Piecemeal protest doc with surprisingly great location footage and interesting scenes, each one a bit too loud and going on for too long. The pieces are mostly unsigned, but I believe Chris Marker put the project together, and some segments are either identified online, or just very easily guessed (ahem, Resnais). They mention that Joris Ivens shot on location – most everyone else stayed home and used stock footage or filmed protest marches.

“It is in Vietnam that the main question of our time arises: the right of the poor to establish societies based on something else than the interests of the rich.”


Supposed to be President Johnson:

The Resnais segment is interesting before it wears out its welcome. Bernard Fresson (of a few Resnais films, including a small part in Je t’aime, je t’aime) is playing “writer Claude Ridder” (name of the lead character in Je t’aime, je t’aime played by Claude Rich) while a woman Karen Blanguernon (Rene Clement’s The Deadly Trap) glares from the corner of his office. This segment was written by Jacques Sternberg (Je t’aime, je t’aime, of course), so perhaps Claude Ridder was his standard lead character name, since this Ridder seems too impassioned to be the heartbroken dead soul from the feature. “Ridder” monologues on the war, politics, and his own inability to make change. “A spineless French intellectual articulating excuses for his class’s political apathy,” per the NY Times.

Next, a history lesson using stock footage, photographs and comics, drawing connections to the Spanish Civil War (the Resnais had mentioned Algeria).

Then Godard, who monologues in front of a giant film camera, talking about the distance, his inability to connect with the war itself, or even the French working class, the focus of so many of his films. Since he can’t film on-location, he inserts Vietnam into his feature films. “I make films. That’s the best I can do for Vietnam. Instead of invading Vietnam with a kind of generosity that makes things unnatural, we let Vietnam invade us.”

After a jaunty music video to a protest song by Tom Paxton, a longer somber voiceover reading the words of Michele Ray who spent three weeks with the Viet Cong, showing her footage before it goes crazy at the end.

“Why We Fight,” in which General Westmoreland explains the official U.S. position on the war, filmed off a TV while someone zooms around and twiddles knobs. Title must be referencing the 1940’s U.S. propaganda film series Why We Fight, which Joris Ivens contributed to.

Anti-napalm rabbi:

Monologue by Fidel Castro, who gives his theories on guerrilla warfare and how this applies to Vietnam. The new wavers seemed to have easy access to Fidel back then.

Ann Uyen, a Vietnamese woman living in Paris discusses Norman Morrison’s setting himself on fire outside the pentagon, and what that meant to her people. “We think that in America there is another war, a people’s war against everything that’s unfair.” Then an interview with Norman’s widow, who seems in sync with Norman’s politics. This was by William Klein.

War protest zombie walk, probably shot by Klein:

Marker’s outro:

In facing this defiance [of the Vietnamese], the choice of rich society is easy: either this society must destroy everything resisting it – but the task may be bigger than its means of destruction – or it will have to transform itself completely – but maybe it’s too much for a society at the peak of its power. If it refuses that option, it will have to sacrifice its reassuring illusions, to accept this war between the poor and the rich as inevitable, and to lose it.

As soon as Castro took over after the communist revolution, Marker went to document the experience, producing a jubilant propaganda film in the style of his recent travel essay films. Not sure if he met and interviewed Castro directly, or is using stock footage – my trusty Catherine Lupton book would tell me, if I had it here.

“Castro has betrayed the revolution,” said the U.S. State Dept. And we know how the State Dept. jealously protects the purity of the revolution. We hesitate to believe this is the main concern of the USA’s avatars of democracy in Cuba. There must be something else.

The same week, I read Susan Howe’s book Sorting Facts, or Nineteen Ways of Looking at Chris Marker, an unusually well-informed (mentions of Tarkovsky and Cuba) poetic examination of Marker’s works.

Plaisir d’amour en Iran (1976)
An expanded version of Pauline and Darius’s trip to Iran in L’Une chante, l’autre pas. Pauline and a narrator comment on the sensuality of Persian architecture. I would’ve liked it if the feature had been edited more rhythmically like this short (or if the picture quality had been as good).


Du Coté de la Côte (1958)
Fun, half-hour exploration of tourism along the coast, more gentle than Vigo’s À propos de Nice and simpler than a Marker travelogue.


