NOT BORED! sees value in Keith Sanborn's production of a subtitled videocassette version of Guy Debord's 1973 film La Societe du Spectacle. The availability of such a videotape cannot fail to introduce Debord and the other situationists' critique of "The Society of the Spectacle" to English-speaking audiences that might not have otherwise been aware of or receptive to the significance and enduring usefulness of Debord's 1967 book (which bears the same title as the film). NOT BORED! also believes that Keith Sanborn should be adequately compensated for his efforts, which mostly involved the subtitling and duplication processes. (Very little "new" material needed to be translated, precisely because the film so closely follows Debord's book, of which translations have been in circulation since the 1970s.)
But it is clear that Keith Sanborn is demonstrably attempting to receive more financial compensation than is appropriate for someone who claims to be interested in furthering the situationist project, and not simply making a buck off of it. In a word, we firmly believe that -- in charging between $30 and $40 for copies of the subtitled tape -- he is gouging. We believe this even though we know that (he claims) this admirable project cost $7,000 to bring to completion. We also believe that he should be held accountable, so to speak, for his shameless profiteering, if not financially, then at least in the eyes of his peers in the international post-situationist scene.
We must remind all concerned that Sanborn's videocassette is nothing but a pirate edition, a bootleg, an illegal duplication of a film that was originally made by a man who committed suicide in 1994 and thus cannot do anything to prevent or denounce clear abuses such as this. Sanborn's "new" translation of the film's voiceover, as well as his creation, distribution and very well-attended (and thus highly profitable) public screenings of the subtitled videocassette, are most definitely NOT authorized by the estate of Guy Debord. As Sanborn himself knows, it is only a matter of time before Alice Becker-Ho (Debord's widow) learns of what he is doing, and instructs her lawyers to ask Sanborn to cease and desist from these unauthorized and illegal activities.
In the meantime -- or, rather, before the situationist shit hits the international fan -- Sanborn is trying to receive more than adequate compensation for his efforts: he is clearly trying to make as much money as possible. If it cost a total of $7,000 to complete this project, why aren't copies of the tape priced at $10 each? It is clearly reasonable to expect that, over a reasonably short period of time, 1000 people would buy a copy of the tape if it were reasonably priced. At $10 a copy, Keith Sanborn would stand to get back all of his original investment and a $3,000 profit as well. But at $30 a copy, he stands to make a profit of $23,000 (again assuming 1000 people will eventually fork over the money).
Think of it this way: What other 90 minute videotape on the market costs $30 or $40? If one were to go to, say, Blockbuster Video (not known for its low prices), and discretely inquire as to what item in the store costs $30, the answer would be, "Well, the director's cut of Natural Born Killers, which includes one full hour of previously cut footage, as well as never-before-seen interview segments with the director himself and all the important actors, retails for $27.95." In other words, Sanborn has drastically over-estimated or deliberately ignored the relative cultural value of the subtitled bootleg he has produced. But professional bootleggers -- who are not widely known or respected for keeping their greed under control -- do know the relative cultural value of a bootlegged videocassette, which translates into $15 or $20 a copy, at the very most. "To live outside the law, you must be honest," Bob Dylan sang many years ago. Keith Sanborn is living outside the law, but he is not being honest.
One thinks here of Ken Knabb, and how much Keith Sanborn is different from him. In 1981, when he first published The Situationist International Anthology, Knabb priced it at only $10 a copy, despite the facts that it was a huge book (many times the size of Debord's 1967 book) upon which he'd spent years of his time, and that it was a book that he published himself, with his own funds. Quite obviously, Knabb -- as someone genuinely committed to the situationist project -- knew that he was undertaking a long haul: there would be very little demand for the Anthology in the short-term; he wouldn't make any money (back) for several years, if at all; over the course of 10 or 15 years, he might be adequately compensated for his efforts. Hindsight shows that Ken Knabb was right. Today, copies of The Anthology cost $15 (still a bargain) and Ken Knabb is well-respected by nearly everyone in the post-situationist milieu. But what will people say about Keith Sanborn in 10 or 15 years? Well, what are they saying today?
When priced at $30 to $40 each, copies of Debord's film are too expensive for students, the unemployed and the working classes -- in other words, for precisely the very people about and for whom Debord's film was made in the first place. Indeed, Sanborn's subtitled videotape is so expensive that even independent bookstores cannot stock it without losing money. The only "people" who can afford these ridiculously inflated prices are relatively large institutions such as libraries and film societies, and such relatively-well paid college-level teachers as Sanborn himself -- in other words, the very people and things from which Debord so unequivocally and completely distanced himself during his lifetime.
NOT BORED! has obtained one of Sanborn's over-priced, unauthorized and subtitled reproductions of Debord's film, and has used it to generate good quality second-generation copies, which we are selling for $5 postpaid (domestic orders) and $10 postpaid (international ones), while they last. Please send cash only to PO Box 1115, Stuyvesant Station, NYC 10009-9998. E-mail can be directed to firstname.lastname@example.org.
Since Sanborn is also selling unauthorized, subtitled videocassettes of Rene Vienet's 1973 film Can Dialectics Break Bricks? for $30 to $40 each, we would be obviously be pleased if this film escaped from Sanborn's clutches in the way we have helped La Societe du Spectacle escape.
This text may be freely reproduced and distributed, for if and when Madame Debord's lawyers contact us, they will be contacting both clear consciences and meagre bank accounts.
16 November 1996
[Note added 14 March 1997: we have obtained an "original" copy of Rene Vienet's Can Dialectics Break Bricks? and are making good, second-generation copies of it available for $5 cash (domestic orders) or $10 cash (international orders). Contact us at the Post Office Box listed below.]
[Note added 28 June 1997: just a few hours (!) after we placed this text on the "Frameworks" Experimental Film Discussion List, both Keith Sanborn and his girlfriend Peggy Ahwesh (!) posted messages in response to it. We are happy to share these messages, and our responses to them, with you. Click here for Kranky Keith and here for Petulant Peggy.]
[Note added 11 March 2000: on the pricing of the tapes.]
[Noted added 16 November 2003: we're no longer selling Debord's films.]
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