REVIEW OF CONTEMPORARY MEDIA
2014, Jump Cut: A Review of Contemporary Media
Cut, No. 56, winter 2014-2015
The revolution must (not) be advertised.
The Players vs. Ángeles Caídos,
the discourse of advertising, and the
limits of political modernism
by Greg Cohen
There is a tale ripe for the telling of one of the greatest works of avant-garde cinema nearly no one has ever seen. Alberto Fischerman’s iconoclastic feature, The Players vs. Ángeles Caídos/The Players vs. Fallen Angels (1968), was shot in Argentina in the volatile twilight of a tempestuous decade. [open endnotes in new window] By a fateful stroke of historical coincidence, Fischerman’s masterful first film debuted in the same year as that juggernaut of agit-prop documentary familiar to all (if only by name to some), La hora de los hornos/The Hour of the Furnaces (Agentina,1968), by Fernando “Pino” Solanas and Octavio Getino. Yet, whereas The Hour is by now as firmly enshrined in the patrimony of Latin American political cinema as it is in the broader (if more nebulous) heritage of so-called World Cinema, The Players endures in near perfect oblivion outside Argentina, although at home it enjoys a certain hallowed obscurity, remembered mainly by the artist-intellectuals who worked with Fischerman in the 60s and 70s, were inspired by his dynamic opera prima, and formed with him an ephemeral independent alliance know as “The Group of 5” (el Grupo de los 5).
Truth be told, it can be difficult to discuss Fischerman’s film today without conjuring up its obverse in Solanas and Getino’s. Indeed, despite their divergent legacies within film history, both works issued from the same crucible of political and cultural discourses in the Argentine 60s, marked above all by the ideal of liberation, to which Latin American cultural scholar Diana Sorensen (channeling Raymond Williams) has pointed as “the ruling force in the structure of feeling that informed the decade” in Latin America as a whole.
Understood in hindsight as a third-world inflection of the global revolutionary moment, the discourse of liberation in the Americas may have operated on a level more rhetorical than programmatic; as a utopian construct, it offered an expedient for sublimating the most disparate national political specificities into a single, abstract, pan-continental ideal. In the cultural field, by contrast—especially as the “long decade” of the 60s waned—the principle of liberation often worked in conspicuously prescriptive ways, defining what kinds of art were either properly revolutionary or inadequately political, and thus either historically relevant or worthy of disregard.
Perhaps inevitably, then, liberation would also come to represent a “ruling force” in the structure of 1960s Latin American film discourse. Early on it established the unwritten protocols of inclusion in the canon of films we designate for study and preservation to this day, for which the obscure fate of The Players offers an instructive example. By the same token, the underpinnings of liberation discourse have proven decidedly tenacious in their modulation of the rules for scholarly engagement with films made in Latin America between the mid-1950s and the mid-1970s. This has often been a matter of upholding an opposition (now anachronistic) between the “political” and the “aesthetic” avant-gardes, a distinction that likewise governed the contemporaneous discourse of political modernism in Anglo-American and European film theory and practice.
Hence, even now, when we speak of the Latin American cinema of the 60s, we rarely look beyond a circumscribed lineage of works ostensibly identified with explicit, Left-radical political programs in the region, never mind the many forgotten films like Fischerman’s that, while arguably just as radical on both the political and aesthetic levels, were deemed in the end too formalist to have landed on the right side of political art. Hence also, a certain evaluative dogma (sometimes tacit, more often overt) still seems to preside over a considerable amount of scholarship on what is known by convention as the “New Latin American Cinema.” According to such a position, the historical significance of a given Latin American film from the 60s—that is to say, its revolutionary-political pedigree, irrespective of its formal innovations—must ultimately emanate from its putative commitment to a pan-continental project of liberation. The politics of film scholarship, in other words, have advanced and sustained the notion of the New Latin American Cinema as a viable film-historical designation mainly by tethering it to the discourse of liberation in the Latin American 60s.
It should come as no suprise, then, that experts in the field of Latin American film studies have also long construed the New Latin American Cinema as a coherent and self-aware, pan-Latin American movement of political filmmaking, with a well-established geneaology and its discrete corpus of sanctioned works. From the vantage of the present, though, we might question whether the existence of such a movement was ever more than an invention of film scholarship itself. More tenable, it seems, is to understand the New Latin American Cinema—like the concept of liberation from which it derives—as a largely symbolic ideological construct, a “structure of feeling” capable of subsuming an otherwise motley array of auteurist films, whether from largely national if not regional new cinemas, or from directors working in relative isolation, in the general absence of any autonomous film movement.
Such, undoubtedly, were the abstract ideological grounds on which Solanas and Getino themselves erected the framework of their quasi-theoretical manifesto of 1969, “Towards a Third Cinema.” Written one year after the production of their documentary, the text famously projected film history in teleological, historical-materialist terms as a tripartite development that originated with the illusionist “First Cinema” of Hollywood and its industrial avatars, then passed through the independent but elitist, bourgeois “Second Cinema” that superseded it, before culminating with the ideologically superior—because truly revolutionary—“Third Cinema” of militant, oppositional, and categorically political film practice.
Third Cinema, in effect, was to signify a new mode of production that would liberate global film discourse from the capitalist and neo-colonial system to which it had been historically bound; its aspirational reach thus not only traversed the Americas, but presumably extended to militant filmmaking subjects the world over. Yet in practice and in rhetoric, to say nothing of style, most of the Latin American films of the 1960s and 70s that have come to exemplify either Third Cinema or the New Latin American Cinema—generally on the basis of Solanas and Getino’s writings—were almost always conceived in response to resolutely national circumstances, rather than to patently Latin American ones. To my mind, Latin American film scholarship has yet adequately to confront this basic paradox.
There exists, meanwhile, at least one other vital facet of the larger discursive formation in the Latin American 60s that scholarship on the so-called New Latin American Cinema has seemed equally given to overlook. I refer to the theoretical critique of the popular mass media that was emerging in the 1960s and 70s, above all in relation to the medium of advertising, a veritable growth industry in post-war Argentina. Indeed, given just how many critical theorists at the time were turning their attention to the ideological dimensions of mass communications, such disregard for the place of advertising in Latin American political cinema in the 60s is all the more curious.
It is a lack that also invites an important observation: if Latin American film historiography, operating on notions of (properly) political and (irredeemably) aesthetic modes of cultural production, has tended to locate works like Fischerman’s at the irreconcilable antipodes of those like Solanas and Getino’s, in fact The Players and The Hour of the Furnaces strike a notable if awkward truce on the terrain of advertising discourse, to which each work shares a decisive, even constitutive critical relation, however divergent the one from the other in method and inflection.
To begin, it was not merely Fischerman and members of his avant-garde cohort, but also Solanas who came by his cinematic training as a professional director of of advertising films (notably, Fischerman’s first employer in the business was none other than Pino Solanas). Both artists, moreover, ran their own advertising production companies and financed their films with the proceeds, a fact that existing analyses of Fischerman and the Group of 5 routinely underscore, while scholarship on Solanas and Getino’s documentary tends to excuse it, despite the obvious dissonance between Solanas’s chosen métier and the vociferous denunciation of advertising and imperialist mass media he would deploy in The Hour of the Furnaces.
More important for my purposes here, however, are the very deliberate critical uses of advertising discourse that anchor the aesthetic programs of both films, though to my mind it is The Players that engages with advertising in more complex, even prescient ways than its counterpart. In so doing—if I may invoke Marshall McLuhan, whose ideas at this point in the 60s were very much “in the air”—Fischerman’s film betrays a subtle critical understandingof advertising media in the abstract, in ways distinct from (though not entirely incongruous with) the ideals of “militant” cinema espoused by Solanas and Getino. In turn, The Players may just tell us something that liberation discourse—by way of Third Cinema and the New Latin American Cinema paradigm—has largely overlooked about the broader nexus of art, politics, and mass media at the end of the Latin American 60s.
