A Letter from the Edge: Making and Surviving The Fall

By Peter Whitehead

peter-whitehead.jpgPeter Whitehead

Peter? “The Fall. 850 words? '68 legacy, capturing a moment, its relation to technology, immersion into cinema.”

Gareth! A two hour film summed up in 850 words of flip jour-en-jour-nalism? New York 1968? My hell, failing to reconcile violent images, violent words. A mere documentary of newsreel clips? Hell no! I must be silent! The Fall of the title was into the black hole between word and image; defeat, nihilism, the deluge of screens sucking us into seductive irresponsibility, desolation within and without, a perceived world corrupted by a viral deluge of artificial images. No centre that could hold. Images triggering barren desire, the crippling vacuum between the thinking self and feeling self; and worse, between men and women…

Craig Keller, 2003, on Godard: “He reveals the history of cinema failed to respond adequately to outside history, and instead, outside history projected back onto it, resulting in a Cinematic Great Fall”.

Film as a Series of Historical Fragments Seeking a Synthesis, my subtitle, addresses Laing's Schizoid Self in a schizophrenic world.

A fleeting synthesis in the Collective revolt, students occupying Columbia University? Students soon shot dead in Kent State? And then? Imminent armed anarchists stalking the state machinery; “Terrorists!” Weathermen heeding Normal Mailer, planning “legitimate” assassinations. Part Two: “The WORD”: the cameraman, back to camera, types a narration, words ringing in our ears?

"The City of New York. The Fall 1967. NOW... Capital of Capitals and Capitalism. There's an image of New York inside all of us, sold to us by photographers, film-makers, a Metropolis of Power where men build bridges, white buildings, Cathedrals to scrape the sky of God... except those Gods who build more bridges, skyscrapers, white buildings..."

Music deleting words lost Alberta Tiburzi dancing ratchets up the rock-n-roll volume, words dissolving mere sounds erasing the “message”...

"The City as symbol of man's ultimate protest against the anarchy of nature, man's power over the empires, communes, jungles of his fears. The City is built BY the people FOR the people... symbol of their highest ideal... freedom. Built with their free enterprise, the Capital of the Free World."

Dancing dancing, a naked girl, a fashion model, face on billboards around the city: Queen Nefertiti sells Newsweek.

"But if the City seems to be falling apart, they say it is an illusion. It is because the people in it are moving past it faster and faster. It is not because they are alienated from it, afraid to look at the buildings which now seem no longer to contain them... the escalation of fear condemns them to addiction to the present, the instantaneous, to the Now, to the New, to the News..."

Alberta, vicious, pagan, dancing Notre musique. Can The Fall truly be “read” now as a study of this that at the time and no talk of

"They become like young people, exiled from past and future. They can no longer claim they do not live in this City but in an imaginary one which will be built in the future. So they say the City has gone mad, miraculously building itself with machines, computers, structures which are out of control, accidentally duplicating proof of their absence."

“Severance”? Can my film be seen, or merely watched? 850 words “on” ... Not an object, table, film as material, 16mm Ektachrome Reversal, but a fleeting experience? “Immersed” to use your word, a shared ritual and

"A real world must be somewhere else. Falling away from the City into themselves, the people develop an insatiable hunger for material things... desperately trying to make everything and everyone into objects, fragments of protection against the imminent loss of the world, which is now only the sensationalism of the present..."

peter-whitehead-default.jpgPeter Whitehead

in the Sensory Deprivation of the Black Room. A sacrifice. A call to arms.

The “subject” of The Fall, an elusive “absence”? How make film of absence? Transparence? Le gout de l'infini? The subject is “me”, insisting it is “read” as a subjective narrative...

"they insulate themselves from the world with the Media, which feed them the sensation of remaining in touch with the real world..."

disintegrating, non-integrating words; not objectively “true”, not to be seduced by the zeitgeist. Simulated desire. Dance seeking oblivion.

"But the Media, to remain profitable, exploit the alienation by allowing no withdrawal from needing more objects ... and for this price they offer their spiritual ghettos as substitutes for the world."

