Duck Amuck follows the travails of Daffy Duck as the pen of a cartoonist continually erases and redraws him and the world surrounding him. Pirandello for the bottle and bib set, Amuck is related to Manny Farber’s assertion that Termite Art perpetually devours its own boundaries, Brecht’s idea that Epic Theater should relentlessly exclude the audience from a seamless fictive space, and Clement Greenberg’s requirement that truly modern art point to the essential conditions of its medium.
The film is proof of J. Hoberman’s claim that there developed parallel to High Modernism a “Vulgar Modernism,” one born not out of ideology or formal necessity, but resulting from the mass market’s restless push in new directions. After seeing it, poet John Ashbery was inspired to write “Daffy Duck in Hollywood,” in which he conflates the goings-on in Amuck with the plight of Satan in Milton’s Paradise Lost, God playing the role of the pencil-wielder. Daffy’s complaints turn into the cries of the Fallen Angel: “That mean old cartoonist, but just look what he’s/done to me now! I scarce dare approach me mug’s attenuated/reflection in yon hubcap, so jaundiced, so déconfit/are its lineaments.”
Wind from the East is, like Amuck, Farberian, Brechtian and Greenbergian, by turns. Writing in the New York Times when the film had its stateside premiere, critic Vincent Canby summed up the movie’s disorienting formal strategies by writing that “consequences precede actions and effects give birth to their causes.”
Wind was made as Godard and Jean-Pierre Gorin were still riding their high from May ’68, and the idea for the film was given by a leading light of ’68, Daniel Cohn-Bendit. Cohn-Bendit’s original concept was more of a standard Western—accounts make it sound something like High Noon for hardcore Althusserians. What Godard and Gorin ended up making is rivaled in its genre revisionism only by Andy Warhol’s Lonesome Cowboys. Stunning tableaus are set to didactic pontifications regarding the nature of class struggle. Anne Wiazemsky, Godard’s wife, an actor in the film, and the one who got Godard and Gorin in touch with Cohn-Bendit, had reservations about Wind’s political efficacy. Viewers today might feel something similar—one can almost laugh when the voice-over declares, “don’t represent the problem abstractly,” since that seems to be precisely what the film is doing.
But it’s become easy, and fashionable, to dismiss this era of Godard and Gorin’s work. They were, after all, plotting a revolution that never came about. But one should keep in mind that their revolutionary antics were inspired by the tidal events of ’68, and Wind is really an attempt to make sense of and come to terms with that very real and very concrete instance of workers’ unrest and bourgeois resentment. In that sense, the film might still be very relevant. In an age when Sarah Palin can hijack the rhetoric of solidarity to perversely say that “We are all Arizonans”—when she’s actually talking about the exact opposite of that sentiment—it could be a balm to remember the signs that were carried around during May ’68: “We are all undesirables,” “We are all German Jews.”
Watch Duck Amuck (1953):