Revolution... at 16 Frames Per Second
JUST A FEW days ago Otto Preminger leaned back in time to find a previous rationale. He was answering questions for a small group of film critics, fans, maybe up-and-coming Premingers. A black student had just informed the Viennese-born director that the stereotype black roles in Preminger's Hurry Sundown (1966) were racist. "Nobody, NOBODY just sits there and sings spirituals when their house is being attacked by armed men," the young black man had affirmed. Preminger leaned into the microphone to reply,
"That's not something I invented, you know. That's the way things really are down there."
Not exactly pleased, the black man tried to respond but Otto Preminger, whose head looks something like a marble bowling ball which someone once tried to dribble, had called upon another raised hand.
What looked, like your artsy-drugsy radical asked the wealthy director, "What do you think about what's happening in America today?"
"In what way?" Otto said, slightly chuckling.
The audience slightly chuckled.
"Politically, yes..." and Otto unrolled opinions formed long ago. They began "Everywhere around the world young people become active at about seventeen or eighteen. Students always want their say...": two questions and two prepared statements later he ended with "you should work on the improvement of the system rather than overthrow it."
Some people had thought Preminger to be a quasi-radical for filming Exodus. The pro-Jewish liberation content made martyrs of the extremists-terrorists who were instrumental in the overthrow of the system. ( cf. Battle of Algiers ) But times had changed.
"Would you make a film about the Panthers?" someone asked.
"That's different. Things are happening every day. Things change too fast. By the time I made such a film it would be no longer valid. Look at Strawberry Statement -by the time it was released, it was no longer valid. In the meantime, four students were killed."
THERE are several reasons why The Strawberry Statement and its counterpart, Getting Straight, do not explain the "youth culture," the "campus unrest," or any of various movements which people refer to as "the revolution."
Someone in Hollywood must have read Rich Zorza's The Right to Say We. One Harvard freshman is quoted in that account of the 1969 Harvard strike as saying: Commercial film is now telling us that we are taking over buildings for the same reason it used to tell us we went to college-to catch, if we are male, at least one female sex-slave or, if we are female, a larger-than-life college man for a husband.
It is the thesis of these films that student violence can be explained away with an ounce of Spock, a pound of Kenniston, and a ton of Freud. Sex, fun and games: youth culture films attempt to portray student-police confrontation as the new campus sport. Students are heavily gassed inside an enclosed building but they can still run and sing for minutes and even gang up on an isolated policeman. The students cough: they bleed; they cry-but it is all razzle-dazzle ball and tonight they will exaggerate their battle wounds so they can sleep with the sexy chick or that long-haired John Wayne who served in "the Sorbonne, Berkeley, and now here."
Our parents can go see these movies and have the satisfaction of remarking "Oh, look! It's their version of the panty raid!" Suddenly, radicals are clean, attractive (long hair for men is now as chic in Hollywood as in Cambridge), and loveable kids who are merely frustrated by puritanical school mating policies, by strict drug laws, by the draft and the war it serves.
In the movie Getting Straight students chant "Action now," decide to strike "for students' rights" and carry signs which read "Legalize marijuana" and "Give 18 year olds the vote." They are merely working out their authority hang-ups against the agists, the squares, the older generation. Students demand more liberal parietals... like young Oliver Twist asking for more food. In Strawberry Statement one of the demands is that the university not expand so that the park (playground) will be preserved "for the kids." Just before the bust the students form concentric circles in the gymnasium and sing "Give Peace A Chance." Such extensions of the Judeo-Christian ethic prevent the radicals from offending the market.
All of this might be dismissed a? Hollywood's bright packaging and typical distortion were it not important to understand why many students ARE turning to "violence" and how these reasons relate to the motion picture medium as industry and educator.
People who take over buildings are fighting for egalitarianism: they would like a 9-5 cameraman to be paid as much as a 9-5 president of Warner Brothers. How can a Beverly Hills producer relate to that? They would like to see white people give back the red man, the black man, the yel-???v man, his land, his freedom... but then who would play the inferior enemy in the western, the war film, who would say "bwana" on safari? They would like to see sexual equilibrium. But then would could tolerate Eliot Gould's lines in Getting Straight: "She's a good scientist, lousy lay"; Candice Bergen's lines, "I didn't even feel like a date-you didn't buy me popcorn" or anonymous gems: "Women have that charming ability to adapt to whatever man they're with."
Only at the beginning of Zabriskie Point is there an attempt at honest portrayals of a handful of California radicals and militants and that was made by an Italian who saw America as enemy-not as an economic system which would allow him surplus luxury at the expense of others' poverty.
Like all others, the movie industry hires discriminately: whites over non-whites, men over women. rich over poor. It has created stars and studios to meet personal ambition and profit motivation. We wonder why the propman calls for the student radical to carry a sign which reads "Dare to struggle! Dare to win!" when in reality the sign might read "Off the pig's media!"
