A Grin Without a Cat (1977)

Another long political film, albeit a documentary this time, and one that’s actually shorter than its original release; running four hours in 1977, it now clocks in at merely three after Chris Marker revisited it about 20 years ago. I had problems with this too, although mostly of a technical nature… cos Marker’s multiple-voice narration comes in three languages, French, German and English, and for obvious reasons I picked the latter option. Unfortunately for me, the English track is easily the worst sounding of the three, with any number of comparisons revealing that it’s a damn sight more bassy and reverberant, and—mainly in the second half of the film—the narration is also very poorly mixed in with the sounds of Marker’s source material to the point where it is at times nearly impossible to make out what’s being said; the volume and sound controls of the TV got quite a workout trying to penetrate the audio. That’s an unfortunate, and unfortunately not insignificant, problem in a film that is otherwise hugely fascinating stuff; Marker credits himself for editing rather than directing it, and that’s probably fair, cos it’s really a compilation of pre-existing footage (some shot by him and members of his various filmmaking collectives) to basically illustrate what the hell happened to the New Left of the late 60s. Marker himself is a dedicated leftie, of course, but there’s a sense of something like disillusionment with what we might call “institutionalised” socialism, a realisation that communist governments are, when all is said and done, still just governments like whatever right-wing leadership they may have supplanted (consider the progress of his depiction of Castro through the film). It’s not unlike 1900‘s somewhat dispirited conclusion “the padrone’s still alive” in some ways. I’ve seen a few criticisms about the film assuming a certain amount of prior knowledge, although I’m sure this knowledge would’ve been reasonably common among the film’s original audience in 1977, i.e. probably mostly French/European folks for whom all these things were still recent. The film itself, of course, is now a part of history much like the events in it. Liked it, can see it repaying repeat viewing, just wish listening to it were easier…


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