A match made in misery:
The Players and The Hours in the Argentine 60s
To be sure, neither Solanas and Getino’s nor Fischerman’s film was exempt from the parade of contradictions that traversed political and cultural life in late-1960s Argentina, a time, incidentally, during which ever more galvanized calls on the Left for all-out revolutionary violence coincided with a sharp ebb in the early euphoria inspired by post-Revolutionary Cuba, which by then had begun to exert blatantly repressive restrictions on the activities of artists and intellectuals.
Still, in Argentina, national liberation seemed perhaps as inevitable as it did elusive. In 1966, right-wing General Juan Carlos Onganía had ousted President Arturo Illía and taken power in a military putsch, under the cynical banner of the “Argentine Revolution,” and proceeded to abolish all political parties, intervene (violently) in the administration of national universities, and establish draconian censorship regimes aimed at eradicating society of political and cultural “subversives”. Matters only worsened when dissenting factions within the military itself toppled Onganía in June of 1970, supplanting his junta with their own under the rule of General Roberto M. Levingston, who presided over a precipitous economic contraction, a growing labor crisis, and massive anti-government rioting around the country. Yet another military coup within the junta deposed Levingston just nine months later and replaced him with General Alejandro Lanusse, who served as President of the Republic until the return to electoral politics in 1973 that would ultimately reinstall Juan Domingo Perón to power after nearly two decades of exile.
The so-called Revolution inaugurated with Onganía touted the restoration of order (and centralized, military-oligarchic control of the state and its economy) after the vicissitudes of the preceding decade, which had witnessed successive, nominally democratic administrations from various ambits of the political Left (punctuated by brief military interregna). The presidencies of Arturo Frondizi (1958-1962) and Arturo Illía (1963-66) were by turns progressive and ineffectual, each straining to steer the country’s unwieldy ship in the wake of Perón’s own military ouster in 1955. Throughout this period, Argentina saw a mixture of conciliatory policies meant to appeal to working-class Peronist sympathies (despite Frondizi’s total ban, until 1962, on Peronist political parties), coupled with programs of economic liberalization and development that initially generated considerable growth, though results grew more anemic as the decade wore on. Concurrently, however, in the wake of what numerous artists and intellectuals viewed as the dark ages of the first Perón administration, the Frondizi-Illía period also heralded a truly dynamic cultural awakening among the middle classes, mostly in Buenos Aires and largely internationalist and cosmopolitan in spirit.
The principle engine of avant-garde art in Argentina by the dawn of the 1960s, the Di Tella also doubtless stood among the most important nodes of artistic activity in the Americas as a whole. Through vigorous and eclectic programming, the organization not only generated and hosted traveling exhibitions of international art, but also sponsored international juried competitions, awarded prestigious prizes, and administered scholarships for artistic study abroad. Meanwhile, both at home and overseas, the Di Tella promoted cutting-edge production by national artists who worked in every conceivable medium, from painting and sculpture to music and theater, and from film and photography to installation, performance, and new audio-visual technologies. Most importantly, the Di Tella was a crucible of creative community and alternative forms of social interaction: its legendary Happenings and “Experiences” were steeped in the spirit of social freedom and experimentation that characterized so many ambits of the 60s globally.
The efforts of the Di Tella were thus instrumental in repositioning Buenos Aires as a global center of avant-garde art in the 1960s. David Lamelas, Marta Minujín, León Ferrari, and Julio LeParc were but a few of the Argentine artists of international stature to fill the Institute’s ranks. Indeed, to the same degree that its aesthetic and intellectual ambitions rested on the value of rupture and innovation, the Di Tella’s declared mission was adamantly internationalist in thrust. As such, it benefited directly from initiatives like the Alliance for Progress, a program of cultural diplomacy in the Americas spearheaded in the United States by the Kennedy administration. In turn, crucial financial support arrived from American philanthropic foundations like the Ford and Rockefeller, as well as numerous, highly publicized collaborations with the likes of MoMA and the Guggenheim Museum in New York.
Simply stated, the Instituto Di Tella was inseparable from the broader processes of modernization and internationalization in the Argentine 60s. It is no wonder, then, that for some it could so readily signify the country’s intellectual vitality and cultural legitimacy on the global stage, while for others—particularly the growing cadres of political militants as the decade progressed—it conjured nothing less than the neo-colonization of national culture by a small domestic elite in league with foreign interests. An easy target of virulent criticism from both extremes of the political spectrum in Argentina at the time, the Di Tella in fact crystallized all of the complex yearnings and contradictions of the Latin American 60s, in much the same way as Solanas and Getino’s Hora and Fischerman’s Players.
In response to these impulses of modernization and rupture, along with their underlying internationalism, the right-wing Revolución Argentina imposed autocratic economic development schemes favorable mainly to the country’s landed classes and traditional agro-industrial oligarch families. At the same time, it redoubled its political marginalization of nearly all Peronist elements in society (that is to say, the powerful labor unions and, by extension, most of Argentina’s immense working class), proceeding meanwhile to invoke deeply reactionary and nationalist cultural discourses that were entirely unsympathetic to either the cosmopolitanism of organizations like the Di Tella (as well as artists like Fischerman) or the overt political militancy of filmmakers like Solanas and Getino.
As the decade advanced and censorship and repression mounted, it was only a matter of time before intellectuals and artists of all stripes would begin to see ideological radicalization as the only path towards greater social justice, cultural freedom, and economic stability. With the advent of the 1970s, calls for armed resistance across the political spectrum coalesced into violent guerrilla activism, with both left-wing guerrillas (the Montoneros; the People’s Revolutionary Army, or ERP) and right-wing paramilitary groups (the Argentine Anti-Communist Alliance, or Triple A) vying for control of Perón’s renascent movement. Even still, while much artistic output in this political conjuncture tacked increasingly toward explicit Left-Revolutionary rhetoric, not all engagés artists in Argentina at the time abandoned high-modernist aesthetic concerns.
In all events, the eixgency to choose between the seething middle-class desire “to be modern” on the one hand and, on the other, the historical imperative to resist the ideological “invasion” of national culture by “Yankee imperialist” values—to invoke several catch-phrases of the day—was assuming truly mortal weight with every passing moment of the waning 1960s in Argentina. Perhaps predictably, such contradictions were also coalescing beneath the carefree surface of nearly every sixty-second advertising spot that aired on Argentine television at the time.
There exists no more poignant testimony to that fact than a prominent commercial for Jockey cigarettes made in 1971. This advertisement is edited in graceful flourishes of mobile framings linked in rhythmic montage, featuring smiling flocks of fashionable young men and women (all of unequivocally European extraction) gliding in an effortless choreography through the set of a cocktail party at a well-appointed, seaside vacation home. The concept that immediately bubbles to that ebullient visual surface is an identification of affluent domestic space with the experience of unfettered yet sophisticated leisure time. What is more, with its tag line—Jockey, la pura verdad (“Jockey, the pure truth”)—the commercial strongly implies that affluence itself may be the purest form of affective bond among truly “modern” Argentines. Equally noteworthy is the way the ad orchestrates these ideas within an evening-time, maritime idyll, where the exterior space serves—particularly for well-dressed, cigarette-smoking women—as but an extension of that microcosm of free society taking place back inside, in the private domain.
