This essay deals with the problem of filmically representing political revolutions. In working out what film can do with and for revolution, it argues that the representation of revolution is not as powerful or mobilizing as the reflection of revolutionary practices and ideas, always at a distance from the realm of representation. Documentary practices, I contend, can serve active reflection on the side and site of struggle. The concept of reflection leads to a deeper phenomenological and historical understanding of such documentary footage, as well as an understanding of the dynamics of revolutionary events themselves. The essay responds to political-theoretical discourse positing the “invisibility” of politics and the People. Its central claim is that film, but also more broadly audiovisual media in all their current proliferation, can have a revolutionary function that is usefully distinguished from the old one of symbolically representing revolutionary unity. Film need not be reduced to a medium of collective self-representation, of imagining the people as “One,” when it is also engaged in the diffuse work of creating revolutionary subjects out of the process of collective reflection. As both a record and a means of this reflection, film can be revolutionary in ways that are as far from the practices of Sergei Eisenstein and Dziga Vertov as they are from those of Vladimir Lenin and Mao Zedong.
S. D. Chrostowska; The Spring and the Reel: On Film and Revolution. boundary 2 1 May 2017; 44 (2): 95–125. doi: https://doi.org/10.1215/01903659-3826645
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