À bientôt, j’espère [Be Seeing You] (1968, with Mario Marret)
“Almost 10,000 workers have lost a day’s pay, just like that. It is not a prowess, it’s solidarity and it is something formidable compared to TV games or trash papers. It’s far better, it’s wonderful. It’s normal, it’s the working class… that’s what we must be aware of. What is beautiful is not what is written in the tabloids. It’s what the working class does. It’s to lose 5000 francs to support our sacked mates, and to contribute today again to make up for their lost pay. If only this was advertised and spread. Isn’t that culture? I want to tell management we’ll win thanks to the solidarity they know nothing about. We’ll get you. We’re not mad at those who think wrongly they are the boss, but we’ll get those who own capital. It has to be, it’s natural, and we’ll be seeing you.”
Unfortunately this does not seem like an intricate film which will grow deeper in meaning with repeat viewings – just on-the-spot reporting, interviews with striking factory workers who calmly explain what’s wrong with factory conditions and the effects (both actual and hopeful) of their strike. The only good speech is the one quoted above, at the very end. Movie was a letdown considering the great strike movies I’ve seen lately, including Harlan County USA just last week… but this wasn’t aiming to be similar to that film, or to The Battle of Chile, just small-scale reporting of a single event, leading (hopefully, but not actually) to a revolution of working-class-created films.
Filmmakers are asked to commemorate the hundredth anniversary of the 1884 start of trade unionism in France. “They were rather at a loss, so they had this idea of simply jumping ahead a century… afraid of defining the state of the movement today.” Their software and studies predict three possible futures, color-coded.
The Grey Alternative: a never-ending crisis. “When it takes all your energy just to stay afloat, there’s not much imagination left for creating a future.” An alternative with the possibility of “a social or nuclear explosion”, “a fearful society huddled in its blankets of false security, staking its hopes on a precarious balance that is forever in jeopardy. Here the union is at best a powerful protective organization” to “safeguard your job, keep you as comfortable as possible… A union like that doesn’t bother with changing the world.” “Union ritual becomes… nothing but congresses, meetings, demos, slogans. What a drag.”
The Black Alternative: “it could be fascism, it could be stalinism… it’s not easy to forsee a world where the technical developments replace ideology… The appropriation of this technology: who is to benefit from it, who should control its development, was the overriding question of the late 20th century, its real challenge. Because we didn’t understand in time what was really at stake, it was left to a new type of leader to govern the future: the techno-totalitarians.” It forsees “violent workers revolts [in] the 80’s and 90’s and their repression.” This leads to a Wall-E utopia. “At home you get more images than your eyes can absorb and more information than your memory can stock… Anger too belongs to a bygone age. The state is a well-oiled feeding machine and the union nothing more than the engineer who keeps it working, the one who detects the little glitches, little breakdowns, and who can’t even imagine that the machine can serve some other purpose. In fact, of ‘union’, only the name remains. Trade unionism passed away with the dawn of the year 2000” because of infighting.
The Blue Alternative: a tentative hope. “before our eyes, technology is beginning to prove itself a fantastic tool for changing the world, and this transformation includes the struggle against hunger, against suffering, the struggle against ignorance and against prejudice. It is still a struggle, but in the context of the 21st century, not the 19th.”
“The 20th century hasn’t even existed. It was nothing but a long, painful transition from barbarism to civilization. In the 1980’s those who still felt angry about poverty, about the injustice of industrial societies were right. Those who felt there was hope for change were right too. The part unions played was to bridge the gap between this anger and this hope. They were the instrument of a new struggle, a place where imaginations could meet and create new solidarities, where people could… learn how to make good use of their differences, and how to win control of their days.”
The film proclaims that it has been “talking less about what has been done already than about what remains to be done. Nothing is programmed yet. The three alternatives are open to us.” “We’ve just got one century left.”
Definitely had to watch this a second time to make sense of it because of the rapid-fire low-key narration and the bizarre images (mostly of film students in a lab combing through 20th century film images), which I would focus on and lose the train of thought of the narration. They don’t exactly work together most of the time. It’s a great commentary though, and a strong little film.