Such values are only further underscored by the honeyed, pop-cosmopolitan soundtrack against which all this pleasurability unfolds, namely a rendition of the über-hit of summer 1971, “Soley-Soley,” by Scottish band Middle of the Road. In the Argentine spot, the tune resurfaces in a version by Spanish rock-composer Fernando Arbex, whose translation of the original English lyrics—“Just a little bit lonely / just a little bit sad / I was feeling so empty / until you came back”—transforms their meaning in Spanish into something considerably more saccharine: “With a bit of sand / and a bit of sea / as long as you’re with me / there’s nothing more I need.” Considered in unison with the commercial’s liberated nightlife aesthetic, such a casual elision of the song’s original loneliness, sadness, and emptiness not only belies the turbulent contradictions of the political moment, but also presages the far greater darkness of the “Dirty War” about to befall the country, one that would surely surpass even the menace of Onganía’s Revolución.
This point is made manifest by a single, trenchant detail of the mise-en-scène: the left-most of the three actresses smoking and walking toward the camera once the commercial cuts to the exterior—she also enjoys a brief medium-close up of her own—was a well-known Franco-Argentine model from the far-flung northern province of Misiones named Marie-Anne Erize Tisseau. Already a political activist at the time of the Jockey ad, within years Erize would join the ranks of the Montoneros and work closely with Argentine Liberation Theologist, Father Carlos Mugica; with the coming, in 1976, of Argentina’s most horrific military dictatorship, Erize would also soon count among the thousands of young activists “disappeared” by the junta for their political opposition.
From “pure truth” to radical uselessness: Fischerman’s advertising tactics
The same, subterranean tensions at work in the advertisement described here—between modernization and revolution; between hedonistic consumerism and working-class asceticism; between neo-colonial oppression and capitalist desire—prove just as useful for locating Alberto Fischerman’s The Players vs. Fallen Angels in the nexus of social and political relations from which it issued and the popular mass media to which it reacted. Accordingly, one viable theoretical approach to Fischerman’s film might be to construe it as an exercise in resistance to alienated capitalist labor that resolves itself, not in militant action, but rather in a kind of active, rigorously functional uselessness.
The plot of the film is intentionally slight, and involves the allegorical struggle between two groups—the eponymous “Players” and “Fallen Angels”—for a territory of apparent freedom and imagination. That territory happens to be the abandoned sound stages of Estudios Lumiton, the last of Buenos Aires’s Golden Age film studios. High above the sound stages, looking on from the lofts, bridges and catwalks to which they have been relegated by the victory of the Players (in a past battle the film mentions only in passing), the Fallen Angels bide their time plotting—and failing to execute—the reconquest of the lost paradise below. The Players, meanwhile, haunt the jetsam of old sets and dressing rooms, enacting the communal tedium of their uncontested reign in a series of absurdist experiments and improvised tableaux, each corresponding to its own elemental concept—birth, affection, jealousy, force, fantasy—and each filmed in accordance with a unique audio-visual syntax.
As the narrative gradually marginalizes the insurgent Fallen Angels (eventually dispensing with them altogether), the Players prepare to stage a freely adapted version of Shakespeare’s The Tempest. At last, the film ends with a violent though inconclusive confrontation between Players and Fallen Angels, but not before a party in which both camps mingle blithely with Alberto Fischerman and his crew, along with other directors from the mythical Group of 5, all of them now seen filming the very footage we are watching. In the end, out of the ruins of a forsaken film studio and its own, self-referential logic of radical unproductiveness, The Players strains to produce a domain of revolutionary leisure, a move that seems to align, across oceans and hemispheres, with the heretical Marxist humanism of Henri Lefebvre, who at the time began to perceive in the space of leisure the last possibility for a truly differential resistance to the homogenizing oppression of capitalist labor.
Of course, the attempt to translate its peculiar revolutionary politics of collective hedonism into a radicalized film form is precisely what distinguishes The Players from The Hour of the Furnaces. By notorious contrast, Solanas and Getino’s four-hour amalgam of dialectical and vertical montage, cinéma vérité, sermonic intertitles, straight-ahead objective documentary, and the pop-conceptualist appropriation of scraps of popular media—including a profusion of print and TV advertising imagery—batters the spectator with a more dour, more dogmatic, though considerably less ambiguous logic of anti-imperialist revolution.
In effect, Solanas and Getino’s ideological program, underwritten by the ideal of national liberation and articulated in deliberately Manichaean terms, betrays what several scholars have perceived in the film as an implicit—and, I believ,e simplistic—logic of advertising, essentially aimed at co-opting “the System’s” own aesthetic tools in order to turn that System against itself and thereby “sell the Revolution” instead. Julio Ludueña, a filmmaker who belonged to Fischerman’s wider avant-garde circle, has even dismissed The Hour of the Furnaces outright as “one long commercial made with political objectives.”
Analyses such as these, however, appear to confuse the persuasive visual language of agit-prop with the prevailing formal principles of 60s-era advertising per se. In truth, there is no single moment or sequence of The Hour of the Furnaces that mimics or resembles the structure of a filmed advertisement in any self-conscious way. Rather, we can better understand the Solanas and Getino documentary’s critical engagement with advertising discourse as a form of re-appropriation in the service of ideological demystification. In a word, the film employs the strategy of détournement, construed precisely in the terms and techniques defined as early as the latter 1950s by the Lettrist International and later by the Situationist International in France, which Guy Debord himself would later adapt to the formal strategies of filmmaking.
None of this is to say that films like The Players did not share with those like The Hour of the Furnaces a common resistance to capitalism, its markets, its divisions of labor, and its modes of social production, particularly as they inflected the period's dominant forms of film production, distribution, exhibition, and spectatorship. In fact, the starkly opposing responses that each film musters to that common enemy in many ways crystallized all the deep-seated antagonisms of Left cultural politics in Argentina generally at the end of the 60s. According to Beatriz Sarlo, the two works marked extremes in an ideological landscape of multifarious modes of artistic practice, the battles among which had yet entirely to exhaust themselves, despite what many at the time (and arguably still today) saw as evidence to the contrary. Nevertheless, Sarlo admits, the cultural-political field was narrowing so precipitously by the end of the decade that scarce room remained for the options proposed by films like Fischerman’s. That is, from the standpoint of the militant Left, to defend the radicalization of aesthetic form as a still-viable mode of revolutionary politics seemed increasingly out of touch with the historical moment.
In this light, while the overt and aggressive détournement of scavenged advertising media in Solanas and Getino’s agit-prop leviathan seems eminently familiar to us now, it is worth contemplating what sets Fischerman’s film apart in its own cinematic engagement with advertising discourse. To do so, I should like to turn now to a paradigmatic moment in The Players vs. Fallen Angels, just one of several in which the narrative slips seamlessly from its labyrinthine play of Brechtian reflexivity into a kind of simulated advertising mode of cinematic representation that, on second glance, suggests something considerably more subversive.
The sequence comes about halfway into the film, and follows a series of disjointed, improvised interactions among some of the Players that unfolds like a pageant of inspired ennui . From there, a long series of alternating mobile and static framings, set to a non-diegetic cool jazz score, re-establishes the counterpoint between The Players and the Fallen Angels. First, a number of slow lateral tracking shots in medium close-up back and forth along the cluttered floor of Lumiton Studios capture a group of the Players in repose; these are then intercut with two types of opposing shots. On the one hand, static, high-angle framings from the catwalks above are filmed over the shoulder of a Fallen Angel as he storyboards the film set far below; notably, whereas the crew is seen moving the camera along a pair of dolly tracks, the scene they film is subtly though conspicuously unlike that of the preceding tracking shots. On the other hand, we see quick close-up zooms into the drawings themselves, which depict in abstracted form the very mise-en-scène of the Players that we have witnessed in the preceding mobile framings.
