The Hamburg Film Show (which took place from May 31 to June 4 this year [Editor's note: 1970 or 1971 ?]) consisted again in two separate programs, arranged according to the easy label of "political" and (non-political) "avantgarde" cinema.
I think no labels cd be more misleading than these. For they imply the 'natural' separation of what shd be, after all, dialectically linked: advance in the process of presentation & advance in terms of the insights about our concrete lives - insights that can legitimately occur on every level, and probably will, even in a society that systematically separates emotion from intellect.
That we will be able to transcend that separation seems at least doubtful at the moment; thus the quest of a Mondrian for l'uomo nuovo (the new man), of whom he said 'quando sente, pensa; quando pensa, sente' (when he feels/he thinks; when he thinks/he feels), will keep its utopian aspect.
But even on a level that refutes emotion as an access to the understanding of reality, much remains to be done. Films in the "political" category, like Partnership (Partnerschaft) which deal with the mechanism of collective bargaining, and the integrative function of trade unions in the West German society, remain strangely shallow in their argumentative structure; the connections add up one and one as if Marxian explanation of a complex phenomenon has, of necessity, to degenerate to a recipe for the simplest possible wisecrack, which is, that "those up there make their deals behind closed doors." What it boils down to, is a long-winded visualization of vague sentiment which is anyway present among workers and which may lead on to resignation and a general contempt for "politics," or else to some amount of insight why things are what they are. To arrive at that breakthru, and ask the WHYs, is what the film might have done, but then doesn't. Instead, the film leaves the group of viewers it aims at exactly where it was before; none of the abstract clarity of a film like Nicht löschbares Feuer (Non-extinguishable fire), by Farocki, comes thru.(1)
Again, a movie like Streik bei Piper & Silz (Strike at Piper & Silz) which turns back to the strikes of the twenties but aims, by sheer analogy, at the present-day situation, frustrates by operating in very simple apriori categories.
The film, for one thing, suffers by being extremely naturalistic, but in the way of bad theater. What we encounter are types, types that we know from posters of the twenties, and again, thinking of groups which try to pick up historical links right there, on some present posters. The 'typical militant worker' who wears a bulging shirt & particular cap, who eats clumsily and talks in a predictable way, invites identification, but of course only for him who has made him already an 'ideal type.' Needless to say, such identification has little explanatory value, & does not transmit insights because it does not go beyond the surface.
Of course it is true that the concrete and particular way in which the bourgeois, the petit bourgeois, or the worker lives defines his existence. But we do not gain a greater understanding if we simply repeat that classification which should only serve as an interpretative pattern from which to depart in our analysis of a concrete situation.
What the film tells us is that there are workers and bosses, that the social democratic trade union representative "sells" the workers, that - by his life-style - we cd class him as petit-bourgeois, etc. What is really won by this?
Maybe I'm too sceptical now because there appear, occasionally, hints like "falling rate of profit," need of rationalization and thus making workers redundant. Avoiding labor conflicts in the interest of "the economy" and phrases like "we are all in one boat" are revealed as an outgrowth of private interest in profit. To me, this shows only that the filmmakers knew what they wanted to say but the way that such "insights" are tossed in is utterly helpless.
But despite all this criticism, the idea of making a film
about the past, to reveal the present, is not bad. I think one can do it
- the way Brecht cd talk about China when he meant 'this place here' just
* * *
To say, apriori, that a film which is not obviously about politics is not, in one way or the other, "committed" (also socially committed - a critique of our reality and thus a call for change), is indeed questionable.
But then, taking up Jack Spicer's dictum about poetry as that process where he finds himself, wanting to write a poem about Vietnam, writing about skating in Vermont, the whole mess comes to light, how it may be as much an indication of our general alienation as an attempt to free ourselves from alienation, in that sense which feels the necessity to guard itself against too easy use: the fear that the poem outright about Vietnam will be merely another instance of NEWSPEAK, of advertisement: confirming the instrumentality, the commodity quality of language in a society which turns human relations into relations between commodities.
So that, finally, we cannot talk about what we want to talk abt., nor can we not talk about what we want to, and must talk about. Access becomes indirect, and thus, simultaneously, more and less questionable. And if communication, any communication, must be concerned with the process of 'mediation'(2), the aporia is how to use change that will be recognized without being, already, too worn. Communication that happens too easily seems to be incapable to transport meaning anymore, it has to be content with the clichés, the repetition of internalized games, leading to automatic responses regardless of concrete experience.(3) People thus seem to live lives which have been fixed for them even before they were born; every 'how do you do?' is the same today or 20 years ago - : concrete reality doesn't enter any more. Maybe this is why so many people have their difficulties with some of the 'new' cinema - children probably least of all, especially if their contact with the movies is brand-new.