It was in 1935 that Paul Rotha noted:
It is primarily the industrialist and the Government official who are today making possible the development of the film by providing the all-important means of production.
Concerning films of wide distribution this is still true. It is nonsense to assume that industry and government do not project their values through the cinema or that "art-for-art's-sake" is a meaningful phrase given the operative economic vectors of production in this environment. Even Zabriskie Point. more daring than most commercial revolutionary come-ons, blew up only the old ruling class, not the new hip bourgeois "radical" who invests in the movie business.
$4.00 to see "the new Antonioni" or $8.00 to watch a needle suck "its gonna be all right, scoo-be-doo-dah" out of a groove labeled, "Revolution." In the good old days you could be exploited by Jerry Lewis for ?.75. You could buy that soothing album by your favorite folk-singer for $2.50, lean back, and soak in "We Shall Overcome."
JUST A FEW weeks ago Joan Baez looked back through time to pluck an anecdote from her repertoire. She had called a press conference to plug an about-to-be-released documentary film about the trials and tribulations the Harris' (Joan and her husband David) had faced in the past year. One reporter had asked her, "Has your husband ever really been followed by government agents?" Her head was quick to nod "yes" and she said "David once had a brown Pontiac following him everywhere. Finally, when we were out in the desert. David stopped, got out, and went back to ask the driver to join us. David explained to him that if they were both going to drive to the same places, they might as well save gas and discuss why he was following us."
At a hootenanny Joan would have been asked, "Did he join you?" but as this was a press conference, the next question was "Who was he?"
"Oh, FBI, of course. Our lines are tapped all the time. I'm flattered that the government thinks we're that important."
"Why did you let Playboy interview you?", I asked.
"You mean the 'This magazine exploits women's bodies' line? Well the way I see it I've been acting like a liberated woman for so long it doesn't really matter. Basically, I'll talk to anyone; if I were to hold specific things against different ones, I'd never talk to any magazine."
Before the conference the film's co-directors passed out a publicity blurb on the new film. Nea?ly tucked in the middle of the second column were some "That's show biz" sentences:
When Harris was scheduled to be arrested by U. S. Marshalls, the film crew was at the Harris home to record the event as were representatives of the national press. Marshalls deliberately delayed the arrest four days to make the event coincide with the Apollo moonshot last July. Now, shortly after the first anniversary of the arrest, "Carry It On" [the film] has been completed by UPA... of DEI... whose major income source is NASA. So NASA is now publicizing an event they once inadvertently helped to cover up. Crazy business.
About as crazy as the good old days and Pete Seeger, Peter, Paul, and Mary, and Joan Baez "This land is your land, this land is..." the Ameri-can Indian's communal estate. "If I had a hammer, I'd..." get a sickle. "Any day now, any day now, I shall..." explode! And we memorized the words. Ted Mack brought us The New Chad minstrels with the same voice that brought us Geritol. Even the little girl down the street was learning how to play "folk guitar" and guys with guitars on their backs were wanderin' clear 'round the country to find their way into "The Jackson Twins" comic strip. Meanwhile Joan Baez, Ganhdi's newest disciple of non-violence, sublimated herself into the path of low-energy resistance.
The more high energy our music got, the more the establishment tried to kill it; They sent out Frankie Avalon and Fablan, exemplars of honkey culture. Lawrence Welk. Or listen, now to top-40 radio: the same awful shit; songs of boys driving around in cars trying to pick up girls, or vice versa. Most pop music is still low energy music.
The contradiction I'm trying to point out is between low-energy and high-energy life. Low-energy culture prepares people to fit into the consumer-passive-system. A high-energy culture prepares, you for revolution-equals constant high energy change. It's the difference between eating something and turning it into shit vs. turning it into energy to build things with.
A WELL-KNOWN romantic early-American oil has a bandaged fifeplayer and a drummer playing a set to kill British and Indians by. The Indians were supposedly (according to the white man's textbook) psyched up by their own percussion accompaniment to the war dance. Hitler broadcast Wagner's pulsating nationalistic themes. So now, since Thunderclap Newman is telling us "we gotta get it together because the revolution's here," we should begin to feel that musical high-energy rush bursting through the dam. Singles such as "Seize the Time" and albums such as "The Last Poc?s" are the adrenalin of the black community. Everywhere liberals and radicals are being energized to a higher revolutionary level by the Jefferson Airplane's Volunteers album: among the lyrics on the first cut "We Can Be Together" are: "We are all outlaws in the eyes of America... Tear down the falls, motherfucker" sung with the power of a black Southern Baptist revival choir.