In the last of these contrasting series, we again watch over the shoulder of the Fallen Angel up among the rafters, as he rips up his sketches and scatters the scraps over the film set below. Then comes an abrupt cut to the studio floor, where a member of the crew shot in extreme close-up throws a large steel lever to the sound of the director calling, “Camera, Parodi!” Now, with a cut back to another high-angle, extreme long shot—this time without the Fallen Angel and his sketch pad—the jazz stops. We witness the film crew on set, tracking in towards a group of assistants opening a pair of massive black pocket doors in the far background, accompanied by further directives from the crew—“Open the door!” “Camera, Parodi!” “Action!”). A cut-in to a high-angle long shot of the crew follows, as the director shouts, “Take 2!” Then the camera tilts up gradually to reveal the crew tracking forward toward Luís, a character in striped pajamas seen earlier, now entering frame-left holding a cup of coffee and beginning to sing to a new musical number, with a man and woman standing together some ways behind him just beyond the pocket doors.
In effect, what immediately ensues will consist of the frontal dolly shot we have just witnessed under construction, beginning with Luís framed in full scale in the foreground, and the couple in the background now practicing dance steps together in front of what appears to be the façade of a middle-class residential home. That façade, however, is surely part of yet another film set nested within the larger set of Lumiton Studios, itself a fabricated setting for the mise-en-abyme that is The Players vs. Ángeles Caídos.
This elaborate execution of interlocking, auto-referential gestures announces the first of the film’s quasi-simulated advertising “spots.” Not coincidentially, the song begun by Luís, soon to be taken up by the character of Cristina in the “advertisement sequence” proper, will at first seem to conjure the same easygoing picture of domestic leisure and bourgeois “purity” behind the standard television commercial of the day. In Luís’s prelude—a lounge-like mixture of electric keyboard, strings, and winds—the lyrics begin, “I find myself awake again / with the world I left behind: / with my bedroom, with my girlfriend / with my cup of coffee….”
At once the music shifts in tempo to a cheerful melody marking time with a snare drum and steel brush, as the film cuts to a close-up of Cristina counting beats, poised to continue the song, though her first attempt falters for having started an octave too high. The music stops short as she signals off-screen to the crew for another try, though her eye-line is matched not with a shot of the filmmakers, but rather with a brief, low-angle shot up to a pair of Fallen Angels roaming the bridges high above, that is, in a part of the set that may or may not be in proximity to the musical sketch transpiring below. Meanwhile, the feigned croaking of Cristina’s voice together with her ostentatious smile now sets Luís’ words in dubious relief. Is he glad to reawake to the world he left behind, or does he in fact lament his captivity in a maze of conventions, where the doors of one contrived social space open onto the unremarkable contours of another, filled with its familiar objects and familiar people—same old bedroom, same old girlfriend, same old cup of coffee—and where imperturbable, smiling mannequins execute their daily, pre-determined gestures?
The jovial music begins again, this time a half-octave lower, and Cristina finds her key as the “advertising sequence” commences in earnest: roughly fifteen dynamic shots of more or less equal duration capture a chipper troupe of freshly coiffed Players flitting and dancing about a large domestic kitchen, making preparations for a communal breakfast. The camera is hand-held, and waltzes fluidly among and around The Players as they move in concert with one another, and all about the merry Cristina as she glides and sings:
“Today, I awoke so cheerful,
for I was cheerful when I went to bed.
My love fell asleep by my side
and I awoke with him.
My love fell asleep by my side
and I awoke with him
If I sleep in, I’ll be late,
If I dress up, late it is.
If I make love I’ll be late
but I’ll make it just fine indeed”
As the song winds down, the overlapping, diegetic sounds of knives clinking on butter dishes and coffee pouring into porcelain cups fades in, mingling with the small talk of The Players as they serve themselves their breakfast. Up to this point, what has stood out most in the sequence is just how closely the filming of the scene in the kitchen of Fischerman’s movie resembles that of the cocktail party in the commercial for Jockey cigarettes discussed above, from the roaming, mobile framings and rhythmic editing down to the very elements of the mise-en-scène. Again we witness a well-dressed group of young Argentine urbanites, eating and drinking in an affluent domestic setting. Again we behold the recognizable gestures of happy people relating to their happy friends.
Nonetheless, when the putative “commercial” ends here, the film does not cut back to its program already in progress in some other cinematic space, namely, the “story” of The Players vs. Fallen Angels unfolding in the recesses of Lumiton Studios. Rather, it lingers with these actors—these players—in their kitchen, recording their unscripted, blasé interactions as they enjoy their breakfast and discuss last night’s antics. They are, in essence, playing themselves in precisely the same constructed corner of the film studio in which their selves, just moments ago, were the actors in a simulated advertising spot, the inexistent “product” of which remains entirely beside the point.
Yet, to play themselves is also to embody their roles as The Players, fictional characters in a circumscribed, cinematic world. As if to reinforce this triple interpenetration of advertising space, the space of cinematic fiction, and the space of middle-class everyday life (itself in no small way over-determined by received cultural forms), the film will intersperse several additional low-angle shots of the Fallen Angels up in the galleries, peering down once again towards a camera that may or may not occupy the languid domestic idyll in the kitchen from which they ostensibly have been spurned. Nearly five minutes will pass before the sunny music of the “spot” kicks in again, this time as a non-diegetic soundtrack to the brief montage that will conclude the sequence, comprised of more swirling hand-held shots of The Players as they clear the table and abandon the kitchen at last.
The Players and the
global critical discourse on advertising
Two provisional theses follow from the foregoing observations. For one, the sequence would seem to corroborate our hunch that Luís is less grateful than anguished to find himself yet again in the world he left behind. He is like a groundhog forever doomed to mistake his shadow for reality, his daily life an illusory matrix of representations, all cast before him by the light of an increasingly media-saturated society. What is more, the Fallen Angels, who appear to survey The Players’ territory with either jealousy or indifference in hopes of reconquering a domain of freedom and leisure their enemies deny them, are in the end equally implicated as mere spectators of a world of illusions they have yet to recognize as such. If these propositions bring the contemporaneous ideas of Guy Debord to mind, I have intended them to do so.
Recall the aphoristic terms that launch The Society of the Spectacle:
“In societies dominated by modern conditions of production, life is presented as an immense accumulation of spectacles.
“The spectacle presents itself simultaneously as society itself, as a part of society, and as a means of unification.
“The spectacle is not a collection of images; it is a social relation between people that is mediated by images.
“The spectacle cannot be understood as a mere visual deception produced by mass-media technologies. It is a world-view that has actually been materialised, a view of a world that has become objective.”
Without doubt, the aesthetic formulations of Fischerman’s film can seem remote from those of Solanas and Getino’s, not to mention from Debord’s own Situationist films, with which The Hour of the Furnaces, as I proposed, shares much in common on the formal level. Yet the theoretical foundations of Fischerman’s political aesthetics comprehend the spectacular nature of late-60s Argentina in ways so nuanced as to deepen our reading of Debord while perhaps raising questions about the intellectual rigor of Solanas and Getino’s Manichaeanism.
In any event, even before the distinguishing uses of advertising in The Players come fully to light, one thing is surely clear: they have little to do with the brute détournement of existing advertising media lifted from print and televisual sources—as is the case with The Hour of the Furnaces. Rather, Fischerman understands advertising discourse as an autonomous and pliable mode of cinematic representation to be interwoven ad hoc into the lyrical texture of the work. While both the form and the “content” of the “spot” in The Players do seem to parody the bourgeois values typical of television commercials at the time, the critical force of such caricature arguably derives from the formal relations the film establishes between the self-reflexive, pseudo-commercial sequence just discussed and the equally self-reflexive scenes that come just before and after it.
