Glimpses at PLACES TO REST






I’ve been discovering the meaning of both „aperture“ and „shutter speed“. I make a small hole encircling my right index thumb and hold it up to my eye. Through this hole I can see the trees clearer, but darker. The focus is sharp, the distance greater, but the immediate light is blocked out. In the pitch-dark, my eyes adjust to the ever-present light pollution that thrums beneath the „seen“ each night.

It takes me at least a minute to set the f. stop and shutter speed on my still camera before each photograph. It’s antithetical to photography’s base functions, those of „capturing moments“. Once I’ve figured out the focus, f. stop and shutter speed, the moment’s passed. So, I capture the „after“. This can also be a function of photography.






Seit ein paar Wochen suche ich mit Freunden eine neue Wohnung. Immer wieder werden Besichtigungen vereinbart. Unser alltäglicher Trott sortiert sich um diese herum. Wir fahren 20 Minuten durch die Stadt, suchen eine Straße, suchen eine Hausnummer. Schließlich sind wir zu früh. Wie immer. Der Wind weht mit peitschender Kälte durch die Gassen, während wir warten. Für einen Augenblick scheint unsere Angelegenheit in Vergessenheit geraten zu sein. Wir verziehen uns in einen Hauseingang, schweigen uns an und schauen in die Leere. Vorbeigehende mustern uns skeptisch, fast ängstlich. Herumlungern, nichtstuend zwischen Gehsteig und Haustür stehen zu bleiben, hat sich offenbar im Laufe des vergangenen Jahres zum Akt der Subversion gemausert. Ein Stillstand, der sich selbst überführt. Ich schaue den Vorbeigehenden hinterher, während ich an Federico Fellinis I vitelloni denke. Der Kitsch überfällt mich.

Glimpses at TELEVISION

IVANA MILOŠ: In a pursuit of what makes up television, I submit three moments of my life remembered and embossed in television: 1. A simple cartoon of a small soldier who discovers a flower, the only colourful thing in the whole world he inhabits, seen while bunking on the living room floor during the war in Yugoslavia as a child. It could be seen countless times since nothing else was shown except for the news, or at least that’s what my memory tells me. 2. Watching Hollywood classics every day at 2 p.m. after coming home from school while my grandfather made me a snack. Anything from musicals to westerns, with an unforgettable amount of Humphrey Bogart and Katherine Hepburn, whose faces and voices have come to epitomize a trip down memory lane for me. 3. The joyful confusion and extraordinary delight of Gilmore Girls, seen when series still ran on TV in the early 2000s. This one caught me hook, line, and sinker. It was shown in jumbled sequences (season 2 one day, season 1 the next, etc.) that somehow fitted the wildly paced dialogue as well as the structure of the series, which relied on its intertextuality and language-obsessed worldmaking for episode development much more than it did on classical character plot lines. A friend once showed me what Gilmore Girls sounded like in German (godawful), once more affirming my firm belief in the privilege of coming from a small country where dubbing is unheard of and TV speaks all the languages of the world.

For me, these are overwhelming, larger-than-life tableaux – spilling over and lashing about, stuck in time and yet reverberating, as if a piece were stuck inside the screen itself and could come to life again anytime the TV is on. A medium bearing a striking resemblance to the nymph Echo, trapped in an existence of repetition, television is made up of simultaneous pasts and presents, dancing together and overlapping happily, congealed into devices that nowadays look like undersized, perfectly smooth (and ugly) black holes floating about the living room. I am not sure what the future of a black hole is like.


The intro to Esti Mese (Night Tales) with the TV Maci (TV Teddybear) on Hungarian television.

