No Vietnamese ever called me nigger




Objectives and limits of late 60’s documentary films







by ©

Caroline Koerper


Benoît Blanchard






Berlin, Paris, 2002.

Please do not quote without prior consent






The film-maker-ethnographer


David Loeb Weiss’ No Vietnamese ever called me Nigger


How does the documentary deal with a problem and show a minority ?


Joris Ivens as a symbol


The montage as first effect


The identification


The influence of cinéma-vérité


The reality-problem


Godard and an engaged cinema


The political film


The secret camera

The limits of the commentary











“Documentaries tell us more about the look than about the thing we observe, and much more about the meaning of this thing than about an objective, utilitarian and used aspect. It shouldn’t deal with a documentary, but with a documented point of view” (Jean Vigo).[1]


Textfeld: Ever since the origin of its success around 1920, the documentary genre wore out in the 1930s and knew a revival after World War II. The audience needed a coming back to the documentary authenticity. No more exotic, the viewers want to believe what they see and their trust is controlled by their other means of information (books, radio, press). This revival was essentially due to the renewal of exploration, whose mystic could constitute a variant of after-war exotic.

The generalisation of the objective cinema of reportage has rectified in a significant way what we expect from a documentary. Many documentaries whose goal is to report facts lose their interest if the event didn’t happen really in front of the camera. Like the news.[2] But this doesn’t concern the exclusively didactic documentaries, that don’t aim at representing but at explaining the event.


The 60’s was in many ways a golden age of documentary film. Decades before there were reality-based TV shows devoted to police car chases, filmmakers such as Richard Leacock, the Maysles Brothers, D.A. Pennebaker, Robert Frank, Frederick Wiseman, and Life magazine correspondent Robert Drew borrowed elements from newsreel journalism, handheld cameras, intimate point-of-view, natural sound, minimal editing to invent the documentary genre called cinéma-vérité. The ciné vérité style was also often distinguished by a social awareness that provided its own editorialising despite the lack of voice-over narration and talking-head analysis. Cinéma-vérité does still exist today, on public broadcast and TV news coverage as well as in such phenomena as guerrilla video projects, but its edge tends to get dulled in the general oversupply of information. The '60sas we've been told time and again were different. Which is why the '60s-era documentaries that Yerba Buena curator Joel Shepard has dug up still seem so fresh and exciting, years after their ostensible hard news value has expired. Then, as now, the riddle of race relations was perplexing, at times all-consuming.


In the 1960’s, Martin Luther King had just been the new hero of the Black population and given entrance to the Black issue in the media. The Black population is very hopeful about getting the same rights as the Whites. They express themselves very clearly and freely. They don’t fear to say something they should or should not say. They are not afraid to express their feelings. This has something to do with an anger that has grown very strong. Through this documentary, we can see an almost perfect image of the feelings and attempts of this population. In comparison with Far from Vietnam, we will try to show how, according to different social political contexts, whereas documentary films deal with the same subjects completely different forms of expression arise.


The film-maker-ethnographer


Textfeld: It is because of the sociology and ethnology that the French cinema turned itself to the direct cinema. Very soon, ethnographers et sociologists needed to use light technical tools to make their investigations and works of observation easier.

And such were Rouch’s methods[3]. For him the only way of filming is to walk with the camera, to lead it where it is the most effective and to improvise for it a sort of “ballet” where the camera becomes lively as the men it films. The director shoots as he feels like; he’s the heart of the camera:

“The director that holds it is its eye, its ear, its legs. He is its brain, unique master of its movements, of the plans’ scale and length. He chooses them according to information perceived by its senses and immediately translated into emotions.”


Rouch’s films are not shot by a cold entomologist, they are made with men and women, that have consented to live their daily life in front of their white friend’s camera; they are full of exchanges, fraternity, familiarity and humour. Some consider this attitude as antiscientific, for an ethnographic film’s objectivity is based on the divorce of the couple film-maker-ethnographer. But Rouch, claims to be both, and answers them that as long as the film-maker-anthropologist, out of scientism, or ideological shame, shan’t keep hiding behind a comfortable incognito, for he condemns its films so.


