Monday, May 6, 2013
Sunday, May 27, 2012
Detruisez-vous), gathered at the Gallery Rive Droite to view Olivier Mosset's paintings. Mosset was a defiantly non-representational artist: between 1965 and 1971, he worked on a series of paintings that were simply black circles on a white background. The serial presentation of "O"s indicated the demand to begin again from zero, a call for the revolutionary subtraction of what exists. In some ways, Bard attempts to do for cinema what Mosset does for painting. Like Isidore Isou's Venom and Eternity, Bard's film attacks the image in search of new graphic possibilities. In addition to drowning out the conversations at the opening with a pounding psychedelic soundtrack by Barney Wilen and Sunny Murray, Bard films the event in high contrast black-and-white. The result is a kind of film painting, in which human beings and their environment are reduced to abstractions that exist on the same flat plane as Mosset's paintings, which seem to float around the screen. The gallery visitors are derealized and transformed into graphic figures that are in constant, fluid motion. One can only presume Bard intends this on-screen revolution of life to cross over to the film audience. In his contribution to "Four Manifestoes for a Violent Cinema" (the others are by Pommereulle, Deval, and Garrel), Bard explains his confrontational cinematic goals: "Cinema's violence can only be the result of that integral desert on which rests the incompatible rapport between spectator and screen. The mental field of this rapport has meaning and force only in its movement of divisive ascent. Here the mise en scene must move over to the cinema hall. The field of the definition of this violence must be the difference. We must burn all the bridges, and transform the shock of identification into an aggressive shock. Of each film, we will make a question mark whereby the thought of the spectator will be, as the case may be, the only response, or absence of response. In short, that means war." After this film, Bard's quest for a revolutionary-aesthetic absolute would lead him in a completely unforeseen direction. At the beginning of 1969, he went with a group of Zanzibar figures (including Boissonnas, Mosset, de Bendern, and Pommereulle) on a trip across Africa, planning on making a film of the voyage to be titled "Normal." But in the middle of the expedition, Bard one day suddenly announced that the film was cancelled and that he had converted to Islam. He reportedly lived the next eleven years in the desert, losing his voice for three of those years, before ending up an international businessman working between Mecca and Paris.
Saturday, May 26, 2012
Sunday, March 18, 2012
Deborah Stratman's disturbing In Order Not To Be Here combines the impersonal form of the avant-garde with the hair-raising suspense of the slasher genre in order to demonstrate the self-undermining nature of demands for absolute security. The film opens by assuming the quasi-omniscient perspective of surveillance technology: a shot taken from an infrared camera on a police helicopter that, as the audience watches, is used to lead the police to targets that are invisible in the dark to the naked eye on the ground. There are almost no humans present for the rest of the film, but such hidden, invasive bodies haunt every nocturnal frame, creating a continuous feeling of dread. The full title of Stratman's film, announced shortly after this tense start, is, "It is not necessary to be someplace else in order not to be here." The middle section of the film, composed primarily of formally-framed, static shots of empty corporate and suburban spaces at night, explores this notion of the voiding of space and experience for the purpose of security. The film moves from signs for gated communities, whose bright spotlights seem unable to fight off the impenetrable darkness surrounding them, to menacingly vacant streets and parking lots, where, with the help of Kevin' Drumm's noise soundtrack, violence seems lurking at every moment. Fast food chains and convenience stores are about the only real sources of light, but it quickly becomes apparent that they provide protection only for the commodities they house and display. Nothing is allowed to happen in these spaces Stratman surveys, which only leads to greater fear that something actually will happen in them. The ideal of security produces an ambiance of paranoia, which leaves no corner or individual untouched. As Michel Foucault writes, "The perfected form of surveillance consists in a summation of malveillance." Stratman ends the film with a long, viscerally engaging (though staged) infrared shot from a helicopter of a man fleeing, sprinting over roads, diving into a river, and darting into nature to escape from the technologically-enhanced gaze that relentlessly follows him. During this arresting scene, the audience is forced into a split identification, benefiting from the spectacular power of the surveillance technology while cheering on this hopeless line of flight.
Saturday, March 10, 2012
Jean-Louis le Tacon's Cochon qui s'en dedit is a nightmarish documentary on the life of a factory farmer, Maxime. Shot on Super 8 over 3 years, the film exhibits the kind of intimacy of filmmaker and subject found in the works of Tacon's thesis director, Jean Rouch. The film is also a late example of the kind of collaborative militant cinema that the Medvedkin Group and others pioneered in the years after May '68. Tacon takes the viewer straight into the hellish heart of Maxime's world, a large hall where squealing pigs are crowded into pen after pen. This horrifying glimpse into the hidden abode of (meat) production will shock even the most committed carnivores. The pig factory in some ways resembles a concentration camp. But rather than showing the slaughter of the animals, the film focuses on Maxime's careful management of their lives. Tacon offers a brutal allegory of modern biopower, which Foucault argues "brought life and its mechanisms into the realm of explicit calculations." Tacon shows Maxime cut the tails and teeth off the piglets in order to prevent cannibalism in the tiny pens. Sex is regulated by slicing off the testicles of the piglets and artificially inseminating the adults by hand with a syringe. Maxime spends his days constantly shoveling shit and washing down the pens with disinfecting sprays, but disease still hits the pig population, adding to Maxime's labor the disposal of piles of maggot-ridden corpses. At a few points in the film, Tacon uses surreal images to show the psychological effects of Maxime's intimacy with his pigs' lives. These constructed images include a disturbing shot of Maxime lying naked next to a pig and an even more unsettling scene of Maxime picking up and tossing back the piglet corpses that seem to be falling from the sky. At one point, Maxime, whose placid voice is heard throughout the film, reveals that he took out a large loan to start the business, and that all his efforts barely allow him to cover his interest payments. Tacon's film could not more powerfully illustrate the dehumanizing consequences of this coupling of biopower and finance capital.
Sunday, January 22, 2012
Richard Woolley's ambitious Inside and Outside is structured around a series of dichotomies--inside/outside, East/West, theory/practice--that it progressively deconstructs. In the front room of a Berlin commune, a man and a woman diligently study communist texts. They solemnly discuss the alienating effects of modern industrial society, the isolation of the individual in a world of competition and consumerism. They complacently express their gratitude for the Communist Party, which gives their life direction and meaning, lecturing the viewer, "The Party shows us the right way and we happily obey." And they hold onto their love as an antidote to the atomization of society, saying, right after Woolley presents a Hollywood-style closeup of their kiss, "We have no need of other people." Despite their faith in the Party and love, the film reveals their position to be highly contradictory. The room is decorated with a picture of Marx, but the space's political iconography is also contaminated by a photograph of a naked woman on a bookshelf and by the multiple Coca Cola signs that can be seen on the building across the street. The couple abstractly tackles the subject of the loneliness of life in the city by reading from books rather than by paying attention to the concrete evidence of community visible on the other side of the window. After the couple kisses, the woman serves the man a beer and starts to dust, her political commitment apparently not interfering with traditional gender norms. Woolley also contrasts the artificial style of the actors who play the couple with the real behavior of the non-actors who pass by outside and often stop to peer in at the spectacle being filmed inside. So as the film progresses, the solipsistic world of the couple is increasingly exposed to all it was structured to keep out, and the film ends with the man and woman being expelled from the reassuring comforts of their room, its books, and their ideology in order to seek a revolutionary way of life not founded upon the exclusion of the real.