On closer inspection, however, such an assessment taken at face value may rely on the same reductive formalism by which Latin American film historiography, in the name of liberation, has so often justified its dismissal of works like The Players. Since its approach to advertising discourse is only formal, so the critique would go, Fischerman’s film cannot qualify as a true exemplar of political film practice. Of course, by that criterion, even the belligerent formal gambit of The Hour of the Furnaces might provoke suspicion. In the case of The Players, to indict its presumed formalism threatens to bypass completely that which gives ballast to its complex formal engagement with advertising discourse. The film’s real radicalism resides precisely in its incisive theoretical grasp of the nexus between mass media, consumer society, political discourse, and everyday life, not only in late-1960s Latin American, but in the 60s broadly construed.
It is thus insufficient to draw conclusions about the relative value of a political-modernist film based on its putative adoption of what merely appear to be simulated advertising techniques or styles alone. Indeed, as media historian Lynn Spigel has noted, the connections between avant-garde cinema and advertising aesthetics were no longer hierarchical by the 1960s, but rather bi-lateral and fluid, each discourse ransacking the innovations of the other to various ends and effect. In this regard, it can be useful to identify some of the specific theoretical conceptions of advertising discourse at work beneath the surface of a film like The Players.
One might, for instance, begin by turning to the work of Raymond Williams, who in the early seventies had begun to theorize the new kinds of “sequential experience” brought on by new forms of corporate advertising and their effects on television programming. “The insertion of advertisements in unsponsored programmes,” he claimed, “created quite new visual rhythms,” in which “the advertisements are integral” to the total programming sequence, rather than mere interruptions of entertainment segments. Accordingly, we might say The Players attempts to resist this constant, numbing flow of rhythmic, sequential information organized around the advertising form. Yet the film does so not by means of what Emilio Bernini calls the “incessant interpellation” and intensified cadences of montage that guide militant documentaries like The Hour of the Furnaces, but rather by the cannibalization of modernist reflexive devices to draw attention to the malleability—and hence the instability—of capitalism’s supposedly universal language of persuasion.
Moreover, by interlacing the formal system of its “advertising sequences” with other, largely improvisational dramatic scenes, Fischerman’s film reveals their sequential relation as something wholly divorced from either narrative logic or the imperative of persuasion. The resulting “sequential experience” emanates instead from a broader formal principle related to the spectacular nature of everyday life. Hence, as in the sequence described above, when actors effectively linger in the improvisational space produced by their own “commercial without a product” long after the “spot” has ended, that fabricated advertising space persists unaltered as the site of an unscripted, deconstructed slice of domestic life. In this subtle way, The Players stages precisely the insidious melding of commercial and private space brought about by advertising. In turn, the film implicates the artifice of advertising discourse and avant-garde art alike in their mutual production of everyday life as both alienation andpleasure.
Without doubt, The Players understands advertising discourse as both a potent tool of political film practice and an easy target of radical political critique. Yet the film assumes a critical position vis-à-vis the political critique. However, the film assumes a critical position vis-à-vis the mass media that diverges abruptly from the ideological inflection of films like The Hour of the Furnaces that typified 1960s liberation discourse in Latin America. This, surely, must have served as further grounds for the dismissal of The Players not only by contemporary activist-artists in Argentina at the time, but by critics and scholars of Latin American political cinema as well.
For Fischerman’s work seemed by and large uninterested in articulating the more orthodox Marxian ideas of prominent Latin Americanist media theorists of the day, thinkers like Armand Mattelart, Juan José Hernández Arregui, and Heriberto Muraro, whose methods of ideological critique and truculent diagnoses of the nefarious bonds between mass communications and neo-colonization found such acute resonance in Solanas and Getino’s work. Rather than cast advertising as a mode of production for which “el pueblo” must fight for control against the pernicious forces of capitalist imperialism, Fischerman’s film strives to empty advertising discourse completely of its persuasive weight. In turn, it augurs an anti-orthodox, post-Marxian conception of mass media akin to the ideas of Jean Baudrillard, for whom the Marxist theory of production was inadequate to that which it excluded, namely those modes of communication proper to the superstructure.
Indeed, unlike what we find in the agit-prop tactics of a work like The Hour of the Furnaces, The Players largely eschews the conventional morphology of “the pitch” with which the so-called “System” has endowed advertising discourse. In both cases, however, the ostensible purpose is to resist re-appropriation by the “System” in question. As for Baudrillard, whose book The System of Objects appeared around the time that both Fischerman and Solanas and Getino were making their films, he likely would have gone a step further, surmising in the incessant détournement of advertising images in political documentaries like The Hour of the Furnaces the very means by which such works end up constituting fetish objects of consumption in themselves, precisely because they adopt wholesale, rather than alter or reject outright, the capitalist structures of advertising discourse as such. To Baudrillard in 1968, advertising discourse was nothing but “pure connotation” incapable of production per se. Instead, its role in the “system of objects” came from the dual status of the advertisement as form and concept, that is, as both a “discourse on the [advertised] object and as an object [of consumption] in its own right.”
Advertising discourse so construed operates on the order of myth, much as Roland Barthes had theorized it a decade earlier by positing a “second-order semiological system” or “metalanguage” through which the form naturalizes the concept, and history (or ideology) is thereby reconstituted as universal, inevitable, common-sense. Writing for the journal Utopie not long after the publication of The System of Objects, Baudrillard would radically amplify Barthes’s semiological thesis by positing advertising discourse not merely as a meta-linguistic form that naturalizes its ideological content, but also as a “model of signification” wholly independent of any political or ideological content whatsoever.
In Argentina, meanwhile, and in terms that would have resonated with Baudrillard’s, avant-garde films like Fischerman’s were formulating a critical film discourse aimed at challenging the very terms by which Third Cinema seemed to be “understanding the media”of advertising. Specifically, in its peculiar deployment of advertising form, The Players presages Baudrillard’s claim that “to believe in a critical reversal of the media” is “a strategic illusion.” In other words, détournement is futile. This, I sense, is the critique that Fischerman’s particular “uses of advertising” secretly levy against the political aesthetics of Solanas and Getino. That is to say, The Players suggests that any work of political art claiming simply to turn the System’s own tools against themselves is likely to wind up reproducing the very ideology of communication proper to the (capitalist, neo-colonial) System in question. Better to sap advertising discourse of its persuasive force by diluting it in a suspension of multiple, simultaneous discourses: fictional, cinematic, quotidian, and political.
In this light, some might see in The Players a more prescient intimation of the true nature of television advertising on the horizon already at the dawn of the seventies. Insofar as it comprehends advertising discourse neither as a revolutionary means of toppling the System by the System’s own methods nor as a way to sell revolutionary ideology, Fischerman’s film arguably aspires to revolutionize the techniques of advertising themselves—to change advertising discourse fundamentally—by depriving ads of usefulness or more precisely by depriving the medium of its message, its exchange-value. In other words, The Players endeavors to eviscerate advertising form of its dominant ideological content by rendering the advertisement as an unpersuasive form unto itself, entirely useless beyond its specific, structural situation in the cinematic work onto which it has been grafted as just another form.
This is not to say that the medium becomes the message in The Players, but rather that the medium is pure medium, devoid of message, wielded neither as an interruption of spectatorial pleasure nor as the anchor of any new late-capitalist “visual rhythm.” The pseudo-spots in Fischerman’s film are formulated as essentially anti-capitalist devices, not in a rhetorical sense so much as a structural one. Their radical force derives from the entire procession or matrix of cinematic forms in relation to which they dynamically if precariously stand. Just as crucial, the advertising segments in The Players forge a radically critical relationship to the film’s implied spectator, whose status as a consumer is subverted by the simultaneous presence of advertising forms and absence of discrete cinematic “advertisement-objects,” so seamlessly are they blended into the over-arching narrative formlessness of the film.
