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The Blood of the Beasts (1949) - Georges Franju
Related: 1949 - film - French cinema - Georges Franju
When the butcher raises his axe-like tool to stun the animal, the camera stays with him until the bitter end; there is no attempt either to protect or cheat the spectator; we must come to terms with daily slaughter, committed (not only in slaughterhouses) in our name. --Film As a Subversive Art (1974) - Amos Vogel
This documentary on the slaughterhouses of Paris is one of the great masterpieces of subversive cinema; here, for once, we are face to face with death, and are neither protected nor cheated. Unlike Hollywood films, when the butcher raises the hammer to stun the horse there is no "cutting away"; the camera, objectively and cruelly, stays with the event, making us its shocked accomplices. As these "killers without hate", knee-deep in blood and surrounded by steaming excrema and vomit, murder animals in cold indifference before the camera -- the number of animals dying but a fraction of a day's output of slaughterhouses everywhere -- we learn to see, and then perhaps to feel what we have not felt before. Violence here is neither fictional nor titillating; it is massive and real.
A dream-like quality permeates the intense realism of the images; a surrealist intent -- akin to Bunuel's slitting of the eye- ball in Un Chien Andalou -- is discernable in this anti-bourgeois film. But the eyeball, however shocking, was fictional; The Blood of the Beasts is real. Forcing us to view another being's painful and sordid death in all its detailed enormity, it subverts our natural state of consciousness and opens us to greater insight. Franju, committed artist, resistance fighter, moralist, wants us to consider all slaughter anywhere committed on our behalf by those we hire to do our dirty work, so that we can sit down at clean tablecloths and deny complicity.
Amidst steaming blood and men wading in excrement, even Vietnam and the concentration camps are not too far away. The killing of animals in Paris slaughterhouses becomes, in this masterpiece, a poetic metaphor of the human condition. Its unflinching realism and ice-cold brutality --depicting what "killers without hate" (Baudelaire) do to animals daily at our behest -- carries its own surreal impact, which compels those willing to watch to enter into new awareness. --Film As a Subversive Art (1974) - Amos Vogel
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