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Moor and the Ravens of London

   

Karl Marx turned 200 this May, and academics in major cities have convened to discuss the continuing relevance of his thought. As recently as 1973, this relevance was so indisputable that ­­­­historian Philip S. Foner could write, "Marxism is today the most influential body of thought in the world." One of the societies nominally governed by its principles, the German Democratic Republic, had a thriving film industry, and it's no wonder that the only biopic of Marx worthy of its subject came from there.

Moor and the Ravens of London  (1968) is the closest thing we've got to the kind of movie about Marx that we need. Raoul Peck's The Young Karl Marx (2016) was not bad as an introduction to Marx's thought—if I was forced to watch it in an eighth-grade social studies class, it would beat dates on a blackboard—but since it wasn't released on a massive scale, only people who already cared about Marx saw it. Potential converts don't need a fallible Marx with human imperfections; they need a role model, a Captain America of Marxism. To see how it's done, what better place to look than the Eastern Bloc, with its unabashed hagiographies of the people it considered its heroes.

We first meet young siblings Joe and Becky on a dirt road, rag-clad and barefoot. They're passed by an omnibus whose bourgeois passengers point at them and cackle. Marx and Engels emerge from nowhere and Jedi mind-trick the conductor into letting them on. Marx becomes their guardian angel and helps them confront their cruel bosses at a filthy spinning mill. The "ravens" are a street gang who gave up work in favor of crime, but Marx explains that they must work together to overthrow their oppressors, that the life of an anarchist burglar is indivudualistic and ultimately leaves the present power relations intact. The sub-proletarian riff-raff are converted to the cause and history marches on.

Marx was a fan of Dickens, and Moor would have pleased him with its crumbling slums, despotic foremen, and enlightened philanthropists coming to the aid of abused but plucky children. Victorian London is evoked according to the high standards of German craftsmanship; vast sets of Oxford Street, Raven Alley, and the Cross & Fox spinning mill are immortalized through Carl Zeiss lenses by Helmut Bergmann, who later shot legendary Indianerfilme Apaches (1973) and Ulzana (1974) for Gottfried Kolditz.

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