Class Relations ★★★½

Class Relations is often considered a recommended starting point for Straub-Huillet, and it's easy to see why: a straightforward presentation of a well known text (Kafka's Amerika), mostly presented economically as opposed to a 10 minute shot of the street, for example. It would be possible to simply watch this as a line-reading of Kafka's novel, almost like some hyper-neo-realist version of Gatz. The filmmaking here is then both decidedly simple—shot-reverse shots between characters—but hugely complex. For one thing, Kafka's novel is set up between, well, as S-H's title implies, various ideological points-of-views that are didactically irreconcilable unless they are made into master-slave relationships.

S-H often limit these POVs so they rarely inhabit the same space, only breaking this when there is a shift in power. Examine the paradox of the stoker. When the stoker and Rossman enter the captain's ship, there are at the first three points of view represented in three shots that are only linked via constructive editing: the captain and his high class comrades (including the senator/uncle), the stoker with one of his mid-level (but not high class) superiors, and Rossman with his neo-liberal educated ideals (Straub: "it’s a sentimental petit-bourgeois side that comes out."). What is key here is the stoker does not align himself with Rossman's ideology. "That is what I told him," he admits, but he is not willing to give himself a voice in this society and join Rossman in his frame. Instead, the senator who becomes Rossman's uncle corrupts the young man's ideology by using his own familial power to bring him into his own viewpoint, and thus they soon occupy the same frame. S-H will use this formula throughout to shift various master-slave dialectics, to keep Rossman literally separated from the frame of others, and certainly the oppositional gazes of characters (even view the few times characters literally place themselves below him).

Thus. S-H add a new dynamic to what is represented by Kafka's words; it is no longer the story of an exile or observer on a world he doesn't understand, but with the presentational acting style, it is the text itself and the physical relationships that the characters pose in a physical break of ideology. The two seem to lose the wit of Kafka, though it impossible to completely erase ("What about my umbrella?" and the entire shaming of Rossman at the hotel is pretty ridiculous too), and can't seem to solve the issue of the Oklahoma Theater that haunts the end of the novel. A new promise land? I see him as cattle for another lie of progress, a commodity as useful as the identical man sitting next to him. The frontier is gray, after all.