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A Film Essay on Violence and Liberation La Hora de los Hornos

By Fernando Solanas

"A militant cinema involved ideologically and politically in and for the revolution," running 4 hours and 20 minutes on the concrete political and economic situation in Argentina, is entering its second week at the Orson Welles Cinema in an extended run. Directed by Fernando Solanas and Octavio Getino, La Hora de los Hornos is the first film of its kind, made with and for underground militant groups-students, workers, guerrillas-in a country where the liberation of revolutionary masses from a repressive military regime is in the making. Part I, Neo-colonialism and Violence (95 minutes) runs Wednesdays through Saturdays; Parts II and III, Act for Liberation (2 hours) and Violence and Liberation (15 minutes), Sundays through Tuesdays.

Now is the hour of the furnaces, and only light should be seen.

Images: Solanas develops social contradictions by means fundamentally different from those of the other major theorists of the militant cinema, Jean-Luc Godard, who phrases this problem as the necessity to build simple, anti-realist images in order to build a purely dialectical and coherent political analysis. La Hora de los Hornos builds its dialectic in the editing of "found" images, pre-existing appearances (documentary footage, his own and that of others, also stills, paintings, commercials, etc.) that expose contradiction by their relation to each other.

Solanas collects the surfaces of reality in order to reorganize them as objects into a total social context, creating an essay form in the tradition of the far-Left Soviet cineaste Dziga Vertov (who said: "To make a montage ... means to write something cinegraphic with recorded shots."). Appearances serve as linguistic elements, his "writing" vocabulary, which means less concern with the purity of the images (i. e. dialectical compositions) than with their dialectical relation. Individual images of the bourgeoisie, for example, are never caricatured (ef. Eisenstein) in sequences of their normal activities that are perfectly harmless in hemelves: relaxing at the beach, golfing, socializing at a cattle auction. But Solanas makes these smiling (and sometimes even attractive) human beings hideous and hateful ("monstrosity masquerading as beauty") by placing them in the same construction with images of other human beings starving and diseased.

He connects images to illuminate social contradictions not apparent when they are perceived in isolation. One particularly moving sequence links the upturned face of a hungry child in the back country with the exploitative neo-colonial system by intercepting it with a dazzling skyscraper in Bucnos Aires, the port city where foreigners siphon off the country's natural wealth. Instead of pretending a special or temporal literalness (like Hollywood montage), this connection is based on a mediation of concrete images with the assessment of Argentine social structure as a class structure. The ambiguous apparent nature of the images by a construct of contradiction is transformed into their essential nature based in material conditions.

A situation in which the "facts" speak out unmistakably for or against a definite course of action has never existed, and neither can nor will exist. The more conscientiously the facts are explored-in their isolation, i. e. in their unmediated relations-the less compellingly will they point in any one direction.... Thus dialectical materialism is seen to offer the only approach to reality which can give action a direction. The facts no longer appear strange when they are comprehended in their coherent reality, in the relation of all partial aspects to their inherent, but hitherto unelucidated roots in the whole.

Sounds: As both branches of the militant cinema agree, images do not speak for themselves. Sounds-which Godard has called "the oppressed track" in the cinema of Nixon Paramount-serve as a force of equal importance as images in dialectical analysis, through linking facts and context. Except in a few direct interviews Solanas maintains a tension between images and sounds such that comprehension develops along parallel and contradictory lines of struggling ideas. The gestaltist impulse to force correspondences produces irony and consequently a sense of the film's materialist superstructure.

Solanas uses the aristocracy's own comment on images of itself to reinforce the overview of their antirational orientation he has already set up; their own baroque music to raise their monuments and cemetery to absurd heights of grandeur, to emphasize the stagnant, death-like concentration of wealth in this elite and isolated class. The clearly-drawn irony of the Argentine national anthem (sung by an opera singer in the European classical tradition), being dubbed over sordid scenes of a knife fight between hungry men and young boys and an old cripple waiting for a prostitute, exposes the fundamental contradiction between an idealized political order and the real needs of a majority of Argenines. A spoken historical analysis of Peronism in Part II remains detached literally from the newsreel footage that accompanies it, so as to reinforce the idea of an analysis above and beyond a mere recapitulation of events. And in addition to these contextual uses in organizing images and posing contradictions, sounds prove the most efficient and economical way of presenting statistical information.

