The image below from Marker’s Staring Back photo collection book was posted to the Chris Marker Facebook page today by Ben McGill. Marker getting the not welcome please cease and desist moves by the US military police… Neither the image nor the film have lost their significance, to say the least, as the resistance to power renews itself after a short nap of reason. As Ben aptly notes, “Perhaps the best place to hide is in your own book.”
On October 21, 1967, over 100,000 protestors gathered in Washington, D.C., for the Mobilization to End the War in Vietnam. It was the largest protest gathering yet, and it brought together a wide cross-section of liberals, radicals, hippies, and Yippies. Che Guevara had been killed in Bolivia only two weeks previously, and, for many, it was the transition from simply marching against the war, to taking direct action to try to stop the ‘American war machine.’ Norman Mailer wrote about the events in Armies of the Night. French filmmaker Chris Marker, leading a team of filmmakers, was also there, and made THE SIXTH SIDE OF THE PENTAGON.
The original title of the film is La sixième face du pentagone, filmed in 1967 and finished in 1968. It is a collaboration between Marker and François Reichenbach. For a deeper look at Reichenbach and his career, take a look at the article “Francois Reichenbach Dies at 71; Directed Range of Documentaries” in New York Times, dated 2/3/1993. Among his books is Le monde a encore un visage, a statement certainly given ample life in both Reichenbach’s and Marker’s films and photography.
Robert Goff has written one of the most comprehensive reviews of the film. Here’s an excerpt:
The films of Chris Marker continue to remind us how the history of the twentieth century haunts the present. Few directors alive today have filmed in so many countries, witnessing and commenting on the events of the second half of the century. This prolific French filmmaker has brought a left-wing political vision and a reflective sensibility to the creation of a remarkable body of work. With so few films from his vast archive available in the United States, one is grateful for the release of any of his works, however minor. The Sixth Side of the Pentagon (1967) and The Embassy (1973) are two short films made during the time of the production company, SLON (Société Pour le Lancement d’Oevres Nouvelles [Company for the Launching of New Work]) that Marker founded in 1967 and that lasted until 1977. The Sixth Side of the Pentagon is a documentary on, arguably, the most important anti-Vietnam war demonstration of the 1960s, the march to the Pentagon in 1967, later immortalized in Norman Mailer’s Pulitzer prize-winning The Armies of the Night. The Embassy, shot in Super 8, imitates the form of a documentary but it actually is a fictional work that references the overthrow of President Allende in Chile the same year the film was made.
If the coup in Chile in 1973 influenced the making of The Embassy, the film is also a commentary on French society. Marker’s voice-over suggests that the director is filming left-wing intellectuals taking refuge in the embassy from an unnamed military regime. The voice expresses left-wing ideas about repressive regimes and class struggle but what the viewer seems to be watching is a silent home movie of a wealthy family and their guests. Marker, the viewer realizes, is filming actors and what we see and hear alludes to the privileged but often impotent position of intellectuals in society. One surmises that in 1973 the filmmaker was probably coming to terms with his own feelings about what had just happened in Chile.
The Sixth Side of the Pentagon is the slightly longer and more conventional of the two films. Mostly shot in color, it captures the dramatic events in Washington during October 1967. Marker and his co-director, Francoise Reichenbach (the film is a typical example of the collaborative SLON) share a gift for capturing bizarre confrontations: American Nazis distribute flyers on “gassing the Viet Cong” and try to shout down draft resistors outside the Department of Justice; sinister U.S. military personnel look down from the top of the Lincoln Memorial while below hordes of protestors, many wearing clothing and carrying banners bearing the image of Che Guevara, can be seen thronging the steps and lining the distant reflecting pool; a minister sermonizes against communism from atop a cherry picker while hippies chant pagan incantations below, led by Ed Sanders of the Fugs; middle-aged U.S. Marshals emerge from the Pentagon wearing steel helmets, lashing out with clubs and bloodying very young demonstrators. The film, however, is not just an observational documentary as Marker’s commentary is unequivocally on the side of the protestors in this huge demonstration against the military might of the Pentagon, which in 1967 symbolized the war in Vietnam.
After watching these films, the viewer is advised to see Marker’s A Grin without a Cat (also available from Icarus Films). This compilation film is one of Marker’s more important feature-length films but it can also be viewed as a very long DVD commentary on these two short films. Released in 1977 and revised further in 1993, A Grin without a Cat is a meditation on the history of the struggles of the left, particularly over Vietnam, in the 1960s and 1970s, and concludes with a long commentary on the demise of the Allende government. Marker laments he did not notice the rise of the right in his narration of A Grin without a Cat, which incorporates considerable amounts of footage…
Robert Goff, “The Sixth Side of the Pentagon and The Embassy”, Film & History: An Interdisciplinary Journal of Film and Television Studies, Volume 39.1 (Spring 2009) pp. 75-76 – as presented on http://muse.jhu.edu/article/375875