What Robert Kramer Left Us
Hironobu BABA (film critic, Japan)

On November 10, 1999, an American-born cineaste Robert Kramer passed away at the age of 60. As an homage, his two works, "Route One/USA"(1989) and "Berlin, 10/90"(1991) were on screen this January in Tokyo.

Press in the United States, Britain and France reported the sudden tragedy and expressed their condolences. There he is described as "a great new-left filmmaker from America", but his activities were more than that.

Born in Brooklyn as a son of immigrants from Germany and Ukraine, Kramer began his career as a filmmaker in sixties, the era of Civil Right Activities and Anti-Vietnam-War movement. He was one of the founders of Newsreel, an independent documemtary-making group which gazed the hidden facts and problems in USA. Newsreel was free from commercial film circuits and the members carried the footages they made all over the country to show and discuss on their works. He was among them.

Then, interested in drama-pictures, he directed a few, like "The Edge"(1967), a story of people around a young boy obsessed to assassinate the President of the States. In 1975, the name of Robert Kramer became a legend of independent film with "Milestones", a gigantic documentary to declare, "Our movements and activities go on even after the peace agreement in Vietnam".

Moved to France in early eighties, he started over to be a professional cineaste in Europe.

We Japanese discovered him first when "Route One/USA" was shown at the competition of the Yamagata Documentary Film Festival 1987 and awarded the Jury Prize. Most audiences and critics applauded this long "road-movie". Kramer was officially invited by this festival as a juror ten years later. At that time, the Tokyo International Film Festival showed three works of his.

Kramer's works are far from propaganda. He has always excluded preconception and prejudice from himself as much as possible in order to explore better way of the society and the world.

We can see a good example in "Berlin, 10/90". The cineaste himself visits this city just after the Unification of Germany. Here he faces various things. The past: his father was there in 1933. The history: genocide Nazi executed. The memory: living as a German-Jewish in the States. The collapse; the lost country called East Germany. The limit: illusions of artists and philosophers over politics. The camera: the director looks into the camera as an subject-object,talks all by himself not hiding his own agony to live in this "new" world with responsibilities as human being.

Kramer abandons the privilege filmmakers carry. Scars on the history and contemporary society are not to watch through the camera, but to turn into individual problems. This remarkable philosophy is common to following "Walk the Walk"(1996) , "The Coat"(1997) and "Ghost of Electricity"(1997). We audiences have to live with those scars on our heart as well as the cineaste himself.

Both in documentaries and dramas, his films contain several plots going abreast. It is a sign of various visions; efforts to capture a fact as a fact itself. Nevertheless, any fact is too complex to capture. In front of this diversity, the cineaste loses himself and stands still. Suspended, Kramer reserves the answer.

Kramer personally told me his attitude was "This hesitation of self-doubt". Refusing to categorize, never taking any short-cut to a conclusion, he always accepts ambiguity and instability of facts. The beauty of Kramer's works base on this perpetual struggle to commit the world, being aware of powerlessness and limit of one human being but never gives up.

His films show the will not to escape from contradictories or confusions. At the end, up come impressive declarations to live with hope. Robert Kramer is the name of an honest man who is a cineaste.

Today, are we taking the same courage as his with us? The courage to face and gaze directly straight the fact? When we are looking for an easy answer to our problem now, it means we are too arrogant to "hesitate".

In the States this winter, in France this October, some retrospectives of Robert Kramer are to take place. I cannot but hope it would be held in Japan and more people have chances to follow his way.

Hironobu BABA (film critic, Japan)

"BABA_Hironobu" foudelaforet@bigfoot.com