Fans of Lutz Hachmeister’s award winning documentaries on benchmark figures and episodes in German history might be disappointed with his outing into American iconography as he tackles the subject of Joseph McCarthy.
Much time is given over to showing McCarthy as an opportunist who latched onto America’s obsession with communism as a political ticket yet lacked the acumen to recognise the repercussions of his witch hunt (such as undermining covert CIA operations). This by no means novel theory is backed up by soundbites from big name dinosaurs such as Henry Kissinger and Ben Bradlee or by scenes in which actors replay formative situations from McCarthy’s life or re-enact shenanigans in the ‘corridors of power’, without shedding too much light, dramatic or thematic, on what went on.
McCarthy ruined lives. Yet only one of the man’s victims is given a voice: Leon Kamin, who went on to chair Princeton’s Department of Psychology. Also missing is some mention of the House Un-American Activities Committee, which although never formally part of McCarthy’s master plan, undeniably constituted the wider context enabling his political rise.
One small point in Hachmeister’s favour? His decision to show conservative commentator Ann Coulter disseminating right-wing wisdom on McCarthy’s vilification: not because her comments are truthful or relevant, but more as a timely reminder of the choices America faces as it goes into election year – and the role of the media in presenting them.
The Real American – Joe McCarthy | Directed by Lutz Hachmeister (Germany 2011) Docudrama, with John Sessions, Justine Waddell. Starts January 12