Ice @ Bluestockings Tuesday November 14

A couple of weeks ago I booked Bluestockings for a screening of the rarely-shown Ice. The film is set in a New York City police state while a civil war involving US troops rages in Mexico. Here’s the description I wrote for it:

Tuesday, November 14th @ 7PM – $5 Suggested
Screening: “Ice” (Robert Kramer, 1969)
With a production crew and performers drawn from the famed radical documentary collective Newsreel, this 1969 film brings to life the fantasy of a filmmaking collective supporting an armed revolution in the United States. The honest (if occasionally amateurish) performances, inserted moments of propaganda, and heated dialogue that could have been recorded at an activist meeting last week make the movie a very special product of its time.

Underground film guru and then-Village Voice critic Jonas Mekas called Ice “the most original and most significant American narrative film” of the late sixties. Most people who’ve seen it either love it or hate it.

The first time I saw it I thought it was incredible and brilliant, but it made no sense to me. The second time I watched it, the narrative seemed tighter than any Hollywood feature.

Newsreel was the Video Indymedia of its day. Roz Payne maintains the best archive of its films and materials. She writes,

The only news we saw was on TV and we knew who owned the stations. We decided to make films that would show another side to the news. It was clear to us that the established forms of media were not going to approach those subjects which threaten their very existence…

About 30 people met weekly to talk about films, equipment, and politics. I think we were great because we came from various political backgrounds and had different interests. We never all agreed on a political line. We broke down into smaller groups to work on the films. The working groups included anti-Vietnam-war, anti-imperialist, high school, students, women, workers, Yippies, Third World, and the infamous sex, drugs and party committee.

We wanted to make two films a month and get 12 prints of each film out to groups across the country. We wanted to spark the creation of similar news-film groups in other major cities of the United States so that they would distribute our films and would cover and shoot the events in their area.

For a while, they were very successful making and distributing their own films and distributing films from Cuba, Africa and elsewhere. But the movement it was attached to subsided and the control by white male leaders in the group proved untenable. Newsreel survives today as Third World Newsreel in New York and California Newsreel in San Francisco.

Ice was distributed by Newsreel and made by and with the people in Newsreel, but technically was not a Newsreel film. It was too far out there even for them.

Ice is frequently labeled science fiction, set in a distopic near future or an alternate present. The film’s true genre is white-male political fantasy, complete with shootouts and topless women. In one scene, a group of men torture an informant who has been found out by mutilating his genitals. The director plays the informant.

But the gritty Newsreel aesthetic – a result not of intention but of necessity: someone donated thousands of crappy black and white film he had in his basement to the enterprise – is present enough in the film to have convinced many Europeans at the time that it was a documentary like Newsreel’s other products.

There’s a way in which all ambitious political activity requires a sense of fantasy, an ability to imagine things completely different from how they are. But there was a particularly dangerous trend in the late 60s of men drawn to politics as a way to live out their fantasies.

It doesn’t make for a sustainable political program, but it does make for a fascinating feature film. I hope to see you there next Tuesday. Bluestockings is at 172 Allen Street between Stanton and Rivington.

If you’re not in the mood for a movie, there’s actually some stiff competition on Tuesday night. More details after the jump.

From the inbox:

Metro New York Labor Communications Council presents…

Investigative journalism 101
A workshop on how to sniff out investigative stories, how to find dirt on private employers, how to use freedom of information laws to extract information from government & other tricks of the trade

By William Bastone, editor of The Smoking Gun, thesmokinggun.com

The Smoking Gun unearths exclusive documents using material obtained from government and law enforcement sources, via Freedom of Information requests, and from court files nationwide. Bastone is the editor and a founder of The Smoking Gun and a former political reporter with The Village Voice.

Tuesday, November 14, 2006
6 to 9 p.m.

Registration and refreshments from 6 to 6:30 p.m.
Presentation begins at 6:30 sharp

CWA Local 1180
6 Harrison St., corner of Hudson, in Tribeca
(1 to Franklin St. is closest; or 2, 3, A, C to Chambers St.)

$5 Metro members/$10 others

One of a series of Professional Skills Workshops organized by the Metro New York Labor Communications Council For more information about Metro, please contact Greg Heires at 212-815-7521.

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2 Comments

  1. omnicrisis said

    So if I wanted to see this film, where do I get a copy?

  2. Sorry, Omnicrisis, you gotta know somebody who knows somebody.

    Robert’s work is underappreciated in the United States and he spent the bulk of his career in Paris. Ice especially is basically never shown and it’s not distributed. Anthology Film Archives in New York (Jonas Mekas) showed Ice back in February. Other than that, probably the only other US screening in the last ten years was part of a Kramer retrospective at the Pioneer Theater three blocks from Anthology following his death in 1999.

    I have a copy because my dad (who is in the movie) had a 16mm print of it, which he donated to the Cinematheque Quebecoise in exchange for a tape transfer.

    If you’re seriously interested, I’m sure we could work something out, as long as Kramer’s family is ok with it. Maybe the DFC would be interested in showing it along with some of the Newsreel films…

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