Monday, 5 November 2012

Death Laid an Egg

25th November 2012
Colorama II, Lancaster Street London SE1
Doors open 7PM
Film at 7.30PM

DEATH LAID AN EGG [La morte ha fatto l'uovo]
Giulio Questi - Italy, 1968

This is a deliriously strange thriller about a scientist (Jean-Louis Trintignant) who is breeding headless, boneless chickens at a high-tech farm. He's having an affair with Ewa Aulin, who is plotting with him to kill his wife (Gina Lollobrigida)...and she's plotting with Aulin to kill him...and he and Lollobrigida are plotting...oh, it's too confusing, but extremely memorable. 

The bizarre, only semi-linear editing and trippy cinematographic techniques are artifacts of the psychedelic era and combine with the twisted story to make any Euro-cultist's dreams come true. A film that defies easy categorization, it veers uneasily between giallo, drug film, and science-fiction, with heavy doses of romance and Antonioni-like weirdness. 

It was the time of the economic boom. The process of industrialization was a growing tide that swept everything away. It was a hymn to the future, a frenetic packaging of products without distinction between animate and
inanimate. Products that were still alive were screaming in terror and anguish. Large factory farms were a symbol of this. Every man was a chicken, every hen a woman, every chick a child. Wealth was accumulated on their skin. And, above all, "the egg" triumphed; white, smooth, perfect, with a life locked inside it. Sexual perversion became the only possible way out. 

G. Questi

FRRRRREE, as usual. 

Venue confirmed

Colorama II, Lancaster Street London SE1 
(not the old colorama, but the building next door)
More info watch this space | or the twitter space 
@un_cine | or FB Full Unemployment Cinema

There's an informative post on the film here:


The factory is the real villain of the film - the modern technology implemented by the matriarchal owner Anna has eliminated the need for human workers. The process has become entirely automated and the unemployed workers seethe with undisguised hate and resentment. The factory is coveted by Gabrielle and Mondaini and their thirst for the wealth it is about to generate motivates murder and duplicity. It is also the site for a series of monstrous and grotesque experiments, the culmination of which is the birth of a mutated headless chicken. Its destruction the only sensible thing that the confused and emasculated Marco does. His capitalist overlords however are less than happy with this, their eyes shine with greed at the prospect of a poultry product which will have no waste attached to it. If this isn’t enough the factory even claims the life of a harmless pet dog! The critique of capitalism and aggressive mechanised production techniques emerges as the most salient theme of the film. It feeds into a general sensibility of inhumanity which is reflected in the cynical and selfish behaviour of the main characters.

Friday, 2 November 2012

There's No Whiteness 4 November 7pm

T4 November | 7pm | Free

Upstairs at Freedom Bookshop / Autonomie Club

Angel Alley 84b Whitechapel High Street London E1 7QX

The White Bus (1967)
Directed by Lindsay Anderson, 46 mins)
Written by Shelah Delaney

The Man in the White Suit (1951)
Directed by Alex Mackendrick, 85 mins

The White Bus (1967)
Directed by Lindsay Anderson, 46 mins
Written by Shelah Delaney

Lindsay Anderson and Shelagh Delaney's The White Bus is a surrealistic film about a secretary who takes a strange trip, part of which takes place on the eponymous vehicle. The nameless girl has a seemingly dull life, which is interrupted by periodic flights of fantasy involving suicide, recreations of paintings, and pieces of meat that suddenly run blood-run. Between these fantasies are the details of her real life, especially as she begins a journey home to visit her family. She encounters a wide variety of people -- a teen-ager exceedingly angry that his rubgy team has lost a match, a young man who proposes marriage, a lord mayor who enjoys feeling her leg -- as she travels to locations ranging from a community center and a public library to a natural history museum and a civil defense demonstration. Along the way, the girl maintains a façade of passivity, even when events become quite surreal, as when all of her traveling companions turn into human dummies during the civil defense drill. At the end of the film, she enters a restaurant and eats dinner while the owners pile chairs on the tables around her, obscuring her from view and complaining about the never-ending pace of work. 

The Man in the White Suit (1951)
Directed by Alex Mackendrick, 85 mins

A classic Ealing comedy running fast out of  wartime austerity into a post-war rearrangement of class, capital and technology about combine again in a headlong collision. The films central tension makes for an interestingly prescient take on theories of communisation: "A young scientist invents a material that is indestructible and repels dirt. He soon finds himself caught between the moguls of the textile industry and the trade unions, all equally determined that his invention never sees the light of day." - Screenonline

The Man in the White Suit is a whirling mess: of sabotage and complicity, of things falling apart against the threat of never falling apart.  A desperate, clinging defense - capital and labor, all together now, or we're all fucked! - in the name of decay and forced obsolescence.  A coming together as a nasty collective (headed up by arch-capitalist Sir John Kierlaw, seen above with cane, seen elsewhere haunting the dreams of child labor, a Dark Crystal Skeksis of textile monopoly, his laugh a hissing poisonous exhalation that has to be declared after the fact to have been laughter ) to destroy to protect the order of things that are destroyed, run-down, and cast out "naturally."

Essay by E.C.W. -

Tuesday, 23 October 2012

Mouvement Communiste and Unicode WildCat Present:
Movements and Political Journeys in Porto Marghera
Manuela Pellarin, 2009, 49 min. In Italian with English subs.
Sunday 28 October at 7.30 pm. 
Pullens Centre, 184 Crampton street, Elephant and Castle, London SE17 3AE

The film will be preceded with an introduction by the translator into French of a book ('Workers’ Power in Porto Marghera') and an open discussion. 

