Karl Marx: The Pre-Beard Years

by Scott McLemee on May 24, 2007

The Hollywood Reporter, uh, reports:

Haitian auteur Raoul Peck will direct “Karl Marx,” tracing the young adventures of the German philosopher and revolutionary, producer Jacques Bidou said Thursday.

The picture will cover the period 1830-1848, including Marx’s time in Paris before being expelled to Brussels and culminating with the publication of the Communist Manifesto. “Marx was considered a young genius at the time, but it was also a period marked by the birth of a great movement in thinking,” Bidou said.

The story also will encompass Marx’s love for his aristocratic wife Jenny von Westphalen, and his friendship with Friedrich Engels, with whom he co-authored the Manifesto.

No cast is yet attached, but Bidou said the principal characters will necessarily be young….

Well, yes, that is probably true, given that Marx was 12 years old in 1830.

The budget is $20 million and shooting begins in February. More:

The screenplay is co-written by Peck and Pascal Bonitzer, who previously collaborated on “Lumumba,” the former’s biography of Congolese leader Patrice Lumumba, also produced by JBA. A first draft of “Karl Marx” is due to be ready for the Festival de Cannes.

I look forward to the “scribbling in notebooks during 1844/gnawing criticism of the mice” montage.

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The Movie You Have to See § Unqualified Offerings
05.24.07 at 4:20 am
dispatches from TJICistan » Blog Archive » the biggest problem will be casting
05.25.07 at 2:01 am
PoliBlog ™: A Rough Draft of my Thoughts » Karl Marx: The Movie
05.26.07 at 4:05 pm
links for 2007-05-27 < Travelers Diagram
05.27.07 at 10:19 pm



Wascally Wabbit 05.24.07 at 2:39 am

The Big Question is: who plays Proudhon?


Jon H 05.24.07 at 2:39 am

Will there be boils?

Imagine the CGI extravaganza that could be.


Kieran Healy 05.24.07 at 2:43 am

The boils came later, post 1850. So they’ll save them for the sequel.


Colin Danby 05.24.07 at 3:38 am

Aliens, special effects, time-travel? Or maybe it should go Bollywood.


Tom T. 05.24.07 at 4:02 am

While watching the production line in Engels’ Manchester plant, Marx gets bitten by a radioactive proletarian and develops the proportionate strength of a malnourished yet plucky East End family, plus the ability to spin Cockney slang out of his ass. He designs an enormous wig and beard to conceal his identity while he fights injustice at the British Museum. These distractions interfere with his ability to be present for von Westphalen’s budding theater career, and his friendship with the young Engels is severely tested after Engels becomes the Green Goblin. Watch for the iconic upside-down kiss where von Westphalen lifts up his mustache, and his later struggle with the “black beard” that threatens to possess him.


engels 05.24.07 at 4:21 am

I think the Hollywood version will be more entertaining.

“Lieutenant Karl Marx, US Marines. You got a problem with that, pal?”


Sarcasticles 05.24.07 at 5:18 am

I think the biggest problem with the film will, indeed, be casting; where, after all, can you find actors with left-wing sympathies who can realistically portray an ambitious young dilettante with pretensions of political grandeur?


novakant 05.24.07 at 9:42 am

I want to see the old Hegel, come on, you can’t have a movie about Marx without Hegel, can you? As far as I can tell, Hegel has never been on the silver screen. Any suggestions for the actor? Max von Sydow?


ajay 05.24.07 at 10:18 am

KARL is brooding in his study. The study is lit only by a single candle, and we can just see the immense portrait of his parents hanging over the fireplace. His faithful butler, FRIEDRICH, waits in the corner. Karl turns from the portrait to look out over London.

KARL (V/O): I need a symbol. Something to strike fear into the hearts of the property-owning classes and assist the inevitable progression of society towards a communist state. But what?

(An immense BEARD flies in through the window)

KARL: Of course! I shall become… Marxman!

FRIEDRICH: Very good, sir. I shall prepare the Marxmobile immediately.


Hidari 05.24.07 at 11:16 am

From the press release:

‘”In 1845 he discovered the materialist conception of history…In 1846 he invented rock and roll!”

On a remote Tasmanian apple farm, the young wild-haired genius, Karl Marx, forms a commune to create his own brand of bottled beer…and all hell breaks loose!

Beneath this film’s rich tapestry of comedy beats the heart of a young man who dares to think differently.

Karl treks the vast Australian continent, sails to Paris and falls in love with George Eliot – the world’s most intelligent girl. He formulates dialectical materialism, creates the world’s first surfboard, invents the electric guitar and uses his greatest discovery – Rock and Roll, to save the planet from the Stalinist destruction that his revolutionary theories inadvertently caused.

The revolutionary theorising is illuminating, the collisions and fusions of music are revolutionary, writer/director/star Raoul Peck’s eccentric Karl Marx is charming. Young Marx is an original comedy with a big brain, a warm heart and a celebration of a human spirit who dared to be different.’


Glorious Godfrey 05.24.07 at 1:36 pm

Is it a bird? Is it a plane? No, it’s…

Our story starts in the red-lit capitalist dystopia of planet Krypton. Our hero’s biological father, Hersch-El, addresses the Monopolkap council:

-Gentlemen, I have alarming news. My readings of Rousseau allow me to conclude that…




Later that evening…

-It is useless, Henrietta. They will not listen. We are doomed. There is no future for our son in this materialistic hellhole.

