In conjunction with Against Cinema: Situationist Film and Its Legacy, an exhibition which seeks to retrace the history and legacy of Situationist film, we’ll be showing the movie La Société du Spectacle(1973) by Guy Debord with an introduction by Ken Knabb at Pro Arts Gallery and COMMONS on Friday, September 6 at 7 PM. The door opens at 6:30 PM.
Free and open to all. CLICK HERE TO REGISTER
About the film
La Société du Spectacle (Society of the Spectacle) is a black-and-white 1973 film by the Situationist Guy Debord, based on his 1967 book of the same name. It was Debord’s first feature-length film. It uses found footage and détournement in a radical Marxist critique of mass marketing and its role in the alienation of modern society.
The 88 minute film took a year to make and incorporates an apparent jumble of footage from feature films juxtaposed with still photographs, industrial films, early 1970s glossy ‘lifestyle’ TV ads, and news footage of unrest in the streets. The feature films include The Battleship Potemkin, October, Chapaev, The New Babylon, The Shanghai Gesture, For Whom the Bell Tolls, Rio Grande, They Died with Their Boots On, Johnny Guitar, and Mr. Arkadin, as well as other Soviet films.
Throughout the film, there are intertitles consisting of quotations from The Society of the Spectacle, along with Debord (in voice-over) reading texts from Marx, Machiavelli, the 1968 Occupation Committee of the Sorbonne, Tocqueville, Émile Pouget, and Sergey Solovyov and others. Without citations, these quotes are hard to decipher, especially with the conflicting subtitles (which exist even in the French version): but that is part of Debord’s goal to “problematize reception” (Greil and Sanborn) and force the viewer to be active. In addition, the words of some of the authors are détourned through deliberate misquoting.
Footage of historical events is included, such as the murder of Lee Harvey Oswald (the assassin of U.S. President John F. Kennedy in 1963), the Spanish Civil War of 1936-1939, the 1956 Hungarian Revolution and the Paris riots in May 1968, along with clips of people such as Mao Zedong, Richard Nixon and the Spanish anarchist Durruti.
In 1984, Debord withdrew his films from circulation because of the negative press and the assassination of his friend and patron Gerard Lebovici. Since Debord’s suicide in 1994, Debord’s wife Alice Becker-Ho has been promoting Debord’s film. A DVD box set titled Guy Debord: Oeuvres cinématographiques complètes was released in 2005 and contains Debord’s seven films.
About Ken Knabb
Ken Knabb (born 1945) is an American writer, translator, and radical theorist, known for his translations of Guy Debord and the Situationist International. His own English-language writings, many of which were anthologized in Public Secrets (1997), have been translated into over a dozen additional languages. In 1981, Knabb published the Situationist International Anthology, a large collection of articles drawn mostly from the French journal Internationale Situationniste. His other translations include Guy Debord’s film scripts (Complete Cinematic Works), Debord’s The Society of the Spectacle, and Ngo Van‘s In the Crossfire: Adventures of a Vietnamese Revolutionary. Knabb’s own writings include leaflets, comics, pamphlets and articles on Wilhelm Reich, Georges Brassens, Gary Snyder, the 1960s hip counterculture, the 1970 Polish revolt, the 1979 Iranian revolution, the 1991 Gulf war, the 2006 anti-CPE revolt in France, the 2011 Occupy movement, and the 2016 Trump election. Longer works include The Relevance of Rexroth (a study of the anarchist poet and essayist Kenneth Rexroth), Gateway to the Vast Realms (a reader’s guide to 500 recommended books), and The Joy of Revolution (an examination of the pros and cons of diverse radical tactics followed by some speculations on how a nonstate and noncapitalist postrevolutionary society might function).