Revolutionaries on Ice

Thoughts on "Ice" by Robert Kramer (1970)

Estimated reading time: 1 minute, 37 seconds

2016-17 has been a tough year. While apocalyptic thoughts abound and global crises feel like a dime a dozen, we are worlds apart from the political situation in 1969. Recently Light Industry screened Robert Kramers' Ice (1970) on a rainy night in Greenpoint, New York, 2016.

Robert Kramer was an influential filmmaker involved with the radical filmmakers collective, Newsreel. Newsreel produced and circulated numerous documentary films about war, protest, workers struggle. The collective had Marxist-tendencies like most of the New Left and tended to focus on issues close to home.

Ice is a peculiar artifact from the 1970s. Kramer and his friends parody themselves and their movement. Each character rehearses various positions and critiques and roles of a fake revolutionary organization. That this was happening concurrently with the emergence of the Weather Underground but prior to its activities is telling. It starts with a proposal of what would armed-and-coordinated insurrectionary activity be like in the United States. This is framed as a near-future fiction. What is wild is that Kramer managed to get the American Film Institute to fund the film through a grant.
Ice is a strange form of self-critique, a documentary critique directly pointed towards their movement comrades in the new left and yet slyly fictionalized into a near future situation.

The film ultimately casts doubts on an insurrectionary project but retains a fundamental ambivailence towards the use of violence as the audience sees both the escalation of struggle and the immediate retribution of the state and its impact on the movement. Through a certain lens it is a rebuke of the tactics of the Weather Underground but on the other poses the direct question of what if there was a coordinated regional escalation of violence against the State. If anything an idea about left-wing armed activity is moot in 2016. All the acts of spectacular violence continue to come from neo-reactionary forces. Notwithstanding radical shifts in the ideology of nonviolent protest and obscurantist ideas about state power.