As mentioned above, for Rouch the protagonist’s effective and conscious participation to the making of a movie is wished. This is perfectly conform to the traditional techniques of the ethnographic observation. The camera on the place doesn’t introduce any specific changes. On the contrary, the acting it implies may sometimes cause spontaneously psychological reactions that any other method of investigation would avoid.[4]



David Loeb Weiss’ No Vietnamese ever called me Nigger


Textfeld: Nothing demonstrates this quite as succinctly as David Loeb Weiss' 1968 documentary No Vietnamese Ever Called Me Nigger. The title, sometimes attributed to Muhammad Ali, is seen as a slogan on placards carried by marchers in the Harlem Fall Mobilisation March in 1967, an anti-Vietnam-War procession in New York to which filmmaker Weiss and his crew took their 16mm camera Textfeld:  
Scene from the documentary
and sound recorder and got an earful of what African Americans thought of the US government's war on the Vietnamese people, of black Americans' role in that war, and the inescapable conclusions therefrom. "My boy is over there fighting for his rights," declares one woman, "but he's not getting them." One of the marchers' chants cuts to the chase even quicker: "The enemy is whitey/ Not the Viet Cong!" Weiss and his crew (apparently all white) heard a variety of impassioned responses from onlookers and march participants that day in Harlem, but the predominant African-American viewpoint was essentially, "This is not our war." Intercut with the on-the-street footage is a remarkable interview session with three articulate, thoughtful, and very angry black Vietnam War vets. If the civilians are outraged at the injustice, these young men are somewhere beyond. Throughout this film, we can't help but marvel at the high level of political discussion, even among characters hanging out in front of bars watching the march pass, in comparison with what we might see if a similar march were covered today. In some ways, the '60s were a much more violent and unpredictable time, but we sense a difference in the mood of the people; they're disgusted, but not hopeless. The righteous indignation in their voices is like music to our ears, compared to the cynicism we'd likely encounter in 2000. As loud and rebellious as it might seem, 1967 was almost a time of innocence. We can see that one of the three young vets, in particular, wants to believe the civics lessons he learned in school, but his brutal experience in the Army has shaken his beliefs very nearly out of him (another soldier talks of giving C-rations to a begging Vietnamese woman, out of pity, and then being mocked by his white comrades). "Keep your word. GI-trained black men won't stand for racism back home": That's the admonition from the three vets, all of whom relate the disillusionment of seeing the naked face of race hatred (toward Asians and blacks, white America's foreign and domestic enemies, respectively) in the war, and then coming home to be turned down for jobs on racial grounds. "It's gonna escalate right here," warns one of the vets. We wonder where they are now, thirty-three years later. Loeb's 16mm black-and-white film has that fast-film vérité quality to it, in which the edges of the image almost appear to be in full colour, so deeply saturated are the black and white tones. It's beautiful to look at, and the faces are unforgettable in this time-machine trip back to the corner of 125th and Broadway in 1967. A solemn group of Black Muslims dismisses the marchers out of hand, saying that the "Muslim five percent" believes that the government is always right. That's puzzling enough, but later on the antics of a claque of white supremacists heckling the marchers reminds us that maybe we have, indeed, come a small distance from the days when people chanted, "Kill peace creeps!"

Something is happening in front of the camera. The speeches may have been prepared but the anger we can sense is true.



How does the documentary deal with a problem and show a minority ?

Textfeld: T

he look in the camera


When the interviewed speak, we see their faces right in front of the camera. From time to time they look in the camera while they are speaking and there is no intermediary between their feelings and us. We can “get” them (their feelings) directly and don’t need any comment of the interviewer like it is the use in TV news reports. They speak very spontaneously and we don’t see the interviewer. We get them right in the face.

Textfeld: D


escription of what is to be seen :


The documentary delivers to us a very clear testimony of the feelings of the Black population of Harlem. Those are very francs, sincere and direct when the journalists ask them to express themselves on the question:

-          Refusal of what the United States of America seeks to impose to them, to leave for the war.

-          Anger because they must fight as well as the White, in the name of the United States of America whereas this one does not do anything for them (to take again their terms) and does not grant the same rights  as the Whites to them. Not only their situation is precarious, but also the State did not promise any change for the Blacks veterans of the war of Vietnam.


The documentary is made of an interview with three African-American Vietnam veterans and of a footage of the 1967 Harlem Fall Mobilisation March. The interviewers ask as well Black as White people for their opinions and we hear different points of view.

The first scene of the documentary is that of one of the veterans telling a story (…), then we move on to the street. The camera shows a White man being asked by a Black man why he’s marching for the war in this area. The White man answers that this is his community but the Black man can not understand how one can be in favour of the war…Then we see a black woman apparently sharing his view, taking his arm and walking away with him. So Black people are not only seen disagreeing the government but also supporting it. Like this Black woman who seems talking like she were another person and who painted her eyebrows much higher than they actually are. While she says her son fighting in Vietnam is right, we feel surprised and can’t help but think about the fact that she had wanted so much to integrate that she doesn’t think as a part of the Black community anymore.


