Tuesday, September 24, 2013 at 7:30pm
An Evening with Grey Room
155 Freeman Street, Brooklyn
The reception of Guy Debord’s work has long positioned him foremost as a theorist and political writer, and only secondarily as a filmmaker, but in a strategic departure, the current issue of Grey Room is devoted to a re-examination of Debord’s cinematic output. To mark the arrival of this publication, Light Industry presents a screening of a newly-produced (and completely unofficial) English-language version of Debord’s film Society of the Spectacle (1973), with a voiceover by Paul Chan.
Debord directed seven productions between the 1950s and 1990s, ranging from the Lettrist-era Howls for Sade (1952) to the late television documentary Guy Debord, His Art and His Times (1995); his On the Passage of a Few Persons Through a Rather Brief Unity of Time (1959) and Critique of Separation (1961) are the only films made by a member of the Situationist International during the group’s existence. In “Guy Debord, Filmmaker,” the introduction to Grey Room’s special issue, Jason E. Smith notes that filmmaking was “the most consistent activity Debord undertook over the course of his life,” and that, furthermore, cinema became one of the key—if frequently overlooked—theoretical concerns of the SI.
“As a writer, Debord, with the exception of La société du spectacle, has no oeuvre,” Smith writes. “As a filmmaker, however, he has an oeuvre. The films, consequently, should be placed at the center of his work. They are not illustrations of his theoretical writings; they are the putting into sensible or material form his otherwise abstract theoretical formulations. An argument can even be made—at some risk and requiring much justification—that nothing of value in Debord’s theoretical writings does not appear or rather reappear in his films: they are a form of filtration, selection, and expansion.”
The historical lack of availability of Debord’s films has contributed to this paucity of critical attention. Debord himself pulled them from distribution in 1984, following the murder of his producer and friend Gérard Lebovici, and for years they circulated only as nth-generation VHS bootlegs. More recently, Gaumont issued a DVD box set in 2005, and in 2009 Lincoln Center hosted the first retrospective of Debord’s films with English-subtitled prints.
Though these contemporary releases have enabled an unprecedented visibility for the work, subtitling presents certain aesthetic problems. Most of his films are structured around numerous modes of narration: Society of the Spectacle, for instance, includes voice-over, intertitles, and French-subtitled clips appropriated from reduction prints of Hollywood movies and other sources. English subtitling flattens this complexity, distracting the viewer and overly simplifying Debord’s correspondences between word and image. This particular issue has been addressed by filmmakers such as Harun Farocki, Chris Marker, Alain Resnais, and Straub-Huillet by offering multiple iterations of the same essay film, narrated in different languages. Inspired by these artists, we look back to Debord’s role as a filmmaker through an experiment in translation.
Society of the Spectacle, Guy Debord, 1973, digital projection, 87 mins
Followed by a discussion with Alexander R. Galloway, Jason E. Smith, McKenzie Wark, and Soyoung Yoon.
Tickets - Pay-what-you-wish ($7 suggested donation), available at door.
Please note: seating is limited. First-come, first-served. Box office opens at 7pm.