Third Cinema / La Hora de los Hornos
Third Cinema / La Hora de los Hornos
Third Cinema / La Hora de los Hornos
Third Cinema / La Hora de los Hornos
Third Cinema / La Hora de los Hornos

Third Cinema / La Hora de los Hornos

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“The film The Hour of the Furnaces has a brilliant installation specification. A banner was to be hung at every screening with text reading ‘Every spectator is either a coward or a traitor.’ It was intended to break down the distinctions between filmmaker and audience, author and producer, and thus create a sphere of political action.” - Hito Steyerl

La Hora de los Hornos
Made in Argentina in 1968, La Hora de los Hornos (The Hour of the Furnaces) is the film that established the paradigm of revolutionary activist cinema. “For the first time,” said one of its writers, Octavio Getino, “we demonstrated that it was possible to produce and distribute a film in a non-liberated country with the specific aim of contributing to the political process of liberation.” The film is not just an act of courage, it’s also a formal synthesis, a theoretical essay and the origin of several contemporary image practices.

Working from within the Cine Liberación Group they formed with fellow documentarian Gerardo Vallejo, Getino and director Fernando Solanas made a 208-minute film divided into two parts and three sections: Notes and Testimonies on Neocolonialism, Violence and Liberation; Act for Liberation; and Violence and Liberation. 

The Hour of the Furnaces: Notes and Testimonies on Neocolonialism, Violence and Liberation is a didactic essay organized into 13 chapters:

  1. La Historia - “The exploitation of colonial commerce through the local bourgeoisie.”
  2. El Pais - “Argentina: Over 4 million square kilometres of surface area.”
  3. La Violencia Cotidiana - “Our war is the peace, the order, the normality of the system.”
  4. La Ciudad Puerto - “Buenos Aires: The nerve centre of neo-colonial politics.”
  5. La Oligarquia - “2% of the cattlemen own 4% of the livestock.”
  6. El Sistema - “Neo-Colonialism speaks our language, has our same skin colour, our nationality, our religion.”
  7. La Violencia Politica - “The goal the Latin American pursues in his fight for liberation, is the restitution of his humanity.”
  8. El Neoracismo - “A colonised country implies direct forms of racism.”
  9. La Dependencia - “Political independence does not exist without economic independence.”
  10. La Violencia Cultural - “The primary goal of ideological penetration is to keep the people from becoming aware.”
  11. Los Modelos - “To maintain itself, neo-colonialism needs to convince the people of their inferiority.”
  12. La Guerra Ideologica - “To choose through rebellion, one's own life and one's own death.”
  13. La Opción - “The means of mass communication replace conventional weapons.”

The film conducts a comprehensive analysis of the history, geography, economy, sociology, ideology, culture, religion and daily life of Latin America. Each dimension and source of oppression is documented and pondered, as is each link between determinations and their consequences.

Headlines, captions and title cards punctuate the film like riffs in a musical composition. The quotations are from leaders of liberation struggles and inspirational figures from world history, such as the 19th-century Cuban revolutionary José Marti who coined the phrase “hour of the furnaces”, the radical activist Raúl Scalabrini Ortiz, Che Guevara, Frantz Fanon and Aimé Césaire, among others. But perhaps the major structuring influence is the Peruvian revolutionary poet, philosopher and political leader José Carlos Mariátegui, whose analysis of Peru’s situation was the first systematic attempt to adapt Marxist concepts and methodology to a Latin American context. The chapter headings of his Seven Interpretive Essays on Peruvian Reality prefigure the film’s conceptual framework: ‘The Economic Factor in Peruvian History’, ‘Colonial Economy’, ‘Regionalism and Centralism’, ‘The Land Problem’, ‘The Indian Problem’, ‘The Religious Factor’ and ‘The Literature of the Colony’.

The film was made clandestinely under a dictatorship, and signed by the Cine Liberación Group. Each screening was a risk and created a “liberated space, a decolonized territory” (in Getino’s words), within which the film could be stopped for as long as necessary to allow discussions and debates (hence the compartmentalized structure). Argentinian scholar Mariano Mestman recalls that several screenings lead to military confrontations. To attend a screening was in itself a political act, transforming spectators into responsible historical subjects, not because they did or did not agree with the content of the film, but by virtue of the very decision to attend, despite the threat.

A demonstration and a lesson, The Hour of the Furnaces imports into cinema the affirmative aesthetics of the written political treatise. A collective ideal informs the whole film. It anticipates a liberated time. It’s not the product of a single voice but of a chorus of poems, manifestos and films. It contains the powers of didacticism, poetry and agogy (the agogic qualities of a work concern its rhythmic, sensible, physical properties – a notion suggested by the French aesthetician Etienne Souriau). Stylistically, the film uses all possible audiovisual techniques, from flicker to contemplative sequence shots (for instance, the final three-minute shot that reproduces a picture of the dead Che Guevara’s face with his eyes wide open), from collage to direct cinema, from blank screen to animated effects, from the rigors of the blackboard to the hallucinogenic properties of the fish-eye, from classical music to anglophone pop hits. Cinema is an arsenal and here all its weapons are unsheathed.

The visual economic-political treatise is an important and rare form in cinema, one grounded in the theatrical agitprop tradition. Its historical highlights include Eisenstein’s “Strike”, Cavalcanti’s “Rien que les heures”, among others. The translation of an economic-political analysis into images remains a fascinating source of cinematic reinvention. In such a brilliant tradition, The Hour of the Furnaces stands out for its powerful balance between its strong literary structure and its many audiovisual innovations. These establish the film as a central reference for cinematic activism.