Still, a lot of people are against the war in Vietnam. Two young Black men don’t see the point of marching because for them what matters is what they believe in, that means the law of God “who is Black”. The funny thing is that their women are seen in the background and not asked about what they feel, while another young man standing next to them is being interviewed too.

There is another woman who speaks very angrily about this. Her image is very pregnant and her anger so strong that she becomes a bit defying. She states that the Whites took everything from them (the Blacks) and promises that they are going to get it back. She says “believe me, we’re gonna get back”, looking straight and strong into the eyes of the interviewer. Just like another Black man who carries a placard with the slogan on it: No Vietnamese ever called me Nigger addresses straight to the interviewer including her in the White community. He says “you took things from us” and so on instead of saying “the Whites” or “the White Community”.

We can see several Black women talking with passion and anger about their sons fighting while the State of America is doing nothing for them. They are angry first because they are not in favour of the war and second because their sons shouldn’t have to fight for a country that won’t get them a job back home.


We also see a young White man who is carrying an American flag and who as being interviewed is more shouting than speaking out is support for his country and seems quite hysteric.

He’s very hysteric and seems like an animal wanting to kill or to be killed.

Another very surprising young American held an immature theory in a too serious way. His young age added to this makes him look stupid. He thinks that if nature had meant the races to be mixed, they would be. He’s member of the NRP and wants America for the Whites. He won’t say he’s a racist. He only thinks Blacks should be part of the Black empire and America should be for the Whites only. When we hear this, we remember right away the Natives American being deprived of their own country by Europeans. He’s talking very seriously and we can’t believe what we hear because it is so stupid.


There is an opposition between what look like businessmen and marchers. The firsts are shouting at the others that they should be ashamed of this march and support their country instead of this.


This documentary doesn’t depict us an event, it shows us a population’s feelings and want to change a situation. It sounds like there is something to follow. In the last scene we see one of the Black man anger growing. Like a resume of what we’ve seen just before, he tells us intensively the feelings of the Black population who’s fed up and who is going to change a situation that has become unbearable.



Joris Ivens as a symbol

Joris Ivens’s ”Rain” 


Textfeld: The first images of the film are typical of Joris Ivens. Like Alain Resnais, who also worked on this movie, Ivens was a member of the founding committee of the “International Federation of experimental Documentary and of  Film of Avant-garde” (Fernand Léger, Bunuel, Mc Laren, among many others were part of it.)

But he was also a member of the group Medvedkine (like Marker and Godard who took part in the film).

Ivens always claimed he had been deeply influenced by Vertov and Ruttmann. Therefore his first impressionist documentary[5] films were considered as “pure poetry”[6], where he expressed a pride, a naive faith in the future, a confidence in progress. But as an antimilitarist, he is a Marxist and he quickly oriented himself towards the social documentary:

Nous construisons, for the syndicats des travailleurs du bâtiment, Zuiderzee (1930-1932) sur les travaux d'assèchement de la Hollande: Zuiderzee (1930-1932) brought him international fame. In 1933 he shot Borinage with Henri Stork, a documentary on the consequences of the failure of a strike in the miner region of  Borinage in Belgium. After many journeys to the U.S.S.R. and the United States, Ivens directed with  Hemingway The Spanish Hearth, a documentary that deals with the Spanish War atrocities.

Joris Ivens is probably among the first documentary directors, who used light, handy cameras, but without dropping the traditional technical. Most of his films may be considered as films that, anticipate direct cinema or, that announced the new shooting equipment. Nevertheless, even if the search of the truth was the main line of his films – because of their ideology, the deliberate organisation of a premeditated message – they belonged rather to the documentary school of the thirties.


Knowing Joris Ivens’ work, influence and ideology, the message is clear. Far from Vietnam can only be a socially and politically engaged film, whose moral relies on a particular cinematographic language.



The montage as first effect


Textfeld: Dziga Vertov supported a cinema with no fiction nor actors, where the camera eye records a universe that would be reconstructed by the cutting. And as a matter of fact, the main cinematographic characteristic, that defines Ivens’s point of view is the cutting.


