At the beginning of what was to be his last film, In girum imus nocte et consumimur igni (1978), Guy Debord declares, “I have sometimes been reproached—wrongly, I believe—for making difficult films. Now I am actually going to make one.” “Difficult” in a film like Howls for Sade (1952), which prompted audiences not only to walk out of the theater but threaten to burn it down, might be an understatement. But with In girum, Debord means difficult in a different sense. The film is actually a lot more straightforward than his other work; unlike Society of the Spectacle (1973), which relies on the uncomfortable dissonance between a monotone Marxist critique of image consumption and the scintillating allure of ‘60s pinup models and pulpy films, In girum is more interested in bringing words and images together to tell a story—specifically, Debord’s own.
If it’s difficult, it might be because this is the one that was hardest for him to express. And while the film retains his characteristically dyspeptic view of late capitalist society, it also suggests a deeper, more complicated, more passionate involvement with its images, which are presented in an array of magazine ads, comics, film clips, and black-and-white photographs of Debord’s old comrades. For as much as he enjoyed rewriting the speech balloons of comic strips or grafting cutouts onto improper surfaces in a strategy he called détournement, In girum makes it clear that Debord loved the movies for their own sake. As writer Greil Marcus observed on the panel following the film’s screening at the 12th annual Views from the Avant-Garde series at the New York Film Festival, the oddly long eight-minute battle scene from The Charge of the Light Brigade was included in the film presumably because Debord loved it, that it stirred something within him beyond any didactic impulse or ironic detachment. He’s attracted to “rubbish,” the dusty fragments of popular culture, because that’s where he finds his story: a gang of artist-rebels known as the Situationist International, who, for a moment, found a way to live differently, undetected, as shadows and outlaws.
Click here to read all of Genevieve Yue’s coverage of the 12th annual Views from the Avant-Garde series at the New York Film Festival.