From film of denunciation to the revolutionary use of film

R. Magritte, La trahison des images

Le monde est déjà filmé.  Il s’agit maintenant de le transformer

Guy Debord

Contemporary social movements have contributed to and have been sustained by a proliferation of media production, often described as alternative, in reference to the “truths” they present in opposition to the falsifications of corporate controlled media.  The current and intense efforts to document through film the “arab spring”, 15M in spain, Occupy in the united states, and similar movements elsewhere, are examples.

(For instance, the work of the Mosireen Media Collective of Cairo, born in the wake of the uprising against the regime of Hosni Mubarak …

 … or the ongoing documentary project of Portraits of Greece in Crisis

… or the Global Uprisings news site, animated largely by Brandon Jourdan and Marianne Maeckelbergh …

… and many more other collectives.)

As labours of testimony, acts of resistance to historical erasure, collections of images of human possibilities beyond the limits of the imaginary of State-Capital, this cinematographic work is of great importance, and the collectives that produce this work often do so with great courage.  And yet, impotence often also haunts this creativity, the impotence of a cinema of denunciation.

Documentary film is typically form this denunciation takes, a film form that assumes a simple contrast between true and false images, with each film proclaiming its’ own sincerity.  The politically engaged or revolutionary documentary adds to this the conviction that the truth can set one free; by unmasking, radical political practice can be sparked.  But how unsustainable such views are is evident from the very fragile ability of any such documentaries to engender radical politics, and this because politics is not a matter of representational truth, but of creating worlds.  And revolutionary art or film is that creativity which has ceased to stand above the everyday, which understands that the struggle is not fought with truth, but with the passions of the imagination.  Documentary film then is but one more instance of isolated, abstract and alienated cultural practice.  It refuses the constant need to capture the totality of any social phenomenon by confining film to a subject, a false unifying coherence that can do little more than observe and seek to confirm or correct the ideological and moral conformism of spectators.  Failing at the level of thought and practice, it is reduced to moralising.

The function of cinema, whether dramatic or documentary, is to present a false and isolated coherence as a substitute for a communication and activity that are absent.  To demystify documentary cinema it is necessary to dissolve its “subject matter”.

                                                                               Guy Debord, Critique of Separation

The moving image and sound are the media of film.  There are not true and false film images; the Spectacle has rendered any such opposition illusory.  What film images can be turned to do are fracture consensuses of consciousness, open hidden fissures, create the spaces necessary to imagine and live different forms of life, different situations; something that is not possible through the illusory and simplifying subjectification of experience.

What makes most documentaries so easy to understand is the arbitrary limitation of their subject matter.  They confine themselves to depicting fragmented social functions and their isolated products.  In contrast, imagine the full complexity of a moment whose development contains interrelated facts and values and whose meaning is not yet apparent.  This confused totality could be the subject matter of such a documentary.

           Guy Debord, On the Passage of a Few Persons through a Rather Brief Unity of Time

The subject of documentary film simplifies communication, from which only a simplistic politics can follow (and both of which can be easily appropriated in turn by State-Capital).  But communication is not linear, causally or chronologically.  It is rather multiple: polysemic, polyphonic, polyvisual, polytextual.  The subject, conceived of to secure and order communication, is hereby dissolved in the warp and woof of the tapestry of everyday life.  It is into this life that the subject must be thrown, diffused.  And the art of such a subject, the art of “détournement”, is not that which speaks truths, but that which criticises/overcomes the diverse separations that divide us from ourselves/others/the everyday.

Our time of rebellion still struggles to find this art.

Revolution is not “showing” life to people, but bringing them to life.

                                                         Guy Debord, For a Revolutionary Judgment of Art


Films of Guy Debord …

Sur le passage de quelques personnes à travers une assez courte unite de time (1959), with english subtitles …

Critique de la séparation (1961), with english subtitles …

La Société du spectacle (1973) … english subtitles

In girum imus nocte et consumimur igni (1978) … first of various parts

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