ICO Essentials: The Secret Masterpieces of Cinema - Protest


Programme duration 82min
Curated by The Otolith Group, Kodwo Eshun and Anjalika Sagar

In cinemas from 18 May 2008

Essentials: Protest presents iconic cine-pamphlets, cine-manifestos and film-essays that mobilised the social energies of discontent, crisis and struggle that convulsed the 20th century. Drawing upon aesthetic traditions of negation, critique and provocation, these artists use the political forms of montage, collage and appropriation to produce radical interventions. Including: Jean Vigo, Harun Farocki, Jean-Marie Straub and Dani le Huillet, Santiago Alvarez and Jorge Furtado. more

Histoire Du Soldat Inconnu
Henri Storck
Belgium, 1932
At the end of the 1920s, the young filmmaker Henri Storck would borrow copies of newsreels from cinemas in Brussels, edit them during the night in order to highlight their class character and screen them before working class audiences. At the end of the weekend, the copies were re-edited back into their original state before being sent back. Storck developed this informal aesthetic into the compilation film Histoire du Soldat Incomnnu .

In August 1928, the Treaty for Renunciation of War was signed by 15 states; it was widely held to initiate a new era of peace. By 1929, 62 nations had signed. But the Pact was to prove entirely ineffectual; only 2 years later a leading signatory Japan was to invade Manchuria. Storck takes the 1928 newsreel images of the ineffective signing as his point of departure, reediting military parades, wreath laying ceremonies and rejoicing masses together with footage of anti-war demonstrators and skeletons to create an anti-imperialist collage that mocks the authority of the news as much as it does the realpolitik of Empire.

Henri Storck supervised the addition of a soundtrack in 1959.

Propos De Nice
Jean Vigo
France, 1930
The debut film by 24 year old Jean Vigo extends the city of the city symphony into an inflammatory Surrealist hymn to the inequities of leisure and the organisation of space. Boris Kaufman, younger brother of Dziga Vertov and Mikhail Kaufman, infiltrated the holiday resort of Nice, shooting with a hidden camera, spying on the beaches of the wealthy and the quartiers of the urban poor quarters.

In his address to the Groupement des Spectateurs d'Avant-Garde, Vigo stated his position clearly; 'In this film, by showing certain basic aspects of a city, a way of life is put on trial, the last gasps of a society so lost in its escapism that it sickens you and makes you sympathetic to a revolutionary solution.'

Yet the vision of carnival at the heart of
Propos De Nice is more ambiguous than Vigo indicated; the filmmakers voyeuristic exhilaration and ideological repulsion towards their subject meets in a celebrated montage that is riven with conflicting energies.

79 Primaveras
Santiago Alvarez
Cuba, 1969
'I am a product of accelerated underdevelopment... the Cuban Revolution made me a film director. I learnt the job fondly handling millions of feet of film.' Santiago Alvarez

In 1969, Alvarez was invited by to Hanoi by the Communist government of North Vietnam to film the funeral of Ho Chi Minh. 79 Springtimes is a tribute to the revered leader of the Viet Min independence movement who had defeated French Indochina and founded the Democratic Republic of Vietnam. It's title refers to Minh's age at the time of his death. The justly celebrated 12 minute sequence in which newsreel footage of soldiers is destroyed exemplifies Alvarez's declaration that 'my style is the style of hatred for Imperialism.'

Die Worte Des Vorsitzenden
Harun Farocki
Germany, 1967
The Words of the Chairman can be usefully situated within the moment of European fascination with the implications of the Great Proletarian Cultural Revolution, then entering its most intensive phase within China. In his fourth short film Harun Farocki, still a student at the German Film and Television Academy is seen neatly tearing pages from The Quotations of Chairman Mao Tse-Tung, then widely known as The Little Red Book.

The Words of the Chairman is a cine-pamphlet that stages a Maoist formula typical of the era: words can become weapons; but these weapons, in turn are made of words. Looking back on this era, Farocki wrote,

"I was on a ship - this sounds like a novel: I had just embarked for Venezuela on June 2, 1967 as the Shah of Iran was arriving in West Berlin. There were protests, a student was shot, and a new form of opposition movement came into existence. The idea for this film came to me while I was still aboard the ship. The film is structured like a commercial. The film takes a metaphor literally: words can become weapons. However, it also shows that these weapons are made of paper. The weapon spoiled everything for the Shah and his wife, they are wearing paper bags on their heads with faces drawn on them - the kind of bags worn by Iranian students during demonstrations to hide their identity from the Savak, the Iranian Secret Service. When I showed this film to the audiences in the late Sixties, it was highly praised. I think people understood then that over obviousness is also a form of irony. This capacity was lost a few years later. I think it's coming back today."

Einleitung Zu Arnold Schoenbergs Begleitmusik Zu Einer Lichtspielscene
Jean Marie Straub, Dani le Huillet
Germany, 1973
Introduction to Arnold Schoenberg's Accompaniment to a Cinematographic Score was commissioned by West Germany's Sd-West-Funk television station as one of a series of short films on composers. Schoenberg's Accompaniment to a Cinematographic Score op.34 (1930) was not to be understood as music for an imaginary film but rather as music for an unfilmable, undramatisable sequence of emotions designated by the composer in the brief statement: 'Threatening Danger, Fear, Catastrophe'

Hans Eisler and Theodor Adorno argued that the fear expressed in Schoenberg's dissonances 'far surpasses the measure of fear conceivable to the average middle-class individual; it is a historical fear, a sense of impending doom. 'The negation of musical representability and the opening of abstraction in Schonberg's Accompaniment appealed to Jean Marie Straub and Dani le Huillet whose films often rework pre-existing artworks in order 'to show something already formed by the past, something that affected us, and give it to people so that they can take a stand regarding it just as we did when we made the film'

Introduction... consists of a short introduction by Straub, sitting on a balcony in Rome and a statement by Bertolt Brecht on the connection of economics to fascism from 1935 recited by Dani le Huillet, sitting at home with her cat. Between these sequences, excerpts from two letters that Schoenberg wrote to Wassily Kandinsky in 1923, in which he attacks the quietist politics common to German Jewry of the time and refuses to regard himself as an 'exceptional' Jew, are read into a microphone by two young men in a broadcasting studio; it is here that the Accompaniment to a Cinematographic Score can be heard; it continues until the film concludes with newsreel of US bombs being loaded onto B-52 aircraft and dropped on the rice fields of Vietnam.

Ilha Das Flores
Jorge Furtado
Brazil, 1989
Described by Jorge Furtado as a 'letter to a Martian who knows nothing of the earth and its social systems', Isle of Flowers uses animation, archival footage and parody to indict the distribution of wealth and food around the world. The 'Isle of Flowers' of the title is a garbage dump in Porte Alegre, Brazil, where starving women and children are given five minutes to scrounge for food. In structuring his work as a thesaurus of interconnected definitions, Furtado recycles the audiovisual cliches of Brazilian television commercials, stock footage, newspaper adverts and state radio while parodying the genres of the television quiz show and the educational film with its voice-over. Collage becomes an aesthetic of garbage that offers a vantage point from which to indict society.

Jean Vigo Propos De Nice 1930 courtesy of the BFI, London