A collection of reviews of films from off the beaten path; a travel guide for those who love the cinematic world and want more than the mainstream releases.
Tuesday, June 12, 2018
Dziga Vertov Group Films from the Legendary Collective Formed by Jean-Luc Godard and Jean-Pierre Gorin this July at the Metrograph
Beginning Wednesday July 18, Metrograph will present six films from the Dziga Vertov Group, along with special screenings of Godard in America (Ralph Thanhauser) and Ici et ailleurs (Jean-Luc Godard and Anne-Marie Miéville). In 1968, Godard put an end to Godard—at least officially. Teaming with Jean-Pierre Gorin, Godard created the Dziga Vertov Group, a collective named for the groundbreaking Soviet documentarian that would create highly experimental, communally-authored films heavily informed by Brechtian epic theater and Marxist-Leninist self-critique, made outside of the conventional avenues of production for screening outside of conventional theatrical venues and generally intended as a politically-committed alternative to the hopelessly compromised system of auteurist name brands from which Godard had emerged. This program of intellectually-restless firebrand films touches on topics including the British class system, the struggle to escape bourgeois ideology, the history of radical cinema, and the Palestinian cause, a globe-trotting tour of the ideological battlegrounds of the era in which they were made, still undiminished in their fiery, uncompromised force, a frontal assault on all established cinematic order.
Dziga Vertov Group
Un film comme les autres (Jean-Luc Godard/1968/108 mins/DCP) New 2K Restoration Godard’s farewell—temporary, as it happened—to working as an individual director before submerging himself into the hivemind Dziga Vertov Group, this is a provocative, fearless, frustrating diptych film, wildly inventive (or deliberately aggressive, depending on point of view) comprised of footage of students and workers conversing outside striking factories about the aims of the ’68 uprising. A film more spoken about than seen, the New York Film Festival premiere allegedly sparked an audience furor that has become legend.
British Sounds (Dziga Vertov Group/1969/52 mins/DCP) New 2K Restoration The first of two English-language Dziga Vertov Group productions underwritten and distributed by the film arm of publisher Grove Press, British Sounds (a.k.a. See You at Mao) appeared on the heels of Godard’s rejection of narrative lm as irreparably tainted, an explosion of creative energy and innovative sloganeering ending with the blunt image of a bloodied hand reaching for a red flag. Multiple competing sound tracks carry doctrine from Nixon, a women’s liberation group, and the Communist Manifesto, pointedly drowned out by the clangor of machinery on a car factory assembly line, which led Godard to note that the audience couldn’t endure for ten minutes what workers endured for a lifetime.
Pravda (Dziga Vertov Group/1969/58 mins/DCP) Six months after Soviet tanks had rolled into Czechoslovakia to quash the liberalizing insubordination of Prague Spring, Godard and company were on the ground, shooting in the aftermath. The footage, which the relentlessly self-excoriating Godard later criticized as “political tourism,” would be married to a voiceover sparring match between Lenin and Rosa Luxembourg, trying to locate a truth somewhere between the party lines of the imperial USSR and the reform-minded Slovak politician Alexander Dubček.
Struggle in Italy (Dziga Vertov Group/1970/76 mins/DCP) New 2K Restoration French Marxist philosopher Louis Althusser provides the text for Godard and Gorin’s first film together under the Dziga Vertov Group name, a triptych financed by Italian television (and, of course, refused for broadcast) and largely shot at Godard and co-star Anne Wiazemsky’s home that follows Christina Tullio Altan’s would-be revolutionary as she begins to question the totality of her commitment to the cause, which she comes to view as unconsciously framed by bourgeois ideology—a reckoning that Godard himself had still recently passed through.
Wind from the East (Dziga Vertov Group/1970/100 mins/DCP) New 2K Restoration Conceived as a sort-of leftist spaghetti western inspired by an idea from student radical Daniel Cohn-Bendit, Wind from the East decisively changed direction after the shoot with actor Gian-Maria Volonté fell to pieces. Godard invited the young Gorin, then recovering from a motorcycle accident, to help him pick up the fragments in the editing room, and working together they transformed a potentially conventional lm about an executive being kidnapped by strikers into a structurally- challenging kino-fist haymaker, ending with a veritable tutorial in the manufacture of homemade weapons.
Vladimir and Rosa (Dziga Vertov Group/1971/103 mins/DCP) New 2K Restoration Juliet Berto, Gorin, and Godard himself appear in this pointed, satirical response to the trial of the Chicago Eight. Performers recite in the roles of Abbie Hoffman, Bobby Seale, and so on in the Dziga Vertov editing suite, while the filmmakers provide breathless commentary as they run up and down a tennis court. The resulting lm horrified Grove Press’s Barney Rosset, who created an alternate edit featuring Hoffman and Jerry Rubin watching Vladimir/Rosa and providing a hysterical, dismissive commentary—though what we have here is the savage original object.
Godard in America (Ralph Thanhauser/1970/45 mins/DCP) Godard and Gorin tour the restless campuses of America with 1969’s brazenly provocative and propagandistic British Sounds, fundraising along the way for money to complete an ultimately unfinished film on the Palestinian Al Fatah movement. Thanhauser, a Harvard student, finds the visiting Frenchmen in full flourish of radical rhetorical brilliance and high-handed snottiness, while capturing the crackling intellectual energy of the moment and Godard’s rock star draw—utilized, ironically, to nance the anti-auteurist activities of the Dziga Vertov Group.
Ici et ailleurs (Jean-Luc Godard and Anne-Marie Miéville/1976/55 mins/16mm) The material that finally surfaced as Ici et ailleurs originated as a document of the Palestinian independence movement financed by the Arab League with the working title Until Victory, shelved after many of its subjects were killed in Black September by the Jordanian army. Years later, Godard and Miéville returned to the footage to produce this interrogation of the cinematic representation of political violence and the walls that exist between “here” and “elsewhere.”