Ever since the experience of Kulechov[7] with the actor Mosjulkine and his totally inexpressive face, the « productive » or « creating » aspect of the cinematographic cutting is known, which means that the images, thanks to their relationship with one another, communicate information to us, which they don’t contain on their own. If the association, arbitrary or not, of two cinematographic motives (visuals, sonorous or audiovisuals), always produces an intellectual or affective meaning in the viewer, that was not comprehended separately in the motive itself, the notion of “cutting-effect” may be considered as a real definition of the principle of the montage: to produce an effect.

Scene from “Far from Vietnam”


Other experiments, based on the same associative principle, produced similar effects. Therefore we can add two complementary facts :

1)      an image has no meaning « itself ». It only has a sort of general semantic virtuality, whose particular treatment in the present is due to its relationship with other images. Or: images taken separately have no strict meaning; they only have « uses », due to the place where they belong in a system and their relation with those that come before and after them;

2)      the real meaningful sector in films is not at the level of the plan, but of the cutting of the plans. As a result, cinematographic realism, cannot be confounded with photographic realism, that is with analogy.


And we could say that most of the sequences of the film are based on these principles. For it was not only sufficient, but it was necessary to make this movie “with the cutting”. The cutting in its original naivety is not seen as an artifice.[8] The voice says: “rich material against poor materiel, rich technique against poor technique”. The commentary is the redundancy of the visual montage: a simple alternation from one camp to the other, from the Americans to the Vietnamese. Almost the whole film relies on this regular opposition: the American power and agitation, against the Vietnamese poverty and calm.



The identification

Textfeld: B

ut the cutting is not enough to make sure, the viewer will stick to a camp. Cinema uses identification.

The cinematographic dispositive makes the viewer identify himself with its own look, but there are two kinds of identification:

-         The primary identification to the camera indicates the process, thanks to which the look of the viewer during the projection seems to take the place that the camera occupied during the shooting. The viewer sees the image, that took shape in the camera.[9]

-         The secondary identification indicates the phenomenon, according to which the viewer (conform to the ordinary psychological process) assimilates himself imaginary to the people in the movie.[10]


Obviously, Ivens had a great interest in the secondary identification. Whereas the Americans are always shot in the back or from far, the Vietnamese are filmed at a human level, very closely, the camera remains insistently on their faces, their movements. The same principle is applied with the sounds: We never hear the American protagonists talk, we only hear  the roaring sound of their planes, boots, whereas the Vietnamese literally “have their say” - we are even present at one of their plays (Johnson cries). As a consequence they are so close to us, so human, that we seem to take part in their activities, to share their life. And on the contrary the Americans, who are less filmed than their missiles, remained indistinct, submerged by all their artillery. No identification is possible with them for the director doesn’t give them a face.

“Cinema personalize the « fragment », it frames it and it is a « new realism » whose consequences may be unimaginable.”[11]


At the beginning, the close-up had a dramatic and narrative function (Griffith), but soon it also became the basis of a cinema conceived as an instrument of the ideological discourse articulated by the montage (Eisenstein, Vertov).

But whatever its function, the close-up is always seen as a rupture:

-         a rupture in the enunciation: just like any image, the close-up shows, but it shows in a very insistent way, as it limits the look of the viewer to a single motive that is abnormally big. With this effect[12], the close-up has a function of assertive focalisation and of showing interpellation.

-                        A time-rupture: the close-up resembles a frame and functions like photography.

-         A space-rupture: as the close-up removes a fragment from its support, its environment, it gives it a new dimension and a specific autonomy.


With this double rupture (space and time), the close-up disturbs the viewer’s usual orientation and places him in a position of quasi absolute proximity with the fragment, the detail. Thus the close-up takes part actively in the process of “fetishism” that cinema can create.



The influence of cinéma-vérité


Textfeld: The episode where the writer Claude Riddler expresses his feelings about the Vietnam war is one of the worst moments of the film. Nevertheless it draws my attention for it is mostly influenced by the cinema-vérité. Its nullity isn’t really surprising, for ever since its official birth in 1961 the cinema-vérité had been imitated many times for the best and for the worst[13] . As a matter of fact, this failure is mostly due to a misunderstanding: its appellation let assume it dealt with the recording of the Truth (la Vérité) – inside the Human Being, beyond the appearances –, whereas its ambition was only to capture the lived. (p.254)

Looking back on it today, the main particularity of the cinema-vérité was its proximity to the figures, as Serge Daney put it:

“Here is a character; if I film it from far, it’s a musical; closer it’s a melodrama; and more closer it’s cinema-vérité. Everything is true. Anyone choose what he likes.”[14]


But what a camera “sees” is not what a man sees: close-ups, cutting, editing, everything conspires to isolate, to underline, to enhance – whereas in life, a human look would have rectified, appeased, reduced. What distinguishes a camera look of man’s vision is the fact that the man can participate. The cinema-vérité is “short-sighted”[15], non realistic. If we want to make the "reality" appear "realistic" in the Arts, then it’ll probably have the following objective: to give the vision that an intermediary observer – neither too close, nor too far - would have of a milieu, a costume, a rite, a spectacle, a gesture, a life.


