When the first explorers from Europe sailed along the southeastern coast of South America, they reported seeing fires by the hundreds blazing out from the dark silhouette of the land. To one particular stretch of coast at the southern tip of what is now Argentina, the Spanish explorers gave the name Tierra del Fuego—the land of fire.
What they saw from their ships were the hornos, or cooking fires, of the Indians who inhabited the region; and the sight of those fires blinking on, one by one, in the evening darkness, until they blanketed the horizon like a strange new constellation, struck the imaginations of those first explorers, curious and apprehensive as they undoubtedly were about the inhabitants of this new continent. Throughout the centuries, the expression “la hora de los hornos” (the hour of the cooking fires) has been used by the historians and poets of Latin America, and it has recently become an anti-imperialist rallying cry taken up by Che Guevara; in calling for a socialist revolution to sweep Latin America, he proclaimed “now is ‘la hora de los hornos’; let them see nothing but the light of the flames.” (Guevara was, of course, an Argentine.)
Under the title La Hora de los Hornos (Hour of the Furnaces), Argentines Fernando Solanas and Ottavio Getino have put together a remarkable film on the revolutionary struggle that they see as imminent and urgently needed in contemporary Argentina. Traveling all over the country, Solanas and Getino made contact with, discussed with, and eventually filmed most of those who are actively involved (clandestinely as well as openly, outside as well as within the “legal” institutions of Argentina) in the struggle for a revolutionary transformation of Argentine society.
At various stages in the film’s growth, Solanas and Getino showed some of the footage to the different militant groups with whom they were working. On some occasions this brought about an invaluable exchange of information and discussion between far-flung and very diverse groups that had never gotten together before—or sometimes had not even known of each other’s existence. Thus, the film inserted itself in the revolutionary praxis, and the revolutionary praxis inserted itself in the film, causing the film-makers to rethink again and again their conception of the film and their conception of the revolution. The making of the film and the making of the revolution became inseparable.
For those of us who are striving to come up with a working definition of revolutionary cinema, La Ηora de los Hornos ( along with Godard’s latest films) may be the most fruitful subject we could focus our attention on at this moment. I say this not only because the very existence and structure of La Hora de los Hornos are rooted in the day-to-day practice of making the revolution, but also because such a tremendous variety of cinematic styles and materials have gone into this film. Solanas and Getino have, in effect, created a remarkable film-mosaic, in which each individual piece, as they conceived it,
demanded its own particular expression that would transmit the intended ideological sense. That is to say, each sequence, each individual cell has a different style of photography or a different form. There are small cells which are little stories or narratives of their own; there are others which are free documentaries; there are some which are made up entirely of montage and counterpoint; others are absolutely descriptive scenes; others are direct cinema; still others are something like a cinematographic carnival-song. The only way to unite all this material without it all falling apart, without falling into complete chaos, was to give each individual part its own form. So, from the camera work to the montage, it was necessary to find that form.30
Whether they succeeded in finding the proper form for each individual cell—or even for each major section—is debatable. But it is already a major step forward that Solanas and Getino had the courage to pose themselves such a difficult problem and had the courage to disregard normal distribution requirements (of length, among other things) in order to give a presentation of the political situation in Argentina that faithfully renders its complexity.
Four hours and twenty minutes long in the original version shown at Pesaro in June 1968, La Hora de los Hornos is divided into three major parts: the first (95 minutes) is titled “Violence and Liberation”; the second, “Act for the Revolution,” is subdivided into two segments—a 20-minute “Chronicle of Peronism” on the ten-year reign (1945-1955) of Juan Perón, and a 100־ minute sequel on the post-Perón period (1955 to the present) titled “The Resistance”; and, finally, a third section, shorter than the others (only 45 minutes), titled, like the first, “Violence and Liberation.”