“These parks, overpopulated with merry people attracted by the Latin shore, foreshadow the dead people seeking eternal rest there. In both cases, space is limited because of its good quality. It is a well-rated coast.”



Les Fiances du pont Mac Donald (1961)
The short within Cleo from 5 to 7 is apparently considered its own little film. “I wanted to provide a little relief for Cleo. … So I thought at the beginning of the third part of the film, where films often have a lull, a weakness, a slow-down … I would introduce something uplifting. My other goal was to show Jean-Luc Godard’s eyes. At the time, he wore very dark glasses. We were friends, and he agreed to this little story about glasses in which he must take them off and reveal his big, beautiful eyes, like Buster Keaton’s.”

Ulysse (1982)
This was fantastic. Varda finds an old photo of hers, taken in 1954, and investigates. What was she thinking about at the time? What were the models in the photo thinking? She looks them up and asks. Agnes: “This almost painful investigation taught me so much about what an image says, what it says to each of us, and what it cannot say. It merely represents.”

AV: “How does she see her own goat image? Without making animals talk, like in American cartoons, or defining memory as a rumination of mental images, may I suggest that there is an animal ‘eatingmagination,’ a self-predatory imagination?”

Salut les cubains (1963)
Months after Cleo from 5 to 7 opened, Varda went to Cuba to photograph the country’s inhabitants for an exhibit which opened in Havana (introduced by Raul Castro!) before it moved to Paris. She also made this film out of the photos, narrated by Michel Piccoli. Subjects include the Castros, famous national artists, workers, dancers, posters and drawings and artworks. She creates action sequences, animating the photos, best of all with this guy dancing for the camera.

Mentions Marker’s Cuba Si, which came out a couple years before. In her introduction, Varda says twice that “we must place it in the context of 1962,” since the Cuban dream society didn’t turn out the way the French leftists hoped it would. Interesting that she made such a happy, idealist film as this, then her next feature would be the happiness-breakdown of Le Bonheur.

These last two were reissued in the 2004 collection Cinevardaphoto with a third, current short about a teddy bear collector, but somehow I didn’t have subtitles for that one. If Cleo from 5 to 7 and L’Une chante, l’autre pas revealed Varda’s kinship with the filmmaking of husband Jacques Demy, these shorts represent a definite (and oft-mentioned) kinship with Chris Marker, and either of them could stand alongside his best documentaries. The commentaries are more personal, less consciously witty. The images are wonderful, and the sense of investigation, of images and memory, the psychology of the films puts them on the Marienbad and La Jetee side of the new wave fence… my favorite side.

Elsa la rose (1965)
A portrait of Elsa in the words of her husband Aragon, who has spent their entire relationship writing and publishing poems about her. Varda calls them a “famous couple and fervent communists.” Elsa is filmed as Aragon imagines and remembers her, says she repeated the exercise with her own husband for Jacquot de Nantes. In voiceover, Piccoli reads the poems as fast as he can, a hilarious idea. First movie Lubtchansky and Kurant shot for Varda.

Elsa: “The readers of these poems expect me to be 20 years old forever. As I cannot satisfy this need for beauty and youth that the readers have, I feel guilty and it makes me unhappy. That’s what’s terrible, they’re not just for me.”

Réponse de femmes (1975)

“Women must be reinvented.”

Agnes has a few minutes to state the case of all women, socially and politically. Lots of nudity, which she points out is not exploitative unless used to sell a product or titillate viewers.

Coming attractions (when I’ve got subtitles): Black Panthers (1968)

An absolute monster of a movie. No longer called The Argentine and Guerrilla, it’s been simplified to Che part 1 and Che part 2 then run together into a “roadshow” with a 15-min intermission, a printed program, and no trailers, credits or titles.

Part one has flashbacks (or flashforwards, depending on your point of view) to Guevara speaking at the U.N., epic movie music, and titles telling us when and where (within Cuba) the action is taking place. Emphasis on Che’s medical skills and on all facets of the revolutionary struggle: weapons training, psychology and ideology, strategy and inter-group politics. Far as we can tell, it’s Fidel Castro who is leading the men, and Che is going where he’s told – though he gets the final glory of capturing the capital himself (against orders, which were to wait a couple days for the main group to arrive).