Thus this episode of Far From Vietnam classically mixes the fiction with a realist constat and with a documentary relationship. But surprisingly, uses one of Jean Rouch’s tricks: Just like -for example – Amadou Demba in I, a Negro[16], Claude Riddler, who played himself, says its own text where he wants and the director follows and films him. For once, there is no commentary in this episode, except the useless introduction that says: “With his contradiction, Claude Riddler is the voice of Europe’s bad conscience and hypocrisies”. Here the technique is similar to Rouch’s: the protagonist can say whatever he wants, the viewer can take its distance easily and judge, and make its mind up.

Chris Marker’s participation in the film may partly explain this. Marker was used to shoot engaged films (Un Dimanche à Pékin (1956) in communist China, Lettre de Sibérie (1958), La Description d'un combat (1960) for Israel; or Cuba si! (1961) on the castrisme), and he early adopted the cinéma-vérité’s techniques. He knows that the truth never shows, even hunted. For him, the image is a trap. He never believes, but he always doubts. Therefore the text never comments on the images in his films, and the images never illustrate the text.



The reality-problem

Screenshot from “Far from Vietnam”


Textfeld: Cinema, as a system of representation, is the form of Arts that conveys the strongest impression of assisting to quasi real show (Metz). The image represents a sort of "juste milieu" between the excess (the theatre too real) and the insuffisance (the language’s arbitrary signs).

But the biggest weakness of Far From Vietnam is probably in its too heavy and biased search for the truth. There are two ways of apprehending the reality, and each one has its risks: to pursue the immediate reality, and run the risk of turning one’s back on the true reality or losing it. Thus we only have a duplicate of the appearances. On the other hand, to fade out totally behind what is recorded, and thus to create an impersonal work, whose only interest is “the event” that was filmed.[17] We can easily argue that Far From Vietnam unfortunately failed in those two attempts.


Jean Rouch was blamed for interfering in reality, for refusing to be a simple witness, but it seems, at least in his case, that his films remain documentaries and at the same time turn the fiction into reality, thus paving the way to a method that would change the fiction film into a « possible reality » (réalité) and not into a « made up reality » (réel).


“The couple cinema/reality, that fuelled every idealist obsession in the film’s critics and theories, contains a death phantasm.”[18]


Basing his theory on Freud’s writings that links obsession to death, Bonitzer affirms that the impossible and obsessive search for reality is only due to a metaphysical and phantasmal desire to capture what cannot be seized, which means the desire to get rid of the antagonisms in a reconciliatory way.


However different in their way to apprehend the reality, the Living Camera, the Candid Eye and the direct cinema all have the same purpose: to establish a direct contact with the man acting in a precise situation, without any esthetical (or other) intermediaries that could falsify or change the lived spontaneity.[19]



Godard and an engaged cinema

Textfeld: W

hen Godard shot the episode Camera Eye[20], his work was at a turning point. Until 1967 he shot film after film (fifteen long and seven short in less than ten years). He films quickly, with emotion, until he finds the objectivity, to capture from the reality a few moments of Truth.


"It’s while shooting, that I discover what I must shoot. Immediately it is the hazard. And at the same time, the definitive. What I want is the definitive out of the hazard.”


Jean-Luc Godard

His separation from his wife Anna Karina coincides with the appearance of political (but always abstract) ideas in his films. In 1967 he had already shot Made in USA, Deux ou trois choses que je sais d'elle, la Chinoise, and Week-end. These films had privileged the concept on the experience, to express people’s alienation in the society of consummation, their submission to the conservative ideologies. But it is only after Mai 68 that Godard will completely evolve to militant cinema, whose objectives and legitimacy are in Mao’s writings.


Godard has always attempted to show the scare between the “image itself” and its “signs”, between its “discourse” and the dull background on which it relies.

