“Order reigns but does not govern.”
Perhaps inadvertently, but nonetheless a virtual companion-piece to Chris Marker’s Grin Without a Cat (1977), future suicide Guy Debord’s In girum imus nocte et consumimur igni is a documentary on the state of things in France, socioeconomically, culturally, politically. Debord provides caustic commentary throughout a series of stills and film clips, with photographic inserts of himself as he responds to reactionary reaction to himself and his work. The statement with which he begins is the credo of all genuine artists: “I will make no concessions to the public.”
Debord’s sober, massive documentary takes on “commodized society,” the “chemistry of adulteration.” The working class comprises marginal existences that society has trained into the habit of spending. The cinema to which they flock is “a deranged imitation of deranged life.” Its “existing images reinforce the existing [sociopolitical] lies.” To say the least, the film is far-ranging.
Like Marker’s film, Debord’s addresses a divided Left, referring, for example, to “. . . those flourishing political and labor-union functionaries [who are] always ready to prolong the grievances of the proletariat for another thousand years in order to preserve their own role as its defender.” More often, Debord addresses governmental corruption.
His is a dry, ascerbic attitude—humanistic though not necessarily humane, at times cynical, even misanthropic. For Debord, Marcel Carné’s immensely popular Children of Paradise (1945) has been appropriated by a reactionary culture, turning its egalitarian spirit from living principle to sentimental complacency. The people of France have been divested of the idea of the people.
It is not unusual for French documentaries to hew to a strictly analytical line. But this is a noble work, and Debord confesses, “The sensation of time’s passage has always been vivid for me.”
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