So the logic of much of what seems worthwhile, as film, nowadays, rests in taking up William Carlos William's advice of arriving at communication "against easy access."
To that extent, the so-called sensibility of some filmmakers is extremely important, and no longer 'private' at all / but a challenge, against the slickness of the suffocating media of today's society that we live in.
* * *
Among the films that must be charged with such sensibility, there are first of all the films of Malcolm Le Grice, especially 1919, Berlin Horse, and Love Story II, a film devoid of everything except color and rhythm.
In Love Story II (double projection, 10'), the
the sound, varying pitch - also 2 sound centers wch become
sometimes indistinguishable/ sometimes 1 (left/or right) is more clearly
audible then the other/then gives way
the colors / the heart = the impure abstractions of Jim
an emotion recalled (relived)/ a memory turned into moving
Berlin Horse, again double projection (12'), shows
on each screen a horse, hitched by a long line to a pole, in circular movement.
The angle/perspective seems to be not quite identical, the movement quick,
film black & white, making use of positive & negative, some of
dyed footage (yellow-greenish/ & blue, mainly, I believe).
1919, with the same faces marching from top left
to bottom right corner (and sometimes, in the same scene, from right to
left) calls to mind how selective the photograph as document is, at least
on the emotional plane. Black & white footage, negative film, footage
dyed intensily green: it is never the same time but it is all the
time time that you experience, time that passes in front of you
- the variation of yr distance to something, an event, past.
Berlin Horse doesn't really give you that chance. The horse, its circular motion, doesn't begin again & again, doesn't repeat one event again & again. The same quick bit of footage obviously is used repeatedly as in 1919 but the effect is different, not a broken, sectioned, clear-cut thing that adds up by starting "anew" (and still not anew/thinking of all the variations) but something uninterrupted that makes for a different cumulative effect and knows variation mainly as variation of speed. That is to say, the spped of the horse changes, and finally even its direction: it begins to move backward, & that even with frantic sped, quite illogically.
When, in the last 3rd of the film, you find, cut in, glimpses
of a different horse lead out of a barn, this has a counterpointal effect
- the complicated rhythm becomes still more complicated:
Finally, the circular movement gives way entirely to the already "announced" linear movement: The horse, and another, and more & still more are lead out of a burning barn, interspersed by an occasional carriage.
The footage is again identical on left & right screen but on the left screen the movement is right to left, on the right screen left to right.(5)
The effect of so many horses lead out of the burning stable is crazy. This movement ends the film.
In 1919, the same sequence/ first black & white/
then different colors, shows the strange changing of their meaning; sometimes,
as when the footage is dyed starkly green/ like a green fence which you
see now before you, freshly painted, you recognize 'now' in the
memory which is the picture before you: maybe memory has really just come
into being, time is so relative: it is not the same when what you see is
vague, is clear, is colored stark green or not at all, - you look deep
into the past, even past memory when the faces (Lenin & all the others)
become unrecognizable as (in the negative) their faces turn dark, their
fur caps & coats white - & you see, suddenly, Arabs & ancient
The interest in time I find in 1919 hopefully is not only my own. It shows again in a very different film, Macbeth, by Rosa von Praunheim, which is a film of abrupt shifts in distance, shifts which make time move forward abruptly, not fleetingly and not mechanical like the hands of a clock.
What I refer to now is the middle sequence of the film,
after Macbeth has come back from the scene of murder to Lady Macbeth, and
the camera pursues Lady Macbeth stage by stage thru the castle down to
the sea. What is striking is the effectful way of cutting, leaving out
transitions, giving separate looks on Lady Macbeth in front of us, at eye
level, then looking down on her, then far down at the shore, then again
in close up at the shore, the water coming and going, letting her be on
land and in the sea alternatingly.
Later, the fight between Macbeth and Macduff, in the mist, in the snowy winter landscape strangely reminded me of the fight between a man and a woman about to be deflowered; there was something deadly and determined, to subdue and on the other hand, not to be subdued, wch was not free of a hilarious, also a helpless pitch. But maybe this is generally true of hunter and hunted/victim, and the man-woman relationship that I associate is as much elucidated by the fight as it elucidates it.
What is strange, is perhaps the prominence of Lady Macbeth,
who is clearly the more active but then also a haunted figure, in her movement
as well as vocally.
* * *
Chimney Piece, Klaus Wiborny's latest film, is a very different work, one that has moved away from clear structuring, clarity of images, abstraction, 'block-wise' realization of time
toward minute changes, haziness, all that is fleeting, imperceptible changes from one state to another, neighboring one.