In the end, it is perhaps this notion of the spectator that has sealed the historiographical fate of enigmatic works like The Players. In the fraught historical epoch of its production, Fischerman’s film was seen to lack a sufficiently revolutionary politics. Yet what more likely consigned the film to oblivion was the specific brand of revolutionary violence it perpetrated on its audience. To be sure, The Players aspired to change drastically the dominant system of (advertising) communication in Latin America at the time. In the final analysis, however, the film largely dispensed with its public, opting instead to wield its strategic failure to communicate as a revolutionary objective unto itself. In this regard, Fischerman’s project conveyed precisely the iconoclasm of his coreligionists in and beyond the Group of 5, as artists who strove above all to proclaim their radical autonomy from all the competing political positions in play throughout the Argentine Sixties.
To be sure, neither The Players nor The Hour of the Furnaces ever succeeded in altering the nature of film spectatorship in any lasting way. Admittedly, that was always the paramount if most elusive goal of every revolutionary political cinema in 1960s Latin America. But one thing is certain: it is Solanas and Getino’s documentary and not Fischerman’s feature that Latin American film discourse since the 60s has affirmed as a legitimate work of political-modernist art. Not surprisingly, The Hour of the Furnaces today stands as an especially enduring object of academic consumption. For better or worse, scholars and critics have mainly left The Players vs. Fallen Angels alone. It endures, in turn, as a work still radically unbeholden to those who would somehow re-vindicate its version of political modernism if not, at the very least, its critique of advertising discourse.
1. This essay develops research from two earlier papers, one delivered at the 2010 annual conference of the Society of Cinema and Media Studies, the other presented at the Fourth Annual Conference of the Andrew W. Mellon Postdoctoral Fellowship in the Humanities, University of California, Los Angeles, February 11-12, 2010. [return to text]
2. The other members were Ricardo Becher, Raúl de la Torre, Alberto Néstor Paternostro, and Juan José Stagnaro, none of whose contemporaneous films attained the formal (and political) audacity of The Players. In hindsight, Fischerman’s work was in more intimate dialogue with other filmmakers who operated even farther to the margins of Argentine cinema at the time, among them Julio Ludueña, Miguel Bejo, Edgardo Cozarinsky, and Rafael Filippelli. Néstor Tirri discusses these connections in the only book-length work to date dedicated to Fischerman’s cohort. See Néstor Tirri, comp., El Grupo de los 5 y sus contemporáneos. Pioneros del cine independiente en la Argentina (1968-1975) (Buenos Aires: Secretaría de Cultura GobBsAs, 2000), 87-100. Since drafting the original version of this article, I have encountered David Oubiña’s compelling monograph, El silencio y sus bordes: modos de lo extremo en la literatura y el cine (Mexico, D.F.: Fondo de Cultura Económica, 2011), an unaltered version of his 2005 doctoral thesis, in which he devotes an extensive chapter to Fischerman’s work. Also signaling Fischerman’s greater affinity with those other artists outside the Group of 5, Oubiña frames The Players as one of a small corpus of unrepeatable limit-works of narrative art from Argentina at the turn of the 1970s, meanwhile situating Fischerman’s larger concerns firmly within a matrix of global critical discourses, from political-modernist film theory and the Adorno of The Dialectics of Enlightenment to theories and practices of the happening.
3. Diana Sorensen, A Turbulent Decade Remembered: Scenes from the Latin American 60s, Cultural Memory in the Present (Stanford: Stanford UP, 2007), 17.
4. On the now unproblematic designation of the 60s as a “long decade” (roughly, from the mid-1950s to the mid-1970s), see Fredric Jameson, “Periodizing the 60s,” Social Text 9/10, The 60's without Apology (Spring-Summer, 1984): 178-209; and, more recently, Arthur Marwick, The 60s: Cultural Revolution in Britain, France, Italy, and the United States, c.1958-c.1974 (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1998). Implicit in Jameson’s original formulation is a geographic component that locates the origins of the global 60s outside the industrialized West, that is to say, in the third world, or more precisely, in the former colonies of Great Britain and France, where the first national liberation movements erupted. Nonetheless, still earlier manifestations of this global moment arguably come from Japan, where Left-revolutionary, “anti-imperialist” student movements began with opposition to the first U.S.-Japan Security Treaty of 1950 and spanned the entire decade to follow. See Victor Koschmann, “Intellectuals and Politics,” in Postwar Japan as History, ed. Andrew Gordon (Berkeley: University of California, 1993), 395-423.
5. Although its purview does not extend to cases beyond Europe and North America, the definitive critique of the discourse of political modernism, particularly in its articulation of the conflict between “the aesthetic” and “the political” in post-1968 avant-garde film theory and practice, remains D. N. Rodowick, The Crisis of Political Modernism: Criticism and Ideology in Contemporary Film Theory, 1st pbk. ed. (Berkeley: University of California, 1994). The seminal theoretical statement on “the two avant-gardes” in modernist film discourse is Peter Wollen, “The Two Avant-Gardes,” Studio International 190.978 (November/December 1975): 171–175. Here Wollen traces the opposition to competing tendencies of self-reflexive formalism (mainly in North American experimental film) and narrative anti-illusionism (mainly in the European tradition leading from Eisenstein to Godard), before heralding a potential “third avant-garde” that would effectively merge the two orientations. Not coincidentally—though without referring explicitly to Wollen’s essay of five years earlier—Robert Stam would discern just such an amalgamation in Solanas and Getino’s 1968 documentary. See Robert Stam, “The Hour of the Furnaces and the Two Avant-gardes,” in The Social Documentary in Latin America, ed. Julianne Burton (Pittsburgh: University of Pittsburgh Press, 1990) 251-66, originally printed in Millennium Film Journal 7-9 (Fall-Winter 1980-81).
6. A project unto itself is needed to adequately redress the long-standing pan-continental bias of scholarship on 1960s Latin American film in this regard. A cursory review of the scholarly literature on the New Latin American Cinema itself, however, is instructive. To begin, one of the principle anthologies of studies on the New Latin American Cinema succinctly epitomizes the contradictions in the competing titles of its two volumes: see Michael T. Martin, ed., New Latin American Cinema, Vol. 1: Theory, Practice and Transcontinental Articulations (Detroit: Wayne State UP 1997), and Vol. 2: Studies of National Cinemas (Detroit: Wayne State UP, 1997). Numerous other key sources on the New Latin American Cinema are equally susceptible to the seductions of this (elusive) pan-continental ideal in the analysis of 1960s Latin American cinema. In addition to Burton’s edited volume, cited above, see also Michael Chanan, ed. Twenty-five Years of the New Latin American Cinema (London: BFI, 1983); Julianne Burton, ed. Cinema and Social Change in Latin America: Conversations with Filmmakers (Austin: University of Texas, 1986); and Zuzana M. Pick, The New Latin American Cinema: A Continental Project, Texas Film Studies Series (Austin: Texas UP 1993).
7. Solanas and Getino in no way propose that First and Second Cinema somehow cease to operate with the ideological evolution of film history towards Third Cinema. Rather, they find all three operating simultaneously and dialectically within the historical conjuncture of national liberation. The document (originally titled “Hacia un tercer cine”) has been reprinted in various publications, including Michael T. Martin, New Latin American Cinema, Vol. 1, 59-61. The Spanish text is included in Hojas de cine: testimonios y documentos del Nuevo Cine Latinoamericano, Consejo Nacional de Recursos para la Atención de la Juventud (Puebla, México: Universidad Autónoma de Puebla, 1986). The concerted revision and expansion of the theory of Third Cinema commenced with Teshome Gabriel, Third Cinema in the Third World: The Cinema of Liberation (Ann Arbor: UMI, 1982), and arguably culminated with Jim Pines and Paul Willemen, eds., Questions of Third Cinema (London: British Film Institute, 1989). On Third Cinema discourse in the Latin American context specifically, see Octavio Getino and Susana Velleggia, El cine de las historias de la revolución. Aproximaciones a las teorías y practices del cine politico en América Latina (1967-1977) (Buenos Aires: Grupo Editor Altamira, 2002). Insofar as it represents the film-discursive counterpart to the discourse of liberation in the Latin American 60s, it bears comprehending Third Cinema as just one of an array of transnational Latin Americanisms at the time, viz., Dependency Theory, Pedagogy of the Oppressed, Liberation Theology, the New Latin American Novel (a.k.a. the Boom).
