Sunday, October 26, 2014

Icarus Films' ON STRIKE! offer class struggle via shorts by Chris Marker & The Medvedkin Group

Boy, do we need it now. Watching ON STRIKE! -- the new release from Icarus Films composed of two short films (and one audio critique) about the class struggle and consciousness-raising in 1960s France -- we can see how little has changed since then, other than film stock and fashion. Today, we might get sharper images via video but we're not likely to get a more incisive look into working conditions and the tools and tricks management uses to keep its workers in place.

BE SEEING YOU (À bientôt, j'espère) comprises 39 minutes by filmmakers Mario Marret and the fabled Chris Marker that lets us view a few workers and a union organizer as a strike fires up, and we see how young French workers of the day get their political and economic education. "I used to see Communists only as those who didn't attend Mass," notes one fellow. Which, at least, is better than the way we here in the USA have historically seen them.

In an early interview, the filmmaker concentrates on the young husband of the family, and we see the wife hang back, smiling but not speaking. Finally, though, she does speak, and we learn of working life in a textile factory, with its mind-deadening repetition. Which, of course, does pay the rent. As we learn upfront, "the result of a strike is not simply a 3-4% pay raise but the education of young workers discovering the true identity of their struggle." The title -- sweet and ironic -- of this lovely piece comes clear at the end.

In the middle of the two shorts is inserted a most interesting, smart and provocative 13-minute "critique" by filmmakers (and, I am assuming, some of the workers, too) of the film we've just seen. Not everyone is happy with it (though I certainly was). "Why don't workers see themselves truly in the movie?" someone asks. "Because Chris is a romantic. He's looking at them with romanticism." Or maybe not, as others proclaim in this audio recording of discussions that led to the formation of The Medvedkin Group. Utterly French in the manner in which it insists on philosophy being a major part of one's life, this little recording is a fine link between these two documentaries.

The 40-minute CLASS OF STRUGGLE (Classe de lutte) is said to be the outcome of the above discussion group which led to the formation of The Medvedkin Group and to this, one of their films. (Among the 40-50 names of the members that roll out during the credits are Juliet Berto, Jean-Luc Godard, Chris Marker and Joris Ivens.) This film follows the same young woman whom we met in the earlier film (Suzanne Zedet), who now insists on being more politically active. Her husband is clearly not thrilled.

Covering the watchmaking industry in Besançon, Capitalists vs workers, and -- most interestingly -- the idea that culture (books, poetry, even movies, though that last is not actually mentioned by name) is as important as political speeches, Class of Struggle must have raised a few hackles in its day. The documentary ends with the words à suivre (to be continued). Indeed. How little has really changed here, except that we (the USA and Europe) have gone in the opposite direction -- lowering instead of raising consciousness, impeding and destroying our unions at every oppportunity.

The DVD of On Strike! -- from Icarus Films Home Video and running a total of 76 minutes, in black-and-white and with English subtitles and a screen ratio of 4:3 -- became available in early October for sale. And, I would hope, rental or streaming. There should be some way in which we poor hoi polloi can see the wonderful Icarus catalog without having to purchase it outright.

Regarding the latter, Icarus tells me that Class of Struggle is on iTunes now, and will be Amazon VOD soon (the exact date is still in question). The other film in this collection isn’t streaming anywhere yet. More broadly, Icrarus assures me that it does try to put its films on Amazon VOD, iTunes & google play on the same date as the DVD release, technical issues permitting, though there are sometimes exceptions to that rule.

Thanks, Icarus -- that's a boon to us foreign film/political movie/anti-Capitalist viewers!

No comments: