Who needs George Clooney, asks Judge Jesse Ataide, if we can watch Senator Joe McCarthy speak for himself?
"Point of Order was made out of pure junk, I mean the film was
garbage—it was kinescope materials, it was old, it had been lying around
in a warehouse."
The appearance on DVD of Emile de Antonio's documentary on the 1954 showdown between Senator Joe McCarthy and representatives of the U.S. Army couldn't be timelier. With George Clooney's Good Night, and Good Luck currently in the public consciousness, interest in Senator Joe McCarthy and the so called anti-Communist "Witch Hunts" has become a point of great interest once again. Point of Order gives the opportunity for viewers to witness for themselves McCarthy in action, presenting an hour and a half distillation of the actual footage from the five week long Army-McCarthy Hearings that millions of American tuned in to watch in their homes on their television sets.
The Army-McCarthy Hearings came about when the Army accused Senator McCarthy and his chief counsel Roy Cohn of attempting to use their political influence to give Pvt. G David Schine (a former aid of Cohn's) special treatment during his time serving in the army. The hearing quickly turned into a showdown between McCarthy and Joseph Welch (who was cast several years later as a judge in Anatomy of a Murder), the Attorney General of the Army, culminating with the exposure of McCarthy (in front of millions of Americans watching eagerly at home) as a dangerous political demagogue. This humiliating defeat quickly turned the American public against McCarthy and his anti-Communist crusade, and soon afterwards McCarthy was censured by the U.S. Senate and his political clout quickly diminished. He died just several years later in 1957 from acute hepatitis.
Point of Order, which took the hundreds of hours of raw footage from the Army-McCarthy Hearings and whittled it down into a mere hour and a half documentary, is considered a radical and highly influential film. As director Emile de Antonio notes on the commentary included on this DVD release, Point of Order is the first time a feature film was made out of outtakes, the first time anybody made a political feature-length film out of outtakes, and the first time a political documentary was made without any narration whatsoever. This allows for McCarthy, Welsh, and all of the other individuals involved in the hearing to speak for themselves without any outside verbal interpretation.
According to de Antonio, his goal with Point of Order was to take the "shaky images" he had discovered and make theater out of them. He describes how taking these outtakes, intended to be watched on the small, intimate television screen, took an entirely different dimension when he projected them onto a large screen. Though home viewers aren't able to witness this visual transformation on the same overwhelming scale, Point of Order still manages to highlight the amazing theatricality of the Hearing, and the riveting dramatic appeal of the situation quickly becomes obvious as the film begins to unfold.
In another sense, Point of Order is an important film because it unmasks the roots of the current American obsession with watching trails on television. From O.J. Simpson to Judge Judy, one wonders while watching this film how much this hearing is to blame for our mania for watching justice unfold in front of our eyes as we sit comfortably in our living rooms. And could it even be credited as being an early prototype of Reality TV?
This New Yorker release of Point of Order is a good one, considering that the film itself has been compiled from so-called "garbage." The image is flawed; full of scratches, imperfections, and general fuzziness, but it's no better or worse than can be expected from kinescope material from the mid-1950s. The audio track is better, and allows the viewer to hear most of what is being said, which is what's important. English subtitles for the hearing impaired are also provided.
Besides for a theatrical trailer, the sole extra on this DVD is a commentary by de Antonio, but the "commentary" actually ends up being recordings taken from several interviews with author Warren Green in 1978. As such, the commentary is packed full of information, but becomes tedious at times because of its inevitable lack of correspondence to the film itself. It should also be mentioned that an excerpt from Notes from Emile de Antonio: A Reader is included in the insert, which gives some more technical information and background to the film.
Point of Order is a fascinating film because of its authenticity. As de Antonio himself says, for all of its flaws, it gives an immediacy and thrill that would never be possible to capture with a recreation using actors. But not only does Point of Order make good entertainment, it also documents an important piece of American history that profoundly influenced, for better or worse, the American political system.
This court finds that court not guilty.
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Scales of Justice
Studio: New Yorker Films
• Audio Commentary with Director Emile de Antonio
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