Katherine Grant’s Dream
Claudette Colbert in No Time for Love (1943), dir. Mitchell Leisen
Film still of Maria Montez from Cobra Woman d. Robert Siodmak (1944)
THE MOST ICONIC MOMENT in Cannibal Tours, Dennis O’Rourke’s 1988 documentary about the absurdities of global tourism, comes 40 minutes into the film, when European and American tourists visit a village along Papua New Guinea’s once-isolated Sepik River. As the sweaty white folks wander around snapping photos and haggling for souvenirs, a handsome young Papuan tribesman speaks to an offscreen interviewer, earnestly explaining what he thinks of the outsiders.
"When the tourists come to our village, we are friendly towards them," he says, his words translated in the subtitles. "They like to see all the things in the village. We accept them here." While he’s saying this, an elderly German woman wearing high-hitched khaki trousers and silver horn-rimmed spectacles creeps into the background, fumbles with the settings on her camera, and — oblivious to what the tribesman is saying — snaps a picture of him before scuttling back out of the frame. Upon initial viewing, this interaction seems to perfectly encapsulate the strained guest-host dynamic portrayed in Cannibal Tours: even as the Sepik native takes pains to affirm the humanity of tourists, the tourist’s first instinct is to treat him like scenery.
Our era accumulates powers and imagines itself as rational. But no one recognizes these powers as their own. Nowhere is there any entry to adulthood. The only thing that happens is that this long restlessness sometimes eventually evolves into a routinized sleep. Because no one ceases to be kept under guardianship. The point is not to recognize that some people live more or less poorly than others, but that we all live in ways that are out of our control.
At the same time, it is a world that has taught us how things change. Nothing stays the same. The world changes more rapidly every day; and I have no doubt that those who day after day produce it against themselves can appropriate it for themselves.
The only adventure, we said, is to contest the totality, whose center is this way of living, where we can test our strength but never use it. No adventure is directly created for us. The adventures that are presented to us form part of the mass of legends transmitted by the cinema or in other ways; part of the whole spectacular sham of history.
Until the environment is collectively dominated, there will be no real individuals — only specters haunting the objects anarchically presented to them by others. In chance situations we meet separated people moving randomly. Their divergent emotions neutralize each other and reinforce their solid environment of boredom. As long as we are unable to make our own history, to freely create situations, our striving toward unity will give rise to other separations. The quest for a unified activity leads to the formation of new specializations.
And only a few encounters were like signals emanating from a more intense life, a life that has not really been found.
Guy Debord - Critique of Separation
Don’t Bank on Amerika, directed by Peter Biskind et al.
The burning of the Bank of America in Isla Vista, California, the student community adjacent to the University of California at Santa Barbara, 1970. Burning banks is always a good extracurricular activity for students.