The Fall in LA last year. John Patterson: “This film's as relevant now as when it was made”. When it was made – no-one saw it! Since, shown ten times in twenty years: relevant then and now? To me, to history, to history of history, history of documentary cinema? A record of my being

"Sooner or later you have to take sides. There are no objects left which are not proof of alienation ... I came to this City as an alien, a foreigner... knowing that a stranger in a City discovers the City, or more about himself..."

in New York making a film about a world that I felt wasn't “there”, truly an authentic “other” to which it was possible to relate, from which one could derive nourishment? How can its inner anger be relevant now?

"If you have destroyed yourselves in the suburbs of one city, there are no other cities in which you can escape from yourself. The world is a world is the third world ... If you know your enemy you cannot kill him. But society refuses to conceive of a social meaning for death. Fear of losing control of images, or words... was losing control of objectives..."

Is it useful to bleat, “No longer Vietnam, but Iraq”. And it happens. Which radical changes in the Sixties? The hegemony, the fascism of the contrived IMAGES of the world to which we must submit selflessly, and spend spend spend...

"The camera is designed on the principle of the human eye. To be objective. I have taken sides... found myself asking questions. What fragmentation inside the people here has made them create such a jungle in the image of themselves? What suppressed fears and violence have exploded against the world, which their Institutions, Corporations, Governments have failed to control? Who are these people who must create Barbarians out of their own children, and their ex?slaves, and their present slaves in South America, Asia and Africa?"

is here to stay.

Histoire(s). “Moments? That have passed”? The future truth of those moments I filmed of “The Swinging Sixties” will be determined by films like The Fall. “Yeah man, that's exactly how it was!” (Audience aged 19). History of the future will be films of the past. WHICH NO-ONE CAN “READ”, seduced by colours, and

"Why do these people HERE have to go jungles at the other side of the world to contain their fears, when they have one here, to THERE to destroy beautiful cities, beautiful people, offering freedom to build more cities there, like this one..."

films, as time passes and intensifies their initial corruption, becoming the embodiment of “Uncertainty”, aggravating the viral cancers of contrived alienation...

peter-whitehead-3.jpgPeter Whitehead

"It was the same fear which sent cameras to those jungles in Vietnam to bring back images of violence"

and Mailer's Why Are We In Vietnam? Why Are We In Iraq? (Good title for a new novel Pete!)

"and shame into every living room of every home in this country... to appease the guilt of the parents... and violate the children."

As for me, who apparently was “there” (films prove presence), to see surviving films like mine fills me with apprehension, they appear hopelessly “irrelevant” to the deeper failures of recent histories; remind me of the moral and ethical uncertainty that undermined me then, (I gave up film for forty years), sensing apocalypse... a hideous, barren, virtual world manipulated by finance-driven Mass Media, unscrupulous exploitation of human desire (once the source for so much truth and beauty in the arts) by a matrix of hyper-textualising images designed to create that very angst that makes people buy buy buy, a cultivated collective alienation, a diaspora of an abysmal ever deepening presentiment of una-void-able (sic) inner despair, the fragility of selves no longer protected by thoughtful feeling thought: La Transparence du Mal. Baudrillard.

Gareth, I still try desperately to live in a “natural world”, (Trotsky alas said even steel bridges are natural, as are those of Hart Crane), in which films made by a young man with a name resembling mine seem tragically irrelevant. The war was lost in the last forty years. To be a guy who documented The Sixties? Still got long hair! Films to be seen and not heard like errant naughty children.

Great to think one member of a new audience for my exotic historical film might shout out! “YES! Time we recognised our denial of the natural world, the abandoned sacred forest from which we evolved. Close to degree zero, we must NOT make the mistakes of the '60s, sink into the indulgent consumer blind resignation of the 70s, 80s, 90s, ad nauseam... Allow crass emboldened Cultural Imperialism of Big Brother across the Atlantic (and its British puppets) crush the last tendrils of hope for a new world where humans become truly whole again.” As Lear said to his Hippie daughter, insisting on saying “Nothing”. “So young and so untender?” Her touching tender reply: "So young, my lord, and true."

Words! How can you tempt me to be hypocritical, pontificating in/on a word “piece” about a film that “happened to me”? In a moment of rage? Thirty years in the desert stilled me. Sorry! I always regret it afterwords.


Peter Whitehead will present The Fall on Sunday 25 May at Curzon Soho, London. www.nohzone.net; www.peterwhitehead.net