Such films give us the tools with which to understand, discuss and transform a historical situation: concepts (neocolonialism, imperialism, class struggle), logics (how to relate one phenomenon to another, for example the arts to neo-colonialism, religion to the economy, the working day to the nature of leisure) and proposals (slogans about revolution). In the context of the political responsibilities of culture and of film itself, The Hour of the Furnaces forms an indivisible diptych with Solanas and Getino’s written essay Towards a Third Cinema: Notes and Experiences for the Development of a Cinema of Liberation in the Third World. This text can be seen as a genesis, a generalization and an extension of the film.

Third Cinema
Towards a Third Cinema defines a triad that generates many new questions: industrial cinema (the first cinema); auteur cinema (the second cinema, an alibi and safety valve for the existing system); and guerrilla cinema (the third cinema, contesting the other cinemas and the world order they support, acting as the cinematic insurgent patrol in the armies of liberation fighting colonialism and imperialism). Third Cinema reinvented each constitutive element of film practice: production, organisation, aesthetics, art and audience. This manifesto emphasizes the unfinished dimension of The Hour of the Furnaces: “Until now, we have put forward practical proposals but only loose ideas – just a sketch of the hypotheses born out of our first film The Hour of the Furnaces. We therefore don’t pretend to present them as a sole or exclusive model but only as ideas which may be useful in the debate over the use of film in non-liberated countries.”

In October 1969 Jean-Luc Godard interviewed Solanas and Getino in Paris, and then published the following pronouncement in the Maoist magazine Cinéthique: “During the screening of an imperialist film, the screen sells the voice of the boss to the viewer; the voice flatters, represses or bludgeons. During the screening of a revisionist film, the screen is only the loudspeaker of a voice delegated by the people but which is no longer the voice of the people, for the people watch their own disfigured face in silence. During the screening of an activist film, the screen is just a blackboard or the wall of a school providing a concrete analysis of a concrete situation.”

In 1984 Octavio Getino published Some Notes on the Concept of a ‘Third Cinema’, offering a precise depiction of the Latin American economic, political, military context and the relationships between the visual essay and the written one. Getino explains: “Cine Liberación was, before anything else, our fusion as intellectuals with the reality of the working class. This determined the tentative and inconclusive nature of our proposals… Both Solanas and myself, while making this film, amassed a considerable amount of theoretical material. It was for our own use, as reflections on our ongoing practical work. It was this material that we drew upon when we developed the theories which were published between 1969 and 1971.”

Taking the Marxist concept of praxis seriously, The Hours of the Furnaces wages its battle not only on the Argentinian political front but also on the aesthetic and theoretical fronts. Considering its modest underground provenance and its growing historical influence, the film seems to have fought victoriously because it attacked all three areas with equal energy and ingenuity. As Jean-Luc Godard once said about Solzhenitsyn: “We already knew all about what he wrote, but he was listened to because he had style.”

“How close we could look into a bright future should two, three or many Vietnams flourish throughout the world with their share of deaths and their immense tragedies, their everyday heroism and their repeated blows against imperialism, impelled to disperse its forces under the sudden attack and the increasing hatred of all peoples of the world!

And if we were all capable of uniting to make our blows stronger and infallible and so increase the effectiveness of all kinds of support given to the struggling people — how great and close would that future be!” - Fidel Castro

Fidel Castro’s revolutionary 26th of July Movement and its allies defeated the military dictatorship of Cuban President Fulgencio Batista in January 1959. The new revolutionary government enacted a wide array of new domestic laws and policies, but Castro always saw the revolution in Cuba as just the beginning of the liberation of the oppressed masses in not just Latin America but war-torn Africa and around the world, wherever the poor and downtrodden were oppressed by colonial or neo-colonial masters.

And so the Organization of Solidarity with the People of Asia, Africa and Latin America (OSPAAAL) was set up to fight globalization, imperialism, neoliberalism and defend human rights, in Havana, in January 1966, after the Tricontinental Conference, a meeting of over 500 delegates and 200 observers from over 82 countries.

One of the first things the organization did was establish a magazine to publicize its causes and titled Tricontinental. From 1966 into the 1990s more than fifty designers working in Havana produced hundreds of posters and editions of the magazine which expressed solidarity with the U.S.A.’s Black Panther Party, condemned apartheid in South Africa and the Vietnam War, and celebrated Latin America’s revolutionary icons, as well as criticizing the ongoing existence of U.S. military bases in Guantanamo Bay, calling for the reunification of North and South Korea and many other radical causes.

Unlike artists in the Soviet bloc the OSPAAAL designers weren’t shackled by the deeply conservative doctrine of Socialist Realism, but were free to pick and choose from all the best streams of current art, including Pop Art and psychedelia. They also co-opted images and ideas from capitalist adverts into what they called ‘anti-ads’.

The plan was for the posters to be stapled into copies of Tricontinental, and so distributed around the world. Because the posters were intended to be internationalist they had to use strong primal languages or find inventive ways of conveying their message. If any writing was used it was generally in the three major languages of Spanish, English, French, and sometimes Arabic.

By the mid-1980s heavy trade embargoes and sanctions imposed by American had created such shortages that it ultimately forced the organization out of production. By that time approximately 326 OSPAAAL posters had been produced.

Altogether it’s estimated that some nine million OSPAAAL posters were distributed around the developing world. At its peak the magazine had more than 100,000 subscribers, mostly students. At one time, it was common for posters from issues of Tricontinental to be put up on the walls of student community centers.