The bourgeois theatre's performances always aim at smoothing over contradictions, at creating false harmony, at idealization. Conditions are reported as if they could not be otherwise.... If there is any development it is always steady, never by jerks; the developments always take place within a definite framework which cannot be broken through.

None of this is like reality, so a realistic theatre must give it up.

A Radical Separation of Elements: Solanas' total dialectical form consists of universal internal contradiction, with no element allowed to stand unchallenged, similar to the theatrical form Brecht often referred to as "the great struggle for supremacy between words, music, and production." La Hora de los Hornos builds its total analysis of class conflict from a heterogeneous mass of small "cells" or "acts," each of which invents its own peculiar camera-style in contrast to that of its brothers. And within each cell images and sounds struggle within themselves and with each other: dialectics within dialectics. Tracks of the countryside are intercut with zoom-ins on groups and individuals, and set shots of people suddenly zoom-out to include their surroundings: texts and contexts. And documented reality confronts the film apparatus itself: people talk directly into the camera, or they attack it, despise it sullenly, or avoid it in the voyeuristic hand-held sequences that record images of people in the most abject situations of poverty. Interviews are broken down into components of monologue and detached images, as in the long shot of guerrilla leader Julio Troxler wandering solemnly around the garbage dump where many of his compatriots had been massacred, while his pre-recorded recounts his experiences.

Why does Solanas refuse to integrate these clements for our convenience? It comes from a conscious political choice to leave the film's form totally open: the director's intention is to decompose history and material conditions for analysis, leaving the re-composition incomplete. Further criticism, conclusions, and choices for action must be taken up by the audience; discussion becomes praxis determined by the people. There is no recourse to cinema-verite pretensions of proof, to demonstrating factual unity of sound and image, since La Hora de los Hornos does not purport to be a chunk of reality, a perfection, an end in itself, but rather a beginning.

Before it explodes a bomb is a single entity in which opposites coexist in given conditions. The explosion takes place only when a new condition, ignition, is present. An analogous situation arises in all those natural phenomena which finally assume the form of open conflict to resolve old contradictions and produce new things.

We are at a moment in History where one can no longer spend years and years sculpting a statue or building a column or painting a delicate portrait. We are constantly assailed by all the information media that are controlled by the system. We are literally victims of aggression.... We have to accept the limitations imposed on us by the historical process of the liberation of man. We should think in terms of the limitations imposed on a Vietnamese man-menaced by napalm, with little time and little space in which to live.

Conditions of Production: La Hora de los Hornos was made clandestinely in bits and pieces over a period of two years (1966-67) and owes much to the collaboration of subversive groups in various parts of the country. Solanas and Getino not only had to contend with the threat of political censorship and retribution-the film has not yet been allowed public exhibition in Argentina and private attempts are dangerous-they also had to deal with the high production costs of using film as the medium of their essay in the situation of a capitalist economy. They worked as cheaply as possible,using the most crude 16mm Bolex available, without sinc-sound or motorized drive (making their longest possible takes about 30 seconds). And to raise the money they worked in the daytime making commercials (many of which are exploited contemptuously in the film), an appropriate-and inescapable-contradiction.

Contradictions and Friends: Solanas designed the length and structure of his film with an eye to resisting its being co-opted into the alienated conditions of the "entertainment" industry when distributed in capitalist countries. He intended the breaks in the film to provide the necessary opportunity for debate and analysis by the audience, not to create bite-sized chunks for exhibitors to exploit most effectively for high grosses. Unfortunately the Orson Welles-in collaboration with the distributor, Cinema of the Third World-has chosen to observe only an "intermission" between Parts II and III and to charge audiences twice for seeing the whole film. Splitting the experience over at least two days and including the slack and unimaginative "Interviews with My Lai Veterans" on the same bill cannot help but dilute the force of La Hora de los Hornos. Hopefully, many will voice their criticisms at the theatre and actively make sure that the level of discussion takes place that Solanas intended. Of course the Welles is trapped in the exigencies of the same system under which the film was produced, but these compromises should be carefully considered politically in the hope of someday having a real community film theatre.


