Robert Kramer b. 1962
Extract from "Ice" (1969)

A pioneering work that blurred the boundaries between fictional and documentary styles, Ice was hailed by filmmaker and Village Voice critic Jonas Mekas as “the most original and most significant American narrative film” of the late sixties. An underground revolutionary group struggles against internal strife which threatens its security and stages urban guerrilla attacks against a fictionalized fascist regime in the United States. Interspersed throughout the narrative are rhetorical sequences that explain the philosophy of radical action and serve to restrain the melodrama inherent in the “thriller” genre. Shot in the gray landscape of New York City in a gritty cinema-verité style, the film has been compared to Jean-Luc Godard’s Alphaville.

Jonathan Rosenbaum from the Chicago Reader: “One of American independent Robert Kramer’s strongest “underground” features (1969), arguably his best, made in and around New York before he resettled in Paris. This potent and grim SF thriller about urban guerrillas of the radical left, shot in the manner of a rough documentary in black and white, has an epic sweep to it. (Like many politically informed art movies of the period, starting with Alphaville and including even THX 1138, it was set in the future mainly as a ruse for critiquing the present.) Now as then, the power of this creepy movie rests largely in its dead-on critique of the paranoia and internecine battles that characterized revolutionary politics during the 60s; the mood is terrorized and often brutal, but the behavioral observations and some of the tenderness periodically call to mind early Cassavetes. A searing, unnerving history lesson, it’s an American counterpart to some of Jacques Rivette’s conspiracy pictures, a desperate message found in a bottle.”

Jonas Mekas said that ‘ Ice ‘ was “the most original and most significant American narrative film of the late sixties.

Born in New York in 1939, Robert Kramer ranks as one of the most original directors of American underground cinema. This exacting loner, the bard of the counterculture, has worked on the fringe both in his homeland and in France. In 1967, he founded The Newsreel, a militant collective that was among the first to produce films about the Vietnam war and its impact in America. His films constantly work at wearing away the impermeability of documentary and fiction forms, paying special attention to his characters. In 1969, Kramer visited Hanoï and brought back Peoples’ War. He returned 23 years later, keen on understanding what had become of Vietnam in the nineties - the result was Starting Place/Point de départ. The country was then in pieces; the old generation had its pride intact whereas the new generation had forgotten. Starting Place is also a melancholic stroll among faces, objects and vestiges that question our relationship with memory and images. His exploration of the American heartlands has been the other fixture of his work. Milestones (1976) is the polyphonic evocation of a rural community, which paints a pessimistic portrait of American society in the seventies. In 1989, he made Route One/USA - Route One is an historic, now disused, road that runs down the east coast. Through Kramer’s eyes, this route becomes the focal point that condenses American history and its traditions of violence, blends fiction and documentary, sets up echoes between collective memory and private recollections. This geographer’s work evokes wars (from the Civil War to Vietnam), confronts feminists with Christian fundamentalists, examines the demands of minority communities. There gradually takes forms a mosaic of America and its history as a living organism with a thousand facets.