Long-Distance Service (An episode from A Mézga család különös kalandjai with subtitles)

The intro for the series:

It’s good to be insane, for just a day
And see our trouble fly away like cloudy days
There’s something beautiful in turning gold out from tin
Our spirits fly high, but the air is so thin!
Bold and brash, carefree, never forlorn
Don’t be afraid to grab the bull right by the horn
And when trouble first rears its head, don’t you start singin’ blues
Don’t expect brainiacs, to give you any clues
If anyone doubts you just, take a good look at them
Tell them to walk in your shoes!
I am Mézga Géza, and I brake, for no one
But my family’s a bunch of clowns
In a space so tiny, there’s no room for whining
Even though there’s naught to brag about
In our house we live it up, party hard, till we drop
Like we live in the „wild west,” mayhem, chaos and fun
Daddy, mommy, children too, love for him, me and you
Neither whines or hangs their head, worries, troubles, or pouts. (…)

Instead of a device for the discovery of individual titles or separate experiences, television represented permanence and regularity in my time spent with my family.

I used to watch television with my mother and with my grandparents every day. When I was a child, they watched the Night Tales with me. This program was introduced each night by the TV Teddybear, who had changed a little bit since the 70’s, but my mother was still fond of him. Most of the Hungarian animations were lovely and entertaining for adults as well, for instance A Mézga család különös kalandjai.

Later, with each person, I watched different kinds of programs. My mother and I prefer TV series, beginning every day at the same time, in some periods of our life the most banal ones. These series gave some kind of structure to our schedule at home, we ritually prepared the space, made some food and watched the characters change every day. After the end of the series, we talked through every decision and situation that arose. While one might consider it a total waste of time, I’m quite sure that these discussions contributed to my emotional growth. I enjoy conversations about film that take the time to consider the characters in an in-depth manner and when each participant of the dialogue gives personal answers to the issues in question.

My grandmother and I, as a guilty pleasure, sometimes watched Teleshop commercials. These extremely long, repetitive sessions are to promote products you definitely won’t ever need. We were laughing a lot at the exaggerated acting, at how the black-and-white, horrible world becomes a coloured, wonderful paradise by one product. In any event, these commercials proved to be effective, as even while laughing at them we ordered an American style pancake fryer, freaking out the whole family, which we only tried once. We were quite proud of our acquisition.

For my grandfather, as an ex-football player, being able to watch football was always a central question, even during family gatherings. Besides being part of the daily routine, television became part of the family events as well. Without being a football fan or understanding what is happening on the field, I liked his commitment and enthusiasm, and tried to share it more by copying his reactions than watching the match.

ANDREW CHRISTOPHER GREEN: When I was a young boy my mom gave me a VHS box set of Our Gang (The Little Rascals) and it instantly became my favourite thing to watch. The tapes always began with an elderly man introducing the films, giving anecdotes about the production and the actors and so on, and this always took too long so I fast forwarded through it. It was only much later that I realized these VHS tapes were released for other elderly people nostalgic for the television of their youth when these films, originally made in the 30’s and 40’s, were broadcast in the 50’s, and they were the audience whom the elderly man was addressing. I was confused because I didn’t realize they had a niche audience. I thought they were timeless and didn’t see any difference between my life and the characters. Dotting mothers, money-making schemes, fear and love of the cute girls, misers and foreigners, drinking soap and hiccupping bubbles, having to cut the grass when you’d rather go play… yes, I knew this life. The wonky noises and overdubbed sound were a bit odd, but I didn’t get hung up over these things.

So, when the elderly man introduced the films and gave them a context, it was like he was compartmentalizing my own youth for me before I got to make sense of it by comparing it to the mischievous urchins of 1930’s. I took a great deal of solace, then, in the times when the kids outsmarted the adults, like this one time when Spanky, the gang leader, went undercover to a black-tie dinner-and-a-show to steal something. There was a fat man roaring with laughter, and when he noticed Spanky, Spanky just laughed along with him in an exaggerated manner so that the man would keep laughing and look back at the stage. It was clear Spanky didn’t find anything funny. He rolled his eyes and shook his head when the fat man turned away, as if to say ‘the idiot, I can’t believe I have to do these things to keep him thinking I’m just a dumb kid.’ I was shocked by his hubris but felt solidarity with his opposition to the world we resisted together in schemes. I’m still shocked adults wrote and directed that.

