"One knows that Eisentstein wanted to film [Karl Marx's] Capital. One might also ask, given the formal conceptions and political submission of the filmmaker, if his film could have been faithful to Marx's text. But, for us, we do not doubt that we can do better. For example, as soon as possible, Guy Debord himself will direct a cinematographic adaptation of The Society of the Spectacle, which will certainly not shame his book." Internationale Situationniste, #12, September 1969.
Up to now, one has generally estimated that the cinema is completely inappropriate to the exposition of revolutionary theory. One has been wrong. The absence of all serious efforts in this direction simply derives from the historical absence of a modern revolutionary theory during almost all of the period in which the cinema developed; and simultaneously from the fact that the possibilities of cinematographical writing have hardly been liberated, despite the declarations of intention from the authors and the feint satisfation of the unfortunate public.
Published in 1967, The Society of the Spectacle is a book the theoretical contribution of which has greatly marked the new current of social critique that now undermines, more and more manifestly, the established order. Its current cinematographic adaptation also does not propose a few partial political critiques, but a total critique of the existing world, that is to say, a critique of all aspects of modern capitalism and its general system of illusion.
The cinema makes itself part of this world, as one of the instruments of separated representation, which opposes itself to the reality of proletarianized society and its domination. Thus revolutionary critique, fighting on the same terrain as the cinematographical spectacle, must overthrow its language and give itself a form that is itself revolutionary.
The texts and the images of this film constitute a coherent ensemble; but the images are never the simple, direct illustration of its commentary -- and even less a demonstration (a "demonstation" that moreover, in the cinema, isn't admissible due to the infinite possibilities for manipulation that are available to all unilateral montages of documents). The use of images is here oriented by the principle of detournement, which the situationists have defined as communication that can "contain its own critique." This is true for the utilisation of several pre-existing film-sequences and newsreels, or even films of photographs that have already been published elsewhere. These are the proper images by which spectacular society displays itself to itself that are [herein] reprised and returned: the means of the spectacle must be treated with insolence. With the result that, in this film in a certain way, the cinema, at the end of its pseudo-autonomous history, gather its memories together. Thus one can see it as a historical film, a Western, a love story, a war movie, etc. And it is equally a film that, like the society that it treats, presents a number of comical traits.
In speaking of the spectacular order and the sovereignty of the commodity that it serves, one also speaks of what hides this order: the class struggles and the tendencies of really historical life, the revolution and its past failures, and those responsible in those failures. Nothing in this film is made to please the Great Minds of Leftist Cinema; one scorns them as much as what they respect, and the style in which their respect shows itself. He who is capable of understanding and condemning all of an economic-social formation will condemn it, even in a film. If no one spoke to us of extremism, we would be pleased: current history is quite far beyond that.
It suffices to undertake a critique without concessions so that these theses, which have not yet been expressed in the cinema, will arise in a form never before seen. In order that the cinema, from the socio-economic point of view, is really capable of such liberty it is obviously necessary to renounce all pretenses of controling in advance and in any fashion whatsover the director, by demanding that he provide a synopsis or by looking to obtain from him another sort of the vain appearance of a guarantee. This is what has been recognized by contract between the author and Simar Films: "It is understood that the author will accomplish his work in complete liberty, without control of any kind, and without even bearing in mind observations of any kind on any aspect of the content or the cinematographic form that seems suitable to him to give his film."
Given that this film itself shows what it wants to say in a sufficiently comprehensible manner, the producer and the author estimate that it would be useful to subsequently furnish further explanations.
(Unsigned; could well have been written by Gerard Lebovici. Published as a brochure in April 1974. Reprinted in the booklet accompanying the "Society of the Spectacle" part of Guy Debord, Oeuvres Cinematographiques Completes, a three-DVD set released November 2005. Translated from the French by NOT BORED! January 2006.)