While the regular movie houses are flooded with future Oscar nominees, the best film I’ve seen lately has a very limited release, and was made over 40 years ago. Emile de Antonio’s debut documentary, Point of Order, played last weekend at the SF MOMA as part of the museum’s film series on the director. It plays one more time, on Saturday, January 12, and I highly recommend catching that screening. The director edited down 188 hours of the famous 1954 Army-McCarthy Senate hearings (which are believed to have finally rocked the senator’s Communist scares) into a gripping hour and a half film.
The piece is narration free, except for a brief set-up in the beginning, but the themes here are abundantly clear. During these hearings, the Army accused McCarthy of demanding preferential treatment for a former aide of his, while McCarthy claimed he was being set up by the Army because of his Communist investigations into the armed services. The courtroom battle is more dramatic than any fictional movie, especially as McCarthy grows increasingly desperate to stand his ground while looking to a televised public like a power-mad lunatic. De Antonio captures the chilling exchange between Army attorney Joseph Welch (up until now in Point of Order shown as a droll, humorous debater) and McCarthy when McCarthy goes for blood by attempting to paint a young associate of Welch’s as a Communist. Welch responds, "Until this moment, Senator, I think I never gauged your cruelty or recklessness” and then asks, “Have you no sense of decency, sir, at long last? Have you left no sense of decency?" The connections between our recent past and today’s questionable capture and imprisonment of “suspected terrorists” is another important subtext of watching Point of Order in modern times. Don’t miss this incredible history lesson. SF MOMA has price and showtimes. -- Jennifer Maerz