 The 'Suspended Years' is concerned with the intense series of workers’ struggles which took place in and around the chemical production plants of Porto Marghera (close to Venice) in north eastern Italy, starting in the mid-1960s up until the late 1970s. The Porto Marghera workers became one of the emblematic figures of the whole experience of “workers autonomy” in Italy in this period, alongside the Fiat workers. They were part of a movement which began in the factories but which rapidly spread far beyond the factory walls, to encompass and question the whole of social life under capitalism.
A previous film produced about the Porto Marghera workers by the same director was “The last firebrands” (“Die Jetzten Feuer”) distributed by the German group Wildcat.
The film consists of a series of interviews with participants in these momentous events, including workers in the plants, students from Venice and Padua, and activists involved in such things as “self-reduction” in supermarkets… The interviews were made between 2004 and 2008.

A bit of background
The people interviewed in this film are describing an experience of workers autonomy in Italy between 1968 and 1980, that of the Workers Committee of Montedison in Porto Marghera (1968-1972), which was closely related to that of other workers committees in the region, including those of Chatillon, and AMMI. Starting in  November 1972, these committees transformed themselves into a Workers Assembly, which regrouped many other committees in the Venetia region, but it was the Workers’ Committee of Montedison which remained the real point of reference for all the committees of the province.

The committee was born in a big chemical plant which at the time employed 3000 labourers and 1000 technicians. It was formed from young militant workers in the plant, some of whom had been activists in the union and the CP and others who were completely new to politics. The questions that they asked themselves about their condition in the factory led them to establish contact with people from the group Potere Operaio, who had been handing out their leaflets at the gates of the factory since the winter of 1965-66. Many workers in the plant became involved in Potere Operaio, and some of the interviews in the film are directly concerned with the relationship between the workers inside the plant and the students and intellectuals who have a more “external” relation to workers’ struggles.

All this organisation and agitation began to have a profound impact during 1968. In July of that year there was a strike for better pay and conditions launched by the committee which would become known throughout Italy when, on 1 August, a strikers’ demonstration blockaded the Mestre train station and fought with the police.

Like all expressions of workers autonomy at this time, there were certain demands within workplaces which everybody put forwards - uniform increases of wages, reduction of wage differentials between different categories of workers, equalisation of benefits between workers and white-collar employees, reduction of the pace of work, breaking the division between directly employed and subcontracted workers, etc. And the same methods of struggle were always advocated - organisation into assemblies at the workshop and the factory level, marches through the factory to spread and enforce strikes, the refusal of delegation, etc. But they also intervened outside the factory around various issues – transport (refusing to pay fares), housing (occupations, forcing down rent), reducing electricity bills, and the cost of living in general (against price increases in bakeries and supermarkets).

But the struggles of Porto Marghera also had their own specificities. A particularly important factor was the presence of highly skilled technicians who understood the production process. This was combined with a “workers’ enquiry” that the committee had consciously carried out so as to understand the functioning of the plant and how workers could exploit its weak points. As a result of this, the workers could completely shut down the plant during a strike, even though the bosses had told them it was impossible. Just to make sure that we get the importance of this, a worker explains it twice in the film!

Something else which was specific to Porto Marghera (although not that specific) is the “noxiousness” of their work in the chemical factory (particularly in the vinyl chloride section) and their refusal to accept it, by adopting the principle that “if our working environment  is toxic we’ll try to be there as little as possible” and making the boss pay for the treatment which they had to have.

They went on to critique the consequences of production on the surrounding region and so are perhaps the first “ecologists” to refuse the deadly aspect of capital and to call into question wage labour itself. As the film points out at the end, many worker activists died relatively young as a result of cancers caused by exposure to substances such as vinyl chloride monomer.

The title?
The title – Gli anni sospesi - is taken from the name of a conference which was held in Porto Marghera in 2007 entitled “The 1970s – the suspended years”. But why “suspended”?
Well, perhaps we can say that the period of intense struggle that was the 1970s can be seen as “suspended” in time and space, separate from what came before and after, waiting for something new ahead but not yet in focus or determined… Perhaps.

The film was originally intended to be distributed as a DVD with the book Quando il potere è operaio - Autonomia e soggettività politica a Porto Marghera (1960-1980) [“When power is the worker - Autonomy and political subjectivity in Porto Marghera (1960-1980)"], Rome, Manifestolibri, 2009. The book was recently published in French as Pouvoir ouvrier à Porto Marghera - du Comité d’usine à l’Assemblée de territoire (Vénétie – 1960-80) [“Workers’ Power in Porto Marghera – from the Factory Committee to the Territorial Assembly (Venetia – 1960-80)”], Editions Les Nuits Rouges, 2012.
However, the film stands perfectly well on its own, both as a historical document about the workers’ movement in Italy and as a discussion around the more global themes of the relationship between struggles inside and outside workplaces, between militant workers and “external activists” and even “ecological” questions of shutting down poisonous and environmentally destructive workplaces…

Some useful links:
The classic text “The Refusal of Work”, produced by the Workers’ Committee of Porto Marghera in 1970:

For those of you who read Italian, here are some editions of the magazine Lavoro Zero (“Zero Work”) that some of the interviewees were involved with:

And why not take a look at the “operaismo” section of libcom?:

Thursday, 11 October 2012

The Old School of Capitalism

Sunday 14th October 7pm Admission Free

The Old School of Capitalism, 2009
written and directed by: Želimir Žilnik
(Serbia, 122 min, DV + HDV)

