In bringing Upton Sinclair’s 1927 novel Oil to the screen as There will be blood, writer-director Paul Thomas Anderson has been faithful to the author’s socialist intentions. The adaptation also resonates with the politics of today by criticising the Neo-Con stratagems of keeping democracy safe for big oil.
There Will Be Blood is a relief from the scripts where no one lifts anything heavier than a laptop or a pistol. For once, the commercial screen shows human labour at the point of its exploitation. Hollywood faces a tougher challenge before it can rest from this one-off radicalism.
In 1931, Sinclair published The Life of William Fox, which the founder of Fox Pictures had commission as a bargaining chip to win back some of the assets that he had lost in his failed bid to takeover MGM. The idea was to threaten to expose the corrupt and crooked dealings of the movie moguls in order to bring them to heel. Sinclair defied Fox and published.
As if that weren’t un-American enough, Sinclair then won the Democratic nomination for the governorship of California in 1934. He promoted his version of socialism as EPIC, End Poverty in California.
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The studios raged. They raised $500,000 to back the Republican incumbent by deducting two days pay from each of their (all un-unionised) employees. They made mock newsreels of hoboes slavering to vote for Sinclair so he could bring Sovietism to the West Coast.
Here are two scripts waiting for Hollywood – The Life of William Fox and another one on how the studio bosses defeated its author’s run for office. Don’t hold your breathe for the current owner of Fox, Rupert Murdoch, to make either. Hollywood is yet to make a film of Sinclair’s masterpiece, Jungle (1906), exposing the Chicago meatpacking Trust around Swifts.