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TSPDT 2013: A Grin Without a Cat

Posted by martinteller on February 23, 2013

Some films just aren’t made for me.  When I read other reviews for Chris Marker’s documentary/essay, I see words like “masterpiece”, “extraordinary”, “poetry”, “genius”, “remarkable”, “tour de force” and “required viewing”.  The praise is effusive and nearly unanimous.

But for me, it was kind of a bore.  I blame my lack of interest in political filmmaking.  When people start talking about communism, socialism, Leninism, Marxism, Stalinism, Taoism… my eyes glaze over, my mind tunes out.  Marker assembles three hours of clips (some his own footage, some from films like Minamata, some newsreels and whatnot) illustrating the rise and fall of the “New Left” around the world in 1967/68.  Some of it is really interesting… an American soldier gleefully expounding on the virtues of napalm, Castro’s habit of fiddling with microphones during his speeches, political protests from many nations being edited together.  And the overall theme, about the failure of the left to unite under a consistent, cohesive ideology, is one that intrigues me and is relevant today.  Although Marker clearly sides with the left, he does not hesistate to point out their shortcomings, their ignorance and hypocrisy, their confusing, conflicting messages.

But so much of the film is people droning on about abstract political concepts that I repeatedly found myself struggling to stay invested.  The workers this and Guevara that and capitalism the other thing — it all just becomes mush to me.  I appreciate the ambition of the project.  Collecting and assembling all this footage, finding connections and building juxtapositions… it’s a big, impressive film.  But tasked with reviewing it, I have to be honest with myself and give my personal reaction: this is simply not my kind of film.  There are certainly compelling moments, and wit and wisdom to be found, and an intriguing use of electronic music/noise on the soundtrack.  But the overall experience, although occasionally enlightening, was not my cup of tea.  Rating: Fair (67)

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