The Old School of Capitalism is rooted in the first wave of workers revolts to hit Serbia since the advent of capitalism. Desperate workers bulldoze through factory gates and are devastated to discover the site looted by the bosses. Eccentrically escalating confrontations, including a melee with workers in football shoulder-pads and helmets and boss and his security force in bulletproof vests, prove fruitless. Committed young anarchists offer solidarity, take the bosses hostage. A Russian tycoon, a Wall Street trader and US VP Biden’s visit to Belgrade unexpectedly complicate events that lead toward a final shock. Along the way, the film produces an increasingly complex and yet unfailingly lively account of present-day, in fact, up-to-the-minute struggles under the misery-inducing effects of both local and global capital.

shorts + anti-work discussion

good essay on the film and context by Branka Ćurčic:

Cuts Cafe
1 Stamford St
Phone: 07842 631 370

More info:

Full Unemployment Cinema

Tuesday, 2 October 2012

Full Unemployment Cinema 2012-2013 Programme

28 October – Lindsay Anderson – O Lucky Man / The White Bus Double

25 November – Death Laid an Egg / Questi anime shorts - [Venue TBC]

16 December – Losers & Winners / VW Komplex - [Venue TBC]

27 January – Les Prostitutes de Lyon Parlent / Selma James Housework - [Venue TBC]

24 February – Augusto Tretti, Potere / Ugo Gregoretti, Omicron - [Venue TBC]

31 March – Anthony Friedman Bartleby - [Venue TBC]

Monday, 24 September 2012

Heygate Real Estate Horror Special: Wolfen

Sunday 30 September | 7.30pm | Free

Wolfen, 1981 (1hr 54mins)
Directed by Michael Wadleigh 

At the Heygate Cinema (outdoors) 

The film shows in two parts: 
Part I - 8pm-9pm 
Part II - 9.30pm-10.30pm 

An unusual mix of werewolf movie, police procedural, and serial killer thriller, Wolfen is based on a 1978 novel by Whitley Strieber, and directed by Michael Wadleigh, best known for directing the documentary Woodstock (1969). Entangled in a plot symptomatically torn between political history, capitalist practice and mythologies of the land, Wolfen is an odd and beguiling narrative about a critical moment in the collapse of radical politics and the emergence of a feral neoliberalism against a backdrop of urban dereliction and real estate speculation.

Two excellent essays about the film: 

About the Heygate estate:

Map to the cinema

Thursday, 13 September 2012

This World We Must Leave - Special Double Bill

Thursday the 20th of September | 8pm | Free

Double bill

This World We Must Leave by Jakob Jakobson & Mikkel Bolt

A Man Asleep by Georges Perec & Bernard Queysanne

 Venue: 88 Fleet Street, St Brides Yard. 

Mikkel Bolt and Jakob Jakobson will introduce both films and lead a discussion afterwards.

The title of the film 'This World We Must Leave' is taken from the French left communist Jacques Camatte, who wrote a text in 1973 entitled “Ce monde qu’il faut quitter”, in which he gives an account of how capitalism tends to subjugate not only society and the economy, but also culture, everyday life and the human imagination. Camatte’s critical analysis of the despotism of capital emphasizes the need for a radical transformation of mankind with a view to the development of a non-capitalist life. The short film, This World We Must Leave investigates and represents the desire for another world that is inherent in the rebellious or revolutionary rupture with the prevailing order: the revolutionary event which both articulates criticism of the existing order and presents a new perspective that reflects on how things could be organized in a different way. 

The website has more details on the film and exhibition of which it was a part :

'Communist revolution is complete revolution. Biological, sexual, social, economic revolutions are no more than partial attributes; the predominance of one is a mutilation of revolution, which can only be by being all.

Communist revolution can be conceived only if it is grasped through the history and paleontology of human beings as well as all other living beings. By grasping this we become aware that, if this revolution has long been necessary, it can now be realized. Earlier it was possible but not unavoidable. There were still other "human" paths in that they still allowed a human development; specifically, they allowed the externalization of human powers. Now almost everything has been externalized and plundered by capital, which describes the only path other than communist revolution: the total negation of human beings. Therefore we must understand our world; we must understand the despotism of capital and the movement of rebellion breaking out against it. This act of understanding which is taking place not only intellectually but also sensually (the rebellion is to a large extent bodily rebellion) can only be reached by rejecting the wandering (of humanity) and repressive consciousness.'

Jacques Camatte, The Wandering of Humanity, (Invariance Année 6, Série II No. 3, 1973. Published in English by Black & Red (Detroit) in 1975).


A Man Asleep 

'You have hardly started living, and yet all is said, all is done. You are only twenty-five, but your path is already mapped out for you. The roles are prepared, and the labels: from the potty of your infancy to the bath-chair of your old age, all the seats are ready and waiting their turn. Your adventures have been so thoroughly described that the most violent revolt would not make anyone turn a hair. Step into the street and knock people’s hat off, smear your head with filth, go bare-foot, publish manifestos, shoot at some passing usurper or other, but it won’t make any difference: in the dormitory of the asylum your bed is already made up, your place is already laid at the table of the poète maudit; Rimbaud’s drunken boat, what a paltry wonder: Abyssinia is a fairground attraction, a package trip. Everything is arranged, everything is prepared in the minutest detail: the surges of emotion, the frosty irony, the heartbreak, the fullness, the exoticism, the great adventure, the despair. You won’t sell your soul to the devil, you won’t go clad in sandals to throw yourself into the crater of Mount Etna, you won’t destroy the seventh wonder of the world. Everything is ready for your death: the bullet that will end your days was cast long ago, the weeping women who will follow your casket have already been appointed.