Street scenes alternate with barely visible indoor scenes which seem to last eternally considering what little information they give.
Then, again and again, the streets of a city which is obviously Hamburg; a shifting, trembling skyline; the railing of a bridge which while we pass it becomes blurred - the details fading into each other. From under the bridge, leaves of trees which seem to move while everything else remains stationary; again and again the long front of a cafe, people in front of it; suddenly one of them drops out of the picture - an effect that is at the same time sad and grotesque and hilarious. Or the intersection that a car crosses quickly, driving backwards. This too is shown repeatedly; the air is one of nostalgia.
Structurally, the film is not tight, as previous films of Wiborny have been but why shd it. Maybe, to move in this direction, towards great indeterminacy, is - however difficult it may be - a good thing and worth exploring.
But the colors rarely move from vague yellowish grey to something more interesting/ and emotional intensity is evoked, flashlike, between long intervals. Such a rhythm certainly is more troublesome than the beautiful but much shorter films Wiborny showed last year, After the Goldrush and Dallas, Texas especially.
* * *
Dore O's film Kaldalon which was already shown
on last years film show, was screened once again. It is really a film eminently
about time, and time in it is to a large extent movement, movement
thru space. When the film starts, the island seen from above moves and
The shifting of the landscape itself (7) tells us that
the space in which all the movements occur, is relative too: we move in
it, unstable, while it is no secure point of reference itself.
Dore O's latest film, Blonde Barbarei, was shot in black & white and later sepia-colored thruout. It uses music reminiscent of a Gregorian chant; a figure (a woman) moves in front of windows, looking down on houses, on roofs, into a courtyard with trees. The atmosphere is that of rain, of sadness, a closed-in life which she does not leave; always the windows, the variation of moving back and forth before them; to the right and stopping and on; or stopping and to the left; halting; moving; slowing down; a strange rhythm which sometimes seems to accompany, sometimes seems to run aganst that of the music but which still leaves one with the impression as if it had been specifically composed for that part of the sound track.
Yes, the windows are factory windows,
each consisting of several glass panes which accounts probably for an association of church windows. But as in a church, it is a closed-in atmosphere, the sadness, the tendency to move slowly, that counts.
So that the film is a metaphor, for a life certainly of a woman (but of men, too?): lives imprisoned in the worlds around them, bourgeois marriage, bourgeois professions, everything that looms above & around us, 'inescapably.'
* * *
Werner Nekes' SPACE CUT consists of two parts, Indians at Taos and 'Diggins Place' in the Sierra Nevada after the Gold Rush 1871.
In the first, against the timeless background of adobe
structures, the people move like the wind moves.
They move, yes.
Part 2 consists of quick single frame montage of
landscapes bottom up and down and sideways all angles. The structure of
the landscape changes, there are aspects of rock, of trees, of sky. The
quick rhythm makes for abstractions or shd I rather say, concretion? You
see all that is relevant & seeable. But not at once, rather as a cumulative
effect, as summation of multiple impact. No aura can develop, as when you
look, for a long time, at a tree, a landscape. The horizontal bottom down
view is not primary: we see that ALL the perspectives are equal.
* * *
Werner Nekes's latest film, Whatever Happened Between the Pctures?, seems to me to combine two 'elements' of understanding acquired in previous films - the awareness of space that is so characteristic of Abbandono and the quick rhythm of single frame montage of the second part of SPACE CUT.
At the same time, it develops more fully something that had already, in embryonic form, been present in Abbandono by way of the relationship between that person which the camera is following in Abbandono, and the space thru which it is moving, in which it is 'alone.'
The present film obviously has a plot. This is perhaps
something that is new in the 'new' cinema; somebody (Herbert Graf) mentioned
to me that it reminds him of Gertrude Stein who despite all characteristics
of avantgarde writing remained strangely faithful to plot; somebody else
(Paul Sharits) mentioned how this (the plot) constitutes the difficulty
in seeing the film and how at the same times this difficulty is overcome
if you understand the actions in terms of musical themes that are
structurally related to each other. This, latter, statement and the hint
of Gertrude for me elucidate each other; it is true, the film is patterned
very clearly, in five great blocks, of I) slow rhythm, II) quick rhythm,
III) slow rhythm, IV) relatively quick rhyth, and V) slow rhythm.
The 'story' is that of two girls, also of love, or - shall we say - its impossibility? - its possibility, again, but not easily? The girl shown in Abbandono is there again. But in Abbandono, she cd have been anyone; maybe it didn't even matter that she was a girl.
Here, it matters a great deal, to the extent that (except for one instance where a man appears, sitting or squatting at the coast between the girls) men are excluded.
