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Realising Utopia: Cinema & 68. Opening Screening: In the Year of the Pig

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Ormston House, Cultural Resource Centre

9 - 10 Patrick Street

Limerick

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Ralahine Centre for Utopian Studies Film & Lecture Series 2018.

Realising Utopia: Cinema & 1968 - Opening Night of Film.

Wednesday, March 7th, 2018.

Ralahine Member: Tom Moylan – University of Limerick.

Location: Ormston House.

Time: 7 – 10 p.m.

Film: (U.S.A) Emile de Antonio’s In the Year of the Pig (1968).

Introduction:

The political movement and radical break clustered around the identifying term of ‘May 1968’ was international, multiple, and complex. From the U.S and France, to the old Czechoslovakia and Mexico, around the world, including Ireland, many oppositional left tendencies which grew out of specific conditions but shared a general motivation to challenge the capitalist system, the colonial order, prevailing racism and xenophobia, and what in the U.S was called the military-industrial complex coalesced in challenges to normative discourses and ruling power blocs. While definitely a movement of the Left, the events of 68’ also included a rejection of Stalinist orthodoxy, as it grew out of multiple strands based on a grassroots and critical communism, a newly revived feminism (radical and socialist) and an uprising of liberation from people of colour and the colonised.

Among the many causes of this conjunctural challenge to the prevailing ideologies and power blocs was the U.S War in Vietnam. Begun as a ‘police action’ after the defeat of French power in the battle of Dien Bien Phu in 1954 to contain the liberation of Vietnam by a largely Communist movement, the U.S commitment to an increasingly right-wing position grew from providing military advisers to waging all-out war. This trajectory involved the betrayal of Ho Chi Minh a key U.S ally in the battle against Japan in Vietnam during and after World War II, and was intensified under the regime of the liberal John F. Kennedy as he oversaw the move into all-out war, an all-out war that revived the mass conscription of males in the U.S.

Many cultural productions reflected on the situation of Vietnam and challenged the U.S position, and many went further to support the opposition to the U.S in the anti-imperialist Communist movements in Vietnam and throughout Southeast Asia. Among the most significant films that were part of the political uprising of 68’ was Emile de Antonio’s In the Year of the Pig.


Notes on Emile de Antonio’s In the Year of the Pig (1968)


Emile de Antonio’s Vietnam film In the Year of the Pig (1968) is often judged his best and most influential. Paradoxically however, his provocatively titled documentary was as much a cool, intellectual work of cinematic art as it was a hard ‘cry of outrage’ or agitprop. In making a film that communicated the historical background of the war in Vietnam, while also compelling people to turn against U.S involvement in it, de Antonio brought together massive filmic documentation and daring modernist cinematic form.

As with his other films such as Point of Order (1964) and Rush to Judgment (1967), the opposition that de Antonio met in the making of In the Year of the Pig, and the lengths to which he went encountering it, testified to the polemical power of his film. His methods made a striking contrast with those of U.S television networks. Since these media companies were largely defining America’s perception of the war and archiving much of the existing footage of events in Vietnam, de Antonio’s film was “at war” with television as much as it was at war with the Pentagon and the U.S political establishment. Not content with what mainstream journalists had brought back from the front and from press conferences, de Antonio sought out forgotten material around the world, drawing on Western travelogues; French coverage of their Vietnam War in the 1950s; and U.S military records, newsreels, and other archives in East Berlin; Prague; Paris; North Vietnam; and the U.S Department of Defence.

With his trademark collection of found, pilfered, donated, and scavenged footage in hand, de Antonio began filming original interviews for his project. A surprising number of talking heads from U.S officialdom willingly sat for questions about America’s role in the war. This included Sen. Thruston B. Morton, Richard Nixon’s 1968 campaign adviser, who compared Ho Chi Minh to George Washington and who admitted C.I.A involvement as early as the 1950s.

The film opens with an image of a U.S Civil War soldier from the 163rd Pennsylvania infantry. This image highlights the theme of a ‘good’ war as opposed to the ‘bad’ U.S war in Vietnam and was also a personal symbol for de Antonio, who had himself fought in World War II, which he saw as a ‘good’ war against fascism. In addition to the montage of visuals, the manipulation of sound became important to de Antonio to a degree it had not with his earlier achievements in compilation film-making. Several aural machinations stand out as punctuation marks in the film. The director seems to have been most fond of the musical ‘helicopter concerto’ he had created for the soundtrack. Later, his friend Martin Sheen would report that Francis Coppola took Pig’s helicopter effects as inspiration for his treatment in Apocalypse Now. In addition to these experimental uses of sound, de Antonio constructed many darkly comic or ironic moments that employed old-fashioned propaganda techniques to contrast picture and sound track.

With In the Year of the Pig de Antonio moved further into sophisticated use of aural technique. He continued to go against the grain of conventional documentary practice, neither practicing straight cinema vérité nor ‘voice of God’ narration. But while his Vietnam film stood out precisely because it lacked the “crude intrusive” voice of mainstream T.V presenters such as Walter Cronkite or Mike Wallace, de Antonio could again make an exception for himself. After the film’s Dien Bien Phu episode, his own voice appears anonymously on the soundtrack. He delivers a cool, detached reading of articles from the 1954 Geneva Treaty. Again, he is ironic, not explanatory. His voice joins with the others as a voice of History that testifies in favour of Ho and his people.

As a World War II veteran, de Antonio was clearly at pains to separate his critique of American foreign policy from the foot soldiers carrying out orders. In the Year of the Pig does not demonise the troops, saving the commanders and power elite for that (dis)honour. Some soldiers are even interviewed as heroic dissenters, like deserter Towler and David Tuck, a black veteran who testifies about the racist indoctrination of US troops. Again, this positive attitude toward rebellious, even mutinous troops is also captured in Apocalypse Now (1979).

In the Year of the Pig gained wide exhibition through college and alternative political circuits, won acclimation at film festivals throughout the world, and was nominated for Best Documentary Feature at the Academy Award ceremonies in 1970. In terms of contemporary filmmakers, de Antonio’s role is similar to that of Michael Moore, although their work has major differences as well as similarities. Both de Antonio and Moore use documentary montage to speak truth to power and ridicule dominant authority figures, but while Moore’s aesthetic and politics are accessible and populist, de Antonio is more rigorously modernist and Marxist in his politics, which is in keeping with much of the radical culture of the time. Obviously, de Antonio and Moore are both left-wing partisans and eschew the ideology of so-called objectivity, admitting they are making partisan and interventionist political films. But de Antonio is a classical modernist who creates difficult works that require an active audience.


These notes are adapted from a co-authored introductory essay by Douglas Kellner and Dan Streible for their book Emile de Antonio: A Reader (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 2000).


Bio - Tom Moylan:

Ralahine Centre for Utopian Studies member, Tom Moylan is Glucksman Professor Emeritus and Adjunct Professor in the School of Architecture at the University of Limerick. He studies utopianism in the form of literary texts and political and social practices. He has published numerous essays on utopia, dystopia, theology, pedagogy, and political agency; two monographs on utopian and dystopian science fiction; and co-edited books on dystopian and utopian science fiction and on utopian theory and method. He is the recipient of the North American Society for Utopian Studies Lyman Tower Sargent Distinguished Scholar Award and of the Science Fiction Research Association Pilgrim Award. He is currently completing a book of his essays on the utopian impulse and political agency. Working with Catholic, communist, and New Left groups from the late 1950s onward, he was active in U.S anti-racist and anti-war/anti-draft movements. He participated in legal and extralegal campaigns against racism, the Vietnam War and conscription

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9 - 10 Patrick Street

Limerick

Ireland

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