The Airplane, however, are still taking more than enough money than is necessary to live from and their lyrics of yet express no class-consciousness. It took the Kent State massacre to bring Neil Young down from his "Helpless, helpless, helpless" ness into the high-energy world of "Four Dead In Ohio." The title of The Dead's new album is somewhat deceptive-"Workingman's Dead" is neither the Marxian manifesto set to music nor the high-energy level music produced by the fists of labor (Dead fans will be glad to know that Garcia is alive and well, sunk in country funk).
Sly and The Family Stone, Buddy Miles, The Stones, Ten Years After all have the potential to become power suppliers for the domestic front. One could go to sleep by the theme to Marat/Sade "the rich stay rich and the poor stay poor... we want a revolution NOW!" and wake up to thirty minutes of repeated portions of "We're Not Gonna Take It" from The Who's Tommy classic rock-opera. One thing is certain: the morning I wake up with tanks in front of me, Guard beside me, and pigs behind me, the last thing I want to hear is some English millionaire crooning gold-plated words of wisdom, "let it be, let it be."
If any revolution which comes from within America does more than transfer power from one minority group to another, all of the people must be educated by media whose content reflects the ideology of the revolution and whose form is truly revolutionary. One way is to shoot up that content with aggression, emotion, libido, pulse. There are others.
JUST A FEW months ago Jean-Luc Godard leaned into the future to answer a criticism of his past.
"It will only be after the true revolution that I can make a truly revolutionary film."
The questions, asked of Godard and one of his co-workers, reflected that the American student movement must be at least ten years behind the new French revolution. We had thought of ourselves as revolutionaries because we could apply some of Marx and a little Lenin to the world situation as reported to us by the White Corporate Press, because we weren't afraid to throw bricks anymore, because we were tired of individualism and exploitation on some levels, because the gullibility gap between our parents and ourselves had reached its illogical extreme....
But for years Godard has been redefining, re-evaluating, re-applying Marxist-Leninism-Maoism, black liberation, women's liberation as have many other French "progressives" (Sartre, Genet, Fanon, De Bouvier, Marcuse). Godard himself always try to ask the most relevant questions at that stage of the movement which he is recording. He obscures the line between information and propaganda, between content and form.
I would just like to establish that all we have been doing in cinematography up until now was a 100 per cent muddle and diametrically opposed to what we should have been doing.
In 1970 Godard would point his finger at the "Academy Awards" and re-em-phasize Vertov's disgust. A former French individualist, Godard is now a member of a film collective "where we are all directors, actors, actresses, cameraman or camera-women." The collective is named for Vertov. It decides spontaneously what to shoot and devotes itself to experimentation and self-criticism. It acts on Godard's off quoted assumption that "In order to become an intellectual revolutionary, it is necessary to give up being an intellectual." The collective members have not become scholars of ancient revolutions but rather what Stokeley Carmichael calls "students of the revolution." Their studies have taught them the importance of high-energy media: in Sympathy For The Devil (1+1) the Rolling Stones build from a low-key ballad to a revolutionary anthem ("I killed the Czar and his ministers") while Godard's smoothly moving camera records the potential relationship of the media to the Black Panthers, and the use of media in determining sexual roles (the pornography store scene and the interviews with Eve scene.)
The collective calls the variety of format it suggests "cinemarxism." In the final scene of a moving camera being lifted between a solid red flag and a solid black flag, while the Stones get higher and higher emotionally, the group has shown that it has replaced the production number.
In Le Gai Savoir, the Dziga Vertov group show that, in both content and form, they have become the revolution: they draw from Wittgenstein, the Whorfian hypothesis, and Rousseau to begin unlearning the current culture at its roots. The collective attempt to show you the way both the language of words and the language of cinema have shaped us and what must be cha(lle)nged. The authority of See You at Mao stems from an accurate application of Marxian rhetoric to contemporary image, from an unpretentious sound-image montage, and from the use of the camera as Vertov's "Kine-Eye" which sees all and knows everything.
The use of films by the Panthers and student radicals is not yet highly evolved; yet at this stage, the function of films by liberation groups must be primarily dissemination of information. (As is the function of The Black Panther Community News Service and Women's Lib publications such as Off Our Backs.) Felix Greene's China and Inside North Vietnam are good examples of the documentary forms as the dissemination of information. American people have been told so many times that the Huntley-Brinkley Show which they are shot up with every night is "news" that the documentary and newsreel are more effective as opinion-makers than the narrative, which is usually called entertainment. Films such as Z and Battle of Algiers have demonstrated that the line of demarcation between narrative and documentary is not clearly fixed.
Change blossoms: this year for the first time a conference was called to discuss the inventing and evolving of alternative media. The movement within America has neither found new forms of communication nor named a new Eistenstein and Shastakovich to maximize the energy of old ones. What has been found is a new emotional dynamic, a whole new way of understanding, which when channeled, will serve as the source of education and power to all the people.