11 6 / 2013
11 6 / 2013
22 10 / 2012
I didn’t realize that John Huston’s devastating Let There Be Light is available online. Even in 2003, when I first saw it, it felt like a coup: the U.S. military had suppressed the documentary for some forty years, and it was still considered a rarity.
Of the several documentaries Huston made during World War II, this is perhaps the most moving and the most relevant today, when suicide rates for our war veterans are reaching record highs and thousands are struggling to reintegrate after a deployment overseas. Seeing the defenselessness of many of the subjects, who were being treated at a Long Island psychiatric hospital for what we now call post-traumatic stress syndrome, I can’t really blame the military for wanting to quash the film, if only to protect their privacy. It’s a devastating record; the more we glory in images of war and combat, the more essential it becomes.
Paul Thomas Anderson has described lifting scenes from Let There Be Light for The Master, specifically those in which Navy veteran Freddie Quell is interviewed by a doctor upon returning to the States. Freddie is all but unintelligible in one interview, as several of Huston’s men are reduced to whispers and incoherence; there’s also the fact that the soundtrack was in terrible shape before a digital restoration.
John Huston’s experience with Let There Be Light, which was in part designed to promote the advances in psychiatric treatment, got him very interested in psychiatry, an interest that led him to make a movie about Sigmund Freud (Freud, 1962), starring Montgomery Clift in one of his last performances. Huston is thought of as a quintessentially American director; it’s interesting to note that after the Kennedy assassination he renounced his U.S. citizenship and moved to Ireland, where he lived for the rest of his life.
12 6 / 2012