...And Nothing But The Truth
In at the Kenmore Sq. Theatre In this age of journalism aesthetic realism in literature competes with the news. And to judge by the influx of all our current Balzacs into New Journalism, the novel doesn't seem to be doing very well. Movies, on the other hand, are proving themselves less willing to be absorbed, while just as eager to learn from the journalist's trade. As the recent popularity of documentary film indicates, movies are developing a sense for the news, and at the same time confirming a sense of themselves. Unlike Mailer and Wolfe, who for all their talent have contributed nothing to the novel, Godard and Ophuls, albeit in drastically different ways, have put celluloid to the uses of newsprint and have made movies the richer for it.
On less spectacular fronts, younger film makers and students of film are reading between the newspaper lines and producing a whole crop of documentary experiments and shorts. Just released and playing this week in Boston is an 87 minute feature film by a Californian ex-newsman, Richard Chase. It should be seen, not only by those interested in documentary film but also by any who still happen to want their political fires fanned.
Chases's film is titled No-Go after the No-Go district of a town in Northern Ireland, barricaded by its residents against the British Army. Shot on location, No-Go is the first feature film to be made inside the illegal Irish Republican Army. Chase and his crew spent ten weeks filming in close collaboration with the insurgent IRA. The filming conditions were not easy. The IRA never sought to exercise any editorial control over the film but required the same discipline and careful behavior from the film crew that it demands of itself. Chase was responsible for the actions of his crew, reportedly on pain of having his knee broken.
Later smuggled to London and Hollywood for editing and mixing, the film took another six months to complete. Although the gun-running scenes, too dangerous to film on the spot, had to be recreated as inserts, the rest of the movie records life in the IRA in its diurnal and immediate aspects. Though most of No-Go was unrehearsed, Chase used three actors, actual leaders in the IRA, playing themselves. Each tells his story, gives his rendition of the struggle, and expresses his own hopes and doubts in monologues dubbed over the picture. They engage in argument, or guerilla practice, and sometimes they act, an occasional weakness in an allegedly unstaged film.
Following these three men on their daily rounds, No-Go yields glimpses of the IRA method. Organizing, training, gun running and barricading, members of the IRA operate in a tight and disciplined defense program of their own devise. Mao and Marx dono figure in chose's film. The ideological protagonists are strictly local; the Catholic Church, the Irish people, and the spectre of British Control are the only abstractions. For the rest, the film is pointedly concrete.
No-Go makes little attempt to plumb the historic, national, or economic issues of the war. It states them without analysis, even without commentary. This is the film's major limitation, and the inherent limitation of documentary film's parent, photo journalism.
But then No-Go is a reporter's and not an editor's movie. The film purports neutrality, but it deals with only one side of the struggle. In the very selection of his material, Chase makes a statement of his partisanship, and the film accents his position. One of the title cards reads: "This film was unrehearsed and shot totally behind the barricades. It's prejudiced. It's biased. It's personal. And it's the truth." No-Go is not trying to have it both ways, partisan and non partisan. There is no such thing as total objectivity. Truth is not the whole.
The obvious contrast to Chase's film is Marcel Ophuls' documentary on the Irish Struggle, A Sense of Loss. More can be drawn from this comparison than Ophuls' obvious technical superiority, for Chase has not felt compelled to imitate the centralist humanist politics of his precursor. Using the same subject matter and the same documentary form as A Sense of Loss, No-Go is a dare, defying the definitions of documentary film-making. No-Go makes a bid for personal politics in documentation. This is a bid with some history, including the first Russian recipes for dogmatic cinema and the propaganda experiments of Nazi film makers. But it is a bid with a difference. No-Go is an independent film in every sense of the word, including the political.
On this count, Chase's feature is worth the price of admission. It is not aesthetic. It is even clumsy. The soundtrack and the visuals are poorly matched. The IRA anthems and ballads occur with no regard for the picture on the screen, so that both lyrics and images suffer from thoughtless juxtaposition. There is considerable unnecessary footage--87 minutes could well have been reduced to 40 or 50.
But Chase has made a statement, and a strong one. No-Go is intense, unpretentious, and whatever your politics, far-reaching.
Because it focuses on perspectives as much as on facts, it documents without escaping into documental neutrality. In this respect, Chase and film makers like him, may have more to offer than even the great Ophuls or the clever Godard.