Why climb to the peak of the highest hills when you would only have to come back down again, and, when you are down, how would you avoid spending the rest of your life telling the story of how you got up there? Why should you keep up the pretense of living? Why should you carry on? Don’t you already know everything that will happen to you? Haven’t you already been all that you were meant to be: the worthy son of your mother and father, the brave little boy scout, the good pupil who could have done better, the childhood friend, the distant cousin, the handsome soldier, the the impoverished young man? Just a little more effort, not even a little more effort, just a few more years, and you will be the middle manager, the esteemed colleague. Good husband, good father, good citizen. War veteran. One by one, you will climb, like a frog, the rungs on the ladder of success. You’ll be able to choose, from an extensive and varied range, the personality that best befits your aspirations, it will be carefully tailored to measure: will you be decorated? cultured? an epicure? a physician of body and soul? an animal lover? will you devote your spare time to massacring, on an out-of-tune piano, innocent sonatas that never did you any harm? Or will you smoke a pipe in your rocking chair, telling yourself that, all in all, life’s been good to you?

No. You prefer to be the missing piece of the puzzle. You’re getting out while the going’s good. You’re not stacking any odds in your favour or putting any eggs in any baskets. You’re putting the cart before the horse, you’re throwing the helve after the hatchet, you’re counting your chickens before they’re hatched and eating the calf in the belly of the cow, you’re drinking your liquid assets, taking French leave, you are leaving and you are not looking back.

You won’t listen to any more sound advice. You won’t ask for any remedies. You will go your own way, you will look to the trees, the water, the stones, the sky, your face, the clouds, the ceiling, the void.'

Georges Perec, A Man Asleep

Monday, 30 July 2012

Tribute to Chris Marker

Poetic-political documentary filmmaker Chris Marker's death was announced today. A Guardian Obituary here: THANKS FOR THE MEMORIES CM!

Friday, 15 June 2012

The Forgotten Space

Sunday 24 June | Doors 8pm | Admission Free

The Forgotten Space by Allan Sekula & Noël Burch
US/Austria/Netherlands, 2010, (111 mins)

The sea is forgotten until disaster strikes. But perhaps the biggest seagoing disaster is the global supply chain, which – maybe in a more fundamental way than financial speculation – leads the world economy to the abyss.


New venue (TBC)

The Pullens Centre
184 Crampton street,
London SE17 3AE

Tube: Elephant and Castle  

Notes for a Film
by Allan Sekula & Noël Burch

Our film is about globalization and the sea, the “forgotten space” of our modernity. First and foremost, globalization is the penetration of the multinational corporate economy into every nook and cranny of human life. It is the latest incarnation of an imperative that has long been accepted as vital necessity, even before economics could claim the status of a science. The first law of proto-capitalism: markets must multiply through foreign trade or they will stagnate and die. As the most sophisticated of the 17th century defenders of mercantilism, William Petty, put it: “There is much more to be gained by Manufacture than Husbandry, and by Merchandize than Manufacture. A Seaman is in effect three Husbandmen.” (Political Arithmetick, 1690). The contemporary vision of an integrated, globalized, self-regulating capitalist world economy can be traced back to some of these axioms of the capitalist “spirit of adventure.” And yet what is largely missing from the current picture is any sense of material resistance to the expansion of the market imperative. Investment flows intangibly, through the ether, as if by magic. Money begets money. Wealth is weightless. Sea trade, when it is remembered at all, is a relic of an older and obsolete economy, a world of decrepitude, rust, and creaking cables, of the slow movement of heavy things. If Petty’s old fable held that a seafarer was worth three peasants, neither count for much in the even more fabulous new equation. And yet we would all die without the toil of farmers and seafarers. Those of us who travel by air, or who “go surfing” on the Web, scarcely think of the sea as a space of transport any more. We live instead in the age of cyberspace, of instantaneous electronic contact between everywhere and everywhere else. In this fantasy world the very concept of distance is abolished. More than 90% of the world’s cargo moves by sea, and yet educated people in the developed world believe that material goods travel as they do, by air, and that money, traveling in the blink of an eye, is the abstract source of all wealth. Our premise is that the sea remains the crucial space of globalization. Nowhere else is the disorientation, violence, and alienation of contemporary capitalism more manifest, but this truth is not self-evident, and must be approached as a puzzle, or mystery, a problem to be solved. The factory system is no longer concentrated in the developed world but has become mobile and dispersed. As ships become more like buildings, the giant floating warehouses of the “just-in-time” system of distribution, factories begin to resemble ships, stealing away stealthily in the night, restlessly searching for ever cheaper labor. A garment factory in Los Angeles or Hong Kong closes, the work benches and sewing machines reappear in the suburbs of Guangzhou or Dacca. In the automobile industry, for example, the function of the ship is akin to that of conveyor systems within the old integrated car factory: parts span the world on their journey to the final assembly line. The function of sea trade is no longer a separate, mercantilist enterprise, but has become an integral component of the world-industrial system. We are distracted from the full implications of this insight by two powerful myths, which stifle curiosity. The first myth is that the sea nothing more than a residual mercantilist space, a reservoir of cultural and economic anachronisms. The second myth is that we live in a post-industrial society, that cybernetic systems and the service economy have radically marginalized the “old economy” of heavy material fabrication and processing . Thus the fiction of obsolescence mobilizes vast reserves of sentimental longing for things which are not really dead. Our response to these myths is that the sea is the key to understanding globalized industrialism. Without a thoroughly modern and sophisticated “revolution” in ocean-going cargo-handling technology, the global factory would not exist, and globalization would not be a burning issue. What began in the mid-1950s as a modest American improvement in cargo logistics, an effort to achieve new efficiencies within a particular industry, has now taken on world historic importance. The cargo container, a standardized metal box, capable of being quickly transferred from ship to highway lorry to railroad train, has radically transformed the space and time of port cities and ocean passages. There have been enormous increases in economies of scale. Older transport links, such as the Panama Canal, slide toward obsolescence as ships become more and more gargantuan. Super-ports, pushed far out from the metropolitan center, require vast level tracts for the storage and sorting of containers. The old sheltering deepwater port, with its steep hillsides and its panoramic vistas, is less suited to these new spatial demands than low delta planes that must nonetheless be continually dredged to allow safe passage for the deeper and deeper draft of the new super-ships. Ships are loaded and unloaded in as little as twelve hours, compared to the laborious cargo storage practices of fifty years ago. The old waterfront culture of sailor bars, flophouses, brothels, and ship chandlers gives way either to a depopulated terrain vague or – blessed with the energies of real-estate speculators – to a new artificial maritime space of theme restaurants, aestheticized nautical relics and expensive ocean-view condominiums. As the class character of the port cities changes, the memory of mutiny and rebellion, of intense class struggle by dockers, seafarers, fishermen, and shipyard workers-struggles that were fundamental to the formation of the institutions of social democracy and free trade-unionism-fades from public awareness. What tourist in today’s Amsterdam is drawn to the old monument commemorating dock-workers’ heroic but futile strike to prevent the Nazi deportation of the Dutch Jews? If the cargo container represents one instrument of maritime transformation, the companion instrument is not logistical but legal. This is the flag of convenience system of ship registry. Here again, the Americans were in the lead, seeking to break powerful maritime unions in the wake of the second world war. If globalization is understood by many in the world today as Americanization , the maritime world gives us, then, these two examples of the revolutionary and often brutal ingenuity of American business practices. The flag of convenience system allows for ships owned in rich countries to be registered in poor countries. It was created to obscure legal responsibility for safety and fair labor practices. Today’s seafaring crews are drawn for the old and new Third Worlds: Filipinos, Chinese, Indonesians, Ukranians, Russians. The conditions they endure are not unlike those experienced by the lascars of the 18th century. A consequence of the global production-distribution system is that links between port and hinterland become all the more important. It is not just the port that is transformed, but the highway and rail system, the very transport infrastructure of a country or a continent, as evidenced by the Betuwe line in Holland or the dangerous saturation of truck traffic in Alpine tunnels. The boxes are everywhere, mobile and anonymous, their contents hidden from view. One could say that these containers are “coffins of remote labor-power” carrying goods manufactured somewhere else, by invisible workers on the other side of the globe. We are told by the apologists of globalization that this accelerated flow is indispensable for our continued prosperity and for the deferred future prosperity of those who labor so far away. But perhaps, this is a case for Pandora, or for her more clairvoyant sister, Cassandra. Our film moves between four port cities: Bilbao, Rotterdam, Los Angeles, and Hong Kong. It visits the industrial hinterland in south China, and the transport hinterland in the heart of Holland. Of the four port cities, three can be classed as “super-ports,” the largest in the world. Here we encounter functional hypertrophy. Bilbao, a fading port with a brave maritime history, has become the site of radical symbolic transformation of derelict maritime space. In Bilbao, functional atrophy coexists with symbolic hypertrophy, a delirium of neo-baroque maritime nostalgia wedded to the equally delirious promise of the “new economy.” Los Angeles, July 2010

