For those of a certain age, the thought of a humanized communist is almost a contradiction in terms. Cold War movies and TV shows like I Led Three Lives (1953-1956) invariably portrayed party members as either hapless dupes, at best, or unfeeling monsters, at worst. Such images, when repeated often enough, become fixed and enduring. Moreover, whatever their relation to the real world, the stereotypes were very effective in indoctrinating an entire generation.
Happily, this documentary helps debunk that propaganda imagery. Viewers get a thoroughly humanized look at about a dozen rank and file party members from Depression era times to about 1983. Each interviewee has something of a story to tell about those times and their life in the party. Whatever one thinks of communist politics, it's hard to visualize any of these folks as either dupes or monsters. If anything, they seem more idealistic and sensitive to injustice than the average citizen.
Two of the better-known subjects are folk singer Pete Seeger and radio personality Dorothy Healey. Apart from them, however, are ordinary party members with ordinary work backgrounds. There is some voice-over, but I could have used more, especially to identify times and places like that boisterous Madison Square Garden rally from some unspecified date. There's also brief stock footage of leading political figures, such as Hoover (FBI), Nixon, Reagan, et al., along with clips of parades, rallies, and other party events that lend color to the proceedings.
All in all, Seeing Red provides an invaluable glimpse of the reality behind our popular bogeyman of the time. And anyone who thinks that sort of propagandizing ended with the Cold War is as credulous, I'm afraid, as those good folks who put their trust in Stalin.
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