The CIA and Hollywood episode 1 George Orwell

In this opening episode of the new series Pearse and Tom look into the CIA’s adaptations of George Orwell’s two most famous novels – Animal Farm and 1984.  We focus primarily on Animal Farm, a revolutionary animated film in several senses of the word, produced by Louis De Rochemont – a man who had worked with several other government agencies prior to making Animal Farm with the CIA.  The animation was does by British firm Halas and Bachelor, and we also discuss their background.  This episode also examines the paper trail, looking in Orwell’s FBI file and the MI5 records on actor Michael Redgrave, who starred in 1984 despite being a suspected Communist.  We conclude that the CIA had something of an obsession with Orwell at this time, and were subverting his works quite radically in these films.

Download The CIA and Hollywood ep. 1

Show Notes:

Animal Farm (1954 film)

1984 (1956 film)

Halas and Batchelor

Animal Farm Making Of

Animal Farm film production documents

The cartoon that came in from the cold

CIA documents on George Orwell’s books

FBI file on George Orwell

George Orwell MI5 and Special Branch files

Orwell’s List

MI5 file on Michael Redgrave

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  • Steve  On April 17, 2015 at 12:45 am

    Very interesting show Pearse.

    I never read ‘1984’ or ‘Animal Farm’. I have been reading newspapers and non-fiction history/current events starting in my teens. I have been able to understand my own existence in a dystopian system without allegorical assistance so I was never much interested in Orwell’s writings. I have always thought of him as too much of an optimist.

    I don’t much like fictional works regardless of authorship though I must say that ‘Lord of The Flies’ and ‘Catch22’ are underrated as social critique.

    I recently re-read ‘Moscow 1941, A City And Its People At War’ by Rodric Braithwaite. You and Tom speculated why the CIA were so interested in having Soviet citizens read ‘1984’ and the speculation tended toward the goal of influencing literate Soviet citizens into understanding the oppressive nature of the Stalinist regime.

    Mr. Braithwaite described in his book the deep literary and historical understanding of Soviet citizens about world history, Russian history and Stalinist reality. Even the less literate working class in the USSR in that period were well aware of their own reality. It seems to me that regardless of how profound either of Orwell’s works covered in the show might have seemed to Western readers I can only imagine a sophisticated Soviet citizen seeing them as cute or quaint in comparison to what they already had read or experienced. Certainly anyone from the Bolshoi and their artistic contemporaries would have found Orwell’s books boring or superficial at best.

    My opinion is that US/UK intelligence interest in the works of Orwell was really aimed at influencing Western attitudes about the USSR not attitudes inside the USSR.

    Thanks for the show. I am looking forward to upcoming episodes.

    • Jhkdues  On April 17, 2015 at 4:06 am

      “My opinion is that US/UK intelligence interest in the works of Orwell was really aimed at influencing Western attitudes about the USSR not attitudes inside the USSR.”

      An interesting theory. A good way to test i would be to find out when the 1954 Animal Farm film was dubbed in Russian. I can’t find any info on this, but it would be a good indication of which market it was geared for.

      And if it turns out there’s no version in Russian until 20 years later… then it means we have evidence of early CIA Western culture creation.

  • Tarzie  On April 17, 2015 at 1:54 am

    Hi Pearse and Tom:

    Nice first outing. Looking forward to the rest. This is a splendid idea for a series.

    I’m a little confused about the theory that the CIA felt inclined to disarm Orwell, I guess because I don’t share your high regard for him. Orwell to me is the template for the leftist that condemns in fairly reactionary terms from inside The Left and his legacy lived on in people like Hitchens, who unsurprisingly was an admirer. In fact, I think it’s fair to say that in the US Orwell is more widely admired and cited by the right than by the left. Every now and then leftists threaten to steal him back.

    While its true that til his death Orwell claimed he was a socialist and that you can see in his two most widely read books condemnations of both authoritarian state socialism and the system(s) it was responding too, the balance is tipped overwhelmingly toward condemning authoritarian state socialism. Perhaps as significantly, these novels can be seen as attacks on utopianism generally, which is also quite useful for a propaganda system that promotes capitalism as a state of nature.

    This is possibly why, in addition to putting doctored versions of Orwell’s dystopias on film, they were, as you interestingly reported, attempting to get presumably unmodified copies into the hands of miscellaneous Russians. Both books were required reading in a lot of US high schools throughout the Cold War. There were bunches of writers far more dangerous than Orwell at the time, so he seems like an odd choice for subverting as opposed to just using goodies already baked into the work. I might change my mind if, during the course of the series, this subversion of work by ostensible radicals seems to be a pattern.

    The changes you mentioned in the films from the novels are interesting and potentially very revealing. Would have liked to hear a bit more on what you think the specific changes in the film of 1984 signify.

  • LORRI  On April 17, 2015 at 7:03 pm

    I had no idea. This is really interesting. What an intelligent site and thanks for the info.


  • By programming, continued | kariflack on June 14, 2015 at 5:42 pm

    […] something like this that is supposed to tepidly remind of us stock Orwellian ideals that have been crafted by the CIA itself. it’s a typical reinforcement of some amount of comfort we can rest in because everything, not […]

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