Tuesday, 15 May 2012

News from Ideological Antiquity

Sunday 27 May | Doors 7pm | Admission Free

News from Ideological Antiquity 
Directed by Alexander Kluge, Germany, 2010, (84 mins)

Pamphlet of expanded materials about the film here

Alexander Kluge's film is a discursive essay about and around Eisenstein's notes on a film of Marx's Capital - written shortly after the release of October in 1927 and connected to his ideas for conceiving a film of Joyce's Ulysses. According to Helmet Merker writing on the 570 minute version, 'Eighty years on, Alexander Kluge joins the party and takes up where Eisenstein failed, because neither Hollywood's capitalists nor Moscow's Communists were prepared to send the necessary funds his way… Scholarly stuff, wide and deep in scope, yet bold and playful. But even if your own study of Marx is no more than a faded memory, it is hugely enjoyable to watch and listen to these experts… Alexander Kluge is a great manipulator, an industrious loom, who weaves the most far-flung observations into his system. He is not filming Das Kapital but researching how one might find images to make Marx's book filmable. The quest is the way is the destination… In Kluge's hands this becomes a collage of documentary, essayistic and fictional scenes, interviews and still photos, archive images of smoking factory chimneys, time-lapse footage of pounding machines and mountains of products, diary entries and blackboards scribbled with quotes referencing constructivism and concrete poetry…'