Here he questioned himself on the way he could be helpful to the Vietnamese cause. He is aware that the force of the cinema is to seize the event, a moment of reality. So he starts telling a story, or more precisely, describing an event, but we don’t see anything except him with his camera. Eventually Godard explains with no bitterness he’s still in Paris, for the Vietnamese didn’t allow him to come because of his too dull ideology. Therefore he can only evocate concrete things. He has decided to make films on the Vietnam through something and he prefers:


“Instead of invading the Vietnam out of a generosity, that would force the things, to let the Vietnam invade us and realize what place it takes in our daily life. That is, to create a Vietnam in oneself.”


Godard attacks the myth of the direct political film (cinema-vérité, interviews, etc.), that is linked to a certain mythology of the direct cinema, which is, to film “without interfering” so as to let the political content appear. The political content does appear then, but masked, blind, deaf and stuttering (or mute).


“The image resolves nothing. To film with no political analysis is only a way to add to the society of spectacle without permitting intervention”.[21]


However the director’s intervention is basically unavoidable (at least with the cutting). Should this intervention be void, then the whole film would be void. To film “purely and simply” (but nothing is ever pure or simple) what happens, means purely and simply redoubling the dominant ideology.



The political film

Textfeld: B

ack then Godard hadn’t really experienced the political film, compared to the other directors like Ivens, Marker or Varda. (With her style made of this mixture of document and fiction, real and imaginary, constat and reflection, Agnès Varda had already shown her interest for the evolutions that look like liberations, for instance in Cuba, with Salut, les Cubains (1963).[22])


Nevertheless Godard is the one whose point of view arouses the problem of the political cinema.

The documentary cinema assumes the other’s acceptance or complicity to make a film together. It is the opposition between the documentary cinema or between cinema and political caricature, that exaggerates in order to disqualify the adversary. On the contrary, the adversary must be qualified, in order to have the opportunity to talk about him/her politically and, if it’s possible, to destroy him/her politically. And this requires something that separate radically photography from the cinema: the duration.

During the long shootings, that are analytic, something happen in the relationship between what is filmed and the person that films. What appears is far more human than the protagonist’s ideological discourse.


“To film the politicians, including the enemies, is to remake ordinary men of them. This is very important, for one of the mediatisation’s perverse effects is precisely to dehumanise the politicians, to suppress their bodies, to change them into icons.”[23]


There is an effect of the cinema, at the same time therapeutic and critic, that enables to realize we are not confronted to a pure narration. This narration is made of flesh, of passions, of censorship, of many sorts of things that create topics, instead of letting us in front of monsters.




The secret camera


Textfeld: The direct cinema’s most common failure is to let itself be invaded by the reality. That is to say by events that are themselves already full of meaning. No doubt that the result is seizing because of its authenticity. But as far as the artistic creation and interpretation is concerned, the movie is very often just a “recording machine”, a vehicle to communicate an already-made and/or exterior reality.[24]

Claude Lelouch’s sequence of the secret camera corresponds exactly to Noguez’s observations. From an artistic point of view, this moment is totally uninteresting. But it’s impossible not to be attracted by it.


However, it is very interesting to see how it creates this impression of authenticity. Of course the fact that the camera is hidden among the crowd, which means at a human level and in the heart of the event, contributes mainly to it. But those are the details that are more important, especially those linked to the notion of “hors-cadre” and not “hors-champ”

The "hors-champ" (out of field) is the space that is not included in the field. It generally refers to the portion of space that is “non-visible” and immediately contiguous to the field, like its “natural” prolongation. This is what is not visible anymore, but what supposedly still exists.

Whereas the "hors-cadre" (out of frame) is the space that doesn’t enter the frame. With such a definition it must be difficult to distinguish hors-champ and hors-cadre. But the hors-cadre contains a dimension that the hors-champ doesn’t have: the space of the camera and the space where all the technical operations take place. The hors-cadre always refers to the space where the image is produced. The fact that sometimes some of its elements appear in the very image (shadow, reflection in a mirror, etc) doesn’t change its status. It is the space of the enunciation, it remains distinct from the space of the story given by the image.


And this is exactly what happens during the sequence of the secret camera. Because of the precipitation, we see microphones or other cameras in the image. The image is not stable and then a policeman put his hand on the camera screen to prevent Lelouch to shoot, and so at once reminds the viewer of the authenticity of this moment.


This is a more authentic approach from the reality, this is an objective  - or as objective as possible – capture of the human behaviour. For even the secret camera technique contains the question of objectivity. For Chris Marker, "objectivity isn’t right, what matters is the dynamism and the diversity".


