The Films of Robert Kramer at Anthology


One of the greatest radical filmmakers of the ’60s and ’70s, Robert Kramer mixed fiction with documentary, paying scrupulous attention to the ways in which the personal began to dominate the political. Anthology’s eight-title retro includes all of the director’s early American work (Kramer moved to Paris in 1980, where he continued to make films until his death in 1999), plus Route One/USA (1989), a four-hour travelogue along the eponymous highway.

As part of the Newsreel collective, which he helped found and which, between 1967 and 1971, made roughly 60 docs and short films devoted to far-left and antiwar causes, Kramer shot The People’s War in North Vietnam in the summer of ’69. The 40-minute doc is a stiff paean to the land of Ho Chi Minh, saluting the resilience of the Vietnamese amid ruin and rubble.

Stateside, Kramer focused on the agony and the ecstasy of the activists at home. In the political psychodrama In the Country (1966), an unnamed couple retreats to a bucolic setting where the man (William Devane, in his first screen role) stews in self-hatred for abandoning his work in the movement, frequently lashing out at his companion (Catherine Merrill), who retaliates by reminding him, “You’re not part of it anymore. You’re not part of anything.” Fragmentation of young revolutionaries, one of whom wants to kill the President, continues in The Edge (1967), while fact, fiction, and agitprop mix in Ice (1969), which imagines the underground fighting against a fascist Amerikkka, at war with Mexico.

The ache of the radicals’ unrealized visions becomes an epic dirge in the must-see Milestones (1975), co-directed with John Douglas. Following more than 50 characters through a combination of documentary and staged re-enactments, the film that Kramer described as “Fire-Water-Air-Earth-People” tracks the painful process through which collective action gave way to the Me Decade’s enraged narcissism.