-What are you going to do?

-This capsule…will send our son to planet Earth. A backwater, relatively unspoilt by the periodic crises of capitalism. Our son’s heritage, strengthened by millennia of class struggle, will allow him to walk like a titan among men.

-A beacon of hope ! !

Kar-L crash-lands on Earth, and is nurtured by the philosophies of his loving adoptive parents, Georg Hegel and Luisa Feuerbach.

-Look at you, Karl. What a strapping young man you have become! Your father would be so proud.

-He stood the movement of reality on its head, and it is necessary to set it upon its feet, ma, but you know I love him.

-We love you too, son.

-Hmmm, ma…you have only interpreted the world, in various ways; the point however is to change it.

-Here, my son, I knitted this especially for you.

-Was is it, ma?

-A beard. I made it from the materials we recovered from your capsule. It will look great, undulating as you take to the skies.

-Yes, mother. Although the capitalist blood of Krypton courses through my veins, I pledge to defend truth, justice and the communist way. The world is at last ready for…



ajay 05.24.07 at 2:15 pm


SOUNDTRACK: Jim Morrison sings “The Internationale”. Fade into overhead shot of Karl lying flat on his back on his desk.

MARX: (V/O) Bloomsbury. Shit. Two weeks and I was still in the British Museum Reading Room. Every time I looked around, the political philosophy shelves moved in a little closer.
Everyone gets what he wants. I wanted an overarching critique of the modern politico-economic system. And for my sins, they gave me one. Brought it up to me like room service.

ENGELS: (puts down dog-eared copy of “Elements of the Philosophy of Right”) It is clear to me that Herr Hegel has gone insane.

MARX: Yes, sir. Obviously insane.

ENGELS: And he is still out there, still discussing the nature of existence. We want you to go to Germany, and terminate his tenure.

PROUDHON: Terminate with extreme prejudice.


Kip Manley 05.24.07 at 2:42 pm

Which reminds me of Doom Patrol No. 45, featuring Ernest Franklin, the Beard Hunter.


Anderson 05.24.07 at 2:53 pm

Any suggestions for the actor? Max von Sydow?

My god, he *is* still alive, isn’t he?

It’s Hollywood, so no reason the 12-year-old Marx can’t encounter the old Hegel before he dies of cholera, or achieves Absolute Knowing, however you look at it …


Jon H 05.24.07 at 3:08 pm

…Marx finds a beard-shielded portal in the British Library, and climbs in. Suddenly, he finds himself inside Emily Bronte. Eventually, the sensational effect ends, and he finds himself in a muddy pool near the Thames.


Anderson 05.24.07 at 4:06 pm

Ajay, that is fucking brilliant.


Cirkux 05.24.07 at 4:35 pm

Would like to point out the Swedish superhero “The masked progressive”, see linked pic:
His dialectical superpowers allows him to harness the solidarity of the working class…


Russell Arben Fox 05.24.07 at 4:43 pm

It all sounds very entertaining, but don’t forget that the ending needs to delicately set up the major tonal shift necessary for the weepy “Jewish Question” sequel.


Technomad 05.24.07 at 7:27 pm

“There was me, Karl, and me three droogies: Friederich, Heinrich and Dim. We were sitting around the old British Museum Reading Room, trying to make up our rassodocks what to do with the evening, a flip dark evening, bastard though dry. We were peeting the old moloko-plus—plus essence of Working Class Solidarity, which made us ready for a bit of the old dirty call-to-the-barricades.”

–from _A Clockwork Beard,_ Stanley Kubrick, director.


D 05.24.07 at 7:46 pm

HEGEL: (in the light of dying fireplace embers, whispering…)

Der Horror, Der Horror…



Richard 05.24.07 at 9:33 pm

Suddenly, he finds himself inside Emily Bronte

I guess the ‘other Hollywood’ spinoffs are just as inevitable as the superhero plots – “Karl’s Klub and the Kommunity of women: 14”


Henry (not the famous one) 05.25.07 at 12:39 am

The sequel will not be weepy; it must, by historical necessity, be farce.


ajay 05.25.07 at 10:22 am

23: outstanding. Well played, that man.


ajay 05.25.07 at 10:27 am

For entirely British joke reasons I am hoping for a superhero teamup with Herbert Spencer. (Marx trivia: they are buried opposite each other in Highgate Cemetery.)


Glorious Godfrey 05.25.07 at 12:40 pm

#23 pwns the thread.


rea 05.25.07 at 2:50 pm

A Google image search for “young ‘Karl Marx'” reveals this picture, dated 1839:


Note the beard.

Image of a pre-beard version of the man:


Further research is necessary for a definite settlement of the all-important question of when Karl Marx first grew his beard . . .


Eric H 05.25.07 at 4:56 pm

Will they build the Hollywoodesqueness by including a heretofore unknown rivalry between Marx and Lasalle for the hand of a fair maiden?

Alas, but Oliver Stone is not directing.


Steven Taylor 05.26.07 at 4:03 pm

The beard was clearly grown to cover a horribly disfiguring accident that the young Von Marx experienced whilst trying to derive superpowers from the netherworld.


Xboy 05.28.07 at 12:31 pm

rea: that first photo looks more like Ulysses S Grant wearing a yarmulke.


pietr 05.28.07 at 7:21 pm

Which one was the silent Marx Brother?
Perhaps he should be portrayed with a slide whistle and given no dialogue.

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