The Society of the Spectacle | Chicago Reader

The Society of the Spectacle

A work that often appears to be deliberately slapped together rather than composed, this provocative 1973 black-and-white experimental essay film by the late, legendary Guy Debord—adapted from his 1967 book of the same title—fascinates not only as a rebellious statement within a post-1968 French context but as a work that may seem “typically” French intellectual in a contemporary American context. A theoretical post-Marxist film, it offers extended blocks of text (to be read or heard) about media and spectacle, along with clips of movies that range from silent Russian classics to Johnny Guitar and Rio Grande (both dubbed into French) to The Shanghai Gesture and Mr. Arkadin to soft-core porn. It isn't put together to entertain or even to go down easily, but it rarely ceases to be stimulating. Debord refused to let any of his films be shown anywhere for nearly a decade after his publisher-producer was assassinated and he himself was denounced in the French press as a terrorist—a self-imposed ban that he removed only a few months before his suicide. This film, apparently his longest, remains a priceless document.

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