June 10 2011: Jean Beaudin’s Vertige (1969)

A few weeks ago, a friend forwarded a link from the essential experimental archive at Ubuweb, where he recommended Vertige (1969) – the debut film by Jean Beaudin – for its psychedelic footage, visual rhythms and (not least) a soundtrack by Serge Garant that switches between musique-concrete, psychedelic beat and more experimental atmospheric textures. I duly saved the link but owing to the 41m running time and a slightly archaic aversion to watching such things on a computer only got round to doing more than taking a glance at the opening montages a few days ago.

Vertige turned out to be fully deserving of its recommendation. For a start, it’s an unusual entry in the canon of psychedelic cinema, partly because, rather than emerging from the usual motives of outright exploitation or naive sincerity, it seems to cast a critical, even satirical, eye over the visual formulas it so inventively deploys. Vertige questions  mainstream power – exactly as psychedelic cinema tends to do, with its stock footage and press images of poverty and destruction – but turns a sympathetic though equally searching lens on the hedonistic, technology-dependent youthful activities so often framed as its revolutionary counters. 

Vertige also refuses to call judgement, layering its images and sounds in a continually evolving pattern, offering any number of contradictory perspectives, yet leaving any conclusions up to the viewer. It’s a fascinating approach because it seems (intentionally or otherwise) to record some of the ways oppositional activity at this time dissipated much of its energy and potential. Despite some significant victories, the aftermath of this period saw the problems the ‘underground’ had correctly diagnosed compounded and the grip of traditional power as tightly exerted after the dry ice and strobe-lights were unplugged as it had been before they were turned on.   

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