Monday, August 02, 2010

Can Dialectics Break Bricks?

La Dialectique Peut-Elle Casser Des Briques?, in English, "Can Dialectics Break Bricks?", is a 1973 Situationist film produced by the French director René Viénet which explores the development of class conflict through revolutionary agitation against a backdrop of graphic kung-fu fighting.

The film uses a much older martial arts film ("The Crush" from Doo Kwang Gee) for its visuals which has been dubbed over by the filmmakers in an attempt at detournement. The concept and motivation of this film was to adapt a spectacular film into a radical critique of cultural hegemony and thus into tools of subversive revolutionary ideals.

The Narrative is based upon a conflict between the proletarian and bureaucrats within state capitalism. The proletarians enlist their dialectics and radical subjectivity to fight their oppressors whilst the bureaucrats defend themselves using a combination of co-optation and violence. The film is noted for its humorous approach to this serious subject matter.

The film also contains many praising references to revolutionaries who thought and fought for the realisation of a post-capitalist world, including Marx, Bakunin, and Wilhelm Reich, as well as scathing criticism towards the French Communist Party, trade unionism and Maoism. Also Subplots dealing with issues of gender equality, alienation, May 1968, and the Situationist themselves are riddled throughout the film.

"At the Pesaro film festival during the 60s French critic and filmmaker Luc Moullet challenged semiologist Roland Barthes by saying, "Language, monsieur, is theft." A variation on the anarcho-Marxist adage "property is theft," Moullet's aphorism implies that "language" in the public realm of cinema is a matter of expensive equipment--35-millimeter cameras and stock, sound-mixing and recording and editing machines, and so on--and therefore property. So to "have something to say" in that language you have to be rich or have wealthy patrons. And to "listen" you need to buy a film ticket or (not an option in the 60s) own a VCR--more property. In these broad Marxist terms the triumph of the proletariat becomes inextricably tied to control of production."

"By writing his own agenda on someone else's film almost a quarter of a century ago, Vienet was anticipating the kind of detournement [appropriation with critical intention] that has been happening with increasing frequency on video, though now the means are much more readily available and relatively inexpensive. I'm thinking of critical videos or films made up chiefly of found footage that have had varying degrees of exposure without permission from the original copyright holders. The most impressive work of this kind is Jean-Luc Godard's nearly four-hour, eight-part magnum opus Histoire(s) du cinema, Mark Rappaport's Rock Hudson's Home Movies and From the Journals of Jean Seberg, and Thom Andersen and Noel Burch's Red Hollywood. The first two episodes in Godard's series, each of which lasts 50 minutes, have been shown on five separate state-funded European TV channels without any permission from the copyright holders--which sets an important precedent. As Godard told me last fall, "For me there's a difference between an extract and a quotation. If it's an extract, you have to pay, because you're taking advantage of something you have not done and you are more or less making business out of it. If it's a quotation--and it's more evident in my work that it's a quotation--then you don't have to pay."

"Yet all these works have at most a marginal relation to the film business--at least as multicorporate capitalism has redefined that realm in recent years--and consequently it could be argued that it isn't worth the time or energy of any of the conglomerates to sue lowly independents for appropriating works that can't be taking much business away from them. However, Red Hollywood and both Rappaport features bring value to many works that these companies regard as essentially valueless--thereby increasing rather than decreasing future video rentals. But that doesn't mean that bureaucrats at these companies wouldn't charge ungodly sums if they were asked for the rights--it's a simple reflex." (source:

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