American Mythologies AND Field Diary

Facets Multimedia Center is screening these two documentaries by Israeli-born filmmaker Amos Gitai on successive days, and though I don't like American Mythologies (1981, 104 min.) nearly as much as Field Diary (1982, 82 min.), when viewed as a pair they show that one can often maintain a sharper focus from the center than from the sidelines. American Mythologies, made around the time of the Iranian hostage crisis and Reagan's rise to power, is accurately described by Gitai as “a montage of visual and aural fragments which represent America for me: a very brutal society with a few people on its periphery trying to behave like human beings.” The alienation implicit in that remark points to the film's limited viewpoint, despite fascinating interviews with Jane Fonda (who poignantly swears that her political radicalization is irreversible), the head of programming for NBC, a fashion designer, a Native American woman, and various hippies. The powerful Field Diary, on the other hand—whose negative reception in Israel ultimately played a role in Gitai moving to France—is coherent both formally and thematically, in part because Gitai is intimately acquainted with his subjects: the Israeli occupation of the Gaza Strip and West Bank, the invasion of Lebanon, and the ways “violence against the Palestinians is 'legitimised.'” The film consists of about 50 extended takes, often with the camera moving relentlessly across a given terrain, and as French critic Yann Lardeau has remarked, it illustrates with a vengeance Godard's maxim that a tracking shot is a moral matter (the Israeli soldiers' reluctance to be filmed and Gitai's dogged observation of them become an important part of the theme). Especially brilliant is the way Gitai plays against his images with music, conversation, and other sounds (including a radio play for children) and with explanatory and analytical superimposed titles.

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