In the wake of May ‘68, Jean-Pierre Gorin, an activist in the Marxist-Leninist Communist Youth movement, took up filmmaking rather than go into politics and teamed up with Jean-Luc Godard; together they created a collective – the Dziga Vertov Group – which aimed to “make political films politically”. The group stood out from the other political collectives proliferating at the time (Medvedkin Group, L’ARC, Cinélutte, etc.) on account of a cinematic practice that could be described more as essay film than militant cinema. In each film, the goal was to challenge cinema as a system and a narrative – and to make this challenge visible. For the Dziga Vertov Group, filmmaking is a secondary task but the main activity – a device that serves to develop a questioning.
Between 1969 and 1974, six films were made – and many unfinished projects launched. The best-known and last, Everything’s All Right, featuring Jane Fonda and Yves Montand, is signed Godard-Gorin and produced by the young producer Jean-Pierre Rassam.
Opposing the tyranny of the narrative, these films are enraged, radical, caustic and ultimately burlesque. Emblematically, it is Vladimir and Rosa – undoubtedly the most Maoist-slapstick comedy ever made – that Jean-Pierre Gorin has chosen to show today and about which he wrote in 2004: the juxtaposition of strident voices, the actors’ appalling “non-acting”, the “revolutionary” parodies, each more idiotic than the others, anticipate the best of punk and hip hop. In this film, where Gorin and Godard play the fool and where the subversive pleasure of comedy upends the taste for theory, it is farce that has a revolutionary virtue, in this grating attempt to turn the spectacle against the powers that be.
This is the spirit in which Jean-Pierre Gorin invites us to revisit all the films made by the Dziga Vertov Group: These films have been seen by three people including two enthusiasts… A guided tour of the Dziga Vertov Group, the title of his conference is not simply a matter of coquetry. It highlights the confidentiality of the films’ distribution. Screened on the fringes of mainstream cinema, the films were rebuffed by leftist activists of all stripes, save a handful of aficionados mainly in the United States (cf. Jean Paul Fargier’s testimony in Cahiers du cinéma, October 2022). Rejected by both the film industry and most critics were scornful of the approach of the Group – who gave like for like. Rejected at times by Gorin and Godard themselves who admitted failure, but also the contradiction, the impasse even, in which their imperative to be both political and cinematic had led them. Receiving no or very little recognition, their mode of production itself deprived the films of any visibility: the television networks and distributors (Italian, German, American) that commissioned them, drawn merely by Godard’s name, refused to broadcast them after seeing the final result, while still holding on to the exploitation rights. Apart from Everything’s All Right, which was theatrically released, the films remained unseen at the time. Today, Gaumont holds their exploitation rights.
It was painter and film critic Manny Farber who invited Jean-Pierre Gorin to the United Stated in 1975 to teach film studies at San Diego University, where he currently lives.
Between 1978 and 1992 Jean Pierre Gorin made three films, usually referred to as his Californian trilogy.
These three films all experiment with the ways a community forms, each film being characterised mainly by its language: the language that Poto and Cabengo invent to communicate together, the coded language full of imagery used by the street gang in My Crasy Life, the specialist language spoken by the model-train devotees in Routine Pleasure… in each case, with the desire to join in, the characters’ desire, but above all the desire of Gorin himself. Join in with this duo of twins that he desperately tries to contain within his frame, join in with the Samoan street gang that he accompanies on vacation to Hawaii, join in with this club of elderly Americans who, every Tuesday in their hangar, have the whole of America spread out before their eyes.
Jean-Pierre Gorin the filmmaker is not fooled by the desire to join in with his double, Gorin the narrator. He watches him from a kindly yet mocking distance as his double tries to figure out how to exist in the filmic space. Each time, this space is one of encounters, a playground and childhood’s territory. At the very least, a possible place for a vacuum-like state shared with shared with the two twins who enjoy being the centre of attention, with the gangsters who once away from home drop their violent stance for a little light-heartedness, with these elderly children who play with electric trains and the great American saga.
In this vacuum-like state , the filmmaker also accepts that he doesn’t quite master his subject or rather plays at letting himself be overwhelmed by it… doubtless a way of pursuing the attempt to jam the staged machine, and a way of being there, of course, but being there differently, in a kind of detachment, the kind that prompted the Dziga Vertov Group to say: filmmaking is a secondary task, but the main activity.
Don’t we find in these American films the same ingenuousness that seeks to open eyes and show the world as the one we see in the films of the Dziga Vertov Group? In particular, the same belief and the same attachment to the origins of cinema, as shown by Gorin’s choice for his carte blanche. Two films alongside Poto and Cabengo: En rachâchant by Danièle Huillet and Jean-Marie Straub and Ozu’s I Was Born, But… and two films about the American myth: Griffith’s The Musketeers of Pig Alley (1912) and Hawk’s Ceiling Zero (1935). The myth that Routine Pleasures and My Crasy Life embodied perfectly.