Keith Sanborn responds

to NOT BORED!'s posting
concerning his charging $30 and $40 for copies of subtitled situationist tapes

Since I am a participating member of this list, I have decided to respond once and for all to the baseless and hypocritical accusations posted by William J. Brown, aka Bill Brown, aka aka NOT BORED! which I have deliberately ignored until now.

First, Mr. Brown, who is so cowardly he doesn't even list his own name at the bottom of his accusations, as far as I can discern, does not speak a word of French. Yet Mr. Brown has repeatedly and publicly asserted that the labor involved in producing the translations of the Debord and Vienet tapes by me was minimal. At the very least, Mr. Brown is incapable of judging that. Anyone who compares my translation with the existing translations AND the original will see that mine in no way "derives" from them. Having read those translations and the original and having read the original many many times, I deliberately chose not refer to existing translations. I found that in the cases where Debord does deviate in the film from the text of his original essay, the existing translation (Rebel Press) was so inaccurate that it was of no use whatsoever. If there are echoes of the Black and Red translation by Perlman and Spivak in my work, it is rather after the manner of Pierre Menard's rewriting of the Quixote to which Borges refers: it was the first version of the text I saw and I reread it so often before I could acquire a copy of the French original that it has become a part of my own English situationist vocabulary. The reason I did not choose to refer to them while making my translation is that they are for the most part either overly literal and full of mistakes, or so free as to amount to a paraphrase. This evaluation of previous translations is one shared by Ken Knabb who is by far the best and most experienced translator of situationist material. As for the Vienet tape, it was all done by ear, because there is no published text of the material I know of in either French or English. It was not done by me alone, nor even by my collaborator Nathalie Borgers and I alone, but by many inviduals, especially Catherine Ruello, who helped to perfect its extremely difficult and nuanced translation over a period of several years. I was responsible for the final form it took in English, however.

Second, Mr. Brown's knowledge of video technology apparently amounts to the ability of hooking up two consumer vcr's and hitting the record and play buttons. His knowledge of video production costs amounts to the cost of buying a video tape at his local drugstore.

At a screening which took place at Anthology Film Archives, Mr. Brown handed out a leaflet which gave a financial accounting of the costs of producing my subtitled video version of "Society of the Spectacle" by giving a low estimate (1200) of the number of subtitles and estimating that they cost "50 cents each" to produce, for a total production cost of $600. He then proceeded to pay me a salary of $20/hr for "40 hours of work". This is a salary I would have had to pay myself and underestimates the labor involved by at least a factor of 100. It also fails to include the generous and unpaid contributions of the others involved in the process whose names I list at the end of tape. Mr. Brown then offers the cost of duplicating 500 video cassettes as $4 each. This is apparently the price he pays for the tapes he uses to duplicate my translation. Mr. Brown then asserts that the actual total cost of producing the translation, with a generous salary for me for a week's work, was $3,400. This figure is a typical Brown fantasy masquerading in the forms of charts and tables.

He then resorted to utter fantasy to assert that I had received $4000 from a screening at Exit Art in New York. I will say that in this case his figures are high by a factor ranging from 10 to 100. He then asserted that I made $1,120 from a screening at Anthology film archives. Again, he simply made the figure up. In short Mr. Brown is a publisher of information world wide which he asserts is true but simply makes up. He has no knowledge of either the cost or technology involved in adding over 1200 subtitles to a 90 minute video tape or the returns to gained from a typical screening at either Anthology Film Archives, Exit Art or anywhere else.

Mr. Brown further shows a basic ignorance of the notion of economy of scale, by comparing the cost--and using a low figure in his example at that--of a Hollywood Block buster, advance foreign theatrical sales of which almost always guarantee a profit for its investors before video distribution is even considered--to the costs and indepedent distribution of a tape such as the translation I have produced of the Debord film, the kind of costs well known to the participants in this list.

And as a matter of record, Mr. Brown is the only person who has actually profited by or profiteered on video tape sales of this work or the resultant publicity he has sought to generate for himself.

Since Mr. Brown, who works in a clerical capacity at the same nationally advertised tort law firm which employs his father, apparently has free access to unlimited legal services, he does not fear publishing abroad these untruths.

Third, Mr. Brown's motives in making available these tapes is anything but laudable. Besides acting as noisy self-promotion to a pathetic group of wanna be bohemians, their function is on the level of a personal vendetta.

The fact is that Mr. Brown, upon hearing of a screening of the Debord tape at SUNY/Buffalo where I was teaching at the time and where Mr. Brown had previously studied, approached me by email for information about the screening. He presented himself as a JOURNALIST and as a PUBLISHER of my own work. [Editor's note: to find out what Sanborn is talking about, click here.]

