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"An underground revolutionary group struggles against internal strife to stage urban guerilla attacks against a fictionalized fascist regime in the United States. Interspersed throughout the narrative are rhetorical sequences that explain the philosophy of radical action and restrain the melodrama inherent in the thriller genre." Written by
Laurence Kardish, Museum of Modern Art
So every once in a while I see a film that's different, from a time when cinema wasn't tapioca, from strange distant vents where people thought that cinema could help us to live, help to change the way the world was. I watched Ice, a film from 1970, and couldn't believe that it had survived. It was a pretty messed up copy from a DVD-r site. The film is American made and concerns a revolution fomenting in the US. The US has gotten involved in a war in Mexico, looks pretty much like a civil war that the US is playing with, it's basically the filmmakers constructing a second Vietnam only a little closer to home. Anyway the revolutionary movement in the US isn't very happy about this, and organises, all sorts of splinter groups and movements, Hispanic, black, white, with all sorts of different politics. They come together in national and regional councils. There is an armed insurrection.
The way this film is shot is so different from anything else you can see. A couple prepare to have sex quite matter-of-factly, there's no stylisation, no inappropriate voyeurism or obtrusive mise en scène. At one point a man is violently genitally mutilated (also non voyeuristically). It's real vérité.
The structure is very interesting, it's basically two hours of assault by revolutionary ideas, the form can change. At the start we see static shots of public buildings and cityscapes with superimposed logos such as "THE PEOPLE KNOW THE STATE IS THEIR ENEMY". But this can change to vérité filming of the meetings of radical groups, to newsreel footage of the Vietcong, to encounter meetings between a "square" and a revolutionary.
The achievement of the movie is that it actually does feel like a real revolution in the US is being documented, the revolution that never actually happened in the Vietnam War era. It's got a feel like a William Burroughs novel, it's fractured and splintered and confusing, just like a revolution would be. One of the best little touches I felt was when a car screeches to a halt by a city centre street sidewalk, and out are thrown bundles of revolutionary newspapers, which are cut open and left for passers by to pickup. It just had the right feel about it, the kind of feel that makes latter day revolutionary movies like Fight Club (1999) or V for Vendetta (2005) appear laughable. Then you get a scene where some of the guys are dancing in a theatre with Chinese style dragon costumes, apropos of nothing except joie de vivre.
We get back to slogans later, "WE MUST NEGATE THE PRESENT IN ALL ITS FORM AND BUILD THE FUTURE". And written on a person's back, "HUMANITY WON'T BE HAPPY UNTIL THE LAST BUREAUCRAT IS DISSOLVED IN THE BLOOD OF THE LAST CAPITALIST".
There's an interesting few quotes about ideology that I thought I might share,
"False consciousness is people not understanding their ACTUAL role in society, or their UN-FREEDOM. A ruling class propagates false consciousness among the people in order to help themselves hold onto power. False consciousness is peoples' rationalisation for the exploitation & oppression that they experience in their daily lives."
I'm no supporter of violent revolution, however I am great believer in the existence of false ideologies, and that's something this film highlights. It's also not as pushy as it sounds, it really is very much trying to engage with people.
The memory that will probably stick with me the most is of this scene where they get one of these old robot toys with cogs whirring on it's chest and set it trampling around a model they've made of a city block. It's meant to represent the zombie-like destructive state. It's quite brilliant really, I mean to do something like that and for it not to be laughable in the age of Cloverfield I felt was quite impressive.
The movie is fair-handed. It's not a presentation of this revolution as a Carnation revolution. There is internecine conflict between the revolutionary groups, failure to agree, and bloodshed. The great achievement though is that it manages to get the kind of feel of an Arthur Koestler novel, only we're seeing that transposed upon America.
Absolutely essential viewing.
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