Noble's 5th film is named after the book by labor historian and author Sharon Smith.
Scott Noble has been making documentary films for close to a decade. His films are consistently thoughtful and never superficial. Reminiscent of Chris Marker’s documentary work in style and approach, Noble’s films remind us that history is important. They also provoke a sense that it might still be possible to wrest the world away from those who would destroy it in the name of their profits. Of course, in a capitalist culture like that of our current situation, films with this message are not going to receive press notes in that culture’s media. After all, Noble’s films do not feature superheroes, champion imperial war or capitalist con men. Instead, they show the viewer an alternative anti-capitalist history; a history of resistance.
Most recently, Noble released a film titled Subterranean Fire. It is the fifth installment of a series he has titled Plutocracy. In short, the series is a working-class history of the United States. [All five parts] of the series can be viewed for free [on Films For Action]. The most recent chapter—Subterranean Fire—covers the years of the Great Depression through the anti-leftist witch hunts of the 1950s. Noble’s film combines historical film footage, still photographs and interviews. The addition of a superb soundtrack and a concise yet descriptive narration makes this film a masterpiece of documentary filmmaking. Even a detached viewer (like a student in a required high school or college history class) would find themselves emotionally and intellectually involved as the essence of the film revealed itself. Having seen all of Noble’s works, it seems fair to state that each of his films continues to surpass the previous one.
The fact that he does this work on a shoestring somehow makes it even more valuable. Indeed, he finances his film through donations. His interview subjects are activists, academics, organizers and writers. Some are known mostly to those they work with while others are considered famous. Noble’s choices of interviewees and questions reflect an understanding of how to simultaneously steer the film’s narrative forward and develop a deeper analysis of the subjects being discussed. Consequently, the interviews enhance the seamless flow of the film instead of interrupting it..
A major aspect of Noble’s Plutocracy film series can be summed up with this quote from one of Max Weber’s collections of lectures: “A state is a human community that (successfully) claims the monopoly of the legitimate use of physical force within a given territory.” (The Vocation Lectures). When that state is a government designed to further the interests of capitalists and capitalism—a plutocracy—that monopoly of force is often used to attack those who oppose the capitalists and their interests. In the United States, there has never been any doubt among those who rule it where their interests lie. The pursuit of profit is the overriding element of US history that binds it all together. No other capitalist nation saw the forces of repression unleashed against its working people during the period covered in the fourth and fifth films in Noble’s Plutocracy series.
Of course, even the most brutal regime eventually realizes that brute force is only effective in the short term. As long as the government considers it necessary to oppress certain segments of those it rules, an opposition will eventually develop. As advances in technology take place, so do the techniques of repression. It is the hope of certain rulers to buy off the population with goods and security. Indeed, this is the story of the United States for much of the twentieth century: material goods aplenty acquired through credit and then a crash. Then, the brutal repression as workers lose their jobs, their security and their well-being; all while the rich gather up their wealth and demand the poor be kept under control. It is this history which comes across in Noble’s films. It is this history which is rarely told.
In addition to the vivid narrative told about the abuses of US plutocrats, Noble’s history acknowledges the shortcomings of the US labor movement. He addresses its racism and nationalism; its acceptance of the anti-communist mentality of the post-World War Two United States and the AFL-CIO’s purging of anyone with a leftist tint in its leadership. This was in despite of the fundamental and essential role played by communists, socialists and other leftists in the formation of the labor movement throughout its history. Furthermore, the story the documentary provides is ultimately one of retreat, as the labor movement lost its militancy, joined the Democratic Party and the pursuit of material comforts over social justice.
Noble’s next project will investigate COINTELPRO. This program was a multi-faceted attack on the US civil rights movement, the student left, the antiwar movement, and various revolutionary organizations. It involved the outright murder of various radicals (especially those in the Black freedom movement), the infiltration of organizations involved in these struggles, and the staging of black flag and provocateur operations. Originating from the director of the FBI, the operation involved local, state and federal law enforcement. Much of their work was uncovered during the Church Congressional Committee hearings in the mid-1970s that took place in the wake of Watergate.
(If you are interested in more information about Noble’s work and his COINTELPRO project, please check out his website: http://metanoia-films.org/ )
Ron Jacobs is the author of Daydream Sunset: Sixties Counterculture in the Seventies published by CounterPunch Books. His latest offering is a pamphlet titled Capitalism: Is the Problem. He lives in Vermont. He can be reached at: email@example.com.