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Screenplay

On The Passage of a Few Persons through a Rather Brief Period of Time

by Guy-Ernest Debord


1959 DANSK-FRANSK EXPERIMENTALFILMSKOMPAGNI

Voice 1 (male announcer) This neighborhood was made for the  
        SUB-TITLE: PARIS 1952
        (Facade of buildings in the neighborhood of Saint-Germain-des-Près) 
        wretched dignity of the petit-bourgeoisie, for respectable 
        occupations and intellectual tourism. The sedentary population of 
        the upper floors was sheltered from the influences of the street. 
                                  (Young people pass by)
        This neighborhood has remained the same. It was the strange setting 
                                (A photograph of two couples drinking wine 
                                at a table is studied by the camera in the 
                                                  manner of an art film.)
        HANDEL: FORMAL LOVE THEME
        for our story. Here a systematic questioning of all the diversions 
        and works of a society, a total critique of its idea of happiness, 
        was expressed in acts.
        
        These people also scorned "subjective profundity." They were 
        interested in nothing but an adequate and concrete expression of 
        themselves.
        
Voice 2 (Debord, monotone) Human beings are not fully conscious of 
        their real life...usually groping in the dark; overwhelmed by the 
        consequences of their acts; at every moment groups and individuals 
        find themselves confronted with results they have not wished.
            THE MUSIC IS INTERRUPTED.
        
Voice 1 They said that Oblivion was their ruling passion. They  
                (Other faces)
        wanted to reinvent everything each day; to become masters and 
        possessors of their own lives.
        
        Just as One does not judge a man according to the conception he has 
        of himself, one cannot judge such periods of transition according 
        to their own consciousness; on the contrary, one must explain the 
        consciousness through the material conditions of material life, 
        through the conflict between social conditions and the forces of 
        social production.
                                  (The pope and other ecclesiastics)
        
        The progress achieved in the domination of nature was not yet 
        matched by the corresponding liberation of everyday life. Youth 
                                         (Young girls coming out of school)
        passed away among the various controls of resignation.
                              (French police in the streets)
        
        Our camera has captured for you a few aspects of a provisional 
        micro-society.
        (A sequence in reportage style of cafe tables in Saint-Germain-des 
        Pres)
        
        The knowledge of empirical facts remains abstract and superficial 
        as long as it is not concretized by its integration into the whole -- 
        which alone permits the supersession of partial and abstract 
        problems so as to arrive at their CONCRETE ESSENCE, and implicitly 
        at their meaning. 
        
        This Group was on the margins of the economy. It tended toward a 
        role of pure consumption, and first of all the free consumption of 
        its time. It thus found itself directly engaged in qualitative 
        variations of daily life but deprived of any means to intervene in 
        them.
        
        The group ranged over a very small area. The same times found them
        (Night time in Les Halles)
        in the same places. No one went to bed early. Discussion on the 
        (Panoramic view over a very lively and packed square in Les Halles 
        at night)
        meaning of all this continued.
        
Voice 2 "Our life is a journey -- In the winter and the night -- We 
        seek our passage..."
        
Voice 1 The abandoned literature nevertheless exerted a delaying 
        (Several views of dawn over Les Halles)
        action on new affective formulations. 
        
Voice 2 There was the fatigue and the cold of the morning in this 
        much-traversed labyrinth, like an enigma that we had to resolve. It 
        was a looking glass reality through which we had discovered the 
        possible richness of reality. On the bank of the river, evening 
        (Paris -- the river Seine looking east)
        began once again; and caresses; and the importance of a world  
        (Piles of bricks on the Quai Saint-Bernard)
        DELALANDE: NOBLE AND TRAGIC THEME FOR SOLO BASSOON
        without importance. Just as the eyes have a blurred vision of many 
        things and can see only one clearly, so the will can strive only 
        incompletely toward diverse objects and can completely love only 
        (a girl) THE MUSIC DIES DOWN
        one at a time.
        
Voice 3 (Young girl) No one counted on the future. It would never 
        (Inside the labyrinth of bricks)               (Police vans depart)
        be possible to be together later, or anywhere else. There would 
                       (The Ile Saint-Louis at dusk)   (Two very young 
        couples dancing on a beach next to a guitar player)
        never be a greater freedom.
        