Marx and Montage



From New Left Review,  58, July-August 2009

It is always good to have a new Kluge, provided you know what lies in store for you. His latest film, News from Ideological Antiquity—some nine hours long—is divided into three parts: I. Marx and Eisenstein in the Same House; II. All Things are Bewitched People; III. Paradoxes of Exchange Society. [1] Rumour has it that Kluge has here filmed Eisenstein’s 1927–28 project for a film version of Marx’s Capital, whereas in fact only Kluge’s first part deals with this tantalizing matter. The rumour has been spread by the same people who believe Eisenstein actually wrote a sketch for a film on Capital, whereas he only jotted down some twenty pages of notes over a half-year period. [2] And at least some of these people know that he was enthusiastic about Joyce’s Ulysses during much the same time and ‘planned’ a film on it, a fact that distorts their fantasies about the Capital project as well. Yet if Eisenstein’s notes for film projects all looked like this until some of them were turned into ‘real’—that is to say, fiction or narrative—films, it is only fair to warn viewers that Kluge’s ‘real’ films look more like Eisenstein’s notes.
Many important intellectuals have—as it were, posthumously—endorsed Marxism: one thinks of Derrida’s Spectres of Marx and of Deleuze’s unrealized Grandeur de Marx, along with any number of more contemporary witnesses to the world crisis (‘we are all socialists now’, etc.). Is Kluge’s new film a recommitment of that kind? Is he still a Marxist? Was he ever one? And what would ‘being a Marxist’ mean today? The Anglo-American reader may even wonder how the Germans in general now relate to their great national classic, with rumours of hundreds of Capital reading groups springing up under the auspices of the student wing of the Linkspartei. Kluge says this in the accompanying printed matter: ‘The possibility of a European revolution seems to have vanished; and along with it the belief in a historical process that can be directly shaped by human consciousness’. [3] That Kluge believes in collective pedagogy, however, and in the reappropriation of negative learning processes by positive ones, in what one might call a reorientation of experience by way of a reconstruction of ‘feelings’ (a key or technical term for him): this is evident not only in his interpretive comments on his various films and stories, but also in such massive theoretical volumes as his Geschichte und Eigensinn—History and Obstinacy—written in collaboration with Oskar Negt.
All of these works bear on history; and of few countries can one say that they have lived so much varied history as Germany. Balzac’s work would have been impossible without the extraordinary variety of historical experience encountered by the French, from revolution to world empire, from foreign occupation to economic reconstruction, and not excluding unspeakable suffering and failure along with war crimes and atrocities. Kluge’s stories, or anecdotes, or faits divers—some thousands of pages of them—draw on a comparable mass of historical raw material.
But history is something you have to dig up and to dig in: like Kluge’s heroine Gabi Teichert in Die Patriotin, who literally gets out her spade and frantically excavates, scrabbling for clues to the past in bones and potsherds. And not necessarily in vain: in another film, the knee of a German soldier’s skeleton testifies and tells some ‘useful’ war stories. Indeed, News from Ideological Antiquity has its own share of zany or even idiotic moments—a pair of actors reading Marx’s incomprehensible prose aloud and in unison to one another, a ddr instructor explaining ‘liquidity’ to a recalcitrant pupil, and even a kind of concluding satyr play in which the (rather tiresome) comedian Helge Schneider plays a variety of Marx-inspired roles, complete with wigs, false beards and other circus paraphernalia. For as Kluge tells us, ‘we must let Till Eulenspiegel pass across Marx and Eisenstein both, in order to create a confusion allowing knowledge and emotions to be combined together in new ways’. [4]
Meanwhile, on a less jocular level, we confront a sometimes interminable series of talking heads—Enzensberger, Sloterdijk, Dietmar Dath, Negt and other authorities—as they confront the typical Kluge interview, part prompting, part leading questions, part cross-examining his own witnesses. We glimpse a weird project of Werner Schroeter, in which Wagner’s Tristan and Isolde is acted out through the conflict on the bridge in Battleship Potemkin (‘the rebirth of Tristan out of the spirit of Potemkin’); along with excerpts from operas by Luigi Nono and Max Brand, not to speak of the classics. We see a short by Tom Tykwer on the humanization of objects, sequences on the assassination of Rosa Luxemburg and, on a lighter note, an evening with Marx and Wilhelm Liebknecht. Many film clips and stills are interpolated, mostly from the silent period, and dramatic graphics from both Marxian and Eisensteinian texts make it clear that the intertitles of the silent period could be electrifying indeed, if resurrected in bold colour and dramatic typography. It is Kluge’s own version of the Eisensteinian ‘montage of attractions’ (this filmmaker might say ‘of feelings’). Viewers unaccustomed to his practices may well find this an unbelievable hodge-podge. But they too can eventually learn to navigate this prodigious site of excavation: not yet a full-fledged and professionally organized museum, this is an immense dig, with all kinds of people, amateur and specialist alike, milling around in various states of activity, some mopping their brows or eating a sandwich, others lying full-length on the ground in order to brush dirt from a jawbone, still others sorting various items into the appropriate boxes on tables sheltered by a tent, if not taking a nap or lecturing a novice, treading a narrow path so as not to step on the evidence. It is our first contact with ideological antiquity.