Part two: no flashbacks, no narrator, less obvious music, and titles simply number the days since Che’s arrival in Bolivia. Starts out a crafty spy tale, with Che in a master disguise to get into the country with everybody looking for him, then meeting the countrymen who yearn for revolution and think the time is right. Alas, the time is not right… the highly organized military government tracks the men, bombs their camps with help from the U.S., and most damning of all, turns the local citizens against the revolutionaries.

Part one is too much of a hero-portrait with too much of a classic film-history-reenactment trajectory, but part two is too dark, too gritty and hopeless with not enough signposts for the audience. The combination could’ve made for two so-so movies, but it doesn’t – not at all – instead, the weaknesses of each disappear in the presence of the other, forming one extremely strong work, probably Soderbergh’s best.

From the writer of Eragon and Jurassic Park III… I’m serious! Besides Cannes-winner Del Toro and hundreds of unfamiliar faces, we had Catalina Moreno (of Fast Food Nation, Maria Full of Grace), Gaston Pauls (star of Nine Queens), Lou Diamond Phillips (who I didn’t recognize; only place I’ve seen him in 20 years is Bats), Jsu Garcia (Traffic, Nightmare on Elm Street) and a cameo by Matt Damon.

“Why sometimes do images begin to tremble?”

From the film:

1967 saw the arrival of a rather peculiar breed of adolescents. They all looked alike. They would immediately recognize each other. They seemed to posses a silent but absolute knowledge of certain issues but to be totally ignorant about others. Their hands were unbelievable skillful at pasting up posters, handing paving stones, spraying on walls short and cryptic messages which stuck in the memory, all the while calling for more hands to pass on the message they’d received but had not completely deciphered. Those fragile hands have left us the mark of their fragility. Once they even wrote it on a banner. “The workers will take the flag of struggle from the fragile hands of the students.” But that was the following year.


Watched the 3-hour 2008 edit with English narration. There are so many versions of this out there… maybe next time I can watch the 2008 or 1977 French with subtitles.

I thought I’d have more to say about it… three hours’ worth of Chris Marker’s most celebrated film, but I don’t really. Marker is mainly credited as an editor here, arranging others’ footage to show a bigger picture. There’s no wall-to-wall narration, just pops up occasionally. And I’m starting to notice a real sadness beneath many of Marker’s films… the same feeling in Chats Perches is present here. Glad I prepped a little by watching Sixth Side of the Pentagon and Battle of Chile, but I still had to check on wikipedia to see what exactly happened in Bolivia (Che Guevara killed Oct. 1967) and Prague (Jan-Aug 1968, attempted reform of Czech socialism led to 30 years of Soviet military occupation). The movie isn’t here to teach basic history of revolution – assumes you know something already, and since I quit reading The People’s History of the United States before it reached the 1900’s, I do not. Still, was able to follow the movie, thought lots of the footage was excellent, enjoyed watching and learned a little. Some segments have little gems of Marker wit in their editing or narration, but much of it is making connections between different scenes of revolution, both real and wishful, and thinking about what has been achieved, what might have been achieved. Really have to watch again sometime.


Either this was an early use of the electronic soundtracks that Marker would use in Sans Soleil and beyond, or the sound on my copy of the movie was pretty badly distorted. Or, more likely, both. The sound got worse during part two – there were some sections when I couldn’t make out any of the (English) dialogue.


Video and audio footage by: Pierre Lhomme (Mother and the Whore, Le Joli Mai, Army of Shadows), Etienne Becker (The Spiral, Le Joli Mai, Malle’s Calcutta), Michele Ray (Latcho Drom), Francois Reichenbach and his crew, Harald & Harrick Maury (The Owl’s Legacy, Day For Night, In the Year of the Pig), Théo Robichet (Band of Outsiders), Pierre Dupouey (Silence… on tourne), Raymond Adam (Jodorowsky’s Tusk), Paul Bourron of the Dziga Vertov Group, Willy Kurant (Far From Vietnam, Masculin-Feminin, Pootie Tang), Peter Kassovitz (Jakob the Liar), Paul Seban (Welles’s The Trial), Michel Fano (Rivette’s The Nun), Fernand Moskovitz (Last Tango in Paris), Yann Le Masson (Je t’aime moi non plus), Mario Marret & Carlos de los Llanos (À bientôt, j’espère), Jimmy Glasberg (Sans Soleil, Shoah), Robert Dianoux (Africa, I Will Fleece You), Jean Boffety (Thieves Like Us, Je t’aime je t’aime, Adieu Philippine), Robert Destanque (Joris Ivens’s The Threatening Sky), Hiroko Govaers (Terayama’s Fruits of Passion), Michel Cenet (Celine and Julie Go Boating), and an excerpt from Volker Schlöndorff’s The Lost Honor of Katharina Blum. That is quite a list of collaborators, though you never hear anyone talking about them.


