02.22.00

 

 

ROBERT KRAMER, moving images
1939-1999

Robert Kramer is born in 1939 in New York City. His father is a prestigious doctor and his mother a famous designer. Kramer studies philosophy and history at Swarthmore and Stanford. He also writes novels which will never be published. He travels in both Europe and Israel. At the begining of the 60ís, he travels with his wife to Latin America with press credentials and thoughts of working as a reporter, though the trip is cut short by the death of his father. Upon returning to the US, Kramer works with Tom Hayden and SDS project in the black community of Newark. There he meets filmmakers Norman Fruchter and Robert Machover, who are shooting 'Troublemakers'.

Kramer then works with Peter Gessner on 'FALN', a film on the guerilla movement in Venezuela with material provided to them by 'communist' contacts. In 1966, he joins with Norman Fruchter, Robert Machover, and Peter Gessner to start Alpha 60 (aka: Blue Van Films). In 1966 he makes 'In the Country' and the 'The Edge' (1967) with Blue Van Film members. Along with this group and other political filmmakers in New York, he plays a major role in forming the early NY Newsreel collective in late 1967. Before long Newsreel groups form across the US in many major cities. In July 1969 he goes to North Vietnam with Norm Fructher and John Douglas as part of Newsreel to make 'Peoples'War'. Between 1967 to 1971 about sixty short, and middle-length films are produced - documentaries, films of struggle, and agit-prop films. In this context, Kramer begins to portray a generation of Americans fighting against the war in Vietnam and involved in the Civil Rights movement. It is during this time he makes Ice (1969). Kramer questions the notions of activism and political involvement. His Newsreel comrades find his work incomprehensible and too personal. The serious questions of 'auteur' vs. 'collective' arise.

After some years of political organizing with a collective in Free Vermont, he and John Douglas finish Milestones in 1975. The film addresses issues following the collapse of the 'movement' near the end of the Vietnam War. Milestones is shown at the Cannes while the last of the Americans are 'chopper'd off US Embassy in Saigon; it is also shown at Berlin, London and New York Film Festivals. and then later in Lisbon, Portugal, where Kramer will shoot 'Scenes from the Class Struggle'.

After some years on the west coast teaching at SFSU, driving a mail truck, and still finding no support in Hollywood, Kramer decides to move to France in 1980, where there is some real recognition and support of his work. In five years he makes 5 films trying to work in a more conventional style of narrative cinema.

In 1980 he makes 'Guns', in 1981 'A Toute Allure', followed by 'Notre Nazi' (1984) and Diesel (1985). These films all present an eclectic appearance, from mainstream features to TV movies, from 35 mm to 16 mm or video. Only 'Guns' and 'Diesel' are distributed. Kramer suffers from the weight of commercial production and 'scripted' films; in 1986 he goes back on the road and shoots 'Docís Kingdom' in Lisbon. He works together with who are to become his longtime collaborators, the cinematographer and producer Richard Copans, and the sound mixer Olivier Schwob, as well as the composer and bass player Barre Philips. and Paul Mc Isaac as Doc, friend and actor from 'Ice'.

Two years later, Kramer meets Doc (McIsaac) again in 'Route One/Usa' (1989), which exposes the exiled filmmakerís rediscovery of the US. This film is probably one of Kramerís most achieved pieces. Also a major turning point, for he is now also doing the camera work himself. Douglas helps edit the film. 'Route One' juxtaposes a deep subjectivity and critical point of views to myths and historical objectivity in a very poetic and cinematic style. Kramer is being rediscovered. He then makes 'Berlin10/90', 'Starting Point' (1993), and in 1996 'Walk the Walk'.

In 1998, Kramer starts teaching film at Le Fresnoy, a new multi-media school. His latest work includes 'The Coat' (1996), 'Ghosts of Electricity' (1997), 'SayKomSa' (1998) and, the now nearly finished, 'Cities of the Plain' (1999).

Whether he makes a feature film, an experimental film, a documentary, a tale, a journal or an essay, Robert Kramer always attempts to share his vision of the world in which he moves. Alone with his camera he succeeds in creating a singular and unique voice, going around the world questioning the heritage from his past, as well as power and itís oppostion, while exposing himself. In his brilliance as a camera operator, he conveys to us the pulse of the world, itís energy and itís beauty in moving images.

PEOPLEíS WAR, Robert Kramer, Norman Fruchter, John Douglas
US l969 - 40 minutes, 16 mm, B/W (English

In the summer of l969 Kramer goes with Newsreel to the DRV (North Vietnam). This film moves beyond the perception of the North Vietnamese as victims to a portrait of how the North Vietnamese society is organized. It shows the relationship of the people to their government-how local tasks of a village are coordinated and its needs met. It deals with the reality of a nation that has been at war for 25 years, that is not only resisting US aggression and keeping alive under bombing, but that is also struggling to raise its standard of living and to overcome the underdevelopment of centuries of colonial rule. Amid much publicity, the footage is confiscated upon its return to the US. . Despite this attempt at suppression, PEOPLES' WAR becomes one of the most sought-after films on Vietnam. Blue ribbon at U.S.A. film festival in Houston, Texas. and the Golden Bear Award, Moscow, USSR.