Eisenstein’s version

Among the more recognizable fragments is, to be sure, that ‘new work on a libretto by Karl Marx’, the ‘film treatise’ which was supposedly Eisenstein’s next project after October, the alleged film of Capital. As always, Eisenstein’s notes are so many reflexions on his own practice, past and future; characteristically, they re-read his own work as a progression of forms, like progress in scientific experimentation. There is no point leaving this narcissism unacknowledged—it is the source of much of the pedagogical and didactic excitement and enthusiasm of his writings; but we do not necessarily have to accept his own assessments of his career, especially since they varied greatly throughout his life.
Here, for example, he will read his work in terms of abstraction: as the progressive conquest of abstraction from Potemkin through October to the current project. (We might have preferred him to characterize it as the enlargement of his filmic conquest of the concrete to include abstraction, but never mind.) Predictably, we move from the rising lions in Potemkin to that ‘treatise on deity’ which is the icons/idols sequence in October. [5] These moments are then to be seen as essay-like vertical interruptions in a horizontal narrative; and this is precisely why the Eisenstein–Joyce discussion is irrelevant here.
Commentators—and not only Kluge himself—have fastened on the jotting, ‘a day in a man’s life’ as the evidence for believing Eisenstein to have imagined a plot sequence like that of Joyce’s Bloomsday. [6] Later on, they note the addition of a second ‘plot line’, that of social reproduction and ‘the “house-wifely virtues” of a German worker’s wife’, along with the reminder: ‘throughout the entire picture the wife cooks soup for her returning husband’, the unspecified ‘man’ of the earlier sequence having logically enough become a worker. This alleged routine cross-cutting—to which one should probably add the day in the life of a capitalist or a merchant—is being ruminated at the very same historical moment when, as Annette Michelson points out, Dziga Vertov is filming Man with a Movie Camera. [7]
It is true: ‘Joyce may be helpful for my purpose’, notes Eisenstein. But what follows is utterly different from the ‘day in the life of’ formula. For Eisenstein adds: ‘from a bowl of soup to the British vessels sunk by England’. [8] What has happened is that we have forgotten the presence, in Ulysses, of chapters stylistically quite different from the day’s routine format. But Eisenstein has not: ‘In Joyce’s Ulysses there is a remarkable chapter of this kind, written in the manner of a scholastic catechism. Questions are asked and answers given’. [9] But what is he referring to when he says, ‘of this kind’?
It is clear that Kluge already knows the answer, for in his filmic discussion of the notes, the pot of soup has become a water kettle, boiling away and whistling: the image recurs at several moments in the exposition (Eisenstein’s notes projected in graphics on the intertitles), in such a way that this plain object is ‘abstracted’ into the very symbol of energy. It boils impatiently, vehemently it demands to be used, to be harnessed, it is either the whistling signal for work, for work stoppage, for strikes, or else the motor-power of a whole factory, a machine for future production . . . Meanwhile, this is the very essence of the language of silent film, by insistence and repetition to transform their objects into larger-than-life symbols; a procedure intimately related to the close-up. But this is also what Joyce does in the catechism chapter; and Ulysses’s first great affirmation, the first thunderous ‘yes’, comes here and not in Molly’s closing words: it is the primal force of water streaming from the reservoir into Dublin and eventually finding its way indomitably to Bloom’s faucet. [10] (In Eisenstein the equivalent would be the milk separator of The General Line.)

The German worker’s wife

It is at this point that we glimpse what Eisenstein really has in mind here: something like a Marxian version of Freudian free association—the chain of hidden links that leads us from the surface of everyday life and experience to the very sources of production itself. As in Freud, this is a vertical plunge downward into the ontological abyss, what he called ‘the navel of the dream’; it interrupts the banal horizontal narrative and stages an associative cluster charged with affect. It is worth quoting Eisenstein’s full notation at this point:
Throughout the entire picture the wife cooks soup for her returning husband. nb Could be two themes intercut for association: the soup-cooking wife and the home-returning husband. Completely idiotic (all right in the first stages of a working hypothesis): in the third part (for instance), association moves from the pepper with which she seasons food. Pepper. Cayenne. Devil’s Island. Dreyfus. French chauvinism. Figaro in Krupp’s hands. War. Ships sunk in the port. (Obviously, not in such quantity!!) nb Good in its non-banality—transition: pepper–Dreyfus–Figaro. It would be good to cover the sunken English ships (according to Kushner, 103 days abroad) with the lid of a saucepan. It could even be not pepper—but kerosene for a stove and transition into oil. [11]
Eisenstein proposes to do here what Brecht tried for in the coffee debate on the subway in Kuhle Wampe: to trace the visible symptoms back to their absent (or untotalizable) causes. But the dramatist’s attempt is hijacked by our inevitable attention to the characters arguing, whereas Eisenstein aims, however crudely (‘completely idiotic’, but just a first draft), to draw the whole dripping complex up into the light as a montage of images. (The more appropriate cross-references were always Benjamin’s omission of commentary in the Arcades constellations, and even Pound’s ideograms—both of them also projects of a kind of synchronic historical representation.) Eisenstein’s inevitable theorization of what he calls ‘discursive film’ centres on ‘de-anecdotalization’ as the central process here, and then finds its analogy in ‘the working theory of “overtones”’ [12] which he was to develop a year later in his essay, ‘The Filmic Fourth Dimension’, in which a formulation in terms of ‘physiological stimuli’ will seek to displace the widely accepted Russian Formalist doctrine of the renewal of perception, of aesthetics’ ostranenie, ‘making strange’. Here there would be not only a conflict between the temporality of film (montage) and the simultaneity of the causal links or associations, but also a tension between the affective and the cognitive. Thus he writes of The General Line:
This montage is built, not on particular dominants, but takes as its guide the total stimulation through all stimuli. That is the original montage complex within the shot, arising from the collision and combination of the individual stimuli inherent in it. [13]
The theory of ‘overtones’ tended not only to foreground the bodily nature of sheer feeling—‘the physiological quality of Debussy and Scriabin’—but also, by way of technical musical terms like ‘dominant’ and the contrapuntal, along with ‘visual’ overtones and undertones, to stake out the complexity of this whole ‘fourth dimension’ itself, which has inspired so much contemporary activity in so-called affect theory. It seems probable that the old myth of the ‘persistence of vision’—the previous image subsisting briefly on the retina as the new perception comes to overlay and then replace it, a conception which has its musical analogue in pedal points—suggests a possible synthesis between the temporal succession of cinema and the contents of the individual images. But it does not resolve the tension that the most highly developed models of affect entertain with the cognitive content of these complexes; or in other words the Marxian attention to the production, distribution and consumption at work behind the phenomenological surface of everyday life and experience—going behind the scenes, as Marx describes it in Capital. The old problem of didactic art is not solved here, unless we are to think that knowledge of capitalism is at one with rage (Potemkin) or that the construction of socialism is at one with a sublime joy, as in the transcendental vision of the milk separator in The General Line.
Kluge does not try to reproduce the pepper sequence; but he does do something with another Eisensteinian motif:
woman’s stocking full of holes and a silk one in a newspaper advertisement. It starts with a jerky movement, to multiply into 50 pairs of legs—Revue, Silk, Art. The fight for the centimetre of silk stocking. The aesthetes are for it. The Bishops and morality are against. [14]
But Kluge’s rather decorative rehearsal of this multi-dimensional social object—he might also have included Kracauer’s Busby Berkeley-like ‘mass ornament’—scarcely reaches the allegorical complexities Eisenstein himself ultimately glimpsed:
On this level, one could solve:
Ein Paar seidene Strumpfe—art.
Ein Paar seidene Strumpfe—morality.
Ein Paar seidene Strumpfe—commerce and competition.
Ein Paar seidene Strumpfe—Indian women forced to incubate the silk cocoon by carrying them in their armpits! [15]
This final detail leads us back to the anecdotal level, which was supposed to have been neutralized in the new ‘discursive’ film language: yet it is surely what gives its piquancy to this vertical montage, just as Devil’s Island and Dreyfus lend the pepper sequence its bite. And in fact, the notes are already full of anecdotal detail, of ‘believe-it-or-not’ faits divers that lead us to the very heart of capital. I like this one: ‘Somewhere in the West. A factory where it is possible to pinch parts and tools. No search of workers made. Instead, the exit gate is a magnetic check point.’ [16] Chaplin would have liked the spectacle of nuts and bolts, hammers and wrenches, flying out of the workers’ pockets.


