Give It or Leave It

Artist Cauleen Smith and film scholar Robert Bird (University of Chicago, Department of Slavic Languages and Literatures, Department of Cinema Media Studies) endeavor to unpack the revolutionary potential of filmic images. This project began with their work together on the Smart Museum's exhibition Revolution Every Day (September 17, 2017 - January 28, 2018), and will continue to develop through various forms, including their co-taught fall 2018 course.


Film and Revolution

Fall 2018

On the fiftieth anniversary of 1968 our course couples the study of revolutionary films (and films about revolution) with seminal readings on revolutionary ideology and on the theory of film and video. The goal will be to articulate the mechanics of revolution and its representation in time-based media. Students will produce a video or videos adapting the rich archive of revolutionary film for today’s situation.

The films screened will be drawn primarily from Soviet and US cinema, from the 1920s to the present day, proceeding more or less chronologically. We begin with newsreels and a “poetic documentary” by Dziga Vertov, probably Three Songs about Lenin (1934), followed by Yo Soy Cuba (Mikhail Kalatozov, 1964) The Battle of Algiers (Gillo Pontecorvo, 1966), and Sympathy for the Devil (Jean-Luc Godard, 1968). They will be paired with classic readings from revolutionary theory, from Karl Marx and Vladimir Lenin to Fidel Castro and Bill Ayres, and from film theory, including Vertov, Andre Bazin and Jean-Luc Godard. The second part of the course will feature films from the 1970s responding to the failures of revolution and the pitfalls of revolutionary, including Putney Swope (Robert Downey Sr., 1969), Letter to Jane (Godard, 1972), and Grin without a Cat (Chris Marker, 1977). These films will be paired with appropriate readings from radical political theory, including Guy Debord’s Society of the Spectacle and Cedric Robinson’s Black Marxism. The final weeks of the course will focus on the films Born in Flames (Lizzie Borden, 1983) and Lumumba (Raoul Peck, 2000). Readings will acquaint students with contemporary assessments of the emancipatory potential of film.