Sunday, January 15, 2012
In Rossellini's Europa '51, the complacent lifestyle of a bourgeois mother, Irene (played by Ingrid Bergman), is overturned by the suicide of her young child. This traumatic, unforeseen event leads Irene on a philanthropic mission to the hidden world of the poor in the housing projects on the outskirts of Rome. Her short voyage to the land of the people is guided by her journalist friend Andrea, who is able to place all the misery she observes within the meaningful framework of communism. Like Irene, the film itself leaves the artificial, isolated set of the bourgeois home and sets off in neorealist fashion to observe the bleak reality of the city. However, Irene and the film's progress towards (class) consciousness is interrupted when Irene on a later trip to the poor walks into a church, a detour that results in her ending up not a militant but a saint (with details drawn from the life of Simone Weil). In "A Child Kills Himself," Jacques Ranciere admits that when he first viewed the film during the 1960s, his Althusserian critical expectations were frustrated by Irene's retreat into religious idealism, which seemed to contradict the materialist first half of the film. But after watching the film 25 years later, Ranciere changed his evaluation. Rather than offer one more restaging of a teleological "coming-to-consciousness," the film, he argues, follows Irene as she gets lost and wanders into an atopia, a world where everything is not perfectly in its place and where she becomes like a foreigner who encounters what cannot be clearly represented by established discourses such as Marxism. Ranciere surely saw in Irene his own flight from the Althusserian science of the hidden into the archives of the workers' movements. He writes, "For she who had been invited to look behind things, the break comes from looking to the side instead."
Saturday, October 1, 2011
Before he took up armed struggle against the state as a member of the Red Army Faction and became an icon of the left by dying from a hunger strike while in prison, Holger Meins studied film at the Film Academy in Berlin, making films alongside Harun Farocki and Helke Sander. Yet his aesthetics and politics, cinematic protest and guerilla resistance, cannot be kept wholly apart. His most infamous film details the making and use of a Molotov cocktail. And while underground with the RAF, Meins tricked a metal sculptor into producing functioning weapons as props for a film project, what Meins described as "a kind of revolutionary fiction." In the twelve brief chapters that compose the short film Oskar Langenfeld, Meins paints an unsparingly harsh portrait of his subject, an impoverished, aged man who attempts to maintain a dignified pose despite the humiliating power others hold over him, his miserable living conditions, and the uncontrollable coughing of his sickly body. Meins's film takes up an openly invasive perspective, pushing the viewer into an uncomfortable proximity with Langenfeld by showing intimate scenes such as his dressing or by regularly presenting extreme close-ups of his wrinkled face, even when mucus is apparent in his mouth. Meins also uses an extremely elliptical form of editing, jolting the viewer by abruptly starting and ending scenes. After mapping out the diminished, degraded scope of Langenfeld's existence, the film ends with Meins instructing Langenfeld, "Go on, say shit." Langenfeld then makes a number of attempts to satisfactorily express the dysphoria the filmmaker desires, to call the economic system that oppresses him what it is: "Shit."
Tuesday, August 2, 2011
Ulrike Meinhof completed the script for this television movie about a riot at a group home for girls after resigning from writing political commentaries for konkret in 1969 and before fleeing underground and helping form the Red Army Faction in 1970. The film was scheduled to be shown on television in May of 1970, but Meinhof's role in the freeing of Andreas Baader just weeks before led to its cancellation; though the script was published in 1971, the film was not shown on television until the late 1990s. It is therefore hard not to approach this film as a key document of Meinhof's political-intellectual transition from her increasingly conspicuous discontent with traditional forms of political activisim (including media interventions such as the film itself) to her embrace of revolutionary violence that refuses any compromise with the institutions of society. Meinhof based the script on her interviews and experiences with girls from public homes, a number of whom she put up in her own home (one, Irene Goergens, would even become a member of the RAF). The youth home in the film clearly is meant to resemble a prison and serve as a microcosm of society. The unruly young women in the home are routinely subjected to punitive forms of discipline, and all of their rights and privileges can be arbitrarily withdrawn, often through solitary confinement in the "hole." As one girl says, "Here everything is simple: No cigarettes, the hole, no leave, no TV. Here we know where we are." They are also forced to wash clothes, and despite the repetitive, mechanical nature of the work, they are paid very little and can have their wages docked as punishment for disobedience. Though severely attacked by the authorities, lesbianism pervades the institution, perhaps because, as Sarah Colvin argues, "lesbianism is a metaphor for solidarity" within the film. One of the younger guardians, Mrs. Lack, is more sympathetic and kind to the girls. But despite her good (i.e., liberal) intentions, she finds herself forced to carry out the repressive measures of the institution with which she has not the will to break, and one of the girls eventually confronts her by saying, "Decide once and for all, if you are with us or with them." The film pays extra attention to Irene, who runs away only to find the outside world of prostitution and predators no more tolerable than the public home. While she is away, the other girls riot one night after having all of their privileges taken away. They tear up their beds, smash their furniture into pieces, and furiously pound against the walls of their room while screaming and crying. Their aimless destructive rage is soon suppressed when the police are called in. One girl tells Irene when she willingly returns to the home the next day, "We do an action and what happens? Cops come and then nothing." Having witnessed the cruel realities waiting for them both within and without the institution, Irene, however, argues to continue resisting, though in a more conscious and directed manner, and the film hints that the girls will riot again that night. When "Bambule" appears over the final image, the word is less the reappearance of the film's title than a command aimed at the viewer and society. In a radio report appearing elsewhere, Meinhof offered this explanation: "Bambule means rebellion, resistance, counter-violence - efforts toward liberation. "
As one would expect from the spectacle, The Strawberry Statement offers a condescending and reductive view of the student movement of the 1960s, but the film in its final minutes undoes its own work of political neutralization by rendering exhaustively visible the violence of the police. Based on James Simon Kunen's autobiographical book on the 1968 Columbia revolt, the film (as well as Kunen's book) takes its title from an infamous statement an Associate Dean at Columbia made about his caring as little about students' political views as about their feelings for strawberries. Unable to obtain permission to film at Columbia, the filmmakers moved the events to an imaginary university in San Francisco, one of a series of displacements that unfortunately leaves the film completely ungrounded in history and reality. From either cinematic incompetence or smug cynicism (I honestly can't tell which), the film spends its first hour portraying the student movement as consisting of clueless and immature idiots. The film focuses on Simon, a young member of the university rowing team, who slowly becomes conscious of the protests and occupations occurring on his campus. This political education is largely fueled by his attraction to a young radical named Linda, whom Simon picks up at a disorganized occupation of the president's office. After wavering between his commitment to practicing his rowing "stroke" and his desire to take part in the the student "strike," Simon manages to solve his juvenile "identity crisis" by fully throwing himself into the movement. The film is nearly unbearable as it tracks Simon's far from profound political awakening, but everything changes in the film's conclusion when the police savagely remove Simon and his fellow student comrades from a gymnasium they are occupying. Limited by their documentary origins, both Newsreel's Columbia Revolt and Peter Whitehead's The Fall suffer from a lacuna at their climactic moment. For obvious practical reasons, the police raid on Hamilton Hall and Low Library, the moment the violence of the police and the state is revealed, escapes the grasp of the two films, which focus instead on the traces of brutality left behind, particularly the students' bruised and bloodied bodies. In contrast, The Strawberry Statement, operating more freely in the realm of fiction, dilates that moment of violence into a ten minute spectacle that, while perhaps serving exploitative commercial purposes, surely remains one of the most extensive and crazed representations of police repression in the history of film. Ultimately, the previous dismissive account of the student movement is wiped away in a politically inarticulate but nonetheless powerful haze of tear gas and police beatings.
