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13. Adachi & Wakamatsu's Sekigun-PFLP: Sekai Sengen (1971)
I shouldn't touch this hornet's nest. Not only does this film deal with The Whole Israel-Palestine Thing, it nakedly presents itself as propaganda. What chance do I stand of not setting back world geopolitical progress, if only a scintilla, by writing about it?
Nevertheless, the Ubuweb Experimental Video Project remains a cruel, demanding mistress. That, and I'm also drawn to watch Sekigun-PFLP: Sekai Senso Sengen, etc., etc. by its cinematic pedigree. As a fan of Japanese filmmakers of the 60s and 70s, I was already aware of Adachi and Wakamatsu, though not very. I know more about Nagisa "In the Realm of the Senses" Oshima, a famous collaborator they share. But this fkeiron "landscape theory" of theirs intrigues me. Yuriko Furuhata, in a turgid academic paper I found on the internet, defines it thusly:
""What [fûkeiron-friendly] critics commonly shared was an "obsessive propensity towards landscape." As I hope to demonstrate in this paper, their interests in the concept and the image of landscape point to their collective awareness of a particular historical conjuncture of political, cultural and economic transformations. Very schematically, we can identify at least three interlocking changes happening at the end of the 1960s in Japan: the waning of a centralized mode of political resistance (the masses versus the State); an increasing scepticism towards the centrality of the subject [shutai] among leftist filmmakers and activists; and Japan's economic shift from industrial to postindustrial consumer capitalism."
Y'know, I've long thought Denis Dutton's Bad Writing Contest demanded a revival. Groping my way through the fog, I'll claim that fkeiron, as a cinematic sensibility, comes down to a visual focus on landscapes over individuals and a leftist bent to the narration that blankets them.
And boy, does this one make with the mid-20th-century leftspeak. "The best form of propaganda is armed struggle." "A revolutionary must dedicate his or her personal life in actual struggle, and practice it." "Armed struggle is reality." Without placing my evaluative persona too specifically on the political spectrum, I can't help but wonder aloud if this sort of harangue has ever changed a mind. It's not so much that Adachi and Wakamatsu preach to the choir in a manner unappealing to those who disagree; it's that they go so heavy on the inside lingo and reference that the non-convert has trouble even determining if he disagrees. It all sounds like the sort of student boilerplate Haruki Murakami eloquently described being bored out of his mind by in Norwegian Wood.
This stands to reason, however, if The Wikipedia, which calls it "a propaganda film for the Red Army sympathisers in Japan," is to be believed. The film compries one long string of JRA-boosting chatter and imagery, some of it compelling but most of it bland and utilitarian in that Serious Business of Militant Leftism way. Aside from the seemingly endless out-the-jeep-window footage of dry desert landscapem we see JRA recruits and PFLP members yammer about their common cause, kids in V-neck sweaters combat-roll around with grenade launchers, rifle after rifle after rifle sits in the dirt, PFLP dudes bayonet the air in total silence, tumultuous news footage gets filmed straight off the television set.
Some of those television sequences look pretty cool, actually -- cool in a way that Chris Marker, no soft lefty himself, would later achieve in Sans Soleil. Many revolutionaries are handsomely silhouetted. But this makes for thin aesthetic gruel, and the very idea that I'm poking around for appealing shots in a JRA production leaves me with the icky feeling I'd get from doing the same in Birth of a Nation or Triumph of the Will. How, rises the unavoidable question, to ignore the murderousness behind the ideology plumped for?
The other elephant in the room looms even larger: agitprop is, by definition, uninteresting. This is as true of a violent fringe group's commercial as it is of the sort of mild advocacy documentaries that kill at the box office. Neither trust the audience enough to allow them to draw their own conclusions. If the artist abdicates their duty of reflecting the complexity of human existence in favor of whatever simplification happens to support some political stance, why make art at all, let alone art that commands, and then refuses to use, the vast potential of cinema? Much easier, I would think, to mimeograph a few thousand leaflets, fire off a rocket or two and call it a revolution.
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