The images, that are considered as « objective », really materialized on the screen (otherwise the viewer wouldn’t perceive them) have also their share of subjectivity. But their subjectivity is not due to the significant (cinematographic), but to the signified (story). These images refer directly to the camera’s look, that is the director.



The limits of the commentary


Textfeld: After Godard’s reflections, it’s probably the last episode of the film that is the most effective. Its strength is due to a right intuition; the intuition that it was an historical moment.

It’s called Vertigo and this time the commentary voice disappears and let the images speak.


There are two other episodes of demonstration in New York: the first we see is the Veteran Day (29th April 1967) and the second takes place two days later for May 1st. However, even though Vertigo took place on 15th April 1967, this sequence is the last we see. As its directing identifies itself absolutely with the action it relates imperfectly (because it is only one aspect), these strong and trembling images are just like the protagonists’ objective memory. According to the strength that arises from this episode, this small anachronism is easy to understand. Compared to the two other demonstrations, the simple act to record and to show what happens is enough, for the goal is here not to judge but to enhance a latent malaise.


The narrator is often confounded with the author. In cinema, the voice must be considered in a metaphoric way: the image "stricto senso", doesn’t speak, it shows; however in showing it says and so can tell. We must then distinguish different levels of recite. The narration, contrary to the recite, refers fundamentally to single act of enunciation.

Very often the fact of enunciating is included in the enunciate itself. The fiction-effect that the discourse produces, is handicapped by the discourse itself. As the presence of the enunciation in the enunciate reminds us of another reality, it betrays my adhesion to the fiction.


As far as the cinema relies on the priority of the image, it is fundamentally mimetic: cinema tells by showing, or more precisely, it first shows and can use this showing to tell.

The question is to know if the narration implants itself – as coming from outside – on the showing or if it is already partially registered in it. For some (Genette, for instance), to show is not to tell, and only words can be considered as a narration.

For example, Chris Marker represents a very significant illustration of the relationship between images and commentary. The artist  “orientates” deliberately (or disorientates) the image meaning with a brilliant, but invading, commentary that uses the film’s information to take a "verbal signified" out of it, instead of supporting the visual signified or creating with it significant relations.


The notion of “relay” refers to the language’s specific power of adding meanings to the image, that whether it cannot transmit, or can transmit with great difficulty, like abstractions, generalisations and, of course, the protagonist’s words or thoughts.

Usually the language is presented as essentially informative, and the information as essentially an exchange. But most of the time, the language is not an exchange of information but an order. Deleuze illustrates this opinion by the example of a professor that explains an operation or teaches the orthography:


“He gives the syntax to the children, like a master gives instruments to the workers, in order to produce enunciates conform to dominant meanings.”[25]


The language is a system of orders, not a means of information. To talk, even of oneself, is always to take someone else’s place, to pretend to talk instead of him/her, to deny him/her the right to talk. An image is represented by a sound, like a worker by his delegate. A sound takes the power on a series of images. Thus it is difficult to speak without commending, without pretending to represent something or someone. It is difficult to let talk those who haven’t the right to, and to give back the value of struggle against the power to the sounds.




Textfeld: Thus as we can see, whereas No Vietnamese… and Far from Vietnam were shot exactly at the same moment and dealt with the same subject, they arise different aesthetic problems : cutting, point of view, distance, commentary, etc.


The only thing one could reproach these films (reproach which, in fact, is only a simple observation) concerns the cinematographic creation. It’s not that there is no "creation" in these films, but that creation is only a choice, only an organisation of the what has been recorded. When they seize thus what has been said and what has been done, then they certainly record a “happening” reality, but as well as a “self-significating” and “verbally significating” reality. In other words, they record a “signified” that “takes itself its meaning” (as the verbal expression dominates), whereas art consists in creating meanings (by means of the images, words and sounds, but according to a implicating or semiotic layout) and by no means in reproducing them just the way they are: "made-up".

We could object then that these films have nothing to do with personal creation, but with an objective capture of reality. Then the  only subjectivity is in the director’s point of view and his ability to report the facts in their totality.


Thus Dominique Noguez tries to list, what today is expected from a documentary, otherwise no one could be legitimately qualified of essay. It always lacks to these films at least one of the following characteristics:

1)      a decision of non-narration and, on the contrary, an abundant use of the citation under all its forms (images, sounds, texts);

2)      an obviously subjective aspect (which means uncertain, open);

3)      an exclusive attention to the present or coming reality;

4)      the will to influence the viewer’s opinion with rational means, to make him aware of something, or to change its life.


