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Thu Jul 17 08:16:31 MDT 2003
NY Times, July 17, 2003
MOVIE REVIEW | 'BE SEEING YOU'; 'AN INJURY TO ONE'
Two Distinct Views of Workers Rising Up
By DAVE KEHR
The double bill of documentaries that opens today at the Anthology Film
Archives bridges 35 years of leftist political filmmaking and suggests
that just about everything has changed in the field but the basic
"Be Seeing You" is a 38-minute, black-and-white agitprop piece filmed in
1967 by a French radical collective that called itself SLON — la Societé
de Lancement des Oeuvres Nouvelles (the Company for Launching New Works).
SLON's founder and most famous member was Chris Marker, the now
81-year-old globe-trotting documentarist whose work, including "A Grin
Without a Cat," has lately been enjoying a revival in New York City. The
group's most widely seen film, "Far From Vietnam" (1967), brought
together seven celebrated filmmakers, including Jean-Luc Godard, Alain
Resnais and Agnès Varda, to offer their personal perspectives on
America's war in the former French colony.
But SLON soon decided that the auteur approach was antithetical to the
collectivist message the group wanted to convey. By the time of "Be
Seeing You," SLON was doing its best to strip out any traces of
subjectivity and stylishness, both of which had come to be considered
bourgeois vices. Though "Be Seeing You" bears no director's credit, it
is generally attributed to Mr. Marker and the SLON member Mario Marret.
And yet it strives for a stylistic neutrality — a sense that no
filmmaker was present to shape the material.
The action, in this case, is a strike movement at a textile factory in
Besançon, a city in eastern France. The filmmakers follow a young
agitator for the leftist labor union CGT as he tries to shape worker
discontent with a new workweek, one alternating day and night shifts,
into a walkout. Shot partly in 16-millimeter with synchronized sound and
partly in silent 8-millimeter (with a camera borrowed from Mr. Godard),
the film consists largely of static close-ups of workers and organizers,
who recount the stories of their conversion to socialism in a rough,
There is no cutting away during the long monologues, a technique that
would register as an intrusion by the filmmakers. But of course the
refusal to cut away is in itself a stylistic choice, and one that can
feel as manipulative — in its somewhat puritanical insistence that the
spectator pay grim, undivided attention — as any amount of more overt
Flash forward 35 years, and here is "An Injury to One," a 53-minute film
by Travis Wilkerson. Again, the subject is labor organizing, though the
setting is now historical — it is Butte, Mont., in 1917, where Frank
Little, an agent of the Industrial Workers of the World, is trying to
organize the city's miserably exploited copper miners into striking
against the monopolistic Anaconda Mining Company. Little's efforts ended
in his lynching, most likely at the hands of private detectives hired by
Anaconda. Among those private detectives was the young Dashiell Hammett,
who based his brilliant 1927 hard-boiled novel "Red Harvest" on the
strike. According to the film, Hammett spoke of having been approached
by the mining company to murder Little; he traced his own radicalization
to that moment.
Where "Be Seeing You" struggles for self-effacement, "An Injury to One"
revels in directorial assertiveness, including an omniscient narrator
and an intrusive use of slick, magazine-style graphics to identify
characters and spell out slogans. Though much of the movie is composed
of historical black-and-white or sepia-tinted photographs, there are
occasional explosions into highly saturated color, contemporary images
of the devastated Butte area. These new shots are self-consciously
composed and conspicuously beautiful in a way that largely serves to
draw attention to the director's taste and skill.
This, of course, would be a capital crime under the SLON aesthetic.
Still, can Mr. Wilkerson really be blamed for wanting to find an
audience for his work? It's hard to imagine any post-MTV public sitting
still for the static camera and fuzzy sound of "Be Seeing You." If the
aim of the political filmmaker is to create an urge to action, Mr.
Wilkerson's marching-band approach is unquestionably more effective than
SLON's somber string quartet. But here, the string quartet is
unquestionably more artistically satisfying — more economical, more
refined and more respectful of human experience — than the flash and
filigree of "An Injury to One."
BE SEEING YOU/À BIENTÔT, J'ESPÈRE
Directed by Chris Marker and Mario Marret; in French, with English
subtitles; director of photography, Pierre Lhomme; edited by Carlos de
Los Llamos; released by First Run/Icarus Films. Shown with "An Injury to
One" at the Anthology Film Archives, 32 Second Avenue, at Second Street,
East Village. Running time: 39 minutes. This film is not rated.
AN INJURY TO ONE
Written, directed, edited and narrated by Travis Wilkerson; director of
photography, Mr. Wilkerson; produced by Susan Fink; released by First
Run/Icarus Films. Shown with "Be Seeing You/À Bientôt, J'Espère" at the
Anthology Film Archives, 32 Second Avenue, at Second Street, East
Village. Running time: 53 minutes. This film is not rated.
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