Demystifying Neo-colonial Violence: "The Vietnamese has only to raise his head to find the enemy," Solanas comments over images of antiaircraft gunners from Joris Ivens' The Earth and the Sky; "for us it is infinitely more difficult," The Argentine system's violence is legalized, actual and potential: hunger and exploited labor, as well as police repression. It is an institution and is hence mystified by "normality." One particularly grotesque sequence connects the brutal daily immediacy of slaughtering cattle to the neo-colonial mechanism by intercutting commercials for Americanmade consumer products. The fact that beef is one of Argintina's greatest resources, plundered by the "developed" nations, raises the blood-letting to a figurative significance. A starving people exchanges its subsistence for the opportunity to buy American luxury items. Solanas presents images of imperialist ideological penetration as well, designed to de-nationalize and de-politicize the people with imported entertainment commodities, while the sound-track provides a subliminal Ray Charles ( I Don't Need No Doctor ): "The people are taught to think in English." The film seeks to expose the material basis of this daily violence against the Latin American's dignity, national pride; and ability to survive by attacking the appearances the system tries to maintain. It attacks the dehumanizing term invented by the imperialists to mask and justify their activities: "Underdevelopment" (subdesarroyo), which, translated into reality, means "a forced Dependence."

Cultural Dependence and Intellectual Lackeyism: The imperialist violence analyzed in La Hora de los Hornos is also visited on the people's attempts to create a national culture, with the help of a cadre of Argentina's intellectuals who hide their privileged class status behind various myths:

Academic Freedom. The University of Buenos Aires, the main organ for propagating European classical-humanist traditions, oppresses national forces of creative self-determination by institutionalizing the imitation of models from the oppressor cultures and by mouthing their ideology ("free trade," "liberalism," and the one crop economy). Professors of course portray the university as "an island of democracy" in a sea of whatever (familiar words on American campuses), obscuring its reactionary political alignment.

Universality. Just as the bourgeoisie likes to conceive of itself as "citizens of the world" bourgeois writers prefer to portray "the human condition," the idealization of Man apart from the economic and political situation of Argentine man in the particular, oppressed man. And of course, as everyone knows, universal culture is centered in the Developed nations (where the money is) and in the Developed classes. Solanas shows a literary party (at the PepsiCo building) for leading novelist Mujica Lainez (winner of the Kennedy Prize, the Gold Medal of the Italian government, and other imperialist trophies) who is presenting his latest work ( Royal Chronicles ) and explains himself quite candidly: "I am a man of European formation... I'd like to live in Venice forever, to the very last moment.... Here things are so complicated. We're so far away, so out of place."

Political silence. Intellectuals have a way of selling out the people politically as well as artistically. When Peron was overthrown by the "Gorilla" junta of the oligarchy, with 300 killed in the streets by aerial bombardment, "those who could write had nothing to say," Today in Argentina those nationalist intellectuals who have not lost touch with the masses (like Solanas and many of the guerrillas he interviews) are either exiled or underground.


If everybody is to be engaged in the struggle for our common salvation, there are no clean hands, there are no innocents, there are no spectators.... Every spectator is a coward or a traitor.

In opposition to an aesthetics, one has got to set up an anti-aesthetics: I don't necessarily mean of ugliness, but rather of that which, according to bourgeois notions of aesthetics, could not be considered beautiful. To be an artist means, in this case, to proceed from the anti-aesthetics of the forms one utilizes and to find a corresponding new language, new expression.... We, from Argentina, trying to create a new cinema, a cinema of poetry and polemical essay, call for works in progress, for unfinished works of art, for imperfect works of art.

