Films about Ideas and Revolutions
This screenplay is designed to be the classical liberal or libertarian equivalent of Warren Beatty’s brilliant but very left-wing movie Reds (1981) about the life of the American communist journalist John Reed (1887-1920) before and during the Russian Revolution of 1917. See his famous account Ten Days That Shook the World (1919).
A number of movies about ideas and revolutions have influenced my thinking about this screenplay. Films explicitly about revolutions include the following:
- the Bolshevik or Russian Revolution: Warren Beatty, Reds (1981) – see the entry in the Internet Movie Data Base for Reds.
- the French Revolution: Andrzej Wajda, Danton (1982) – about the rivalry between Danton and Robespierre during the Terror. See my old teaching Study Guide on Danton.
Other films about how ideas can change the world include:
- Richard Attenborough, Gandhi (1982)
- Margarethe von Trotta, Rosa Luxemburg (1986)
- Michael Apted, Amazing Grace (2006)
The screenplay as written (Aug. 2016) is part historical guide to the period (1843-1850), part biography of Bastiat, part history of the 1848 Revolution and the fighting on the street barricades against the Army, and part history of ideas of the growing liberal movement against protectionism, socialism, and bureaucratic Bonapartism. I have used the actual words of the participants in many of the speeches used in the screenplay such as meetings of the French Free Trade Association, speeches in the Chamber of Deputies in the Second Republic, the Peace Congress of Aug. 1849, and elsewhere. In any filmable version of the screenplay these of course would have to be drastically cut, but I include them here for historical purposes. (Some of them are also very good as political speeches, such as Lamartine’s on free trade.
For more on this topic see my manuscript on “The Struggle against Protectionism, Socialism, and the Bureaucratic State: The Economic Thought of Gustave de Molinari, 1845-1855”.
Key Visual Elements: the encirclement of Paris and political art,
I have also tried to reconstruct in the film the physical appearance of Paris when Bastiat went there in 1845. The three visually striking architectural structures which surrounded Paris at the time have since largely disappeared as the Paris suburbs have grown. But when Bastiat went to Paris for his May 1845 welcome by the Political Economy Society one of the newly constructed railroads would have taken him through the following barriers:
- the ring of 16 newly constructed “star shaped” forts which surrounded the city for its “protection” from the British (Adolph Thiers’ greatest fear);
- the massive military wall built by Adolphe Thiers 1841-44 (at huge public expense and massive compulsory acquisition of private property), and
- the old customs wall built in the 1780s to make it easier for the private tax collectors, the Farmers General, to collect state taxes.
Any attempt to film these architectural structures would require considerable CGI resources. (See the map below of the three concentric circles of state power which surrounded Paris and restrained the free movement of its inhabitants.)
A second visual element in the film is the art of Delacroix and the political cartoons of Honoré Daumier. As visual themes or leit motifs for the film I had in my mind Delacroix’s “Liberty Leading the People on the Barricades” (1830) and Daumier’s cartoon of “Gargantua” (1832) (which landed him in jail for offending the King). There can be seen below. For more details see the collection of illustrations in “Broken Windows: An Illustrated History of the Life and Works of Frédéric Bastiat.”
I didn’t want the film to end on a depressing note – even though it is probably the most suitable emotion to feel at the end of 1850 if you were a classical liberal in Paris – so I tried to think of a more uplifting way to end the movie. I think I found a suitable way to do so (thanks to R.C. Hoiles). Let me know what you think: Email me.
Note: the actual text of this draft of the screenplay retains the original formatting of the application used by many writers (Final Draft 9) to create screenplays for submission. Hollywood has very strict rules concerning the exact format screenplays have to be in. I’m sorry for that inconvenience. It is ugly but it seems to have evolved into the Hollywood equivalent of the QWERTY keyboard.
Additional Information about Bastiat
For additional information about Bastiat see:
- for more images, maps, and photographs see, “Broken Windows: An Illustrated History of the Life and Works of Frédéric Bastiat.”
- A “Reader’s Guide to the Work of Frédéric Bastiat (1801-1850)” on the OLL website.
- on the world of the political economists in Paris in the late 1840s, see “The World of French Political Economy in which Frédéric Bastiat lived”
A Sample Scene
Here is a sample scene. Bastiat’s work on his economic treatise, Economic Harmonies was repeatedly interrupted by his political activities in the National Assembly, his work in writing a series of what would be 12 anti-socialist pamphlets, and his rapidly declining health. To give him some time to concentrate on his treatise the wealthy manufacturer Casimir Cheuvreux and his wife Hortense who supported the economists’ activities let Bastiat use their hunting lodge at Butard in a forest on the western outskirts of Paris so he could work without distractions. Hortense Cheuvreux also ran a salon from her luxurious home in Paris which Bastiat attended. It was during the summer of 1849 that Bastiat completed volume one of Economic Harmonies (which was published in late 1849 or early 1850) and also wrote an early draft of What is Seen and What is Not Seen, the first chapter of which was the famous “The Broken Window.”
82 INT. BUTARD LODGE – DAY 82
Early summer 1849. Hortense comes to see how Frederic is progressing with his treatise. He is PLAYING HIS CELLO in the sitting room when there is a knock at the door of the Hunting Lodge. FREDERIC Come in Hortense! MME CHEUVREUX I didn't mean to disturb you. I've come to see how you are settling in. Do you have everything you need? FREDERIC Yes, almost everything. I miss my daily newspapers. Thomas used to bring them to me every morning. MME CHEUVREUX I'll have them sent to you. FREDERIC I can't thank you enough for helping me like this. It is a beautiful place to read and write. MME CHEUVREUX I thought you would like it. Hortense moves over to his desk to look at the papers he had been working on. We can see the BOTTLE OF LAUDANUM he uses to ease the pain of his coughing on the desk. FREDERIC I know what you are going to ask. How is my treatise coming along? She sits in a chair next to the long desk which faces out the French doors into the woods. FREDERIC (CONT'D) My plan is to have volume one finished by the end of the summer. That is the first pile. The second pile are notes and sketches for the second volume. Who knows when that will be finished. MME CHEUVREUX Guillaumin will be so pleased to get this! And the third pile? FREDERIC You weren't supposed to see that. It is my most recent popular work. Hortense picks up the third pile and begins to leaf through it. MME CHEUVREUX So, you have found some more sophisms which need to be refuted. You really are incorrigable! She begins to read out a passage. MME CHEUVREUX (CONT'D) "In the sphere of economics an action, a habit, an institution or a law engenders not just one effect but a series of effects. Of these effects only the first is immediate; it is revealed simultaneously with its cause, it is seen. The others merely occur successively, they are not seen; we are lucky if we foresee them." So you are writing about "invisible economics" now? FREDERIC Yes, in a way. Not invisible, but rather, not seen. MME CHEUVREUX I see, if you will pardon the pun. I have to hand it to you Frederic, you have a way with words! He laughs. FREDERIC Thanks! I'll have to see if I can use that joke at your next soirée. They both laugh and look at each other with tenderness tinged with sadness.