Monday, July 4, 2011
Demented, provocative, and fashionable all at once, Red Sun taps into the zeitgeist of the late 1960s by inserting a dose of radical feminism into the horror genre. At the film's beginning, Thomas, a disheveled and alienated member of the counterculture who is fleeing from something in Hamburg, or perhaps just from civilization itself, hitchhikes his way to an uptight nightclub, where he picks up the sexy young bartender, Peggy (played by Uschi Obermaier, a model, rock star groupie, and member of the infamous Berlin Kommune 1). Penniless, uninterested in work, and more than a bit parasitic, Thomas moves into the commune-like apartment that Peggy shares with her three almost equally beautiful and stylishly-dressed female roommates. But as Thomas starts to fall in love with Peggy, he begins to realize that more than female sexual liberation is behind the steady stream of men moving through these women's lives. As it turns out, the four roommates have agreed to kill any man with whom they have been in a relationship for 5 days. As one of the women confesses, in a typically inarticulate manner, "We kill men. . . . There's not a lot to say." As it shows the comically unrealistic murders of the arrogant, materialistic men whom the women bring home, or follows the feminine collective as its members go shoplifting together at the grocery store or cheer enthusiastically when they successfully test a bomb, the film swerves toward radical feminist fantasy. Unfortunately, the representation of this critical attack on patriarchy and capitalism doesn't interfere with the constant sexual objectification of the female stars, whose barely-clothed bodies are continuously on display for the audience. As Thomas approaches his 5 day limit, personal desire of course starts to conflict with the militant discipline that the women impose on each other. Thomas is no stranger to the kind of radical ideals that presently threaten his life. At one point early in the film, he asks Peggy to put marmalade on ham for him, explaining this bizarre combination by proclaiming, "We've got to break with tradition. That's today's task." The result, however, is completely inedible. But his final, futile plan to run off to Morocco with Peggy ("we'll be better people there") still reflects the (sometimes deranged) revolutionary optimism exhibited by all of the main characters. The feeling is best stated by one long-haired man who briefly appears in the apartment and says, "Even if we have to change the weather to change society, then we'll do it. . . . It's not impossible."
Sunday, July 3, 2011
Adapted from Christa Wolf's novel of the same name, The Divided Heaven is a terrific East German film about young lovers who are pulled apart by the political division that was becoming increasingly absolute as the Berlin Wall was being constructed. The film's wonderful visual aesthetic does much to mitigate the story's didactic and schematic tendencies. Clearly inspired by the French New Wave and benefiting from a cultural thaw that would hardly last another year, Konrad Wolf takes great stylistic liberties in the composition of his widescreen images and draws on Resnais's sophisticated use of montage to weave together layers of time and memory. The film starts out as a self-consciously banal love story involving Rita, a young woman nearing the age of 20, and Manfred, an older student finishing his doctorate in chemistry. Rita is accepted into a teaching college, so she moves to the city and into a room with Manfred. While waiting for her school to start, she volunteers to work in a factory helping to construct railroad cars alongside a group of men. Witnessing the struggle of a few workers against the inefficiencies and deceptions plaguing the socialist production system, Rita learns to be optimistic about the power of individual responsibility and honesty. Meanwhile at school, she is verbally attacked by a dogmatic fellow student after she sympathetically covers for a friend whose entire family fled to the west. But the institute director defends her by making an argument about the need for tolerance within the party. After receiving his degree, Manfred heads down a path quite different from Rita's. He develops an innovative chemical method that he hopes will be adopted by the factory. But bureaucratic opportunism and conservatism soon frustrate Manfred, leading him to become increasingly cynical about history and humanity. Not even an astonishing moment when an announcement that the Russians put a man in space makes everyone briefly stop and feel that his or her sacrifices and efforts are part of a larger History reverses Manfred's course. After expressing his discontent more and more visibly, he finally runs off to take a job in West Berlin, where he feels his scientific talents will be both recognized and rewarded. Rita eventually follows Manfred to West Berlin, where the two of them have a tormented debate while wandering around in a capitalist environment that Wolf presents as a kind of alien space, one that is luxurious but also cold. Rita admits that this environment makes her yearn, but, wearing what Manfred dismisses as her "political spectacles," she argues that in the "free world," "you like a lot of things, but they don't make you happy." While walking amidst enormous billboards or through illuminated nightlife attractions that reinforce her argument, Rita explains to Manfred why she can't abandon the socialist project and join him. After she surprises everyone by returning to the east, an older version of herself heard on the soundtrack draws out the moral: "Maybe now you will realize that the fate of the coming generations depends on the strength of countless people in very single moment."
Over its four-hour running time, Robert Kramer's Route One casually explores the strange wilderness of American society in the 1980s. The film is structured by a drive taken by Kramer and "Doc" down the titular road from the Canadian border to Key West. Along the way, they encounter a diverse range of communities, hunt down the elusive traces of history, and reflect on the contradictions of American culture. The film is an odd mixture of documentary and fiction. Throughout most of the film, Kramer remains hidden behind the camera, his voice subdued. He uses Doc, a quasi-fictional character played by Paul McIsaac, to mediate between reality and the camera. Doc initially functions as a useful way of entering into and interacting with different communities rather than simply interviewing strangers in a supposedly objective manner. Doc also directly expresses emotional responses to the sad realities of the nation. In the film's last half, however, Doc becomes a bit too much of a character, especially when he begins to develop a love interest, and the film only recovers when Kramer takes off on his own with his camera. Both Kramer and Doc are radicals from the 1960s and expatriates who are ambivalent about the country they are returning to for the first time in many years. Doc even reads from Whitman's "Song of the Open Road" at the beginning of their trip, explaining that the poem represents the America he loves, which be believes will be quite different from the America they will actually discover as they travel. They are, as one of them states, "coming back, not home." Indeed, the film's unique perspective is largely due to this pervasive sense of the uncanny, the home which is no longer home. Or as Doc says, "everything is different and nothing has changed." Kramer and Doc's leftist background is most evident during the great deal of time they spend with minorities in urban ghettos, contemplating the inequalities of America. But when encountering conservatives, they patiently listen and observe, even becoming friendly with an old religious couple that takes part in protests against abortion clinics and espouses anti-liberal conspiracy theories. Kramer occasionally uses montage to juxtapose the contradictory sides of American society, such as when he cuts from a poor teenage husband just arrested for stealing a car to a wealthy prosecutor wandering around his large estate. He also carefully selects revealing statements, such as those made by an army recruiter who claims that the quality of recent recruits reflects the positive change in American culture during the 1980s. Kramer and Doc are clearly disturbed by much of what they come across, but their trip eventually revitalizes and expands their sense of political purpose. At one point in the film, Doc explains that he survived the harsh realities of the last ten years he spent as a doctor in Africa initially solely through his commitment to the idea of revolution. But eventually only alcohol and drugs kept him going, burning much of himself up in the process. But as Kramer and Doc finally approach Key West and the literal end of the road, it is clear to both men that their radical aspirations no longer appear as a dead end.
