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Category:    Home > Reviews > Documentary > Politics > History > Communism > Vietnam > Propaganda > France > A Grin Without A Cat (1977/Icarus Films DVD)

A Grin Without A Cat (1977/Icarus Films DVD)


Picture: C+     Sound: C+     Extras: C     Documentary: B



Though editing and juxtaposition, Chris Marker’s A Grin Without A Cat (1977) shows the rise and fall of the original Left and to some extent, that of the Popular Front, though it makes the mistake of acting like the Left point of view is coherent, monolithic and all participating were intellectualizing it and fully aware of the pint of view of this work’s point of view.  The film begins with a woman talking about how her awareness (which is implied as self-awareness, though it is really awareness of being part of something else, a mass of people, which is a contradiction and some would say the beginning of the propaganda of this film) of the Left began with a screening of Eisenstein’s Battleship Potemkin.


She picks the scene where bad food causes a violent scene that is interrupted by the word ‘Brother’ (though she would be a sister in this movement, which was definitely sexist; one reason for its eventual decline) flashes across the screen.  Suddenly, this unity (via editing) becomes a movement, then it becomes what rises out of perceived failure of Capitalism (which is referred to as Imperialism throughout, something never applied to the now-defunct USSR) becomes the counterpart to what become the Vietnam fiasco.  The rest of the film views the world in this dichotomy.


What is interesting is that this film recognizes the movement concluded the year of the film, that various factions that made the larger Left ended and split up.  There is much history here, including footage you would never see anywhere else, so it is worth a look to see how this kind of counter-text works and functions.  It shows how Leftist movements challenged The West and how problems from The West and mistakes like Vietnam (and the Kennedy Assassination) allowed the Left to continue to thrive and give it a reason to exist.  The film is conscious of the 1960s, which spilled into the 1970’s first few years as a movement, but it ignores other things.


It calls the Shaw of Iran a dictator, yet glorifies Fidel Castro who is guilty of the same exact things they accuse the Shaw of when it comes to oppression and worse.  The murder of Trotsky is barely noted as a turning point in the rise of the USSR, while the era of Stalin is barley explained at all, but is acknowledged as if it were an anomaly, though 40+ years of a murderous dictatorship is somehow acceptable as long as it is of the Left.  Then Che comes up and is also dismissed as “one of those things that happened” instead of explaining that he too was a threat to making the likes of Castro accountable for being true to what the Cuban Revolution was supposed to be about, but he was too honest and had to die.


Thus, the film juggles history and propaganda very effectively (not unlike an early Eisenstein film), but the fall of the USSR and failures of even the moderate left against the worldwide spread of Late Capitalism, China’s permanent embrace of this and how the lazy assumptions of any Left (some of which are included here, such as the scene where a concert by The Who implicates that they are somehow specifically part of the movement; wonder if anyone told them) has stopped any new Left movement from happening (save the Stalinism of Political Correctness, the great UFO of Leftist thinking of our time, another product of lazy, automatic non-thinking) bringing us to the problematic state of things today (unchallenged Right thinking in particular) as this film admits early on how the movement failed.  Note it did this over a decade before the USSR fell.  A Grin Without A Cat is a time capsule of the end of an era that did what it could for the masses, but is over.



The 1.33 X 1 image is a compilation of all kinds of film footage old and new (going back to silent documentary footage) telling its story well enough, but not overdoing the agitprop angle as much as you might expect.  The Dolby Digital 2.0 Mono shows its age, but the sources are so varied that it is amazing this all sounds as good as it does.  There are no extras on the DVD, but a 16-page booklet is included with essays (including one by Marker) and information from 2008 updating the film.



-   Nicholas Sheffo


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