Part I to me
was, I admit, somewhat disturbing, with its concentration of 'sexual' symbols
which are at once fetishized, commodities, belonging to women and, clearly,
marking their prize:
When this gives way to the landscape, their walking together, it is a flight but quiet, as if they were suddenly saying NO to it all; as if at least, for a moment, sleepily, they had forgotten about it.
The next part, II, cuts in brutally with
a rapid succession of single frames, shifting horizon moving thru all possible
positions around the clock; aggressive sound. For me, it is the aggressiveness
of a third person, the camera as male eye which can only look at it in
despair - but at what? We do not know if it is raging despair over the
reification of people (those girls made into a 'res,' the Latin for 'thing')
- or over that 'flight' which links these girls, these victims, forming
a bond that makes them 'inaccessible' to the man...
Part III returns to the girls, the ocean. Maybe the ocean becomes a metaphor of loneliness. The aura which was absent in Part II (and even more so, in the second Part of SPACE CUT) is introduced together with human beings: a figure half visible in the sea; two persons on the beach vaguely; the walks, space, a lonely house.
As in Part I, a gateway in a city: the two girls standing at its left front corner, the long view thru it, the passers-by in front of it and the girls appear in intervals.
Then there are autumn landscapes, trees, lakes, the rising and falling rim of a mountain (superimposed on each other), the landscape lights up and fades, just as in a de- and increasing way, the music (a short bis taken out of Terry Riley's In C ) comes and fades; from such landscape without persons in it, the film moves back to the girls, under trees, walking into some deep background, thru the tree-filtered light, into meadows. Their movements, their gestures minimal. Those of sadness.
Finally, a street appears, blueish (8); thru superimposition water flows in it; the street is already moving, before we notice two figures, two girls in the foreground; slowly one separates herself from the other, walks down the road.
That part ends with the gateway sequence; only now, the girls don't remain immobile; they suddenly move thru the gateway into the court.
The rhythm of Part IV is quick, and immobility gives, for a time, way to hasty "love" which is, what love, after all, is anyway when it ocurs? Two female bodies, rash movements, the red-gold light corresponding to the predominant blue of Part II - but this gives way, again, even tho the quickness of the rhythm remains, mostly.
Then, the movements occur as if in some Italian painting - Botticelli? - or are the impressionists closer? Anyway, the effort is painterly, and one is detached, seeing 'cool grace.'
In the end, there is the bed, the contrast of the light bodies on blue background has given way to a different atmophere, two women sitting in bed, immobility and virtual movement come to a counterpointal unity as by way of superimposition, they both stay immobile / and move / slowly, towards each other: a sign of the frozeness of our existence, the difficulty, the impossibility to act, to love, now with these women as with any man and woman - which is the dialectical counterpart of that previous hectic attempt to make love?
The last part, V, is full of
elegance, embraces that have a ritual quality, that occur slowly, deliberately,
with gestures of controlled rapture, while these women look at each other,
while one (the girl, the victim) is looked at, possessed by way of that
look, and has to look back, in like manner, while again, by way
of superimposition, she looks again & again, at the audience, differently,
helpless, with big eyes, utterly sad, betraying her loneliness, the reconstruction
of a relationship, of lord & slave.
(1) Probably one of the first so-called Zielgruppenfilme, made for political use, and - in my opnion - still the best done in West Germany. The film is shot in a Brechtian, anti-naturalistic manner and deals with extreme division of labor as functional outgrowth of military-industrial production - in this case production of Napalm by Dow Chemicals - and resulting ethical & political questions, facing the employees.
(3) Editor's note: The plea is obviously for a strategy of making perception "difficult" ('Erschwerung der Wahrnehmung'); if our small change is to be recognized, it is implied, this recognition must not be too easy, that is to say, not "automatic." - Is "perception," perceptiveness (to the extent that it matters / or even is vital) really a matter of 'gängige Münze'? Obviously not.
(4) As for the colors: perhaps Vasarely comes to mind, as in "Beryll" - but I believe I remember also Dine: big heart/few (clear) colors.
(5) Thus there is not only the tension between circular
but between these linear movements set against each other.
(6) Verfremdung is a term Brecht introduced apparently, signifying a technique of delaying understanding (perception) in order to make it more precise.
(7) Half of the lens is closed and thus only half of the footage exposed;
then the process is repeated with the other half of the lens closed now
and the same footage used again.
(8) There is a sophisticated change from such blueish overtones to reddish
autumn colors; the gateway scenes again differing in being predominently
clay-yellow, contrasting with dark (close to black-blue) shadows.
LINKS: Andreas Weiland on Dore O's "Blonde
(excerpt published by CANYON CINEMA, S.F.)