Koji Wakamatsu's brutal film dwells on one of the most troubling episodes in the history of the left: the Japanese United Red Army's execution of 14 of its own members during self-criticism sessions at the Asama Sanso Mountain Lodge in 1972. Propelled by Jim O'Rourke's psych-rock-simulacra soundtrack, the film begins by using documentary footage to chart the radicalization of the Japanese student movement during the 1960s. Wakamatsu starts with the death of a student during protests against the Japan-U.S. Security Treaty in 1960. As this helpful history lesson progresses, the students, shifting from protest to resistance, become increasingly militant and confrontational, by the last half of the decade fully throwing themselves into the long struggle in Sanrizuka against the construction of the airport or occupying buildings and clashing with the police during protests against tuition increases. Wakamatsu mixes a few re-enactments into this flood of historical images, mostly to clarify the development of the various communist factions that around 1970 turned to armed struggled in order to advance what they saw as a world revolutionary war. As was the case in other countries, the increase in revolutionary violence quickly led to an increase in state repression. Desertions, betrayals, and arrests soon undermined the organizational structure of many of these groups. In 1971, the Red Army Faction (RAF) and the Revolutionary Left Faction (RLF) merged into the United Red Army (URA). Adopting a militarized view of the party, members of the URA retreated to a mountain lodge for training as revolutionary soldiers. Wakamatsu devotes the majority of his film to this period of retreat, which ended in death for many of those involved. The film offers some striking shots of radicals training with guns in a snow-covered, mountainous environment, but most of the time is spent in bare, undecorated rooms, in which the militants undertake endless rounds of self-criticism. Budget limitations may explain this minimal aesthetic, but the visual austerity underscores the URA's solipsistic and ascetic tendencies. Deliberately cutting themselves off from the complex political realities of Japanese society, the militants, huddled around in circles, fixate on obtaining revolutionary purity rather than focus on the practical realization of the revolution. As a result of this confusion of goals, self-criticism functions less as a means for ideological enlightenment than as a form of disciplinary punishment, usually sadistically imposed on individuals by the two leaders (one of whom makes the revealing statement, "Leadership is beating"). The individuals subjected to self-criticism are unable to confess adequately their revolutionary sins to the other members of the group, who actively police each other's desires and actions. For over a grueling hour on the screen, members of the URA, one after another, are lynched by their comrades. Already self-destructing, the group is soon hunted down by the police, and the film ends by following a few final members who, even when caught in a hopeless hostage situation, absurdly continue their self-critique and argue over whether eating a cookie is a counterrevolutionary act.
Tuesday, April 5, 2011
Romain Goupil's Mourir a 30 ans (Half a Life) recalls the history of the youngest end of the extra-parliamentary French left in the late 60s/early 70s from a perspective that is equally personal and political. Using interviews, documentary footage, and the films Goupil made during his youth, the movie recounts Goupil's own experiences in the political movements leading up to and following from May '68, as well as pays tribute to his friend and comrade, Michel Recanati, whom Goupil worked alongside in politics for many years but who surprisingly committed suicide in 1978 at the age of 30. An unruly child from a middle-class leftist family, Goupil became involved in politics early in his teens (perhaps around the age of 14), joining the Trotskyite JCR (Jeunesses Communistes Revolutionnaires) after quickly becoming disillusioned with the French Communist Party's complacency. The JCR provided Goupil an early education in Marxism-Leninism, and brought him together with other militant young students who would become long-term comrades, including Recanati. Political activism in his school led to Goupil's suspension, and, despite student protests in response, his expulsion, but Goupil refused to become any less political while "maturing" at another school. Goupil's father was in the film industry, so Goupil had access to a camera from an early age and obsessively filmed the events in his life or recreated them in Truffaut-esque fictional versions. Mourir a 30 ans draws heavily on this personal archive to tell the story of Goupil's political coming of age, which is also a history of the JCR and the groups that flowed into and out of it. By May '68, Goupil was merely 17, but, along with his equally young militant peers, had already accumulated years of experience of political organizing, including acting as a bodyguard for the Black Panthers when they visited Paris and sojourning in Berlin amongst the German New Left. During the events of May, Goupil and Recanati played leading roles in the Comités d'action lycées (CAL), which brought secondary students into the revolutionary movement. Using rare footage he shot, Goupil recounts the disconnect he felt at the beginning of that month as he went from street fighting one day to sitting in a classroom the next. As is the case with most films on May '68, Goupil's memorializing of those revolutionary days occasionally slips into nostalgia and privileges self-aggrandizement at the expense of historical insight, such as when Goupil focuses on a series of images that place himself and Recanati at the center of the events. In the months following May, the fight to continue the movement devolved into a power struggle amongst the different political groups, though Recanati would remain a significant leader for the younger organizations. The film documents how both young men over the next few years continued to participate in rallies and protests, as well as illegal direct actions such as bombing embassies with paint. After an organization led by Recanati violently clashed with police at an anti-fascist rally, Recanati was given a three month prison sentence and briefly fled underground. As Goupil frames it, the political limits of the period brought out Recanati's personal limits, the fragility lurking underneath his bold facade, which in an unknown manner transformed Recanati's optimism about changing his life into his premature termination.
Saturday, April 2, 2011
The New Babylon is a sensational silent film about the Paris Commune of 1871. As the military goes off to fight a disastrous war against the Prussians, the Parisian bourgeoisie indulges in an orgy at the New Babylon department store, where shopping, dancing, and drinking are the order of the day. The film uses expressionist techniques to illustrate the frenzied passions of the consumers and the hazy and drunken life of leisure. Before long, the festivities are interrupted by the announcement of French defeat, which literally closes the curtains on this world of decadence. The bourgeoisie having fled to Versailles, the workers institute the Commune, the political beginning of the emancipation of labor. Unfortunately, the film has a hard time imagining the transformation of everyday life during the Commune. The film does present the enthusiasm of the communards, showing what Marx in "The Civil War in France" describes as "Working, thinking, fighting, bleeding Paris--almost forgetful, in its incubation of a new society, of the cannibals at its gates--radiant in the enthusiasm of its historic initiative!" But for the most part, the workers in the film are confined to happily doing the same repetitive, tedious forms of labor as before--and at an even faster pace. The film fares better when the Commune is threatened and the barricades are constructed from the stones in the street and the furniture from homes. Even the commodities from the department store, which have been stripped of exchange value, or as one communard ironically taunts, put on "sale," are used for the defense of the Commune. Shostakovich's original score, which is alternately satirical and elegiac, sweeps over the film as the bourgeoisie leisurely enjoys from Versailles the spectacle of the communards giving their lives at the barricades. The violence of the bosses and police--in other words, "order"-- is soon restored to Paris, and the communards are coldly executed in the rain. But their fallen bodies continue to inscribe their truth: "Vive la Commune."