NEWSREEL COLLECTIVE

Robert Kramerís first contact with film occured through his activities in the civil rights movement and then his opposition to the Vietnam War. With his childhood friend Peter Gessner, and later with the documentary filmmakers Norman Fruchter and Robert Machover (working with early 16mm sync-sound which was rare in those days) they will start to edit various documents filmed by venezualian guerilleros which will be shown in 1965 under the name of FALN.

The next year, Kramer makes 'In the Country' which presents a coupleís harsh dicscussion of the radical movement in the US. The film will be shown secretly at the Pesaro Film Festival, thanks to Jonas Mekas. At the end of 1967, Kramer, Allan Siegel and a group of militant filmmakers form Newsreel. From 1968 to 1971, Newsreel will make over 60 films, in New York and then in California, where Kramer later moves.

In 1969, Kramer, with Norman Fruchter and John Douglas as Newsreel make 'Peopleís War' which takes place in North Vietnam, then totally bombed by the US Air Force.

STARTING PLACE, Robert Kramer
France 1993, 1h23, 35mm, color
English/French/Vietnamese
English Subtitles

In Starting Place, Robert Kramer revisits Hanoi, two decades after the end of the war and his making of Peopleís war. He succeeds in creating an impressionistic portrait of a country dealing with itís haunting past while struggling to build a competitive economy. The film becomes a powerful testimony about the ones who struggled for a right cause and who nowadays remain with the 'leftovers' of their struggle, as well as itís absence. Kramer films the workers, their movement and their effort, he encounters his former guide, as well as a tight-rope walker in the national circus, a former ballerina, and also his friend Linda Evans, activist, whoíd been sentenced to 40 years in 1985. Linda was part of the trip in 1969 when Peopleís War was made ; she was fighting daily against racism and terrorism and she was charged because she bought a weapon under a false name and helped a friend to escape. "You can think of my film as a mourning for the ideas for which Linda is in prison. My ideas are in prison." (Robert Kramer, Paris, June 1993)

SAY KOM SA, Robert Kramer
France 1998
French

This shorter piece is a free digression by Robert Kramer and his wife, Erika, as they look back upon the last ten years of their life together, and which leads them to question each other with the desire to always move forward as much as they can.

IN THE COUNTRY, Robert Kramer
US 1966, 16mm

BERLIN 10/90, Robert Kramer
France/US 1990

In 1990, Robert Kramer receives a grant from the Ford Foundation. He goes to Berlin for 6 months, where he makes an hour long single video shot (for a festival) in the bathroom of his appartment. Facing the camera, the filmmaker thinks, alone, about the fall of the Berlin wall. "Iíve already spent 6 weeks here. With all the events in eastern Europe, it was like a hurricane. Berlin is a city were you feel the biggest changes, where you meet Polish imigrants, or others, escaping. Berlin will become a very violent city. What happens in eastern Europe is a bit like the end of the civil war in the US. The North, and all itís power stimulated by years of war, took over the South, who has lost everything. And there is this german past, the war, on all levels. I was really not prepared. I always thought I had received an european education. In Berlin I discovered I had been raised in a very german way. Although my motherís family is originaly from Russia and my fatherís family from Poland, they raised me like a german middle class kid. When I visited the Berlin Philarmonic, I was transported back to my childhood at the New York Philarmonic. This brought me to rethink about my own past."
(Robert Kramer to Liberation - 01/16/91)

GHOSTS OF ELECTRICITY, Robert Kramer
France 1997

One of Robert Kramerís latest work, Ghosts of Electricity appears as a reflexion on technology and thoughts, where Kramer imagines a world in which both cinema and the sciences share a humanist interest in the bettering of our lives. It is also a declaration of love to his wife Erika and daughter Keja.

DOC'S KINGDOM, Robert Kramer
France/Portugal 1987, 1h30, 35mm, color
English/Portuguese

With Paul Mc Isaac, Vincent Gallo, Joao Cesar Monteiro

Docís Kingdom is the first film to introduce the character of DOC, played by Paul McIsaac, old friend and alter ego of Robert Kramer. Doc is an american doctor who lives in the suburbs of Lisbon, behind the city, where the Tage enters into the sea. Doc hasnít been back home and hasnít seen his wife Rozie nor ever met their son, and hasnít seen his friends in over 15 years. In those days Doc was fighting against the Vietnam war; then he travelled to Africa as a doctor. From this collective adventure, he finally ends up alone in Portugal where he now lives a painful existence, between his warehouse, his long and lonely walks and the hospital where facing otherís suffering allows him to escape his own. Loneliness and alcohol have taken over. Slowly, the past is catching up with him : his son Jimmy finds him, and as they are almost ready to kill each other in a fight, Doc will finally understands that Jimmy is his son. They will talk, and the son will slowly understand why the father left abruptly to pursue his ideals and utopias.

