T. int.: The Sixth Face of the Pentagon. F.: François Reichenbach, Chris Marker, Christian Odasso, Tony Daval. M.: Carlos de los Llanos. Su.: Antoine Bonfanti. Prod.: Chris Marker, Catherine e Pierre Braunberger per SLON, France-Opéra Films, Film de la Pléiade. DCP. D.: 25’. Col.
A year after helping set up the group SLON (Société de Lancement des Œuvres Nouvelles), and subsequent to the collective effort Loin du Viêt-nam, Chris Marker made a 16mm film commemorating a day of utopia: on October 21, 1968 one hundred thousand young students, flanked by a smaller group of hippies, repudiated the war in Vietnam, “breaking with the tradition of Platonic marches”. Thirty-five thousand of them breached that sacred military space known as the Pentagon, thinking they would be able “for one instant to paralyze the War Machine”. Fortyfive years later, Marker’s medium-length film, made with the help of a number of cameramen, including François Reichenbach, sums up the utopia of a generation. Young American students burned their draft cards in a rite of freedom (an act which would cost them five years in jail) and protested against a war they recognized as absurd in a peaceful and celebratory ‘happening’. The event included performances, mime shows and concerts, and rousing speeches inciting them to rebel against the war. Marker records the faces of these kids who dreamed of changing the world, but also the features of their American neo-Nazi antagonists, who look like direct descendents of their German forebears, their credo summed up in a sign: “Gas the Vietnamese”. Marker commented that, “their arguments are the same as the generals”. It became emblematic at the time that there were many different “Americas”, and Marker filmed scenes that defined the “American madness”: a preacher thundering from an improvised pulpit against communist atheism, with a sign saying, “first make war and then make love”, while “loudspeakers spout dialectics and hippies exorcize”. Then there is a veterans’ parade, with some soldiers from the Second World War, and others, much younger, already returned from Viet Nam. In the voice-over, Marker tells how the protest came to be organized and reminds us of the story from Brooklyn University, traditionally a peaceful campus, where the deplorable action by the police to repress a handful of protesters resulted in a major insurrection in their defense: “the eternal stupidity of the powerful”. But even the soldiers, rendered anonymous in their uniforms and helmets, are little more than children. The director pauses on a black and white photo of a youth holding out a rose to the soldiers, and then throwing it to the ground, declaring, “None of you even have the courage to pick a flower”. And the key scene: a dozen protesters notice a gap in the wall of police and take advantage to attempt to storm the Pentagon, getting as far as the entrance, where they are beaten back by police. One of the protesters, bleeding profusely from a head wound, refuses to be stopped. The close up on his indignant face was also to become one of the most famous images in Le Fond de l’air est rouge (1977).