Victory - our victory - is beautiful
I am starting to translate texts from Italian. The translations will likely be loose, shoddy, or both, at least for a while. First: a short text from Marco Ferreri on Don't Touch the White Woman! In what follows, though, at least part of the roughness has to do with Ferreri's willfully - as far as can be discerned - choppy prose style.
And yes, he uses the word "Redskins" [Pellerosse], and no, he's not an outmoded or unaware racist. See the film in question: the whole thing is an exercise in ventriloquism and mimicry, taking up not just the moves of the genre but its axial ideas, throwing them consequently off axis and into a large hole in Paris. One of these ideas is that of Pellerosse.
Three further points:
While Ferreri and Pasolini make rather uneasy bedfellows, there's something in common here, regarding the emphasis on the transhistorical - or, in this case, "eternal" - quality of highly particular historical instances. In Pasolini's case, this involves:his slum pastoralism; the alternately beatific/innocent/hot/suffering/scruffy quality ascribed to the sottoproletariato as an anthropological and nearly physiological trait across time (and leads in part to the dangerous ascription, from those bodies, to poverty itself of those qualities: "So that our bodies, if its fated that they no longer live out the innocence and mystery of poverty"); his sharp understanding of the periphery of Rome as a remapping of the Roman Empire of two millenia back in contemporary micro-form, with the ex-colonial subjects of the imperator now condemned to live and die in the suburbs; and, more generally, the tendency to read "class" not as a relation but as an enduring property. (Note to future: I have spoken elsewhere, not here, but with voice, on this aspect of Pasolini. I will do so here when it takes a more legibly written form.) All this is of interest insofar as it indicates, first, one of the general problems of trying to find historical resonance without drawing a single narrative with an arrow pointing our direction, and second, something that I am noticing especially in Italian writing and cinema when trying to deal with those especially particular incarnations of the dispossessed. As for whether or not this is "good", whether it provides a way to sketch a communism that is not identical to the negation of capitalism or whether it tends to function as a sort of theodicy: that is up for debate.
Further index of temporal strangeness at work: Don't Touch the White Woman! came out at the start of 1974. It is largely about "Indians" in a metropolis, in Paris. In 1975, in Rome, the "Metropolitan Indians" came into being - namely, the loose group of autonomists that went by the name Geronimo. The genesis of that - so the story goes - involves the desire to "leave the reservation," to get gone from the pseudo-home of the city's restricted zones and ghettos and to bring war to the wider orbit. I have yet to find out if, in fact, the film had been a template of sorts, acknowledged or otherwise. But things circulate, in orbits rarely as small as we assume.
One thing, though, is certain: è bella la vittoria - la nostra. That much never changes.
Why Custer at Les Halles, in Paris, in 1973?
From the point of view of the spectacle, Paris’ Les Halles represents an ideal setting in which to tell this story, the story of a genocide. A fin-de-siècle scenario on the warpath. An enormous hole at the center of this scenario. It makes one think of an arena in which they killed slaves and around which there was an empire that destroyed and rebuilt itself. A mobile setting for an eternal story.
The houses, the buildings that would be knocked down and replaced by skyscrapers. The landscape changes, but the struggle of oppressors against the oppressed remains the same; it’s immutable.
But why make it a question of genre? Why Custer at Les Halles? Why does an image stimulate an idea? I'm searching for a significance to this stimulus. The image of this hole in the middle of the city reminds me of the images of the gladiator’s ring, the deserts of the Dakota, the piazzas in which police throw tear-gas bombs.
Why a western? Because, in my opinion, we live in a western climate. [literally: “un clima da western”] Because the western was always the enormous trap into which we’ve fallen, ever since we were kids.
The western expresses concepts in a manner that's simple and elementary: God, Nation, Family. I take up these concepts and crack them up. [“li faccio scoppiare dal ridere” - more literally: make them burst with laughter]
La Grande Bouffe was a physiological film. This is a film of sentiments and ideas. It therefore had to be frankly comic. Today one can speak of sentiments and ideas only in a comic manner.
One can speak of surpassed concepts only in an irreverent manner.
Les Halles are the Western [Ferreri capitalizes “Western” here - not elsewhere], they’re a setting of a western. The old frontier - what was that? At the time of Custer, a century ago, they were already demolishing the old edifices that resembled the Pavillons de Baltard.
It isn’t the Dakota that makes the western. Westerns are also ideas. Since the western brought us ideas, why not bring ours to the western?
For in the city, don't there exist the same elements we find in a western? At every street corner, don’t the soldiers of the Seventh Cavalry circle up?
When I think of the Redskins, I think of the proletariat and the subproletariat left to be crushed and humiliated.
The work of destruction against the Redskins was an ethnocide, the destruction of a people of a nation.
The funny thing in this film, in this story, is that those who believe themselves strong, rather than speaking of genocide like we do, speak of the “right of conquest.” And this becomes truly comic when the conquerors are crushed, because the conquered themselves speak of the right to resistance and to victory. It’s this that happened at Little Big Horn and that will happen, I hope, everywhere tomorrow.
Victory - our victory - is beautiful.