Tuesday, March 29, 2011
An incomparably important work of political filmmaking, Kuhle Wampe is an openly communist film about the plight of the working class in Weimar Germany. Collectively produced in an independent manner, the film features music by Hanns Eisler and was largely written by Bertolt Brecht, whose theories deeply inform the film's aesthetics. The film opens with a rapid montage of newspaper headlines that indicate the seriousness of Germany's economic crisis and the high rate of unemployment. Following a cruelly direct title, "One Unemployed Worker Less," the film cuts to a band of young men who ride their bicycles around Berlin in search of employment. Eisler's jumpy music plays over angular shots of the bicycles in motion, emphasizing how this standing reserve army doesn't even have the luxury of standing still. After failing to find work, one of the unemployed cyclists goes home, where, after facing the disappointment of his family, he commits suicide by leaping from a window. The family is soon evicted from the apartment for failing to pay rent and moves into the home of Fritz, the boyfriend of the family's daughter Anni. Fritz lives in Kuhle Wampe, a tent camp on the outskirts of Berlin where the defeated members of the working class have nostalgically gathered together in an attempt to recreate a normal life (that is, to live according to middle class standards). Throughout, the film regularly interrupts this narrative movement with more experimental sequences that invite the viewer's cognitive participation. For example, in a key scene, the father reads from the newspaper about a dancer, Mata Hari, who obtains a high price for her body, while the mother sits next to him and calculates the family's finances. Every so often, the film cuts to shots of food items, their prominently displayed price tags making visible their status as commodities, just like the dancer's body. An accidental pregnancy comes between Anni and Fritz, the latter still believing in his bachelor/liberal freedom. They reunite at a worker athlete contest, where the members of the working class attempt to reappropriate their bodies from capitalist production through motorcycle and boat races. A "red megaphone" agitprop theater group sings communist songs about oppression to the crowd that has gathered to view the sporting contests, mirroring the film's own combination of popular entertainment and political ideology. Afterwards, Anni and Fritz return home with the rest of the masses on the subway. This final scene, which some have claimed Brecht himself directed, is a masterpiece of politicized aesthetics, one that Godard surely knows well. On the subway, a man begins to read aloud a news story about Brazil burning 24 million pounds of coffee in order to maintain high prices. This topic is taken up and debated by the crowd in the subway car, turning the end of the film into a long conversation about world economics and revolutionary politics. A strong class line is drawn when one man, clearly not working class, speculates that "we" should acquire a colony so as to be able to get a cut of such price manipulations and a young, militant man confronts him, asking who this "we" is. In the end, the lovers, as well as the rest of the film's more traditional narrative elements, are subsumed into the larger, politically advancing movement of the working class.
Friday, March 25, 2011
Robert Kramer's Scenes from the Class Struggle In Portugal maps out from a left perspective the complex evolution of politics as a nation transforms itself in the wake of a revolution. Weakened by the costs of maintaining its colonial power, Portugal's fascist government succumbed to a bloodless military coup in 1975. At the moment of the revolution, the people joyfully joined the army in the streets. But in the months that followed, the reemergence of class struggle dissolved this appearance of unity. Different political parties participated in the new government, which was eventually dominated by the right and oriented towards the interests of foreign capital. But alongside the back and forth motions of parliamentary politics, the revolutionary process continued. There were occupations of unused land and houses, and a popular power movement arose outside of the confines of any party, even the communist party, which had committed itself to a reformist line. The army was particularly divided, with one wing supporting the most conservative elements of the nation and the other wing throwing itself behind the working class. The film lists off the various obstacles to the success of the class struggle: a large peasantry untouched by the revolution and even hostile to the left; a bourgeois state whose basic structures had been left largely unchanged; the continuity of the power and practices of the bureaucracies and the church; the relatively small number of workers in industry or agriculture, who might become organized, and a large middle class. Kramer's film documents the left's intense fight with these barriers, paying especially close attention to the operation of politics in everyday life. The film is as interested in the opinions of old women, many of whom are interviewed, as it is in the more refined statements of various political and military leaders. After highlighting the continued potential for struggle, the film ends with some gloomy--but still timely--notes on how the now dominant right, aligned with the "imperialist" interests of the World Bank and the IMF, has attempted to market a plan of "austerity & sacrifice" to the nation as "patriotism."
Tuesday, February 22, 2011
In 1966, the Japanese government announced plans to build a new international airport in Sanrizuka, near Narita City. The farmers on the land, however, refused to be bought out, fighting over the next decade one of the most dramatic struggles of modern Japanese history. The farmers' resistance to the prerogatives of capitalist modernization, which devalued traditional agriculture, was potentially conservative, but they gained the support of the student and antiwar movements, partially because the U.S. military was to use the planned airport. In 1968, Ogawa Shinsuke and his film collective, Ogawa Productions, arrived in Sanrizuka to document the farmers' struggle. Over the next nine years, Ogawa made a total of 7 films on Sanrizuka. The fourth film, Sanrizuka: Peasants of the Second Fortress, records the government's attempt to take the land between February 22 and March 6, 1971. Preparing to fight to the last, the farmers built five fortresses and dug a series of hidden tunnels. According to Abe Nornes, 20,000 protesters reportedly fought with 30,000 cops during the period. Lines of riot police were confronted with not only farmers dug deeply into the earth but also students armed with rocks, sticks, and Molotov cocktails. As Ogawa's film shows with astonishing immediacy, the scene was for all practical purposes a war zone. When not being battered around alongside the bodies of the protesters, who regularly enter into direct, violent combat with the police and other security forces, Ogawa's camera focuses on and takes the side of the farmers, particularly the women who, in the face of very real threats, are willing to use their bodies to protect their land and their families. Over the film's two and half hours, the farmers and students win and lose battles, but despite the superior power the state ultimately shows, Ogawa ends the film with a lyrical, hopeful image of the farmers literally tunneling into the unknown.
