By Sarah Nichols
I’m encountering Saul Levine’s New Left Note at a time when the United States finds itself in a quagmire: a war it should not be in, and social and economic conflict. It remains essential to American history, and to American cinema history.
New Left Note begins with a shot of a barely discernible Richard Nixon on television: it’s all blue-gray haze, his mouth moving, but no sound. Then there’s a fast cut to a place I know: New Haven, Connecticut, home of Yale University (there was an Occupy site in New Haven). The old Green, swarming with all kinds of people: students, soldiers and police, trying to keep people in line; a massive cloth sign that reads “WORKING CLASS SOLIDARITY TO FREE THE PANTHERS.” The footage of the protest is intercut with red and orange frames, or news reports from New Haven, a way of keeping it at bay. P. Adams Sitney writes that “image alone never carries Levine’s films…his silent films relied on editing so fast and insistent that the tiny 8mm frame is nearly overwhelmed with the labored cutting and gluing” (1). There is so much going on in the mise-en-scene of Levine’s world (which is, indeed, the world itself) that it is impossible to absorb it all; there were moments when I had to pause the film and glance at my notes, asking myself about what I’d seen.
The second part of the film continues as quickly as it began: a still of the New Haven protest, a cut to a highway, then, in close-up, a young woman, sleeping in the back seat of a car. This is, perhaps, a transitional section of the film, because a flag with “OPPRESSION OF WOMEN” is seen, however briefly. A woman asleep to thousands of women, awake.
Part three shows a young woman, sometimes alone, with cross cuts to the chaos of what’s on television. She seems to go about her day in a bucolic, wooded area ; the cuts are still rapid, but the rhythm is more fluid; there is always movement. Even a still shot of the moon doesn’t seem quite still. Not even the light has settled down yet.
1.Saullevine.com/artwork/858175_taking_note_p_adams_sitney_on_the_films_html (accessed June 27,2012)
New Left Note, Parts 1-3
Director: Saul Levine
Part One Running Time: Nine minutes, twenty- five seconds
Part Two: Nine Minutes, twenty-eight seconds
Part Three: Seven Minutes, thirty-one seconds