Orwell Subverted Orwell Subverted

The CIA and the Filming of Animal Farm

Orwell Subverted

When the CIA isn’t busy destabilizing other countries, they apparently like to help animation studios create cartoons. At least that’s the premise of an interesting new animation book I just found out about from FPS Magazine. The book, published by Pennsylvania State University Press, is Orwell Subverted: The CIA and the Filming of Animal Farm by Daniel J. Leab. It takes an in-depth look at the making of Halas & Batchelor’s Animal Farm, the first feature-length British animated film, and the CIA’s influence (and interference) during the production of that film. From the book’s description:

Recently, a number of works have been written–notably, those by Frances Stoner Saunders and Tony Shaw–that make reference to the underlying governmental control surrounding Animal Farm. Yet there is still much speculation and confusion as to the depth of the CIA’s interference. Leab continues where these authors left off, exploring the CIA’s dominant hand through extensive research and by giving fascinating details of the agency’s overt and subtle influences on the making of the film.

Leab’s thorough investigating makes use of sources that have been excluded in past accounts, such as CIA papers retrieved through the Freedom of Information Act and material from the Orwell Archive. He also incorporates the testimonials of animators John Halas and Joy Batchelor and, most significantly, the previously unexplored archive documents of Animal Farm producer Louis de Rochemont.

The book has a hefty $55 price tag, but FPS says that there’s a 20% discount if you call 1-800-326-9180 and mention the code OSRC. I should also point out that, though the topic sounds fascinating, it’s hard to recommend this title without having seen it. The author’s clumsy use of the word “filming” in the title immediately raises a question in my mind about how accurate his technical understanding of the animation process is. To be fair though, the book seems to focus more on the political intrigue surrounding the film’s development than the actual production process.

  • It’s funny how a movie about political control was politically controlled. That makes sense!!!

  • Hi Amid – The liner notes on the restored print of ANIMAL FARM give enough information about the CIA sponsoring this movie so that I can use it as a source in my history class. It would be interesting to see this new book. I just picked up a secondhand near-new copy on amazon.com and I’ll write you about it once I’ve read it.

  • I have an idea for a movie I want to make. Who do I talk to at the CIA to schedule a pitch session?

  • Chuck R.

    Nancy is right to use the word “sponsoring” to describe the CIA’s involvement. “Interference” and “underlying government control” suggest that the CIA ran roughshod over the rights of independent artists. Not so. The movie is pretty true to Orwell’s vision and would not have happened at all without the CIA’s sponsorship.

    If the US is going to fund art, I much prefer Animal Farm to anything by Andres Serrano. And if a widow of a literary genius is going to sell out her husband’s legacy, again, I prefer Halas and Batchelor’s Animal Farm to Mike Myers’ The Cat in the Hat.

  • Arnaud

    Chuck : well we’re talking about the CIA, not a gentle philantropic association… I doubt they sponsor anything just for art’s sake.

  • Chuck R.

    Arnaud: Ha ha! No question it’s a state-sponsored propaganda film of a mild sort, but it’s not state-sponsored censorship, and it’s important to make that distinction. The original book was anti-Stalinist and the CIA simply passed Orwell’s warnings on to a larger audience.

    Now, we’re half-a century beyond the film’s release and almost two decades past the fall of the Berlin wall and the freeing of Eastern Europe. When can we safely drop the cynicism about America’s anti-Soviet past?

  • jeff Kurtti

    What’s wrong with “filming”?

    Animal Farm is more of a film on every level, technical and philosophical, than most animation today.

  • There have been a few documentaries on the CIA’s usage of this film, most notably from the BBC. This is also the underlying reason behind the diversions from George Orwell’s original text.

  • Chuck R.

    Jeff, I think Amid’s objection is that “filming” suggests a guy behind a Panavision camera with another guy yelling “action!”. Animation is created frame by frame, the images are set up and shot, but not “filmed.”

    Most of us probably agree with you that animation as an artform is always “film” and can be as funny, serious or artful as the animator’s talents will allow.

  • Always heart warming to be reminded that one of the only half dozen features my country has ever even produced, that one of the best ones was funded by the CIA. Hilarious.

    Jeff Kurtti has a point though, theres nothing so bad about using the term filming. ‘The CIA and the Making of Animal Farm’ might be a more familiar turn of phrase, but really – what the heck sort of a name for a complicated process like animation production is ‘making’.

    ‘Making’ is what you do with sandwiches.

    We all use plenty of other film based terms and analogies when were actually in production on these things, why why not use ‘filming’ as hold-all term? We might start taking what we do a little more seriously if we did?

    Just a thought (and not even one I necessarily even agree with myself)

  • amid

    It’s true that ‘making of’ and ‘production of’ are inelegant terms but at least they aren’t inaccurate. I don’t want to divert the discussion, but “filming” implies a different type of production process. When one uses a phrase like ‘the filming of Animal Farm,’ they’re implying that the creative act takes place during the shooting process a la live-action, and we all know that hand-drawn animation of this sort is created long before it ever goes under a camera. If you don’t agree with this, try using another tense of the verb, like ‘I really like how that Tex Avery cartoon was filmed.’ Doesn’t make a whole lot of sense.

  • Inkan1969

    How did the CIA “subert” Orwell? Did the CIA actually change or misrepresent Orwell’s story and themes in the movie?

  • When all is said and done I’d rather have the CIA funding animated features and fine art than what they are best known for. Does anyone else here know that the Abstract Expressionist school in New York was funded by the CIA as a direct counter to the Socialist Realist school of painting? Strewth.

  • Jeff Kurtti

    I like Tony Mines the best because he kind of agrees with me.

    I still like Amid because he’s super-extra-cool, even if he doesn’t agree with me.

  • I wonder what other CIA art is out there. I remember when Colin Powell was giving that slide presentation at the UN regarding Iraq’s WMDs. Iraq foreign minister Tariq Aziz was so outraged at the CIA-fabricated diagrams of “mobile biological weapons labs” that he shouted out “This is like watching cartoons!”

  • My god. The CIA needs to get laid or something.