somehow made less powerful by the aura of anti-war proselytism which hangs about Dreams and Nightmares. Ophuls may be farther removed from Vichy France than Osheroff is from the Spanish Civil War (he fought in it), and Dreams and Nightmares does not try to camouflage its political barbs—no one can blame Osheroff for infusing his personal views into a film he made largely out of a sense of moral commitment. But then, Jane Fonda’s movie on Vietnam is persuasively pacifist without being politically blatant, and she is certainly just as committed as Osheroff.

Perhaps it is a question of point of view. While our responses to films dealing with war may often be at variance with the conception of purpose in the filmmaker’s own mind—Huston’s San Pietro, a hymn to brave soldiers fighting and dying in a corner of World War II, speaks to a sense of pacifism in some quarters—I think Osheroff’s tendencies are fairly clear, although just as there is no good reason why we can’t see San Pietro in one sense as evidence that peace certainly is better than war, so there is much about Osheroff’s anti-war film that emphasizes the valor of fighting men. Maybe the important issue is whose side one is on. Beyond that, however, Huston was working in a more strictly documentary style—it all happened right there—than Osheroff, whose selective use of old clips (lifted from Spanish Underground archives, among other sources) allows him a free hand in determining the manner in which the montage strikes the viewer. And I think it’s fair criticism to note that he strays farther afield than he should in his historical overview: seeing common Thirties folks getting clubbed on the head by New York policemen is simply unnecessary—the film after all is about Spain—and that Osheroff feels drawn to this sort of shock-treatment approach is unjustifiable except in terms of getting us hyped and in the right frame of mind. I’m not trying to put Osheroff’s political ideals down. I don’t like Franco any more than he does, nor can I go along with this country’s continuing aid to that regime. But that doesn’t alter the issue at hand, how he translate his political persuasions into artistic terms. Osheroff has put together a cogent plea for an end to repression in Spain, but as an historically exhaustive examination Dreams and Nightmares is lacking. Nor, really, does it try to be exhaustive. But neither does it generate the same sense of life-and-death soul-searching that Ophuls manages to convey in his films, something one might reasonably have expected from a movie less restrained in the baring of its maker’s personal biases.

DREAMS AND NIGHTMARES
A film by Abe Osheroff and Larry Klingman.

Copyright © 1975 Rick Hermann


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