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September 26 - September 28

Robert Kramer's Reports from the Road

In a letter to Bob Dylan, suggesting a collaborative project that never took place, Robert Kramer (1939-99) began by summarizing his life: “I’m from NYC. The 50s were bad. I got reborn in the 60s. I left the states at the end of the 70s. I’ve been living around, mostly based in Paris, and I make movies.”
The “rebirth” Kramer speaks of was his involvement in political activism. After graduating from Stanford University, Kramer entered the political arena in the mid-1960s, first as a community organizer in Newark and then as a reporter in Latin America. After participating in the making of a documentary about the guerilla movement in Venezuela, Kramer returned to the U.S. to devote himself to filmmaking and in 1967 helped organize the collective known as Newsreel in which he worked over the next four years documenting leftist political activity.

With the goal of better understanding the intersection of people’s public and private selves, Kramer developed a style of radical filmmaking that melded fiction and nonfiction traditions and techniques and whose first expression was the still shocking pseudo-documentary Ice (1969). Newsreel ultimately fractured, partially because of the perpetual struggle over the unyielding, dominant presence of its white male members, including Kramer. Some of the dissatisfaction seems also to have been stemmed from Ice and the discomfort of many in the group with that film’s apparent endorsement of violence. Billed as a collective project, Ice was clearly Kramer’s film.

Kramer retreated from Newsreel and the political activist community to a commune in Vermont, where over the next five years he prepared his next film, Milestones, (1975) which drew upon his communal living experiences. By the end of the 1970s, despairing of being able to make films in the U.S., Kramer moved to Paris, where he was already recognized as an important filmmaker, and remained there for over twenty years, working more or less steadily across Europe, with occasional travel to the U.S. and Vietnam.

A major yet politically charged question running through Kramer’s work is how a group of individuals becomes a community, and how a group of communities becomes a nation. Kramer’s work is also united by his own deeply ambiguous feelings for his homeland, emotions captured in the same letter to Dylan, written near the end of Kramer’s life: “Throughout this life you’ve been one of the voices in my head. We’ve walked together through a history, for better or worse. I like Time Out of Mind a lot. Maybe you are talking about someone, her, but what I hear (my story) is that love gone wrong, or gone just the way it’s gone, is Am*r*c*, the USA dream, is just us trying to navigate the river. Love sick.”

Special thanks: Jared Rapfogel, Anthology Film Archives; Mathilde Trichet, Capricci Films; John Gianvito.

Saturday September 26 at 7pm

Milestones

Directed by Robert Kramer.
US 1975, 35mm, b/w & color, 195 min.

Following the ambiguous reception of Ice and the upheaval within Newsreel, Kramer left New York for a collective community in Vermont, an experience that inspired the fictionalized fantasia of his next film, five years later, Milestones.An epic and a mosaic, Milestones features dozens of characters gathered at a rural New England commune, refugees from the radical 1960s and allegorical figures for the country’s disillusioned entry into the 1970s. A visually striking work of seemingly improvisational form, Milestones bears comparison to the work of both Cassavetes and Altman, and especially Nashville, Altman’s nearly contemporaneous epic study of Americana.

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Sunday September 27 at 6pm

Route One USA

Directed by Robert Kramer.
US 1989, 35mm, color, 255 min.

After living abroad for a decade, Kramer embarked on the extended road trip which gave way to Route One USA, an engrossing portrait of Eighties America and one of Kramer’s finest works. Kramer introduces the fictional protagonist “Doc” to tie together the unscripted footage shot along the eponymous highway stretching from the Canadian border to the Florida Keys. Played by Newsreel associate Paul McIsaac, who first created this character for Kramer’s 1987 Doc’s Kingdom, Doc becomes a sort of Odysseus figure, returning wearily home from the wars of radical politics and expatriation, puzzled by the state of the nation he barely recognizes.

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Monday September 28 at 7pm

Ice

Directed by Robert Kramer.
US 1969, 16mm, b/w, 135 min.

Kramer’s first film to hybridize fiction and documentary imagines an alarming near-future in which the U.S. has become a repressive police state. Made in a pseudo-verité style, Ice matter of factly documents the preparations for a violent overthrow of the state by a group of young New York City radicals. Featuring animated debates about politics and tactics and vivid “footage” of the radicals’ daily lives, Ice initially drew controversy in U.S. leftist circles for its apparent endorsement of armed struggle. While Ice is a meditation on the mesh and clash of experience and ideology, today itseems both a work of fierce political commitment and an ambiguous statement about the dissent.

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