The first section of the film consists of thirteen “Notes on Neocolonialism” in which are presented various aspects (historical, geographical, social, economic, political, cultural, etc.) of Argentina and the way the world looks to an Argentine. Blessed with a relative abundance of natural resources, Argentina, we are reminded, has always attracted a great many immigrants from Europe, and has often been called “the great melting pot” of South America. With indigenous Indians numbering only 60,000, and mestizos (people of mixed Spanish and Indian descent) accounting for only 10 percent of the population, Argentina, more than any other Latin American country, is overwhelmingly composed of white European immigrants. In addition to the Spanish, Argentina also has an enormous population of people of Italian and German descent, as well as significant numbers of immigrants from other European countries and Great Britain.
Moreover, far from it’s being the case that political independenee from Spain (in 1816) brought any real economic independenece to Argentina, on the contrary, this merely threw the country into the waiting arms of the British imperialists, who gobbled up huge chunks of Argentine land (as well as huge chunks of Argentine beef—the supply of which they monopolized); they built, owned, and operated Argentina’s entire railway system; and they quickly assumed indirect control of Argentina’s national economy.
Finally, add to this already complicated “melting pot” phenomenon the leaden weight of American economic imperialism in the twentieth century, and one can begin to understand why, as the film emphasizes, the ordinary Argentine has little sense of national identity and has a way of looking at the world that is not really his own, but rather is—and always has been—a world view imposed on him by whichever colonial or neocolonial power happened to have Argentina in its clutches. And for the Argentine masses of workers and peasants, it hasn’t really mattered who was calling the shots in Argentina, for the shots—live bullets—have always been aimed at their heads, as one ruling class after another resorted to violence and repression to keep the masses in their place and protect the power and privilege of the exploiting class. In short, as the French say, “plus ça change, plus c’est la même chose”: whether the ruling class in Argentina was Spanish colonialist, British or American neocolonialist, or simply local bourgeois oligarchy, the experience of the Argentine masses has always been the experience of violence and repression.
The film gives a rundown of the myriad forms in which violence manifests itself in Argentina—the omnipresent police; the brutal repression of strikes; the innumerable military coups; the feudalism of the great latifundia; the oligarchies in industry and commerce (5 percent of Argentina’s population “earns” 42 percent of the national revenue); the neocolonialism that perpetuates economic dependence (America owns 50 percent of Argentina’s giant meat-packing industry, England owns 20 percent) ; the neoracism that goes hand-in-hand with neocolonialism; the Pentagontrained and -financed “anti-insurrectionist force” which literally occupies certain parts of the country; and, last but not least, the cultural violence carried out systematically by the communications media, controlled by the local bourgeoisie, which impose the consumer ideology of the advanced capitalist countries of Europe and North America on the illiterate and impoverished masses of Latin America.
Again and again in the film examples are given of the way in which aesthetic attitudes are geared to mirror the capitalist ideology of the imperialist ruling classes. European styles in painting, in literature, in film, in fashions; British and American styles in popular music and creature comfort: the only models of behavior held up to the Argentine masses are the models offered “for sale” by the neocolonialists. Ideologically, the masses are inculcated with the cultural values that lead them to desire the very things which serve to perpetuate their state of dependence, neocolonization, and exploitation.
But while showing Argentine neocolonialism for what it is, Solanas also presents an alternative—revolutionary struggle. And precisely because neocolonialism—unlike direct colonial rule by a single mother country—is such an amorphous, many-headed monster, the revolutionary struggle has to be waged not against a foreign aggressor, but rather on class terms against the Argentine bourgeois ruling class and the capitalist system and ideology31 which, regardless of what particular national or ethnic group is in control at a given moment, perpetuate the exploitation and repression of the proletarian masses of Argentina. The struggle, then, is a class struggle for a socialist revolution in Argentina.
