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The Sixth Side of the Pentagon

by Chris Marker and Francois Reichenbach
First Run/Icarus Films, Brooklyn, NY, 2007
DVD, 26 mins., B/W

The Embassy
by Chris Marker
First Run/Icarus Films, Brooklyn, NY, 1973
DVD, 21 mins., B/W

Both videos are on the same DVD:
Sale/DVD: $348; rental/DVD: $100
Distributor’s website: http://www.frif.com.

Reviewed by Michael R. (Mike) Mosher
Saginaw Valley State University


The Sixth Side of the Pentagon, directed by Chris Marker and Francois Reichenbach, is a 26-minute documentary film of an antiwar demonstration that assembled at the headquarters of the US military in 1967. The film quotes the official figure of 35,00 marchers assembled in protest on that summery October day, representing groups opposed to US troops in Vietnam that were motivated by politics "from Ghandi to Castro". Like the similar demonstrations filmed by New York Newsreel, Marker and twA as no-nonsense as Bunuel’s "Land Without Bread", Marker’s narrative is like a play-by-play football game. The film is fast moving, made up of short cuts, prefiguring the MTV rock video style by 15 or 20 years.

In a prelude to the main event, we glimpse the organizing committee’s tiny office, people on the phone, and a tiny counter-demonstration by American Nazis. Young men begin returning their draft cards to the government, and a speaker mentions the day’s symbolic "revolt of Negroes". The demonstration begins in earnest with a moment of silence——monumental when observed by a crowd of 35,000 or more——in memory of Che Guevara, recently killed in Bolivia. Chaplain William Sloane Coffin of Yale University carries a weird, militaristic torch. Folksingers Peter, Paul and Mary strum and croon. The crowd shots show many young demonstrators with transistor radios pressed to their ears. Marker compares the moment to the "start of a country fair."

Various chants erupt, including "Hell no, we won’t go!" A puppet show is staged, and a commentator links the event to resistance movements in Vietnam, Bolivia, and Israel. We see the approaching figures marching from the Lincoln Memorial to the Pentagon, and the camera pans at belt-level over linked arms. Teenage and 20-something marchers wear bells, sandals, ponchos, and loafers. There’s banner this reviewer has seen recently applied to the Iraq war, SUPPORT OUR G.I.S——BRING THEM HOME"

"Out, demons, out!" chant Ed Sanders, Allen Ginsberg, and fellow Yippies who commence to levitate the Pentagon (it is noted they were issued an official permit limiting them to only 10 yards above the ground). Other demonstrators are ready for "direct action", sporting Vietcong flags and motorcycle helmets, despite organizers’ pleas to "Keep nonviolent!." Marker romantically compares them to the battle-ready troops at Agincourt. As demonstrators are shoved by billyclub-wielding white-gloved policemen, we appreciate how the documentary camera is in the thick of things. Over a chant of "Peace now!" we witness the abuse of a very young, frightened woman demonstrator, and the steadfastness of grizzled antiwar World War Two (or One?) veterans. The narrator announces "Other wings unfold. The county fair is over."

Ten demonstrators get into the Pentagon’s entrance hallway, opposed by helmeted marshals with clubs. A kid implores "Why are you scared, man?" to frightened, gum-chewing soldiers, a look of terror on a vulnerable guard. Marker switches from color to black and white footage. A woman throws a flower down before the troops’ guns, daring them to pick it up. Athletic demonstrators climb to a second-story terrace on ropes, and burn their draft cards there. The remaining demonstrators huddle in the night around campfires.

At sunrise, we see silhouettes of helmeted troops; according to earlier narration, three thousand soldiers had been sent to meet the demonstrators. A sequence of still photographs show demonstrators who spent the night in jail, including Norman Mailer, who then turned the experience of the demonstration into the book Armies of the Night. The narrator says that, despite the comforts of TV and sandwiches, the experience helped radicalize many of the arrested protesters, who have "moved on to political action". Marker seeks a summarizing analysis and questions the demonstration’s effect on the war, and on society. An answer is provided by a 15 year-old girl who attended the demonstration: "I have changed." At this simple truth, the film ends on a shot of a student’s fresh, young face.

The second film on the DVD, The Embassy, is a 21-minute tale from 1973. It purports to be a found super-8 film documenting the plight of political refugees who found sanctuary in a townhouse-like embassy following a military coup in their unnamed country. The movie’s initial audience would have been cognizant of the coup that, on September 11, 1973, overthrew the government of Chile. Tense but placid narration recounts horrors and displacement, including a shooting on the street directly below. People dine, are caught worrying, in long silent shots, as if surreptitiously glimpsed. We see the middle-class people in silhouettes, and there is "not one worker" among them. The man about 60 with a Russian name falls asleep on the floor.

"Through the windows, we see a dead city." The military security headquarters has two floors lit all night. Time passes, though all residents of the embassy are evidently bathing regularly and finding sufficient clothing. A child plays with a pet turtle. People sing folk songs with a guitar. The cordial Ambassador vacuums the carpet himself, as his wife watches. As there is no photo lab on the premises to process the film, "the images stay in suspension, like us." This is a slight film, but interesting. It seems improvised, as if Marker were at a party and wondered what kind of political film he could make, indoors with these people, in one long weekend afternoon.

The group finally leaves in a van leading to their exile, passing through a city they’ve "known since age three". Like the Hollywood movie of that era, Planet of the Apes, the film’s denouement (I won’t spoil it with precision) is the revelation that the refugee’s home country is a "first world" one.



Updated 1st April 2008

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