With Docís Kingdom, Kramer exposes with subtlety all the themes that are dear to him : alienation and return, his activist and filmmaker life in the US, the father-son relationship, and he succeeds in mixing the present with the past again, where generations confront each other and learn from one another. When the son returns home, Doc can start to think about going back to the US as well, where he will meet Kramer in another film, along Route One.

WALK THE WALK, Robert Kramer
France 1996, 1h46, 35mm, color
French with English subtitles
With Laure Duthilleul, Jacques martial, Betsabee Haas

Walk the Walk is maybe one of Kramerís only true european films, as it attempts to portray the life of 3 members of an interracial family that lives in the south of France. When the daughter decides to go into the world to make her own experiences and travels across Europe. The organic balance within the family shifts. The father, a sport teacher, will leave as well and embark on a boat, while the mother, a biologist, experiences absence and desire for another man. These three parallel stories allow Kramer to further experiment with his style and play with fragmention. He juxtaposes documentary and fictional elements as a cross between his own diary notes, a travelogue, and family drama, and creates a deep sense of the relationship between place and emotion.

This work could be seen as a letter from a father to his daughter where he exposes his fears and worries, as well as his trust and admiration. It is also the tale, once again, of one generation confronted to the next generation and how they question each other. The film is dedicated to his daughter Keja, who once told him : "If you talk the talk, you better walk that walk".

ROUTE ONE/USA, Robert Kramer
1989, 4 hours, 35mm, color
French with English subtitles

ROUTE/ONE USA is the story of a journey, of a friendship, and of a distant as well as present past. It's Robert Kramer's second epic where both documentary and fiction coexist in one single style. The film features Paul McIsaac, long time friend and alter ego. Together they travel along the East Coast of the US , all the way from the Canadian border to Key West. Robert Kramer moves through the terrain of his country of origin, but also it's history, as well as his own past and his own imaginings. Through this extrordinary piece, he attempts a film portrait of "a people, but not the masses", focusing on particular people in particular circumstances to get beyond generalizations about "the American public".

ROUTE/ONE USA is a movie which enables the film language to open itself : along this happy as well as worried journey, and through the various encounters, Kramer composes a cinematic landscape in order to understand the world where he and we move, and in order to act as well. Kramer is reinventing the world, and the light in the world, the music, the sounds. His eye is constantly aware and at the same time surprised by what it discovers every day. With this film, Kramer finds a style which will lead to his following work, and multiply the free and creative approaches of reality and history.

THE EDGE, Robert Kramer
US 1967, 1h42, 16mm, B/W
English
With Jack Rader, Tom Griffin, Anne Waldman

In his second 'feature', Kramer depicts the thoughts of a troubled anti-war activist who plans to assassinate the President of the United States. His resolve forces others in a fragmented and desillusioned group of political allies to face the threat of government counter-intelligence and the temptetions of middle-age security, and to re-examine their commitment to radical action.

MILESTONES, Robert Kramer and John Douglas
US 1975, 3 hours and 15 minutes, 16mm, B/W and color
English

This epic film represents an essential landmark within the political, intellectual and artistic entreprise of the 60's and 70's, following the Vietnam War. Milestones cuts back and forth between different story lines and features over fifty different characters, from Vietnam veterans to ex-convicts, parents and kids, native americans.... In 3 hours and 15 minutes, Kramer and Douglas expose the 'tribe' where all the alternatives of this generation are experimented. The film questions these experimentations's success and failures, as well as the directing methods of Newsreel cinema. In 1976, Serge Toubiana wrote in Les Cahiers du Cinema: "If in Milestones one deals with new relationships between human beings and with a new way of life which also integrates the vegetal world as well as the biological world, one also deals primarly with cinema, with a new form of cinema, as if Hollywood would not exist. Kramer and Douglas don't make Milestones against Hollywood, they shoot as if Hollywood doesn't exist."

ICE, Robert Kramer
US 1969, 2h05, 16mm, b/w

This pioneering work is the first film by Kramer which blurs the boundaries between fictional and documentary style and which Kramer will pursue in the rest of his film work. An underground revolutionary group struggles against internal strife which threatens itís security and stages guerilla attacks against a fictionalized facist regime in the US. Throughout the narrative, Kramer intercuts rethorical sequences that explain the philosophy of radical action and serve to restrain the melodrama inherent in the thriller genre.

Jonas Mekas said that 'Ice' was "the most original and most significant American narrative film of the late sixties.
(From Harvard film archive bulletin)

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