8. In subsequent writings, Getino was in fact quite explicit about the expressly national objectives of his collaboration with Solanas. Specifically, within the parameters of the film collective they founded, Grupo Cine Liberación, Solanas and Getino regarded their artistic activity as nothing short of the cultural arm of Revolutionary Peronism, the broader militant political movement that dominated the opposition to the right-wing military regime in Argentina at the time. See Octavio Getino, A diez años de “Hacia un tercer cine” (México, D.F.: Filmoteca de la UNAM, 1982) 5-35. On the crucial role of Grupo Cine Liberación in the Left-Peronist movement in Argentina at the end of the 1960s and beginning of the 70s, see Mariano Mestman, “Raros e inéditos del grupo Cine Liberación. A 40 años de La hora de los hornos,” Revista Sociedad 27 (primavera 2008): 25-79. However abundant the scholarship on Peronism, it bears underscoring the deeply problematic association of Perón’s own political ideas with those of Left-Revolutionary ideology in 1960s Argentina, which took its inspiration mainly from the Marxist-Leninist orientation of the Cuban Revolution. Perón was by and large a realist who forged alliances across the political spectrum, and whose corporatist “third way” between the extremes of the Cold War often embraced starkly contradictory political positions. Important analyses of Peronism include Ernesto Laclau, “Towards a Theory of Populism,” in Politics and Ideology in Marxist Theory: Capitalism-Fascism-Populism (London: NLB, Humanities Press, 1977) 143-98; Tulio Halperin Donghi, “El lugar del peronismo en la tradición política argentina,” and Mariano Ben Plotkin, "La ‘ideología’ de Perón: continuidades y rupturas," both in Perón, del exilio al poder, ed. Samuel Amaral and Mariano Plotkin (Buenos Aires: Cántaro, 1993) 15-44, 45-67; Ricardo Sidicaro, Los tres peronismos. Estado y poder económico, 1945-55/1973-76/1989-99 (Buenos Aires: Siglo XXI, 2005); and Loris Zanatta, Breve historia del peronismo clásico, trad. Carlos Catroppi, Serie Nudos de la historia argentina (Buenos Aires: Editorial Sudamericana, 2009).
9. Until recently, the principal industrial history of advertising in Argentina was Armando Alonso Piñeiro, Breve historia de la publiciad argentina 1801-1974 (Buenos Aires: Alzamore Editores, 1974) For a new, more nuanced critical study of the rise of consumer culture in post-war Argentina and, subsequently, of the evolution of commercial advertising, see Natalia Milanesio, Workers Go Shopping in Argentina: the Rise of Popular Consumer Culture (Albuquerque: University of New Mexico, 2013), especially chapter 3, “Commercial Culture Becomes Popular: Advertising and the Challenges of a Changing Market,” 83-122.
10. One fairly recent exception to this oversight is Laura Podalsky, “La hora de los hornos in the Advertising Age,” in Specular City: Transforming Culture, Consumption, and Space in Buenos Aires, 1955-1973 (Philadelphia: Temple UP, 2002), 208-227. While Podalsky’s stated aim is to historically situate the “critique of consumerism” in Solanas and Getino’s documentary “against the backdrop of the contemporary Argentine advertising industry,” it must be noted that her account neither attempts to compare the effective uses of “advertising techniques” in The Hour of the Furnaces with those found in actual advertising spots from the period, nor ventures to relate the film’s putative advertising aesthetics to the broader critical discourse on advertising taking shape both within and beyond Latin America at the time. I will bring greater attention to this discursive constellation below.
11. César Maranghello, “Alberto Fischerman, el hombre que sabía escuchar,” in Tirri, El Grupo de los 5, 25.
12. For all its merit, Podalsky’s analysis in the aforementioned chapter of Specular City is symptomatic of this kind of omission: while she addresses Solanas’s vocation as a factor in the adoption of what she perceives as advertising strategies in The Hour of the Furnaces, she disregards the political contradictions that result from his professional association with the very advertising world his film denounces.
13. Marshall McLuhan, Understanding Media: The Extensions of Man, 1964, Introd. Lewis H. Lapham (Cambridge, MA: MIT Press, 1994), especially chapter 23, “Ads: Keeping Upset with the Joneses,” 226-33. To today’s reader, McLuhan’s pronouncements on advertising—“a self-liquidating form of community entertainment” with the “goal of a programmed harmony among all human impulses and aspirations and endeavors”—can sound frankly oracular. Certainly, to judge not only by the ubiquity and uniformity of advertising imagery across the contemporary media landscape (even in the case of images made merely to look like high-production advertisements), not to mention the ubiquitous iconicity of that advertising imagery, according to which any reference to an actual product has long since become extraneous to the objective of the ad, McLuhan’s insights may now sound more clairvoyant than ever. As I hope to suggest, the way Fischerman’s The Players vs. Ángeles Caídos understands advertising media imparts a similar prescience, perhaps to the same degree that Solanas and Getino’s critique of mass media can now look and sound somewhat dated.
14. The scholarly literature on this period of Argentine history is vast. My severely schematic overview here relies mainly on Hugo Vezzetti, Sobre la violencia revolucionaria. Memorias y olvidos (Buenos Aires: Siglo XXI Editores, 2009); and Boris Fausto and Fernando J. Devoto, Brasil e Argentina: um ensaio de história comparada (1850-2000), trans. of Spanish texts by Sérgio Molina (São Paulo: Editora 34, 2004), especially chapter 3, “A construção dos dois populismos e sua crise (1937-1968),” 332-93; and chapter 4, “Ditadura, democratização e o tempo mais recente (1968-2002),” 395-453.
15. My schematic discussion of the Di Tella Institute here relies mainly on two sources. First is the now classic history of the organization by John King, El Di Tella, y el desarrollo cultural argentino en la década del sesenta, 1985, 2nd ed. (Buenos Aires: Asunto Impreso Ediciones, 2007). Though eminently useful as a historical reconstruction of a crucial hub of cultural production, King’s is a mostly acquiescent, linear account of the Institute’s activities through the 1960s, based primarily on archival documents. Farther-reaching in its purview and more circumspect in its analytical stance is Andrea Giunta, Vanguardia, internacionalismo y política: arte argentina de los años sesenta, edición ampliada (Buenos Aires: Siglo XXI Editores, 2008), which aims to situate organizations like the Di Tella within a broader nexus of global cultural phenomena during this complex chapter of Argentine art history.
17. Con un poco de arena / con un poco de mar / si tu estás a mi lado / ya no quiero más. [This and all subsequent translations of non-English sources are mine unless otherwise noted.]
18. The investigation of Erize’s case—which culminated in July 2009 with the conviction of those responsible for her sequestration, rape, and murder—has gained considerable attention in the Argentine press. See, for instance Juan C. Poblete Barrios, “Tres hombres secuestraron a la joven,” La Nación, Aug. 9, 2000, accessed Oct. 14, 2013, www.lanacion.com.ar/28108-tres-hombres-secuestraron-a-la-joven; , Miriam Walter, “Procesaron a Menéndez por el asesinato de Marie Anne Erize,” Diario de Cuyo, July 25, 2009, accessed Oct 26, 2013, www.diariodecuyo.com.ar/home/new_noticia.php?noticia_id=354184; and Daniel Tejada, “El retrato íntimo de Marie Anne, Tiempo de San Juan, Sept. 29, 2012, accessed Oct. 25, 2013, www.tiempodesanjuan.com/notas/2012/9/29/retrato-intimo-marie-anne-18342.asp.