Remembrance of Things to Come (2001, with Yannick Bellon)
Excellent movie by two 80-year-old artists celebrating the photography of Yannick’s mother Denise Bellon. Tells stories through Denise’s photographs of France and surrounding countries (including colonized north Africa) and of her friends the Surrealists, first in the pre-war 30’s, then the lead-up to WWII, and briefly post-war (incl. a surrealist reunion photo). Nothing afterwards, though Denise lived until 1999 – makes for a short, focused movie. Electro-sounds and female narration by the Sans Soleil crew of Michel Krasna and Alexandra Stewart.
“Each of her photographs shows a past yet deciphers a future.” This is the kind of movie I’d been waiting for while sorting through Marker’s lesser-known 70’s stuff – poetic commentary weaving history and art around the images. Don’t know how the collaboration with Yannick Bellon worked, but this feels very much like a Marker movie, and a great one at that. There are cats, of course (see below), and the second mention I’ve seen him make of the 1952 Olympics.
From what Acquarello writes about this, you’d think he was talking about Sans Soleil: “It is in this analytical deconstruction between the integral art of composing an image and the cognitive assignment of significance behind the captured image that filmmakers Chris Marker and Yannick Bellon create a compelling exposition on the processing and (subconscious) self-actualization of human memory.”
Movie opens on Dali’s Rainy Taxi, which I saw in Spain.
The Bellon sisters:
The Pont-Neuf, which I recognized from Lovers on the Bridge:
The commentary on this part, about scrap metal used to fuel the war effort, is one of Marker’s finest:
Puisqu’on vous dit que c’est possible [We Maintain It Is Possible] (1973)
“We can now point out that the government preferred to surrender to multinationals rather than grant anything to the workers. That’s what we can say for now.” [via megaphone]
Movie about worker occupation of a factory in 1973, with an intro saying the movie was shot by “Scopecolor”, edited by Marker, and is the sole responsibility of those involved – the strike participants’ way of distancing themselves from the film, perhaps. A watch factory called Lip is to be shut down, then bought out, then restructured with massive layoffs, and the workers decide not to accept this, to take the factory and sell the watches themselves. Negotiations don’t go well (the workers have all sorts of demands, the owner simply says it’s not profitable so he’s shutting it down) then the police evacuate the building and demonstrations hit the streets.
Has much more interesting editing than À bientôt, j’espère but that’s not saying much. Still, for the most part, video interviews and a few photographs for a while, then footage from inside the factory, nothing exciting to watch. I mean, all praise to Mr. Medvedkin, and I agree that cinema can have many useful purposes, but personally I’ve seen an unusually high number of movies about worker strikes, so forgive me if I yawn when this one’s narrator goes on about how exciting are union meetings.
“The outrage lies in labor exploitation and the alienation that capitalism inflicts on workers.” says a speaker during a convincing speech – which is exactly the point here. Rich factory-owners aren’t going to freely hand their factories over to the workers, and the government isn’t going to allow one group to occupy another group’s buildings against the owner’s will, so the only way to win is the change the system, to reform capitalism. It happened, however briefly, in Chile, but the watchmakers at Lip failed to overthrow the French capitalist system.
Set Theory (1985)
An ugly slideshow done entirely in HyperStudio, accompanied strangely enough by string music by Russian composer Alfred Schnittke instead of the electronic sounds Marker is fond of using. The story goes: Noah is on his ark wondering how to sort out all these animals, when two wise owls come by and teach him set theory. “Eureka,” cries Noah, who now understands all manners of mathematics through understanding set theory. Since it uses French intertitles instead of spoken narration, I transcribed the titles and ran ’em through google translator to make a subtitle track with helpful program Media Subtitler. The movie itself was only halfway worth the effort – it seems a very minor work (though more amusing than À bientôt, j’espère) – but it was fun to play around with. Some of the clip-art and dialogue is actually pretty cute – a tiger being confused with a house cat due to faulty classification and taken home is portrayed using an oversized tiger in a bathtub, with E. Munch’s “The Scream” in the foreground.