The Society of the Spectacle | Movie Critic's Choice | Chicago Reader

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The Society of the Spectacle


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A work that often appears to be slapped together rather than composed, this provocative 1973 black-and-white experimental essay film by the late, legendary Guy Debord fascinates not only as a rebellious statement within a post-1968 French context but also as a work that may seem typically French intellectual in a contemporary American context. Adapted from his 1967 book of the same title, the film was recently subtitled by filmmaker Keith Sanborn and is being presented on half-inch video (though it was made in 35 millimeter). A theoretical post-Marxist film offering extended blocks of text (to be read or heard) about media and spectacle along with clips of movies ranging from silent Russian classics to Johnny Guitar and Rio Grande (both dubbed into French) to The Shanghai Gesture and Mr. Arkadin to softcore porn, it isn't put together to entertain or even to go down easily, but it rarely ceases to be stimulating. Debord, who went from being a lettrist (1952) to an early situationist (1959 to '61) to a post-situationist (1972 to '75), refused to let any of his films be shown anywhere for nearly a decade after his friend, publisher, and producer was assassinated and Debord was subsequently denounced in the French press as a terrorist--a self-imposed ban that he removed only a few months before his recent suicide. This film, apparently his longest, remains a priceless document. Kino-Eye Cinema at Chicago Filmmakers, 1543 W. Division, Friday, October 11, 8:00, 384-5533.

--Jonathan Rosenbaum

Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): film still.

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