19. Edgardo Cozarinsky, “The Players vs. Ángeles Caídos,” Primera Plana (June 1969), reprinted in Tirri, El Grupo de los 5, 76.
20. Henri Lefebvre, The Production of Space, 1974, trans. Donald Nicholson-Smith (Oxford: Blackwell, 1991), 384-85. One may also detect in The Players certain anarchist tendencies that resonate with aspects of Lefebvre’s thought. Though he never assumed the mantle of anarchism for himself, Lefebvre’s sympathies with anarchist philosophy are well-known. See Andy Merrifield, Henri Lefebvre: A Critical Introduction (New York & Oxford: Routledge, 2006), xxiv-xxv; 175n13. Responding to speculations over his anarchist predilections, Lefebvre famously confessed to Edward Soja in 1978 that he was “a Marxist, of course…so that we can all be anarchists some time in the future.” See Edward W. Soja, Thirdspace: Journeys to Los Angeles and Other Real-And-Imagined Places (Oxford: Blackwell, 1996), 33.
21. As so many critics have commented, the film is a tour de force of avant-garde film techniques—though I must side with Gonzalo Aguilar in asserting that none was truly innovative any more by 1969. Rather, the film’s radical status resides in its rejection not only of hegemonic industrial modes of cinematic production, but of the entire institution of commercial cinema itself. See Gonzalo Aguilar, “La hora de los hornos: historia de su recepción,” in Cine argentino: Modernidad y vanguardias 1957/1983, Vol. II, ed. Claudio España (Buenos Aires: Fondo Nacional de las Artes, 2005) 496.
22. This, in essence, is how Podalsky characterizes the deployment of advertising aesthetics in The Hour of the Furnaces: a tactical means of turning the language of “the System” against itself. In a similar vein, Robert Stam makes brief mention of advertising as one of many aesthetic strategies of persuasion and demystification in the film, though he refers mainly to the film’s re-appropriation of advertising images from commercial print media. See Stam, “The Hour of the Furnaces and the Two Avant-gardes,” in Burton, The Social Documentary in Latin America, 253. As I remark below, Emilio Bernini has addressed similar questions of advertising style and media appropriation in The Hour of the Furnaces with considerably greater depth and complexity. See Emilio Bernini, “Politics and the Documentary Film in Argentina,” Journal of Latin American Cultural Studies 13.2 (August 2004): 155-170.
23. Cited in Beatriz Sarlo, “La noche de las cámaras despiertas,” La máquina cultural: maestras, traductores y vanguardias, Colección Los Tres Mundos (Buenos Aires: Seix Barral, 2007) 183.
24. For the first formal theoretical statement on détournement, see Guy Debord and Gil J. Wolman, “Mode d’emploi du détournement,” in Guy Debord, Oeuvres, ed. Jean-Louis Rançon with Alice Debord, pref. and introd. Vincent Kaufmann (Paris: Gallimard, 2006) 221-29, first printed in Les Lévres nues 8 (May 1956). To my knowledge, no one has yet drawn the connection between the techniques of appropriation in The Hour of the Furnaces—themselves inspired by the work of Cuban director Santiago Álvarez at the Instituto Cubano de Artes e Industrias Cinematográficas (ICAIC) beginning in 1959—and the methods of détournement in Situationist cinema. Guy Debord’s short film, Critique de la séparation, dates from 1961, and already contains the basic elements of détournement, though it would only be with the 1973 film “adaptation” of his 1967 tract, La societé du spectacle,that the method would find its full expression. In this sense, both Álvarez’s films and The Hour of the Furnaces prefigure Society of the Spectacle as a work of cinematic détournement.
25. Beatriz Sarlo, “La noche de las cámaras despiertas,” in La máquina cultural, 189.
26. This counterpoint, it should be noted, does not result from conventional parallel montage, a narrative strategy that Fischerman resisted categorically in The Players (yet another of the factors distancing him from his Group of 5 peers). Both Oubiña and Rafael Filippelli stress this point. See Filippelli, “Una combinación fugaz y excepcional: el Grupo de los 5,” in Tirri, El Grupo de los 5, 20; and Oubiña, El silencio y sus bordes, 147.
27. Yo me encuentro al despertar / con el mundo que dejé: / con mi cuarto, con mi chica / con mi tasa de café….
28. Hoy me levanté alegre / porque alegre me acosté. / Mi amor se durmió conmigo / yo me desperté con él / La-da-da-da-da-da-da-dum, […] / Si me duermo, llego tarde. / Si me visto, tarde es. / Si hago el amor llego tarde / pero llegaré muy bien.
29. Guy Debord, Society of the Spectacle, 1967, trans. Ken Knabb (London: Rebel Press, nd), 7. The four cited passages come from chapter 1, “The Culmination of Separation,” sections 1, 3, 4, and 5, respectively.
30. Lyn Spiegel, TV by Design: Modern Art and the Rise of Network Television (Chicago and London: University of Chicago Press, 2008), 243-44.
31. Raymond Williams, Television: Technology and Cultural Form (New York: Schocken Books, 1975), 68-69.
32. Emilio Bernini, “Politics and the Documentary Film in Argentina,” 163-64.
33. Indeed, as articulated in the first part of The Hour of the Furnaces, Solanas and Getino’s critique of “neo-colonization” in Latin America by means of the mass media is tightly aligned with the ideas of such intellectuals. See, in particular, Juan José Hernández Arregui, Imperialismo y cultura: la política en la inteligencia argentina (Buenos Aires: Editorial Amerindia, 1957), which the filmmakers cite in both The Hour of the Furnaces and in “Towards a Third Cinema”; and Hernández Arregui, Nacionalismo y liberación: metrópolis y colonias en la era del imperialismo (Buenos Aires: Ediciones Hachea, 1969). See also, Armand Mattelart, La comunicación masiva en el proceso de liberación (México: Siglo XXI Editores, 1973); and Heriberto Muraro, Neocapitalismo y comunicación de masa (Buenos Aires: Editorial Universitaria de Buenos Aires, 1974).
34. That the first formulations of Gilles Deleuze and Félix Guattari on the Capitalist “machine” also date to this period is no coincidence. I refer specifically to their postulation of the “Body without Organs” as that virtual dimension of Capitalism—a kind of matrix of potentialities or flows of desire—that continually “reterritorializes” the various forms of surplus, aberration, or resistance that Capitalist society itself engenders. See Deleuze and Guattari, Anti-Oedipus, 1972, Vol. 1 of Capitalism and Schizophrenia, Trans. Robert Hurley, Mark Seem, and Helen R. Lane, pref. Michel Foucault (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota, 1983), especially the sections titled “The Body without Organs,” 9-16; and “The Civilized Capitalist Machine,” 222-240
35. Jean Baudrillard, System of Objects, 1968 (London: Verso, 2005), 178 (my emphasis).
36. Roland Barthes, “Myth Today,” in Mythologies, 1957, trans. Annette Lavers (New York: Hill and Wang, 1972) 114; 115; 129.
37. Jean Baudrillard, “Requiem for the Media,” in Utopia Deferred: Writings for Utopie (1967-78), trans. Stuart Kendall (New York: Semiotext(e), 2006) 83.
38. Baudrillard, “Requiem for the Media,” in Utopia Deferred, 84.
39. “Éramos… militantes del ‘partido cinematográfico’” (“We were… militants in the Party of Cinema”). Bebe Kamin and Julio Ludueña in conversation with Néstor Tirri, in Tirri, “Alianzas Contestatarias (Ludueña, Bejo, Cozarinsky),” El Grupo de los 5 y sus contemporáneos, 100.