Sunday, May 6, 2018

Daniel Bessner's "Democracy in Exile"

Daniel Bessner is the Anne H.H. and Kenneth B. Pyle Assistant Professor in American Foreign Policy in the Henry M. Jackson School of International Studies at the University of Washington.

Here Bessner dreamcasts an adaptation of his new book, Democracy in Exile: Hans Speier and the Rise of the Defense Intellectual:
Since Democracy in Exile was published, I’ve been thinking about what a filmed version of it would look like. After giving it some consideration, I’ve decided that, if my book were produced for the silver screen, I would prefer if each half were filmed in a different style. The book traces the career trajectory of Hans Speier, a German exile from National Socialism who in the United States became the founding chief of the RAND Corporation’s Social Science Division. The first part of Speier’s life covered in the book was characterized by movement: from Berlin to New York City; from New York to Washington, D.C.; and from Washington to Germany, and back again. The second half, in contrast, was defined by stability. A filmed version of Democracy in Exile would, I believe, have to take account of this difference, in the hopes that doing so would accurately portray the unexpected twists and turns of a life lived largely in exile.

Thus, the first chapter, which focuses on Speier’s disillusionment with Marxist theory and politics in the extreme conditions of the Weimar Republic, would have the feel of a 1920s expressionist film. The second and third chapters, which take place in 1930s New York and analyze Speier’s attempts to solve the riddle of Nazism, would look like a noir. The fourth chapter, which examines Speier’s time as a U.S. government propagandist during World War II, would feel like a war movie.

Filmed versions of the fifth, sixth, seventh, and eighth chapters, which elucidate Speier’s work for the RAND Corporation, U.S. government, and Ford Foundation, would differ from the book’s first half in that they would share a coherent filming style that would reflect Speier’s emergence as an influential figure in the Cold War-era national security state. In my opinion, these chapters would be filmed like other Cold War films, particularly The Shape of Water and A Beautiful Mind, the latter of which portrays an intellectual who did significant research at RAND.

Because the film would ideally amalgamate several different styles, a director like Michelle MacLaren, whose diverse work for Breaking Bad, Game of Thrones, and other shows has displayed a wide-ranging talent, would be perfectly suited to the project.

Casting would center on finding someone capable of playing Speier. I think the best actor would be a German fluent in English able to convey a quiet intensity and determination. Christoph Waltz, of Inglourious Basterds fame, would be a good choice, as would Andreas Pietschmann, who was recently on the Netflix series Dark.

Regardless, what is certain is that a filmed version of Democracy in Exile would be an international hit that would no doubt sweep all the Oscar categories in which it was nominated, bringing its heretofore unheralded author into the much-deserved-spotlight.

Or not.
Visit Daniel Bessner's website.

The Page 99 Test: Democracy in Exile.

--Marshal Zeringue