poetry in motion

SOCIETY OF THE SPECTACLE > GUY DEBORD

Not exactly a poem, more a tour de force of revolutionary conceptual explorations through words and image by French Situationist philosopher Guy Debord. This film pioneered a technique of video montage we might now call a ‘mashup’, in a complex and challenging prose that explores the relationship between society, culture, politics, art, media, and the abstraction of values that becomes almost a riddle of it’s own self. It is a manifesto in the form of experimental video. Philosophy presented so originall it almost becomes one extended theoretical poem. Almost.

“On the Society of the Spectacle (Original Announcement for the Film)”

Until now it has generally been assumed that film is a completely unsuitable medium for presenting revolutionary theory. This view was mistaken. The lack of any serious attempts in this direction stemmed simply from the historical lack of a modern revolutionary theory during virtually the entire period of the cinema’s development; as well as from the fact that the potentials of cinematic composition, despite so many declarations of intent on the part of filmmakers and so much feigned satisfaction on the part of a miserable public, have as yet scarcely been liberated.

Published in 1967, The Society of the Spectacle is a book whose theoretical insights have profoundly influenced the new current of social critique that is now more and more openly undermining the established world order. Its present cinematic adaptation, like the book itself, does not offer a few partial political critiques, but a total critique of the existing world; that is, a critique of all aspects of modern capitalism and of its general system of illusions.

The cinema is itself an integral part of this world, serving as one of the instruments of the separate representation that opposes and dominates the actual proletarianized society. As revolutionary critique engages in battle on the very terrain of the cinematic spectacle, it must thus turn the language of that medium against itself and give itself a form that is itself revolutionary.

The text and images of this film form a coherent whole; but the images are never mere direct illustrations of the text, much less demonstrations of it (cinematic “demonstrations” are in any case never reliable due to the unlimited possibilities of manipulation offered by the unilateral editing of the material). Instead, the film’s use of images (whether photographs, newsclips, or sequences from preexisting films) is governed by the principle of détournement, which the situationists have defined as “communication that includes a critique of itself.” The images through which spectacular society presents itself to itself are taken and turned against it: the spectacle’s means should be treated with insolence. As a result, in a certain sense this film, coming at the end of the cinema’s pseudo-autonomous history, incorporates all the memories of that history. It can thus be seen simultaneously as a historical film, a Western, a love story, a war movie, etc. Like the society it examines, it also presents a number of comical aspects. In talking about the spectacular order, and about the commodity domination that it serves, one is also talking about what this order hides: class struggles and strivings toward real historical life, revolution and its past failures, and the responsibilities for those failures. Nothing in this film is made to please the fashionable blockheads of leftist cinema: it has equal contempt for what they respect and for the style in which they express that respect. One who is capable of understanding and denouncing an entire socio-economic formation will denounce it even in a film. Objections to our “extremism” are meaningless, because current history is already on the verge of going beyond the most extreme possibilities imagined.

Theses that have never before been presented in the cinema will now appear there in a never before seen form, simply because for the first time a filmmaker has undertaken an uncompromising critique.

In the socio-economic context, the total freedom required to create such a film obviously means that the producer must renounce any claim to exert any preliminary control over the director, whether by insisting that he present a synopsis or by seeking to obtain from him any other sort of meaningless commitment. This has been recognized in the contract between the filmmaker and the producer, Simar Films: “It is understood that the filmmaker will carry out his work in complete freedom, without any control or supervision whatsoever, and without even being obliged to pay the slightest attention to any comment that the producer might make regarding any aspect of the content or of the cinematic form that the filmmaker feels appropriate for his film.”

Considering that this film itself expresses its meaning in a sufficiently comprehensible manner, the producer and the filmmaker believe that it is unnecessary to provide any further explanations.

1974

bopsecrets.org/SI/debord.films/spectacle-announcement.htm

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