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.

Watched a couple new Marker-related shorts,
and rewatched some older ones in shiny new copies.

Sunday in Peking (1956) in lovely high definition

Letter from Siberia (1957)

Forgot how amazing this one is.
Songs and animation and opera, owl-led advertisements and imaginary newsreels.

“Since you can never tell how a bear will react to a camera, we were offered the protection of an armed policeman. But since we’re much more frightened of policemen than we are of bears, we politely declined.”

The Irkutsk Dam, “sitting on its own reflection like a station in outer space”:

Le Chant du Styrene (1958, Alain Resnais)

Mostly shots of the factory, with few humans.
Forgot about the rhyming voiceover.

Broadway By Light (1958, William Klein)

From Marker’s intro: “Each evening, in the centre of New York, an artificial day rises. Its purpose is to announce spectacles, sell products, and the producers of these adverts would be amazed to know that the most fascinating spectacle, the most precious product made by them, is the very street transformed by their signs.” Klein shoots the lights of Broadway, scored by cartoon-jazz music that matches the editing and light movement. Wonderful, would like to put this and some Joris Ivens and Bert Haanstra shorts on an infinite loop in my office. Klein’s first film (I only knew his Mr. Freedom before), edited by Alain Resnais.

A Valparaiso (1963, Joris Ivens) from the 2008 restoration

Junkopia (1981)

Uses the sort of electronically-processed sound he’d be featuring in his next full-length film, Sans Soleil.

Eclipse (1999)

On a day when everyone is looking at a solar eclipse through special glasses, Marker watches the watchers instead. First half has live sound at a hippo sculpture park, then he switches to slow motion and electronic music and goes elsewhere (the zoo? there are owls).

Description of a Memory (2007, Dan Geva)

I didn’t rewatch my terrible-quality copy of Marker’s Description of a Struggle, but instead tried this doc, the second feature-length film I’ve seen this year made in response to a Chris Marker-related film. Geva shows the Marker film and stills to locals, asks about the people who appeared in the original. Reminds me of Marker’s friend Agnes Varda, her periodic returns to previous films through documentaries and shorts and DVD extras. Geva is investigating images and memories a la Marker and Varda, turning out a worthy follow-up to the original feature.

Of the happy kid riding a cart down a hilly street: “British policeman bashed his head with an iron rod. Gone a bit mad since.

“Noah Rosenfeld, who fulfilled his dream to become a chess champion.”

More Marker:
Far From Vietnam is out in HD. The Confession is also out, and includes the Arthur London short. Mémoires pour Simone still lacks subtitles, as do most of the 1969-1970 shorts. Oh, and it looks like new copies of Description of a Struggle and Blue Helmet just came out – will save those for another day.

“I’m very happy to announce that we’ve destroyed at least half of the country. I hope now they’ll understand that aggression does not pay.”

That sums up the whole movie. It’s so obvious and loud and obnoxious and garish and that’s probably just what it intends to be. But it makes for an unpleasant viewing experience. I can’t imagine this movie screening in theaters without walkouts by exasperated viewers saying “I GET it already” (but probably saying that in french).

All-American titular superhero is introduced blithely massacring a black family in the middle of their dinner. Then Dr. Freedom (Donald Pleasence) calls to tell him that his French equivalent Captain Formidable has been killed and commies are invading France from neutral Switzerland. It’s up to Mr. Freedom to save the ungrateful French, not for any love of the country but to stop the dreaded domino effect and protect the world from communism.

Doesn’t play like a proper movie at all. Sometimes it feels like an advertisement (America’s priorities are more Capitalist than Democratic), and sometimes like a bunch of people goofing around and pretending to make a movie. The dubbing ain’t great, either.

Some funny touches: the american embassy in France is a wal-mart full of dancing girls. And sometimes the cheapness of the project turns into a lo-fi charm. Superfrenchman is played by a balloon with easily confused henchmen, and the also-inflatable Red China Man breathes frozen fog that settles on the ground.

Freedom of course ends up destroying most of France, his french guide Marie-Madeleine turns out to be a commie traitor, Russian Moujik Man is somewhat of an ally but can’t really be trusted. Freedom, not too fazed by the death of all his compatriots and followers, prevails through violence. Sadly it’s not a dated period piece and what Klein’s saying about American foreign policy applies perfectly well today.

Criterion: “Delightfully crass, Mr. Freedom is a trenchant, rib-tickling takedown of gaudy modern Americana.” It’s funny to think how many Criterion completists will soon own this movie.

Movie plays better in stills. When considering the screen shots I took, it seems almost like a good movie, clever and funny and ramshackle without the loud, boisterous, stagey dialogue to distract. In other words, it’s a much better movie when you’re not actually watching it. And since Klein was renowned in the 50’s as a still photographer and appears in Marker’s still-composed La Jetee, I’ve kept more screenshots than the film might deserve.

The introduction of Marienbad star Delphine Seyrig as Marie-Madeleine, yowza.

Dr. Freedom:

Captain Formidable is played by classy French icon Yves Montand:

“Anti-freedomism is at a new high.” Can’t get enough of that dress. Note Marie-Madeleine’s placement in front of the red portion of the map, foreshadowing the revelation that she is a communist spy. Just kidding.

Over a temporarily fallen Freedom, L-R: Moujik Man, Red China Man, Jesus & Mary

Freedom celebrates the defeat of Superfrenchman… I don’t remember exactly what went on here:

Forcing the maid to taste the poisoned food she brought. Nice shot setup:

I love this shot so much. The matching hair, the goofy look on Freedom’s face, the unexplained picture of Hitler hanging on Marie-Madeleine’s wall:

Serge Gainsbourg very nearly survives to the end:

Freedom! Now available in a convenient spray!

Same old gorgeous La Jetee. No longer makes me think of 12 Monkeys while watching it (a good thing). I spotted cats and a bird (below), but no owls. Watched out on the porch – Katy enjoyed it, but never mentioned the motion part. Thanks again for my poster.

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One of my favorite movie stills ever:
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