Intensely lyrical in its presentation, this first section of La Hora de los Hornos is a rather flamboyant but impressive exercise in montage, in which the viewer’s emotions are manipulated quite sophisticatedly by the rhythmic cutting. Again and again, serving as a counterpoint to the neocolonialist reality in Argentina, short powerful quotations from Frantz Fanon force their way onto the screen as if hammered out, letter by letter, by some invisible typewriter, literally chasing from the screen the images of imperialism and proclaiming the urgent need for revolutionary struggle. Other quotations from various Third World sources (Fidel, Mao, the North Vietnamese, and numerous Latin American revolutionaries) serve to punctuate the various “notes on neocolonialism” and to call for liberation movements to spring up everywhere that imperialism rears its ugly head.
In one sequence Solanas’s slick montage juxtaposes flashy zooms on a long-haired Argentine hippie playing a rock song on his guitar and singing in American slang (an image which, in this context, demonstrates that even the models of “protest” and “dissent” in Argentina are models provided by the imperialists) with austere, grainy documentary footage (shot by Joris Ivens) depicting the day-to-day struggle, determination, and dignity of the North Vietnamese people, whose response to Western imperialism has been the courageous taking-up of arms. And, finally, the revolutionary example closest to home and closest to the hearts of the Latin American people—Castro’s Cuba—makes its entry on the screen of history and jolts the viewer with an emotionally stirring and at the same time reflection-provoking shot—held for a full five minutes—of the body of Che Guevara, whose electrifying presenee, even when dead, is the clearest and strongest reminder that “the task of the revolutionary is to make the revolution.”
The second part of La Hora de los Hornos begins with an attempt at confrontation between the film-makers and the audienee. Solanas and Getino are seen opening up a dialogue with the audience at a screening of La Hora de los Hornos, and Solanas’s voice—booming out from the amplifiers of the theater where we ourselves are sitting—invites us to consider ourselves not as spectators of this film act, but rather as protagonists in an action that must be perpetually renewed. And on the screen, in huge letters, we read these words from Fanon:
EVERY SPECTATOR IS A COWARD OR A TRAITOR.
Then the screen goes dark and there is a moment of silence “in homage to Che Guevara and to all the patriots who have fallen in the struggle for Latin American liberation”; after which the film opens up a new dimension of the social and political reality of Argentina—a “Chronicle of Peronism” which, utilizing for the most part actual documentary footage of the important events in the ten-year reign of the controversial Juan Perón, not only serves to inform the viewer (especially the badly misinformed or uninformed European or North American viewer) about this extremely important epoch of Argentina’s recent history, but also invites the viewer (Argentine or foreigner) to join the authors of the film in a critical reevaluation of the politics of Perón and of the significance of Peronism to politics in Argentina today.
And here (perhaps surprisingly, depending on one’s familiarity with Argentine attitudes toward Perón) is where La Ηora de los Hornos has really stirred up a confrontation with its audience and has detonated an explosive debate on a subject that most Argentines— whether on the right or the left—have invariably preferred to bury in embarrassed silence. It is interesting to note, however, that the violence of the reactions of many Latin American (and some European) viewers to this film seems to be in an inverse ratio to the degree of audience manipulation which the film’s authors have built into their handling of the material. No one seems to have objected to the first and third sections of the film, which are constructed on a principle of rhythmic montage which is strongly manipulative of the viewer’s emotions, playing on them with an ever-increasing rhythmic urgency, which at the end of the film culminates in the ecstatic “climax” of the singing of the incendiary song entitled “Violencia y Liberación” (composed by Solanas expressly for this film ), while in the image we see the flaming torches waved by the impassioned Argentine masses (who, whether they have been “staged” or not in this particular shot—and it seems to me that they have—nevertheless have already been established as “authentic” by their presence in the clearly documentary footage we have seen earlier ).
In the presentation of the Perón material, the voice of the commentary seeks only to raise questions, not to answer them, and asks only that the viewer face the reality of a period of Argentine history that the powers-that-be have tried to efface and to discredit. And when Solanas and Getino show the extraordinary footage of the Perón charisma—of his, and particularly of his wife Evita’s, electric “touch” with the masses—it is not that they use this footage to glorify Perón or to stir up anew the incredible personality cult that surrounded him, but rather it is an effort to get the viewer to face the evidence, as they express it in the film, of “the first appearance on the stage of history of the Argentine masses as masses!”
