Ken McMullen, Resistance, 1976. Courtesy BFI

Resistance assembles fragments of raw material (archive film, performances, music, historical and psychological contradictions) and attempts to make a whole. The historical focus of the film is the French Resistance. Although the film deals only intermittently with the Resistance, it does describe quite faithfully the way in which ex-resistors render up their past in terms of readymade mythologies.

This screening of the film is followed by a Q&A session with director Ken McMullen and artist Stuart Brisley.  

The film examines the sociological and psychological roots of resistance to military occupation; questions the use to which archive film is put in educational and television documentaries; explores the role that film can have in re-interpreting history. It includes archive and newsreel footage of wartime France, anti-fascist demonstrations, and of Lenin and Trotsky.

Resistance is a film asking questions:
1. To what degree is history a statement of wish or conscience?
2. What is memory, what is history and is there any relation between the two?
3. What is the relationship between a film that records an event and the reality of that event?
4. How far is a product of conscious and unconscious censors?
5. What is the contribution of psychoanalytic or Marxist techniques in helping to understand the forces behind the course of events?

Resistance takes its starting point from a real event. In 1948 five former heroes of the French Resistance found themselves in various states of mental breakdown. They had problems of re-adjusting to so-called normal life. They were plagued by memories of betrayal, crises of guilt for those who had died, rancour of rivalries created before the war had even began. Taken through therapy by an analyst, they were encouraged to re-enact their traumas as psychodrama.

Twenty hours of psychodrama shot on 1-inch videotape produced the performance material (50 minutes of the finished film). This part of the film was made in an isolated location in Devon where the participants spent a week working through and re-analysing their performances in an attempt to merge elements of their own personalities with the fictional roles imposed on them. A practicing psychoanalyst took part in this. Resistance was performed by: Stuart Brisley, Marc Chaimowicz, Ian Kellgren, Lesley Pitt, Anna Koply, Arnold Linken and Elizabeth Richardson.

In the film Brisley plays Sam, a worker and former Communist Party member who was expelled from the party in 1936 when he refused to abandon strikes for the eight-hour day. His sense of betrayal emerges as one of the stresses at work in the resistance movement ten years later. Marc Chaimovicz is his rival, a small time Marseilles crook who was taken up as a hero by the Resistance and abruptly dropped with the end of the war. Anna Kolpy is the sister of a woman who was brutally axed to death by the Nazis. Had her comrades betrayed her? Had they all been betrayed, or were they the betrayers? History cannot tell, but as each of the characters in the film imposed his or her motivations on the story, guilt emerged as the common currency.

That is the narrative element of the film, but it is not so much a narrative film as the struggle to tell a story. During that week in Devon, 24 hours of action were videotaped, shot and played back in hourly installments. Other interpretations of ‘resistance’ were built up. Through the psychodrama, as the cast submitted themselves to delving and probing beneath the surface of their roles, there emerged an understandable resistance to exposing their own unconscious motivations. People feared for Brisley’s safety as his obsession with the axe that symbolised the death of the woman became more manic.

The third level of Resistance has to do with the film medium itself. The end result, after 14 months of editing, was a complex collage of archive film, an historic photograph of a woman waiting for an assignment, video material re-filmed on 16mm black and white film and then reprocessed on colour film stock and re-filmed again, plus a directly filmed denouement in which Sam faces the inevitable. Over this is an equally complex soundtrack of music by Brian Eno, and male and female voiceovers, which seem to cast doubt on what is seen. It is as if the film itself resists the ideas it is meant to convey.

Presented as part of Resistance: British Documentary Film, more information about all the films in the series here.

Ken McMullen and Stuart Brisley

FREE, no booking required

Thu 24 March, 7pm (90min + Q&A)

Northern Charter

Fifth Floor
Commercial Union House
39 Pilgrim Street