Demystifying the Cinegraphic Image: La Hora de los Hornos explicitly disavows the role of presenting the whole Truth about the revolutionary situation of Argintina. The voice of Solanas comes on in Part II over sections of black leader to explain the intentions of the filmmakers, to remind us that this experience is their communication via celluloid, a projector, and a screen rather than some larger-than-life revelation, and finally that it is a form left open and fragmented-to be finished by the audience with their own debate and acts. He calls the film a collection of "Notes and Testimony on Violence and Liberation"; in other words, revolutionary opinions and models posed with and against each other in interviews, quotations, collages, and commentaries. Solanas frequently presents his arguments in stark black and white titles that stand as polemical assertions to be evaluated and cannot be confused with "reflections of reality." But what about the effects of his documentary images themselves? Does our relation to his analysis depend on our belief in the illusion that they reproduce reality? And do Solanas' structural alienating devices in practice succeed in their attempt to present argument rather than truth, analysis rather than reality, and not "a just image," but "just an image"

Against the Ideology of Real Life: Godard attacks the problem of our potential acceptance of reactionary propaganda by questioning the ontology of each individual image in order to reveal the hidden ideology of every element-lurking bourgeois assumptions that give aid and comfort to the maintainers of the ruling order. In other words he exercises dialectically all unexamined values from his cinematic vocabulary. "Realistic" cinema becomes his most formidable enemy: metaphysical defender of "the ideology of real life." universalist, humanist justifier of the present politico-economic system, mystifier of the historical alternatives open to the oppressed. So when he presents an image of oppression in Wind From the East. with soldier and Indian simultaneously reading from books of conflicting ideology. Godard makes sure we don't take this as a literal statement or fiction about the way things really look. This is visual symbolism on a purely political, analytical level. By contrast, the multi-level (i. e. vague) implications of "captured" reality, the self-evident (and self-right-cous) truths of "cinema-verite," prove politically demobilizing.

Against Immediacy: When we see a literal representation of a starvingchild or an act of brutality in somebody's documentary, images we believe to be real, we are so struck by the immediacy of the horror that we have to act fast to assimilate it into our sensibilities. Moral indignation: someone should help those people, or that policeman should be held responsible. Altruistic resolve: next year we can't forget to give to the United Fund.

The difference between such immediacies in Real Life and in a movie theatre is of course quite vast. Where-as the direct witness to an atrocity defines his relation to it in terms of action, the spectator of an alienated "reality"-deached from its physical context-can only define his attitude, a situation that gives rise to the impotence of liberal guilt and its sublimation on the level of a vague idealism. Effective and detached political analysis is swept aside as pure intellectualism, heartlessness. And the underlying material determinants remain obscured.

As Godard maintains, the immediate image is merely "the reality of the reflection," an ambiguous appearance that could have been caused by anything (including the camera), that leads to no clearer understanding of "reality" because it neglects answering the question "why?" So what about La Hora de los Hornos? How do its documentary images treat the question of causality and discredit surface verities?

Class Images: Solanas' principal means of demystification is the division of images along class lines. Structurally this entails assailing immediacy by placing all elements within a context of material contradictions, a dialectical syntax already discussed. On the level of individual images-the sign-system-class division means that appearances possess abstract class associations and at the same time serve as concrete receptacles for the ideology presented by the sound-track. These images are not called upon to reproduce reality, but to act as models used in discussing, describing, criticizing reality. Rather than collecting a predominance of "convincing" visual examples of the system's brutality-Newsreel-like riot footage, malnutrition scenes, etc.-Solanas concentrates on the brutality (or ease) of everyday class life, presenting images of the human recipients-victims of profiteers-by the logical extension of the system's statistical inequalities being considered. These class depictions (signs) are designed to mediate larger social contradictions to a concrete, human, class-as opposed to a "realistic" individual-level.

Believing in the redemption of physical reality, then, is not at issue in La Hora de los Hornos, since no such feat is attempted. The images generally stand in a disembodied, figurative relation to the sounds doing the analyzing. Rather than extending these specialized intellectual principles into a Godardian dialectic within every element, Solanas chooses a sign system appropriate to his own country's situation, images most intelligible and applicable to the practical revolutionary concerns of the oppressed.

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