Here is what is looming : a cinema neither just didactic (for the esthetical preoccupations are not absent of it), nor just experimental (for the unforeseen successions of images of all sorts, of all status, have a non esthetical finality: the appearance of a certain meaning); a cinema whose new and free form, evokes the exigency of a liberation and of a thinking revival; a cinema of the doubt, or etymologically strictly speaking, a pedagogic cinema.




·        Les Cahiers du Cinéma n°568 (mai 2002)

·        Nouveaux cinémas, nouvelles critiques, Ed. Cahiers du cinéma, Paris, 2001.

·        La Passion théorique, Ed. Cahiers du Cinéma,, Paris 2001.

·        Dominique Noguez; Trente Ans de Cinéma Expérimental en France [1950-1980]; Ed. A.R.C.E.F., Paris, 1982.

·        Dominique Noguez, Le Cinéma autrement, Ed. 7e Art, Paris, 1984.

·        Stephan Hoffstadt; Black Cinema, Afroamerikanische Filmemacher der Gegenwart, Hg von Hitzeroth, Marburg, 1995.

·        Marc Henri Piault; Anthropologie et cinéma, Nathan, 2000.




Far from Vietnam


Format : 35 mm,  Color

Length : 115 min

Year : 1967

Directed by : Joris Ivens, William Klein, Claude Lelouch, Jean Luc Godard, Alain Resnais, Agnès Varda

Cinematography by : J. Lacouture, M. Loridan, C. Marker, F. Maspero, R. Pic, M. Ray, J. Sternberg

Music by: G. Aperghis, M. Chapdenat, M. Fano

Producted by : Slon


No Vietnamese Ever Called Me Nigger


Format: 16mm, Black & White

Length: 68 min

Year: 1967

Producted and directed by: David Loeb Weiss

[1] Alain et Odette Virmaux, Les Grandes Figures du Surréalisme, Bordas ; 1994.

[2] The fact that at the beginning of the cinema the notion of “reconstituted news” was created, shows the audience’s evolution’s reality

[3] Concerning this point he may be considered as the father of the French New Wave, for from 1947 on, he was convinced that the future of cinema was in its miniaturisation and the easiness to manipulate the material, its capacity to record simultaneously images and sounds.

[4] (Luc de Heusch, Cinéma et Sciences sociales, Rapport UNESCO, n°16, 1962.

[5] Joris Ivens: Le Pont d'acier (1928) and Pluie (1929).

[6] Marc Henri Piault; Anthropologie et cinéma, Nathan, 2000, p.176.

[7] This experience gave his name to the Montage-Effect, the "Kulechov-Effect".

[8] André Bazin, Qu'est-ce que le cinéma?, Ed. 7e Art, Paris, 1962, p.54.

[9] This phenomenon is also called the viewer’s eye (“oeil spectatoriel”).

[10] However it seems that those identifications could rely also on other indices, especially on places.

[11] Fernand Léger, Plans, janvier 1931.

[12] This effect is also called the "effet-loupe".

[13] Thus Godard will declare that “the technique of the cinéma-vérité is also a technique of the lie”. And Noren : "The only cinéma-vérité film that a man can shoot is a film on himself." (La Passion théorique, Ed. Cahiers du cinéma, 2001, p.283).

[14] Serge Daney (Cahiers du cinéma, n°192, juillet-août 1967)

[15] Dominique Noguez, Le Cinema autrement, Ed. 7e Art, 1984, Paris, p.13.

[16] Moi,un Noir, directed by Jean Rouch, in 1958.

[17] Noguez, Cinema autrement, p.249.

[18] Pascal Bonitzer, L'Ecran Fantasme, p.85 (La Passion théorique)

[19] Noguez, Cinéma autrement, p.254.

[20] Is it an allusion to the Living Camera or/and to the Candid Eye?

[21] Noguez, Cinéma autrement, p.60.

[22] After Far From Vietnam, she will go back to the USA to shoot Black Panthers (1968) about their fight against racism.

[23] Jean-Louis Comolli, Filmer la politique, Nouveau Cinémas, nouvelles critique, Ed. Cahiers du cinéma, 2001.

[24] Noguez, Cinéma autrement, p.257.

[25] Gilles Deleuze about Godard's 6+2, (La Passion théorique, p.130).