Robert Kramer (1939-1999)

Extract from "Ice" (1969)

Robert Kramer, 60, a Director Of Films With a Political Edge
Published: November 13, 1999
New York Times

Robert Kramer, an American movie director whose portrayals of militants caught up in the antiwar movement of the late 1960's and early 1970's earned him a prominent place in modern political cinema, died on Wednesday in a hospital in Rouen, France, at the age of 60. Friends gave the cause of death as meningitis.

Although Mr. Kramer was best known in the United States for his radical early movies, notably ''The Edge,'' ''Ice'' and ''Milestones,'' he remained a prolific filmmaker after he moved to Paris in 1980. ''Doc's Kingdom'' and ''Route 1/U.S.A.'' were among his later films that were also released in the United States. At the time of his death, he had just completed a new movie, ''Cities of the Plains.''

Mr. Kramer's films never reached a wide audience, but they had a loyal following in the world of avant-garde and experimental cinema and were frequently featured at film festivals around the world. ''A Toute Allure'' was one of three official French selections for the 1982 Cannes International Film Festival.

After his 1980 film ''Guns'' was shown at the New York Film Festival, Vincent Canby wrote in The New York Times that ''its director is one of the most exciting filmmakers we have and it's incredible that he can find financing only in France.''

Paul McIsaac, an American actor who appeared in several of Mr. Kramer's films, said an implosion of the radical movement in the United States also prompted the director to move to France. ''The French film world attracted him because he could continue to be political,'' Mr. McIsaac said in a telephone interview from New York.

But while his films remained broadly political (for instance, ''Doc's Kingdom,'' made in 1987, is about a burned-out former radical living in Portugal), they were no less distinguished by his strongly personal directing style. For him, reality and fiction, like art and life, constantly blurred so that, as he once said, ''one day or other all these films that I'm making will make up a single long film, a 'story' that is always developing.''

Born in New York on June 22, 1939, Mr. Kramer studied philosophy and Western European history at Swarthmore College and Stanford University, where he emerged as a committed leftist. After organizing a community project in an African-American area in Newark in 1965, he helped found the Newsreel movement, which between 1967 and 1971 made some 60 documentaries and short films about radical political subjects and the antiwar movement.

It was during this period that Mr. Kramer also made ''The Edge'' and ''Ice,'' which won him the attention of American film experts. ''Ice,'' for example, focused on ''imminent urban guerrilla warfare in the United States'' against an American regime intervening repressively in Mexico. ''It is an awfully proud and humorless film and although I can't say that I really like it, I do admire it,'' Mr. Canby wrote at the time, ''and I'd recommend it to anyone interested in politics or movies.''

Reviewing ''Milestones'' in 1975, Mr. Canby again referred to Mr. Kramer's seriousness. ''Mr. Kramer's concerns are so particular, and his manner usually so humorless, that one doesn't easily recognize his talent as one of the most original and gifted young filmmakers,'' he wrote.

In his review of ''Guns,'' Mr. Canby developed this idea. ''Mr. Kramer seems incapable of shooting a scene, framing a shot or catching a line of dialogue that isn't loaded with information one usually finds only in the best, the most spare poetry,'' he wrote.

Mr. Kramer is survived by his wife, Erika, and their daughter, Keja, as well as by Rain Kramer, his daughter from an earlier marriage.