[NetBehaviour] Keith Sanborn and Greil Marcus on the films of Guy Debord.

marc marc.garrett at furtherfield.org
Sat Feb 11 17:30:23 CET 2006

Keith Sanborn and Greil Marcus on the films of Guy Debord.

"GUY DEBORD MADE VERY LITTLE ART, but he made it extreme," says Debord 
of himself in his final work, Guy Debord, son art et son temps (Guy 
Debord: His Art and His Time, 1995), an "anti-televisual" testament 
authored by Debord and realized by Brigitte Cornand. And there is no 
reason to doubt either aspect of this judgment. While Debord has been 
known in the English-speaking world since the 1970s as a key figure in 
the Situationist International and as a revolutionary theorist, it is 
only in the past decade that his work as a filmmaker has surfaced 
outside France. One reason is that, in 1984, following the assassination 
of Debord's friend and patron Gérard Lebovici and the libelous treatment 
of both men in the French press, Debord withdrew his films from 
circulation. Though the films were not widely seen even in France, four 
of them—by the time they were withdrawn—had been playing continually and 
exclusively for the previous six months at the Studio Cujas in Paris, a 
theater financed for this purpose by Lebovici.

The communiqué issued by Debord soon after Lebovici's death reads: 
"Gérard Lebovici having been assassinated, to the applause of a joyful 
press and a servile public, the films of Guy Debord will never again be 
projected in France." Three years later, in a letter to Thomas Levin, 
Debord amended this to: "I should have said: Never again anywhere."

So things stood until shortly after Debord's suicide in 1994. By 
prearrangement with Debord, CANAL+ presented a program on January 9, 
1995, consisting of Guy Debord: His Art and His Time, coproduced by 
CANAL+ and the Institut National de l'Audiovisuel, and two earlier 
films, La Société du spectacle (The Society of the Spectacle, 1973) and 
Réfutation de tous les jugements, tant élogieux qu'hostiles, qui ont été 
jusqu'ici portés sur le film «La Société du spectacle» (Refutation of 
All Judgments, Whether in Praise or Hostile, Which Have Up to Now Been 
Brought on the Film "The Society of the Spectacle," 1975). In 2001 the 
Venice Film Festival presented a retrospective of Debord's films using 
partially restored prints. In 2003, RAI 3 broadcast the work with 
Italian subtitles. There have been other screenings, but it was only in 
2005 that the films were again projected in Paris.

As interest in the Situationist International and Debord has grown, the 
absence of Debord's films has been keenly felt. And while unauthorized 
versions based on the French and Italian broadcasts have circulated in 
the interim, there have been no authorized copies of high quality in 
distribution. Until now. After an absence of more than twenty years, 
Debord's work has recently been made accessible to the public. At the 
request of Debord's widow, Alice Debord (better known as Alice 
Becker-Ho, theorist of the language of the "dangerous classes" and 
intimate of the SI), Gaumont has produced, under the direction of 
filmmaker Olivier Assayas, a stunningly beautiful DVD box set—Guy 
Debord: Oeuvres cinématographiques complètes. The title recalls the 
collection of film scripts originally published by Editions Champ Libre 
in 1978.

The three-disc set (each volume with its own deluxe jacket containing 
the disc and a short brochure) includes Debord's six films in 
chronological order, his collaborative video with Cornand, two mordantly 
ironic trailers, and a volume of documents related to the films. The 
achievement represented will have an immediate impact on the perception 
of Debord's work within France. And later, outside it. The works likely 
to receive the most immediate and lasting attention are The Society of 
the Spectacle and In girum imus nocte et consumimur igni (1978).

The Society of the Spectacle is a feature-length film essay—Debord's own 
adaptation of his renowned work of cultural and political history and 
theory. Debord not only speaks about the spectacle—he himself reads the 
incisive voice-over that occupies most of the sound track—but redirects 
the spectacle's own weapons against it, a strategy the Situationists 
call détournement. Debord puts into service feature films from "East" 
and "West," newsreel footage, ads that look like soft-core porn, and 
soft-core porn that looks like ads. He makes innovative use of subtitles 
and intertitles to problematize reception. For the spectacle, as Debord 
reminds us, "is not a collection of images, but a relationship among 
people mediated by images." In the highly distilled and allusive 
reflections presented and in their presentation, a complex critical 
apprehension of the relationship between image and text, individual and 
society is produced.

In The Society of the Spectacle, Debord also speaks as a contemporary 
historian, offering reflections on May '68 as revolutionary practice and 
as universal history. He makes an account of successes and failures. He 
speaks with the gravity of Herodotus and the scope of Hegel to distill 
sociological insights worthy of Marx, and he does it by means of an 
elegantly allusive rewriting—the détournement—of their very texts.

info originally received from stunned.org

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