In other words, the film’s authors are simply saying “look . . . those are masses, Argentine masses ... rallied together as a political force. Anyone who wishes to understand the political reality of Argentina—and especially anyone who seeks to formulate a politicai program in accord with the needs and will of the Argentine proletariat—must necessarily confront the existence of this phenomenon, analyze its constituent parts, and see which, if any, are usable in the political situation in Argentina today.”
And the authors find that the phenomenon is much more complex than we have been led to believe by the people who have a vested interest in the reflex identification of Peronism with Nazism or fascism. What, in fact, were the policies of Peronism? The film delineates them. From its beginning in 1945, the Peronist movement set forth a program aimed at putting an end to Argentina’s traditional economic dependence on colonialist and neocolonialist powers. Peron, of all people, was one of the first to speak of the “Third World” and to seek to raise Argentina to a position where it could stand on its own feet. Breaking Argentina loose from the British neocolonialism (which dated from 1823, when Argentina signed the first accords granting management of their national economy to the Baring Brothers British Bank), Perón in ten years nationalized Argentina’s banks, introduced foreign currency exchange controls, nationalized all public services, established government direction of the national economy, developed Argentina’s infant industry, rendered Argentina competitive on the world market, built up Argentina’s woefully inadequate educational system, gave women the right to vote, and passed Argentina’s first social legislation protecting the rights of workers and peasants. Moreover, as an internal political phenomenon, Peronism rallied the Argentine proletariat, which found in Peronism the expression of their needs and will which they had never been able to find in the various political parties tied to the liberal wing of the bourgeois oligarchy or in the moribund Argentine Communist Party headed by Victor Godovila.
In short, as the authors of the film explain, the ten years of Peronism, whatever their faults, marked the highest point achieved by the Argentine masses in their attempt to bring about a classbased transformation of the countiy. And if Peronism ultimately failed, it is not because the movement was headed in the wrong direction, but because it simply did not go far enough, and could not go far enough, given the movement’s own internal contradictions : given, for example, that it was a movement with mass popular appeal, yet entirely directed by the bourgeoisie; and that precisely because the movement had a bourgeois leadership, it failed to identify clearly the class nature of its struggle, and therefore failed to recognize, until it was too late, just how dangerous an enemy was the local bourgeois oligarchy. The latter, seeing itself held in check by Peronism but not directly attacked, simply took the offensive itself and, with the help of the army, toppled the Perón government, which, although it had broad appeal among the masses, had failed to build—in, of, and for the masses—an organization capable of consolidating political power.
The fundamental class nature of the struggle is dramatically revealed in the images of the documentary footage: when the army bombs the presidential palace, it bombs as well the central thoroughfares of Buenos Aires where the proletarian masses are spontaneously demonstrating their support of Perón. Then, once Perón is deposed, the same streets are filled by the jubilant bourgeoisie, dressed up in their Sunday best (and accompanied by a conspicuously large contingent of the clergy ), whose first act is to burn books in an attempt to efface all trace of Peronism from Argentine history.
But although Perón himself was forced into European exile, Peronism was by no means forgotten among the Argentine masses —as we see in the “notes and testimonies” on the post-Perón period in the next part of the film, entitled “The Resistance.” Forced into clandestine activities and labor union struggles, the members of the Peronist movement—a movement now without a leader—begin to develop their political consciousness and to speak with a voice of their own. One by one, in front of Solanas’s camera, unionists, workers, peasants, students, and intellectuals all testify to the need to continue the struggle for liberation begun by the Peronist movement, and to utilize the positive aspects of Peronism as the groundwork for that ongoing struggle.