Friday, February 18, 2011
Farocki and Ujica's Videograms of a Revolution uses video archives to closely examine the role of television in the unfolding of the five most intense days of the 1989 Romanian revolution, which resulted in the overthrow and execution of Nicolae Ceausescu. Using video footage shot by the state television studio and amateur video enthusiasts, Farocki and Ujica provide a linear narrative of the revolution, but regularly stop, rewind, and review important image-events. They persuasively demonstrate that television had a pervasive influence on how the revolution was understood and enacted by its participants. The film opens with a shot of a woman injured in a fight with state security forces. After making sure that the camera is recording her image and voice, she enters into a long, Oscar-worthy statement to the rest of the nation, performing for the camera despite the two bullets in her body that she is waiting for doctors to remove. A key breakdown in the state's control of the media system occurs when protests disrupt a mass rally called by Ceausescu, forcing the state television to go off the air before it returns with its cameras pointed toward the sky, a predetermined response in the case of an emergency. Farocki and Ujica review this footage and use "soft montage"--the placement of a second image within the space of the first--to juxtapose what the state broadcasted and what was recorded by another camera in the area. In his home, a young man films Ceausescu's speech on the television, and then points his camera towards the window to see if the disruptions on the screen correspond to any disruptions in the reality out on the street. When Ceausescu is finally forced to flee the Committee headquarters in a helicopter, Farocki and Ujica show how the event was caught by different cameras at different angles and distances. A different kind of televisual repetition occurs when actions have to be repeated so they can be properly recorded by the television camera, such as when the Prime Minister is forced to repeat his announcement of the government's resignation because the cameras weren't ready the first time. Farocki and Ujica are particularly interested in how during the development of the revolution two focal points, two sites of power, seem to emerge: the square in front of the Committee headquarters and the state television studio. Shortly after the former is attacked, the latter is converted into an instrument of the revolution. As one individual says, "We need the TV." The revolution seems to be performatively accomplished when a crowd gathers in the cramped TV studio and nervously prepares a statement for the nation, after which they are able to say, "The TV is with us!" As Klaus Kreimeier and Benjamin Young have noted, the revolutionary moment opened up a fluid space in which a new kind of media practice thrived, but which quickly disappeared as traditional powers and institutions reasserted control in the following period. Farocki and Ujica argue, "Film was possible because there was history." But they make a seemingly contradictory claim when they say, "If film is possible, then history, too, is possible." Farocki and Ujica don't seem to have in mind reductive arguments about the mass media simulating and replacing history or the mass media as determining history. Recalling what Bernard Stiegler has said about the media being constitutive of what he terms event-ization, one can see through Farocki and Ujica's film how even as a particular political program is being overthrown, media programs remain that influence, and perhaps even help make possible, the individual and collective experience and creation of history.
Tuesday, February 15, 2011
Straub & Huillet's Too Early / Too Late is a tranquil and contemplative exploration of time and revolution. The film opens with a peculiar kind of cinematic "revolution"--a six minute shot taken from inside a car that drives repeatedly around a traffic circle in Paris. An off screen voice reads a letter sent by Engels to Kautsky that describes how during the French Revolution the plebians were manipulated into being key agents in what was essentially a bourgeois revolution. The plebians attributed to revolutionary slogans such as "equality" and "fraternité" meanings that were the opposite of what the bourgeoisie intended, so they fought for a cause that was not truly their own. But when their demands eventually were radicalized, such as in the form of Babeuf's violent insurrectionary group, the time for revolution had already passed. Engels writes, "Whereas the Commune with its aspirations for fraternity came too early, Babeuf in his turn came too late." The rest of Engels' letter gives data about the high levels of poverty in different provinces of France at the time of the revolution, so Straub and Huillet accompany this information with filmed images of each location to which Engels refers. Straub and Huillet set their camera at a substantial remove from its subjects and rely almost entirely on long static shots or slow horizontal pans. When accompanied by the lush soundtrack of birds chirping, the wind blowing, and children playing, this structural and spatial distancing frames the landscape as an aesthetic object that can be pleasurably observed. Before one accuses Straub and Huillet of uncritically romanticizing nature, however, it is important to remember that in his letter Engels noted that the regions with the worst poverty were those that "were considered the most fertile." Natural beauty, then, might be read as signifying economic inequality. The second, larger section of the film shifts from France to Egypt. A different voice reads from Mahmud Hussein's Class Struggles in Egypt, which offers a stirring history of Egyptian revolts against western colonizers. The text taken from Hussein's book ends with the Egyptian Revolution of 1952, which, like the French Revolution, exemplifies for Straub and Huillet a revolution whose time was out of joint, in this case resulting in a new military ruling class. Throughout, Straub and Huillet's camera scrutinizes the environment for traces of revolutionary movements that never managed to properly arrive. However, recent events in Egypt, the unexpected and untimely nature of the revolution, might change how one understands the film, and particularly its calm surface, by underscoring the contingency of even the most seemingly fixed situation.
Sunday, January 23, 2011
Harun Farocki's Workers leaving the factory is a rich, intelligent investigation of film history and aesthetic "economy." Farocki begins by showing the first film exhibited in public, the Lumiere brothers' Workers Leaving The Lumiere Factory in Lyon. Farocki proceeds to read this short silent film, which is situated at the origins of the 20th century and the cinema, by searching in the film archives for variants of this theme of workers leaving the factory. Weaving together documentary footage from Detroit, Lyon, and elsewhere with an astonishing range of scenes from fiction films, including Chaplin's Modern Times and Antonioni's Red Desert, Farocki has created a brilliant film essay that demonstrates how the factory gates have served as a privileged site to which the cinema has obsessively, compulsively returned, though rarely crossed over. He claims, "Most narrative films begin after work is over," and that, "Whenever possible, film has moved hastily away from factories." To illustrate these claims, Farocki juxtaposes scenes from a number of films, showing how the community of workers typically dissolves at the threshold of the factory gates, making room for narratives about the lives (and love affairs) of isolated individuals. Factory gates have often been a site of (filmed) conflict, from strikes to theft, and they therefore have been subjected to developing technologies of security. Farocki pays close attention to the spread of surveillance cameras, which have added a sinister panoptic twist to the Lumiere brothers' foundational gaze. In his essay on the film, Farocki discusses the political unconscious of the Lumiere brothers' film, which is deceptively fascinated with the motion of the workers that eventually leaves the factory still and empty. He writes, "Only later, once it had been learned how filmic images grasp for ideas and are themselves seized by them, are we able to see in hindsight that the resolution of the workers’ motion represents something, that the visible movement of people is standing in for the absent and invisible movement of goods, money, and ideas circulating in industry."
