1968 on film — without the politics

The list of that year’s events is dizzying with the world seemingly infected with a revolutionary fever.

No Intenso Agora
Directed by Joao Moreira Salles
Icarus Films

This year is the 50th anniversary of 1968, the year when revolutionary upsurges occurred all across the globe.

The list of that year’s events is dizzying with the world seemingly infected with a revolutionary fever. It ranged from the Tet Offensive in Vietnam that shattered the US invasion and the anti-war upsurge in the US, to the chaos of Mao’s Cultural Revolution, the May-June French student and worker upsurge, and the Prague Spring democracy movement suppressed by Soviet tanks.

Brazilian filmmaker Joao Moreira Salles has assembled brilliant archival footage covering a selection of these events. Some is from home movies and some from activist footage shot on the streets as cobble stones fly or tanks rumble.

Often the camera shakes with the tumult of the moment. These were intense, liberating times and the people who lived through them were marked for life.

The year’s events, spanning the globe, demonstrated the accuracy of the Marxist concept of combined and uneven development, with three distinct, but related sectors of world revolution: the imperialist First World, the “socialist” bloc ruled by Stalinist bureaucracies, and the super-exploited Third World.

The events that Salles has selected are unaccountably limited. He shows the Cultural Revolution (using his mother's home movies), the French May-June events and the crushing of the Prague Spring. There is a short segment on the struggle against the Brazilian military dictatorship.

There is much to be said about the events of 1968. However, none of it is in this film. Instead, Salles intones a pseudo-media studies narrative over his footage.

There is a lot about how people get symbolically included or excluded in the framing of a camera shot. But there is precious little about why those cobblestones flew or why people risked their lives to record the events.

Salles chose to exclude all politics from the frame of his commentary. His tone is maudlin, cynical melancholy.

I have not paid much attention to the theories of the Spectacle that Salles articulates. After listening to his droning voice for just over two hours, I feel I have studied it too much.

Great film, but a lousy director.

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