The fact is that Mr. Brown's credentials as my PUBLISHER amount to the fact that in his sub-par 'zine he had bootlegged a 20 plus page translation of the subtitles for Gil Wolman's "L'Anti-concepte" I had made, with Mr. Wolman's permission, for a screening at Exit Art in connection with a show of situationist and lettriste film several years ago. Besides crossing out a copyright notice which I had not affixed to my tranlsation, he see saw fit to add a notation of "to avoid even the appearance" of conforming to copyright law. What a daring fellow indeed. Anyone who has ever looked at at Mr. Brown's 'zine will realize that the sub-par quality of it's personal vendettas and expressions of jealousy of those gifted enough to make any sort of original contribution to intellectual or political life--such as his baseless attacks on Ken Knabb disguised as 'zine jouralism--will realize why I would have little confidence in either Mr. Brown's knowledge of the situationists or his ability to write a coherent review of the film.

I told him simply I did not think him qualified to write such a review. He then sent me a series of threatening emails telling me he would tell THAT to his editors at the Village Voice and that I had just made my FIRST BIG MISTAKE. The first time he mentioned who he was writing for was in the context of a threat. He then later told me I had made my SECOND BIG MISTAKE. When I did not respond with curiosity about what those might have been, he even wrote: "Don't you want to know what your big mistakes were?" Having received several threats from Mr. Brown, I told him I knew what sort of person he really was referring to events, which according to Mr. Brown are "common knowledge" related to his illustrious past in Providence, RI and Buffalo, NY. Further, I contacted his internet provider,, where he works, to complain about his use of their service to send me harassing and threatening messages and to instruct him to desist or I would take legal action against them and Mr. Brown. They assured me that Mr. Brown had told them that our communications were strictly a "personal" matter and that they, as his internet provider, we in no way involved. Doubting that Mr. Brown was even associated with the Village Voice, I contacted the Voice to find out if this were in fact true. I informed the The Village Voice that I would in no way cooperate with Mr. Brown. The Village Voice decided not to publish Mr. Brown's review. The Buffalo Evening News, the principal mainstream newspaper of that city, showed fewer scruples about checking the qualifications of Mr. Brown. They published a notice by Mr. Brown who had not even seen the film at that point containing a great deal of misinformation about the film, the conditions under which it was made, and the cultural and political context in which the film was made.

After some repeated publications of other lies about me on the internet, I responded to a comment made by Mr. Brown through his fake identity, I told him via the medium of this fictional convention, exactly what I thought of him. I would be happy for Mr. Brown to republish this email whenever he chooses. While asserting to me privately that I was an idiot because I didn't realize that HE was, he subsequently informed my email provider that I was harassing him and demanded that I cease all communication with him under threat of prosecution for libel. Since Mr. Brown has access to unlimited legal resources, of which he has availed himself in the past when getting himself into various tight scrapes, I have declined to communicate with Mr. Brown further and have declined all public comment on the matter. Mr. Brown seems to thrive on stirring things up by a low-grade disinformation campaign in various internet fora in which I participate.

In short, Mr. Brown has used the illegal duplication of my translation--which is some how in his twisted mind more virtuous than my own creation of that translation--as a vehicle to carry out a campaign of personal injury against me across the internet and therefore across the world. Mr. Brown is motivated only by my refusal to cooperate with his efforts to advance his journalistic career.

In sending messages across the internet such as the one Mr. Brown sent to this mailing list, he has hoped to injure me and enhance at least the scale of his own reputation by attempting to make certain that the copyright holders to the work know about the tape I have created. He has accused me of "profiteering" from this project. This is another untruth. I have never profited from it to the extent of retrieving even the production costs I spent out of my own earnings to make it possible.

I would never even consider paying myself for making such a translation in figuring production costs. That was pure potlatch. I have placed a copyright notice for the translation only to prevent even more shameless but legally accountable corporate entities from reproducing my translation without compensating the owners of the film. I made this translation because I believe that "Society of the Spectacle" is unquestionably one of the most important films ever made, not only for its innovative use of cinematic language but because it represents an extraordinary attempt to change our world for the better. It didn't seem to me otherwise it would ever have been made, due to the costs involved, the labor involved and the likelihood of making a return for those so motivated. I would like to take this opportunity to offer the free use of my translation to the legal owners of the film should they ever choose to make it available in the English speaking world.

I have taken a substantial legal risk in making this translation and in making public its history. The only thing Mr. Brown seems to have done is attempt to ride on Mr. Debord's coattails to underground notoriety and an advancement in his low-grade jouralistic career and to somehow punish me in the process.

Let me reiterate the challenge made by my friend Peggy Ahwesh: why doesn't Mr Brown spend his energies securing the rights to the Debord films and producing legal translations to it all and making them avaialble to us all for $5.00 a piece. Surely that should be an easy thing for someone of his demonstrated talents.

Keith Sanborn

[Editor's note: the only thing we posted to the Frameworks listserv in response to these remarks was a note informing the recepients of the location of the website of the supposedly "sub-par" magazine NOT BORED!, so that they might be able to visit the site and judge for themselves. The same day (28 June 1997), when Sanborn sent a copy of his remarks to Blackout Books (for some reason), an interesting exchange took place.]



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