Elective affinities: Kluge’s own work is very much anecdotal in this sense, the narrative double-take, the unexpected punctum at the heart of what looked at first like a banal occurrence, a taste for the incongruity that is abstracted into his dealings with the great ideas. Deleuze’s magnificent formula—‘a clean-shaven Marx, a bearded Hegel’—would not be alien to him, as he tirelessly suggests new recodings of the stereotypical heritage on his own terms: the future reconstruction of experience, binding affects and knowledge together in new ways.
It is a future which demands the constitution of an antiquity appropriate to it. Yet is this ‘ideological antiquity’ not simply another way of saying that Marx, and with him Marxism, is outmoded? The comic sequences of Kluge’s film, the young couple at various moments in history tormenting each other with a koranic recital of Marx’s abstractions, might lead us to think so. Nor is Eisenstein non-outmoded either, with his baggage of old-fashioned melodrama, old-fashioned silent film, old-fashioned montage. Lenin and intertitles! Itself a seemingly dreary prospect for a digital postmodernity . . .
Yet one dimly remembers Marx’s own feelings for antiquity: Prometheus and Aristotle’s theory of value, Epicurus and Hegel’s thoughts on Homer. And then there is the question with which the great 1857 draft introduction to the Grundrisse breaks off: ‘the difficulty lies not in understanding that Greek art and epic poetry are bound up with certain forms of social development. The difficulty is that they still give us aesthetic pleasure and are in certain respects regarded as a standard and unattainable model.’ [17] Marx was anything but nostalgic, and he understood that the polis was a limited and thereby contradictory social formation to which one could scarcely return; and also that any future socialism would be far more complex than capitalism itself, as Raymond Williams once observed.
For the concept of antiquity may have the function of placing us in some new relationship with the Marxian tradition and with Marx himself—as well as Eisenstein. Marx is neither actual nor outmoded: he is classical, and the whole Marxist and Communist tradition, more or less equal in duration to Athens’s golden age, is precisely that golden age of the European left, to be returned to again and again with the most bewildering and fanatical, productive and contradictory results. [18] And if it is objected that it would be an abomination to glamorize an era that included Stalinist executions and the starvation of millions of peasants, a reminder of the bloodiness of Greek history might also be in order—the eternal shame of Megara, let alone the no less abominable miseries of slave society as such. Greece was Sparta as much as Athens, Sicily as much as Marathon; and the Soviet Union was also the deathknell of Nazism and the first sputnik, the People’s Republic of China the awakening of countless millions of new historical subjects. The category of classical antiquity may not be the least productive framework in which a global left reinvents an energizing past for itself.

[1] Alexander Kluge, Nachrichten aus der ideologischen Antike (News from Ideological Antiquity), 3 dvds, Frankfurt 2008.
[2] These are published as Eisenstein’s ‘Notes for a Film of Capital’, translated by Maciej Sliwowski, Jay Leyda and Annette Michelson, in October: The First Decade, Cambridge, ma 1987, pp. 115–38; they first appeared in October 2, 1976; hereafter nfc.
[3] Kluge, Nachrichten, p. 4.
[4] Kluge, Nachrichten, p. 16.
[5] nfc, p. 116.
[6] nfc, p. 127.
[7] nfc, p. 127, fn 19.
[8] nfc, p. 127. This enigmatic reference is itself referenced in the longer quote from p. 129 given below.
[9] nfc, p. 119.
[10] See ‘Ulysses in History’, in The Modernist Papers, London and New York 2007.
[11] nfc, p. 129. Of the soup-cooking, Eisenstein has noted: ‘the “house-wifely virtues” of a German worker’s wife constitute the greatest evil, the strongest obstacle to a revolutionary uprising. A German worker’s wife will always have something warm for her husband, will never let him go completely hungry. And there is the root of her negative role which slows the pace of social development. In the plot, this could take the form of “hot slop”, and the meaning of this on “a world scale”’: nfc, p. 128.
[12] nfc, pp. 116–7.
[13] Eisenstein, ‘The Filmic Fourth Dimension’, in Film Form, New York 1949, p. 67.
[14] nfc, p. 129
[15] nfc, p. 137.
[16] nfc, p. 121.
[17] Marx and Engels, Collected Works, vol. 28, New York 1986, p. 47.
[18] Something like this is what Peter Weiss’s Aesthetics of Resistance can be said to be attempting.