Voice 1 The refusal of time and growing old, automatically limited 
        (Some locations between Place Saint-Sulpice and rue Mazarine)
        encounters in this narrow contingent zone, where what was lacking 
        was felt as irreparable. The extreme precariousness of the means of 
        getting by without working was at the root of this impatience, which
        made excesses necessary and breaks definitive.
        
Voice 2 One never really contests an organization of existence 
        (The screen remains white)
        without contesting all of that organization's forms of language.
        
Voice 1 When freedom is practiced in a closed circle, it fades into
        (Tracking shots in a cafe, the camera's movement arbitrarily cut by 
        boards: "The passions and celebrations of a violent age"; "In the 
        course of movement and accordingly on the transitory side"; "The 
        most exciting suspense!")
        a dream, becomes a mere representation of itself. The ambiance of 
        play is by nature unstable. At any moment "ordinary life" can 
        prevail once again. The geographical limitation of play is even 
        than its temporal limitation. Any game takes place within the 
        (Board: "With marvellous decor specially made for the purpose!")
        more striking contours of its spatial domain. Around the 
        neighborhood, around its fleeting and threatened immobility, 
        (People pass along the Boulevard Saint-Michel in foggy weather)
        stretched a half-known city where people met only by chance losing
        (A couple at a table in a cafe)
        their way forever. The girls there, because they were legally under 
        the control of their families until the age of eighteen, were often 
        (In Japan several hundred police come into view running)
        recaptured by the defenders of that detestable institution. They 
        (The outside walls of the Chevilly-Laure prison)
        were generally confined under the guard of those creature who among
        the bad products of a bad society are the most ugly and repugnant: 
        nuns.
        
        What usually makes documentaries so easy to understand is the 
        (The screen remains white)
        arbitrary limitation of their subject matter. They describe the 
        atomization of social functions and the isolation of their products.
        One can in contrast envisage the entire complexity of a moment which
        is not resolved into a work, a moment whose movement indissolubly
        contains facts and values whose meaning does not yet appear. The 
        subject matter of the documentary would then be this confused 
        totality. 
        
Voice 2 The epoch had arrived at the level of knowledge and 
        (Violent confrontations between Japanese workers and the police. 
        General view of events. The police gain ground.)
        technical means that made possible, and increasingly necessary a 
        DIRECT construction of all aspects of liberated, affective and 
        practical existence. The appearance of these superior means of 
        action, still unused because of the delays in the project of 
        liquidating the commodity economy, had already condemned aesthetic 
        activity, whose ambitions and powers were both outdated. The decay 
        of art and of all values of former mores had formed our sociological
        background. The ruling classes monopoly over the instruments we had 
        (The screen remains white)
        to control in order to realize the collective art of our time had 
        excluded us from a cultural production officially devoted to 
        illustrating and repeating the past. An art film on this generation 
        can only be a film on its absence of real works.
        
        Everyone unthinkingly followed the paths learned once and for all, 
        (People pass by in front of the railings of the Cluny Museum)
        To their works and their homes, To their predictable future. For 
        them duty had already become a habit, and habit a duty. They did not 
        see the deficiency of their city. They thought the deficiency of 
        their life was natural. We wanted to break out of this conditioning,
        (Windows lit up at night in the Rue des Ecoles and the Rue Monagne-
        Sainte-Genevieve) HANDEL: FORMAL LOVE THEME
        in quest of another use of the urban landscape, in quest of new 
        passions. The atmosphere of a few places gave us intimations of the 
        future powers of an architecture it would be necessary to create to 
        be the support and framework for less mediocre games.  We could 
        THE MUSIC ENDS
        expect nothing of anything we ourselves had not altered. The urban 
        (Some houses in Paris)
        environment proclaimed the orders and tastes of the ruling society 
        just as violently as the newspapers. It is man who makes the unity 
        of the world, but man has extended himself everywhere. Men can see 
        nothing around them that is not in their own image; Everything 
        speaks to them of themselves. Their very landscape is alive. There 
        were obstacles everywhere. There was a coherence in the obstacles 
        (English police on foot and horseback drive back demonstrators)
        of all types. They maintained the coherent reign of poverty. 
                                                  (The screen remains white)
        Everything being connected, it was necessary to CHANGE EVERYTHING by
        a unitary struggle, or nothing. It was necessary to link up with the
        masses, but we were surrounded by sleep.
        
Voice 3 The dictatorship of the proletariat is a desperate 
        struggle, bloody and bloodless, violent and peaceful, military and 
        economic, educational and administrative, against the forces and 
        traditions of the old world.
        
