Too Early, Too Late (1981, Straub & Huillet)

Excerpt from a J. Rosenbaum article, graciously explaining what the film was about:

The first text, read by Huillet, is an excerpt from a letter written by Friedrich Engels to Karl Kautsky describing the impoverished state of the French peasantry on the eve of the French Revolution … we see the various places in France that are described as they appear today … The second part of the film, roughly twice as long, uses a more recent Marxist text about the Egyptian peasants’ resistance to the English occupation prior to the “petit-bourgeois” revolution of Neguib in 1952 – a more journalistic text by Mahmoud Hussein, author of Class Struggles in Egypt. In both sections, it is suggested that the peasants revolt too soon and succeed too late. Once again, the locations cited in the text are filmed by Straub-Huillet … the sites of revolutionary struggle, again mainly rural.

I wish I’d read that right before watching, instead of afterward. But even if I completely missed the filmmakers’ intentions until I researched it later on, I did enjoy the movie. It’s peaceful to watch, and I had fun trying to compare it to other films. I considered Chantal Akerman (From The Other Side) and even Michael Snow (La Region Centrale), but I slowly realized it’s a huge influence on Profit Motive and the Whispering Wind.

After the two long sections, it ends with stock footage and a radio announcer, again bringing to mind Profit Motive with its street-march finale.

Near the beginning, the camera whirls around a traffic circle while we hear something about revolution (get it? circle? revolution?) and the bourgeoisie, then on to other towns and cities. “Out of 130 families there are 60 which are impoverished.” Much space between blocks of narration, giving me time to attempt understanding of the directors’ politics. The narration itself is sometimes not much help – I wish they’d have checked to see if John Hurt had a couple free hours instead of recording it themselves.

Notes I took:
– colonialist readings of Egyptian history
– Peasant revolts vs. French occupiers
– A couple of revolts are put down, old power prevails
– Narration is directly giving us information, but so slowly
– Second narrator is better
– Ferocious repression in Egypt
– Imprisonment, military rounding people up and searching them

At least now I understand the long horizontal-pan establishing shot in Manfred Blank’s documentary that I watched with Class Relations – it’s a reference to this movie.

The longest-held static shot:

After around ninety-five minutes, the camera follows a man with a donkey cart – the first time it’s followed any living thing all movie.

“But it is the reformist petit bourgoise forces sprung from the army who took the initiative of the coup d’etet of 1952”

“And from 1955 to 1967 the mass movement would be dismantled and (courted?) by a new ruling (caste?) inheriting all the vices of the old and betraying the national dignity which had served its ascension.”

More from Rosenbaum – this is excellent:
“The very slow pans, according to Dave Kehr, always move in the same direction as the wind, and it is largely the sense one has of the film’s profound attentiveness to the material world that makes the film so singular a documentary – calling to mind the three living quotations cited by Straub before the screening of the film at the Collective for Living Cinema on April 30, 1983:”

D. W. Griffith at the end of his life: “What modern movies lack is the wind in the trees.”

Rosa Luxembourg: “The fate of insects is not less important than the revolution.”

Cézanne, who painted Mont Saint-Victoire again and again: “Look at this mountain, once it was fire.”