A Grin Without A Cat Movie Review
In Chris Marker's massive, towering, and impassioned documentary collage, A Grin Without a Cat, utilizing a treasure trove of newsreel footage, television clips, television news reports, found footage, and sarcastic commentary, impressionistically chronicles the rise and fall of the worldwide New Left movement of post-colonial struggle (Marker calls it "World War III") from the massive protests generated by the Vietnam War to the burial of the New Left by the end of the 1970s and the death of Marxism in the 1990s.
Clearly a labor of love and passion by Marker, A Grin Without a Cat had its first incarnation in 1977, which Marker later recut in 1993 after the fall of the USSR, and then again in 2008. A Grin Without a Cat is a sensory history of a time and a cause that is not a time capsule but a living document of an era that reverberates into the blighted hopes of contemporary times.
Marker's three-hour opus is divided into two sections. The first, "Fragile Hands," charts the fiery rise of the New Left in the 1960s and the incendiary reactions of the massive movement upon governments throughout the world. Marker begins with a brilliant mash-up of a sequence from Eisenstein's Battleship Potemkin, intercutting the iconic Odessa Steps sequence and a protester from the Potemkin with clips of Stalin, revolutionary banners, speeches, and street protests. Marker then segues into a truly appalling clip of an American pilot in his plane explaining in clueless, sadistic joy the exhilaration he feels dropping napalm on the Vietnamese below ("look at it burn... we can see the people run everywhere... fantastic!") and then the results of his joy -- gruesomely burned napalm victims futilely treated in a hospital ward. With the opening sequence, Marker has thrown down the gauntlet. And like a giddy drunk, Marker cuts back and forth from various worldwide protests movements in enervating joy.
But Marker also shows the transformation of the movement into materialism and the first part ends, citing "a revolution within a revolution" and a growing rift between the old and the New Left and clips of a new market economy of workers in shiny cars and serving dinner in state-of-the-art kitchens. Consumerism has taken the place of revolutionary ideals.
This is hammered home in the melancholy second half, "Severed Hands," which is a litany of the collapse of the New Left ending with the U.S.-sponsored overthrow of the government of Salvador Allende and Castro trading pasta recipes with European journalists. By 1992, the New Left had been swept away.
But Marker ends the film on a slight note of hope. Footage shows the shooting down of wolves from a helicopter and the wolves are all picked off and seen in their death throes. "But," the narrator remarks, "still some wolves survived."
Aka Le fond de l'air est rouge.
A body without a skin.
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