English voices: Jim Broadbent (Brazil), Cyril Cusack (Fahrenheit 451), Robert Kramer (dir. Ice, Against Oblivion), Alfred Lynch (The Hill), and numerous British 1970’s TV actors.

“You can never tell what you might be filming.”

Quotes and other reactions:

Icarus Films calls it an “epic film-essay on the worldwide political wars of the 60’s and 70’s: Vietnam, Bolivia, May ’68, Prague, Chile, and the fate of the New Left.”


J. Hoberman: “Marker begins by evoking Battleship Potemkin, and although hardly agitprop, A Grin Without a Cat is in that tradition—a montage film with a mass hero. Unlike Eisenstein, however, Marker isn’t out to invent historical truth so much as to look for it. (The untranslatable French title, Le Fond de l’air est rouge, is a play on words suggesting that revolution was in the air but not on the ground.)”

Paul Arthur: “In its rhythms and editing structures, Grin tries to embody the very shape and textures of historical transformation, rendering the abstraction of change as an amalgam of rapid, plurivocal, uneven, and, at times, contradictory forces aligned in provisional symmetries encompassing past, present and future perspectives.”


Y. Meranda: “The editing de-emphasizes the narrative structure and instead stresses the poetical interrelationships of the sequences by putting almost all of them out-of-context. … Paralleling the visual editing, the sound editing is more based on poetical considerations than on intellectual ones. … Because there is very little attention paid to the intellectual arguments and because the style goes beyond making statements about a political ideology, A Grin Without a Cat becomes much more than a left wing documentary about the left: It achieves to be a poem about revolting against the system (and not just the political system), the conformity and the order. It suggests that it is an eternal struggle that is supposed to fail (as was in the case of the New Left) most of the times. This universality, achieved by Marker’s distinctive style, is what makes the film great.”


Excerpts from the Lupton book:

“Marker explicitly pitched the film against what he saw as the historical amnesia surrounding the period promoted by its treatment on television, where ‘one event is swept away by another, living ideals are replaced by cold facts, and it all finally descends into collective oblivion.'”

Movie is partially composed of outtakes from other projects. “Introducing the published script, Marker wrote that he had become curious about all the material that had been left out of militant films in order to obtain an idealogically ‘correct’ image, and now wondered if these abandoned fragments might not yield up the essential matter of history better than the completed films.”

“As a groundbreaking work of visual historiography, Le Fond attempts nothing less than to give cinematic form to the chaotic and contradictory movement of world history during the tumultuous decade that it covers.”

“The reappearance of cats, even in this thoroughly politicized context, is a signal that Chris Marker was beginning to re-emerge from the anonymity of unsigned militant productions and to reintroduce into his work the familiar tokens of his own distinct presence.”


Chris Marker:

Scenes of the third World War 1967-1977

Some think the third World War will be set off by a nuclear missile. For me, that’s the way it will end. In the meantime, the figures of an intricate game are developing, a game whose de-coding will give historians of the future – if they are still around – a very hard time.

A weird game. Its rules change as the match evolves. To start with, the super powers’ rivalry transforms itself not only into a Holy Alliance of the Rich against the Poor, but also into a selective co-elimination of Revolutionary Vanguards, wherever bombs would endanger sources of raw materials. As well as into the manipulation of these vanguards to pursue goals that are not their own.

During the last ten years, some groups of forces (often more instinctive than organized) have been trying to play the game themselves – even if they knocked over the pieces. Wherever they tried, they failed. Nevertheless, it’s been their being that has the most profoundly transformed politics in our time. This film intends to show some of the steps of this transformation.

More images:



The Chairman:

Funeral in Prague:

Last footage ever shot of Salvador Allende:

Allende’s daughter, who would commit suicide in 1977:

Fidel in Russia:

Enormous cats (no owls):

Nixon looks on: