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A Grin Without A Cat (Chris Marker) 1977

 

    In its best moments, A Grin Without a Catł Chris Markerís epic documentary about the worldwide Leftist movement from the mid-sixties to the mid-seventies, achieves a sort of filmic epiphany that revels in the true potential of the medium. Through its impressive collage of recordings, it suggests that media is capable of totally capturing the sentiment of a moment, even when the filmmaker doesnít necessarily intend it to, as one shaky cameramanís jittery footage suggests. Marker, like Eisenstein (whose agitprop Battleship Potemkin is evoked throughout), also believes in its ability to create a sense of upheaval where there was none before. There are several instances the film where we see the direct application of media as propaganda, most notably in a scene in which the American Army broadcasts the sound of a dying man across the Vietnamese jungles in order to demoralize the troops, but the impression emerges that most propaganda is far less obvious. By bouncing his found footage against scenes from Potemkin, Marker seems to suggest that there is an intrinsic link between political revolution and the revolution that makes still images move when projected onscreen at 24 frames per second, and that link seems to be movement itself. The fictional images that Eisenstein filmed in the twenties and the documentary images of riots from the sixties that Marker includes look startlingly similar. A feeling of global inertia emerges in the film, as Marker connects the world-spanning events that he opts to show, illustrating how the advance or defeat of one group of socialists usually prodded another to act, creating an extraordinary chain of events.

   

    Seizing onto the interplay between nations (which couldnít possibly exist in a world without mass communication), Marker manages to create a worldwide narrative, of sorts, in which the struggles of the Left are chronicled. What becomes apparent, even to a political neophyte like myself, while watching the film, is that most of the early struggles of the Left were inherent in its inability to consolidate itself enough in order to form a majority. That consolidation eventually occurs, but it brings with it a series of compromises that place the Left too close to the Right to be successful in its attempts to garner public opinion. Marker doesnít drudge up much sympathy for anyone involved, however, and he exposes the doublespeak inherent in the political speeches of either side with equal aplomb. Even the masses fall under his scrutiny. Most of the common people that Marker (who credits himself here as an editor and creator of the soundtrack, but not as director) shows are far more concerned with petty bourgeois comforts than political stances. These arenít exactly earth-shattering revelations, but the director presents them in an order that makes their interrelatedness feel revelatory. Originally completed in 1977, and slightly reedited in 1992, A Grin Without a Cat seems eerily prescient in most of its observations. Due to its unusual intelligence and its surprising lyricism, any cynicism can be forgiven easily. 

* * * 1/2 

5-6-02 

Jeremy Heilman