Shot around New York between October 1967 and May 1968, Peter Whitehead's The Fall reflects the turbulence and chaos of its conjuncture. Visiting from Britain, Whitehead initially offers an outsider's perspective on the antiwar protests, bizarre performance art pieces, and surreal everyday life that he films. Back in his apartment, he obsessively views shocking news reports about everything from the Vietnam War to the rioting in response to Martin Luther King, Jr.'s assassination. As psychedelic music plays, a scantily clad model dances around Whitehead's room for far too long and for little apparent reason other than her sex appeal. The first two-thirds of The Fall might be written off as a late-60s bad trip caught on film. Indeed, Whitehead films himself reflecting on his own images and his inability to synthesize the fragments into something more than a "series of historical moments." But this formless document of subjective and political dissolution provides the necessary preparations and context for the film's quite focused and forceful final section on the student revolt at Columbia in April of '68. In this section, Whitehead offers an articulate explanation of the situation on the campus and the reasons for the turn from "protest to resistance." He seems to identify with the students, and shoots freely within the occupied buildings (this footage was later snuck out in one of the buckets used to raise and lower items in and out of a second story window). After a calm series of images of the students sleeping on the floor, Whitehead sits on a window ledge with the occupiers and films the individuals passing by on the street, most of whom offer their own different signals of solidarity with the occupation. At the general assembly, amongst the debate, a very young Paul Auster quietly smiles and smokes a cigarette. At one point, Whitehead sits on the roof of the building and turns the camera on himself, stating in a cool voice that tonight it is known that the police will violently take back the building and that many of the students will be hurt and suspended. A dance party, shot like a music video, takes place shortly before the final barricades are reinforced; later on, from the inside, Whitehead shows these barricades being torn down by the cops entering the building. The actual moment of contact between cops and students is not shown, but Whitehead does take up filming again on the outside as bloodied bodies move off through the night, providing more motivation for the second occupation that would soon occur.
Gillo Pontecorvo once again offers a gripping, partisan film about violent revolutionary struggle with Operacion Ogro. In The Battle of Algiers, Pontecorvo used gritty black and white images to give the film the immediacy and reality of a newsreel. In Operacion Ogro, in contrast, Pontecorvo uses color and professional actors to create a more smoothly suspenseful film, one that doesn't hesitate to use genre conventions (such as those of the heist movie) as a vehicle for its political message (though far slicker, Assayas' Carlos would sit well next to the film). In 1973, near the end of Franco's rule of Spain, a group of commandos from the ETA, a Basque nationalist organization, travels to Madrid to carry out a kidnapping of Admiral Luis Carrero Blanco, a potential successor to Franco. They spend months planning out the operation only to be frustrated at the last moment when Carrero Blanco's sudden appointment to Prime Minister results in an increase in his security forces. Unable to kidnap the politician, the underground group develops a plan to bomb Carrero Blanco's car on the route by which it regularly takes him to church. It takes the group five months of grueling physical labor to dig a hole deep underneath the street, which is then filled with so many explosives that Carrero Blanco's car is blasted up and over the top of a nearby building. Aided by the marching rhythms of Ennio Morricone's soundtrack, Pontecorvo pulls the viewer into supporting this extreme act of political violence. But he uses a framing device to question the legitimacy of such terrorism, showing the sad fate of one member of the commando group who continues to use violence in the post-Franco era in the name of Basque separatism.
Saturday, January 15, 2011
A confrontational yet essential masterpiece of avant-garde film, Isidore Isou's Venom & Eternity lays out a set of aesthetic innovations and theoretical preoccupations that have been further developed in the films of Brakhage, Debord, and Godard. Deliberately constructed to provoke the audience, the film begins without images, testing the viewer's patience by playing noisy Lettrist music over a black screen for some time before cockily stating, "The film you are about to see differs radically--to put it mildly--from any film ever made any time, any place." On the soundtrack, a young man named Daniel enrages a ciné-club audience by arguing that existing film traditions must be destroyed so that the cinema might be saved. Devoted without reservation to the modernist quest of pursuing the aesthetically new, Daniel admits that the cinema he desires to create might actually be painful to watch, sadistically claiming, "I want to make a film that hurts your eyes." He proposes a new, "Discrepant Cinema," which would free the film's sound from its images. "In my pictures, I would use speech as an extra dimension, supplementing the image as if the sound came from without and did not exist as heretofore because of internal necessity within the belly of the image." This statement describes Venom & Eternity itself, which couples Daniel's vituperative proclamations on the soundtrack with seemingly autonomous images of Isou wandering the streets of Paris as well as footage borrowed from other films. These images are further attacked by often being played in reverse or projected upside down. At one point Daniel states, "One must go beyond the image and attack the film stock," and proposes to "sculpt flowers on the film stock" by scratching it. Isou subjects much of Venom & Eternity to such defacement, which, destructively acting on the material foundations of the film, produces a beautiful and playful new vision. Like the Lettrist poems recited in the film's final section, Isou's film attempts to liberate its medium from the protocols of form and meaning, "chiseling" away at existing conventions so as to uncover and free the materials for a future cinema.
Wednesday, December 15, 2010
Harun Farocki's The Inextinguishable Fire protests the production of napalm for use by the U.S. military in Vietnam. The film's blunt political lesson begins in a shocking manner. Sitting behind a table, Farocki reads a statement from a Vietnamese individual describing the experience of being burned by napalm. Aware that the viewer can always close her eyes and block disturbing images from her consciousness, Farocki attempts to convey something of this napalm victim's pain by shifting from filmmaking to a kind of performance art. He suddenly pulls up his sleeve and burns his arm with a lit cigarette, stating: "A cigarette burns at 400' C. Napalm burns at 3,000' C." Napalm instantaneously destroys human skin and dissolves flesh to the bone, so Farocki concludes, "When napalm is burning it is too late to extinguish it. Napalm has to be protested where it is produced, in factories." The rest of the film therefore takes place in the weapon's point of production, a simulated Dow Chemical plant, where actors play corporate scientists who are all-too-willing to commit their skills to making napalm truly an "inextinguishable fire." At one point, the employees of the corporation sit and watch a news report about the war while complaining about boredom. The film comments on the organization of the production process that allows individuals to be so indifferent to the deadly consequences of their own actions: "Because of the intensified division of labor, many technicians and scientists can no longer recognize the contribution they have made to weapons of destruction. Regarding the crimes in Vietnam, they feel like observers." Yet the film concludes that because manufacturing depends on workers, engineers, and students, there are many different agents who can resist the production of destructive weapons and work instead towards benefiting humanity.