Voice 1 In this country it is once again the men of order who have 
        (A demonstration of while colonists in Algiers, May 1958. General 
        Massau and General Salan. A company of parachutists marches towards 
        the camera)
        rebelled. They have reinforced their power. They have been able to 
        aggravate the grotesqueness of the ruling conditions according to 
        their will. They have embellished their system with the funeral 
        ceremonies of the past.
        (General De Galle speaks on a rostrum and bangs his fist)
        
Voice 2 Years, like a single instant prolonged to this point, come 
        (The screen remains white)
        to an end.
        
Voice 1 That which was directly lived reappears frozen in the 
        (The star of an advertising film Monsavon)    (A girls face)
        distance, fitted into the tastes and illusions of an era carried 
        (A cavalry charge in the streets of a town)
        away with it.
        
Voice 2 The appearance of events that we have not made, that 
        (The screen remains white)
        others have made against us, obliges us from now on to be aware of 
        the passage of time, its results, the transformation of our own 
        desires into events. What differentiates the past from the present
        (The face of another girl)
        is precisely its out of reach objectivity; there is no more should 
        (A starlette in a bath)
        be; being is so consumed that it has ceased to exist. The details 
        (Tracking shot of the starlette in the bath) (The solar eruption 
        shot continues its rising movement)
        are already lost in the dust of time. Who was afraid of life, 
        afraid of the night, afraid of being taken, afraid of being kept?
        
Voice 3 That which should be abolished continues, and we continue 
        (In Japan a dozen police with helmets and gas masks continue to 
        advance across a large space, now cleared, slowly firing tear gas 
        grenades)
        to wear away with it. We are engulfed. We are separated. The years 
        pass and we have not changed anything.
        
Voice 2 Once again morning in the same streets. Once again the 
        (Day breaks over a Paris bridge) (Slow panorama across the Place 
        des Victoires at dawn)
        DELALANDE: NOBLE AND TRAGIC THEME (REPRISE)
        fatigue of so many similarly passed nights. It is a walk that has 
        lasted a long time.
        THE MUSIC DIES DOWN
        
Voice 1 Really hard to drink more.
        (The screen remains white)
        
Voice 2 Of course one might make a film of it. But even if such a
        (A film crew around a camera)
        film succeeds in being as fundamentally incoherent and unsatisfying
        (The tracking shot across the cafe, as seen before, but uncut and 
        with a series of faults: people getting into the edge of the frame, 
        reflections in the lens, camera shadow, with a panorama drawn at the
        end of the shot)
        as the reality it deals with, it will never be more than a 
        re-creation -- poor and false like this botched tracking shot.
        
Voice 3 There are now people who flatter themselves that they are 
        (The screen remains white)
        authors of films, as others were authors of novels. They are even 
        more backward than the novelists because they are ignorant of the 
        decomposition and exhaustion of individual expression in our time, 
        ignorant of the end of the arts of passivity. They are praised for 
        their sincerity since they dramatize, with more personal depth, the
        conventions of which their life consists. There is talk of the 
        liberation of the cinema. But what does it matter to us if one more
        art is liberated through which Pierre or Jacques or Francois can 
        joyously express their slave sentiments? The only interesting 
        venture is the liberation of everyday life, not only in the 
        perspective of history but for us and right away. This entails the
        withering away of alienated forms of communication. The cinema too
        has to be destroyed.
        
Voice 2 In the final analysis, stars are created by the need we
        (A car stops. Tracking shot of the star of Monosavon coming 
        downstairs)
        have for them, and not by talent or absence of talent or even by
        (Two images of the film's clapboard recorded for two shots already
        seen)
        the film industry or advertising. Miserable need, dismal, anonymous
        life that would like to expand itself to the dimensions of cinema 
                                      (Horse riders in the Bois de Boulogne)
        life. The imaginary life on the screen is the product of this real
        need. The star is the projection of this need.
        
        The images of advertisements during the intermissions are more 
        (The advertising starlette shows how much she likes the soap and 
        smiles to the audience)
        suited than any for evoking an intermission of life.
        
        To really describe this era it would no doubt be necessary to show 
        (The screen remains white until thirty seconds after the last word 
        is spoken)
        many other things. But what would be the point? Better to grasp the
        totality of what has been done and what remains to be done than to 
        add more ruins to the old world of the spectacle and of memories.

Translation by Ken Knabb, 1981. No copyright.

 

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