In presenting this panorama of the evolution of Peronism from the time of the fall of Perón in September 1955 up to the moment of the making of this film in 1966, Solanas and Getino emphasize the intensification of the struggle in the last few years, which have seen numerous general strikes and massive occupation of factories and the holding of “bosses” as hostages, as well as increased revolutionary terrorism and sabotage (1,400 acts of political terrorism and sabotage in 1964 alone). Finally, denouncing strikes that remain at the level of opportunistic self-aggrandizement, and denouncing as well the myths of “legality” and “nonviolence” which the bourgeoisie promulgate as a way of repressing the proletariat on the level of ideology, an activist in the Tucuman uprisings— Andina Lizarraga, the leader of the Peronist Youth Movement of Tucuman—sums up the new revolutionary consciousness of the Argentine masses: in spite of their spontaneity and their spirit of opposition, if the Argentine masses do not systematically take up the arm of violence in their struggle for liberation, the initiative will inevitably remain on the side of the enemy. What is needed is positive action leading to the seizing of political power by armed force—and this action must be organized and led by the avantgarde of the proletariat.
On this powerful note, the middle and longest section of La Hora cle los Hornos comes to a close, inviting the audience to pause for a few minutes and to discuss the issues that have just been presented. Then the lights dim once again and the third and shortest section of the film begins. Functioning as a finale in the musical sense—but taking care to emphasize that there is and can be no end to this film act until and unless it is the making of the revolution itself—the third section of the film presents two long interviews and the reading of a number of letters which Solanas and Getino received in the course of gathering material for the film. (One of the letters, proclaiming that “the only path ... is armed struggle,” comes from Camillo Torres, the Colombian priest who shed his collar to join the Colombian guerilleros, and who was subsequently killed by government troops.)
The first of the interviews is with a marvelously optimistic and determined octogenarian, who, stepping out of his shantytown cabin, begins by excusing himself for his poor education and then recounts all of the horrors of repression he has witnessed in his lifetime—repression first by the British, then by the Argentine oligarchy. He recounts the killings in Patagonia, the massacres of peasants, the brutal repression of strikes; but, spirit undaunted, he clenches his fist and affirms his conviction that the hour of victory for a socialist liberation of Argentina is drawing ever closer, and that the fight for that victory must be carried on against all odds.
The second interview, quite a bit longer than the first, is with Peronist labor organizer Julio Troxler, a soft-spoken and intelligent man in his late forties, who, revisiting the spot where he was captured by the Argentine military shortly after the fall of Perón, tells us of the tortures enacted on him, one after another, by some of Argentina’s top-ranking military figures, and of the mass execution from which he miraculously escaped. Still pursued by the military, forced to move clandestinely from place to place, Troxler implacably vows that the struggle shall go on until the socialist liberation of Argentina is won.
Solanas and Getino then remind us again that this film act is open-ended, that it remains to be completed by the revolutionary praxis of every one of us, that new material will be added to the film as new chapters of the revolutionary liberation of Argentina make their entry into history. For the time being, projection comes to a stop with the dithyrambic song, “Violencia y Liberation,” as flaming torches fill the screen.
Confronted with a film of such scope, such thoroughness, such courage, and such conviction, the viewer finds it difficult to hazard an appraisal of its aesthetic merits—especially when the film’s aesthetic and political merits are so inextricably intertwined. Suffice it to say that if Solanas and Getino, in seeking the proper form for each individual cell of the film, intended each of the major divisions (and major subdivisions) to be capable of standing alone, then they did not fully succeed, for it is doubtful if any of the film’s basic parts could be considered wholly satisfactory on their own. (And, in fact, when for one reason or another only the first section has been shown, critics in Europe have acknowledged that in spite of its insights this section is a bit too flashy to be considered anything more than a brilliant but inconclusive tour de force.) But this is not a major flaw, for La Hora de los Hornos is not made to be seen in separate pieces. In fact, the greatest strength of the film is precisely in the juxtaposition of so many different styles and so many different types of material. Placed side by side, they give us an idea and a feeling of the complexity of the situation in contemporary Argentina. And this is an excellent starting-point—both for making the revolution and for making revolutionary cinema.