The Return to Work at the Wonder Factory, a mere 10-minutes of uncut footage, remains a captivating document of political disagreement and historical reversal (Hervé le Roux has even made a three hour film about the fragment). On June 19th, 1968, after three weeks of striking, the workers at the Wonder factory in Saint-Ouen prepared to go back to work following a union vote to end the strike. A small, politicized film crew from the Institute for the Advanced Cinematographic Studies (IDHEC) arrived at the factory in time to film the crowd of workers, unions officials, and outsiders that was gathered outside of the factory walls. The smug union officials reassure those present that the decision to return to work is "a victory," a "step" towards something greater. But wandering through the mostly male group is a visibly distraught woman whose performance of radical negativity disrupts the smooth return to work. As the workers begin to disappear by passing through a small door into the factory, what remains with the viewer but disappears from history is this woman's refusal : "No, I won't go back in!" (Subtitled version available here)
Monday, December 13, 2010
In these three short newsreel films, the Medvedkin Group, a worker-filmmaker collective, directly opposes French Prime Minister Chaban-Delmas' post-'68 reformist call for a "New Society" based on cooperation and goodwill between the left and the right. Documenting the time-consuming commutes of workers, the destruction of family structures by work schedules, and the causes of industrial accidents, the films reveal French society to be still thoroughly permeated by capitalist oppression and class conflict. In contrast to the government's optimistic vision of a future society that harmoniously integrates the young, the films all open with an image of a girl whose face expresses solemn and militant dissatisfaction with the state of things. Each film ends with the following call for solidarity: "Class struggle exists worldwide. Everywhere, the ruling class invents new masks in order to survive. In France, the latest one is 'The New Society.' We don't believe this. We don't want it. We will build a new society without them, against them, with you." (Subtitled versions of some of the Medvedkin Group's films are available for a trivial cost from Doc Alliance Films)
Sunday, December 12, 2010
In her book on Chris Marker, Catherine Lupton reports that when Marker and Maret's A bientot, j'espere was shown to the workers at Rhodiaceta, their responses were generally positive, though they expressed reservations about the limitations of the filmmakers' perspective. "Marker's response to these criticisms was that he and Marret would always be outsiders to the workers' lives, and that the logical step forward was for them to begin making their own films." Already beginning to form at that moment was the Medvedkin Group, a collective of film technicians and Rhodiaceta workers that would take up this call to advance from "a militant film on the workers' condition to a militant workers' film." The Medvedkin Group's first film, Classe de lutte, closely resembles A bientot j'espere, tracing the development of a young union leader, this time a woman named Suzanne Zedet. But a change of tone and perspective is immediately apparent as the film opens with Cuban musician Silvio Rodriguez's stirring song "La era esta pariendo un corazon" playing over images of workers reflexively viewing images of themselves on the screen of a film editing machine. After this powerful opening sequence, the film turns to footage from 1967, when Zedet, as her skeptical husband points out, was quite isolated in her political organizing. She is unfazed by her relative powerlessness, and when asked, "What are you doing?" she automatically responds: "I militate." When the film picks up Zedet's story in the post-May '68 period, she demonstrates a greater confidence in her speaking and leadership abilities, and the union has acquired enough strength to put management on the defensive. Despite being downgraded to a junior typist as a result of her political activities, Zedet remains committed to injecting politics and class struggle into the workplace. As she expresses her political enthusiasm to the camera, describing her confidence in confronting management as an equal and asserting her right to culture, the film becomes itself evidence of the slogan seen at the beginning of the film on a wall behind the worker-filmmakers, a statement of the Medvedkin Group's political-aesthetic: "Cinema is not magic; it is a technique and a science, a technique born from science and put in service of a will: the will of the workers to liberate themselves."
Friday, December 10, 2010
Following the completion of the collective film Far From Vietnam, SLON ("Society for Launching New Works") helped produce Chris Marker and Mario Marret's A bientot, j'espere, a partisan documentary about strikes at the Rhodiaceta textile factory in Besancon in 1967. In March of that year, the workers at Rhodiaceta went on a month-long strike that dramatically transformed their class consciousness. Through interviews and photographs, the film recounts how the workers overcame their prejudices against communism and the unions. Anticipating the spirit of May '68, they painted political slogans on walls and slowly recognized the creative potential of the occupied factory, using its spaces to dance and project movies. Turning to the preparations for a second strike in December, the film presents a young union organizer giving speeches to workers leaving the factory and interviews different workers in their homes. Layoffs, wages, and bonuses are of course concerns for the workers, but they also express a far wider range of grievances, and emphasize their right to culture. They attack the repetitive, mechanical nature of factory work, describe the complete exhaustion they feel when they arrive home after work, express their need for time in nature as a way of counteracting the atmosphere of the factory, and express their unhappiness about the emotional toll the unusual shift schedules take on their marriages. When the December strike finally takes place, the white collar employees refuse to join in, and even the manual workers are divided in their loyalties, leading to the strike accomplishing little of tangible value. But the film optimistically argues the strike was not a failure because "they keep learning," and one of the young union leaders addresses the capitalist class by looking directly at the camera and confidently stating, "we'll be seeing you."
Thursday, December 9, 2010
Aldo Tambellini's Black TV is an intense, groundbreaking, politically-charged media intervention. Tambellini's earlier works, the magnificent Black Films, were the dark offspring of Isidore Isou and Stan Brakhage, abstract visions of chaos created by defacing and painting on the surface of the film. Black TV critically and reflexively fixes its attention on a different medium--television--but remains equally suspicious of anything resembling direct communication. Using two side-by-side television monitors, Tambellini assaults the viewer with fragmented and distorted images of news programs, race conflicts, war, and aggressive sports competitions. Manipulating the appearance and flow of the black and white images so that they become indistinguishable from the static that regularly bursts onto the two screens, Tambellini unmasks broadcast television's message as white noise that barely manages to repress recognition of the blackness (both racial and visual) that can never be totally eliminated from television's channels.
Wednesday, December 1, 2010
One of the most remarkable works in Godard's oeuvre, France/tour/detour/deux/enfants, a 12 episode, 6 hour television series, investigates the lives of two children in contemporary France. Each episode focuses on one of the children, Camille and Arnaud, and follows the same pattern. Early in each episode, Godard and Mieville show documentary footage of adults involved in one part of their daily lives, such as working, commuting, reproducing, relaxing, or consuming. Godard and Mieville use the innocent, limited perspective of childhood to express their critique of this capitalist organization of society. The film's title refers to a 19th-century children's book, and something of that genre's mixture of curiosity and fear of the world is echoed in the film's voiceover, which always refers to the adults who are seen as "monsters" while pondering the strange and cruel rules within which they have imprisoned everyone. Following the "monsters" sequence, each episode primarily consists of a very long interview, done in a single take, with one of the children. The immense gap not just between Godard's age and that of the children but also between the children's daily routines and Godard's radical agenda makes these interviews revealing, often troubling, encounters. Godard asks questions that seem simple or ridiculous on the surface, but that have complicated philosophical and political implications that are only occasionally recognized by the children. For example, in an early episode Godard asks Camille if she is sure she exists, and then subjects her to a barrage of related questions, such as whether an image exists in the same way as the object it represents. Sometimes, Godard seems aggressive and cold, as if trying less to interview the children than to force them to think more critically about these issues. But just as often, Godard establishes a casual rapport with the children, who seem quite comfortable, even eager, to be interviewed, not the least because of the relative fame and distinction it gives them at school and among their friends. While rarely grasping the full context of the questions they are asked, whose topics range from wage labor to prisons to revolution, the children demonstrate a number of mechanisms for resisting Godard, such as busying themselves with distractions or indifferently answering yes or no, and occasionally they offer an incredibly original response that clearly was unforeseen by the filmmakers. Quite often, the film shows Camille and Arnaud being disciplined by educational institutions, being taught how to "compose" their sentences, their subjectivities, and their bodies according to the rules set down by society. The children's evasive, unpredictable actions during their interviews, however, indicate an innate unruliness in youth. Near the end of each episode, the interview is interrupted by a male and female reporter (actors standing in for Godard and Mieville), who critique the interview, and then offer a "story" only tangentially related to it, but through which the filmmakers critically examine a number of political issues, including the condemning of women to reproductive functions both at work and at home, the German Red Army Faction's willingness to use political violence, and the vulnerability of the international system of finance to a terrorist attack.