RONNY GÜNL: Beim Gedanken an das Fernsehen schwebt vor dem inneren Auge nicht der ummittelbare Alltag, dessen steter Begleiter es ist, sondern das Ereignis. Ereignisse, wie etwa die Pressekonferenz Günter Schabowskis oder das Flugzeugattentat auf das World Trade Center – Augenblicke der Zeitgeschichte, die sich zuerst in die Mattscheiben und danach in das kulturelle Gedächtnis eingebrannt haben. „Was hast du damals gemacht?“ – „Wir haben den Fernseher angeschalten.“

Fernsehen scheint dafür geradezu prädestiniert zu sein. Mehr noch, das Geschehen erzwingt es viel mehr. Ob politische Führung, technische Bedingung oder beides, das Fernsehen war in seiner vermeintlich ursprünglichen Form der 1930er der Gegenwart preisgegeben. Es hängt ihm ein Bild des Totalitären nach, wenngleich ein chimärisches.

„Irgendwas passiert immer!“, möchte man meinen, „doch nichts passiert ohne das Fernsehen“, zischt es zynisch zurück.
Mit AMPEX Quadruplex wird die Rundfunk-Utopie des Fern-Sehens (tele vision) zur Zeit-im-Bild- Maschine – „MAZ abfahren, bitte!“ Das Fernsehen und das Video zusammen sind dabei der Schallplatte näher als dem Film. Während im Kino die Bilder still stehen, fließen die Zeilen des Fernsehens unaufhörlich vor sich hin.

Harun Farocki: „Es ist nicht so schlimm, daß Bilder nur zur Überleitung da sind, schlimmer, daß diese ihre dramaturgische Funktion nicht zugegeben wird. Die Füllbilder kommen einher wie die Bilder, die vorgeblich das Material der Untersuchungen sind. Alle aufgenommen im gleichen fotografischen Duktus, lauter durch Schwenk, Zoom und kurzen Schnitt fixgemachte Momentaufnahmen.“

— Harun Farocki: „Drückeberger vor der Wirklichkeit“, Frankfurter Rundschau, 2. Juni 1973. (In Meine Nächte mit den Linken, hrsg. v. Volker Pantenburg, S. 137)

PATRICK HOLZAPFEL: Der einzige Fernseher, zu dem ich jemals eine Beziehung aufbauen konnte, war ein kleiner Röhrenfernseher von Panasonic. Er knackte wie Chinakracker, wenn man ihn an- und ausschaltete und für Minuten danach, schien der Bildschirm förmlich zu brutzeln (die Handfläche über den Bildschirm gleiten lassen: Glück!). Ich fand die grünen und roten Farben in ihm sehr schön, die blauen Farben waren mir zu rot und Gelb gab es nicht. Daran änderten auch die farbigen Knöpfe auf der Fernbedienung nichts (ich habe den gelben Knopf sehr oft gedrückt). Obwohl der Fernseher eine riesige, ausfahrbare Antenne hatte (das Gefühl, die Antenne in den Fernseher zurück zu schieben: Glück!), konnte ich damit keine TV-Programme empfangen, weil ich immerzu in Zimmern lebte, in denen man kein TV empfangen konnte und schon gar nicht mit diesem Fernseher. Durch irgendwelche Eingänge und Klinkenstecker konnte ich jedoch Videoabspielgeräte und später einen DVD-Player verbinden. Die Suche nach dem Signal führte mich durch unzählige Sendeplätze, die alle von Schneegestöber und einem nicht enden wollenden Schwindel erzählten. Ich trug das Fernsehgerät auch mit mir herum, als ich meinen ersten Film drehte (besser: zu drehen versuchte) und glaubte einen Monitor zu brauchen (er war schwerer als die Kamera) und wenn ich umzog, erschien ich immer mit diesem klobigen, staubbedeckten Kasten vor der Tür. Irgendwann habe ich ihn einfach irgendwo in einer Wohnung stehen lassen, ich glaube, weil ich dachte, dass ich nun größere Bilder sehen wollte. Leider habe ich bis heute keinen so schönen Fernseher mehr gefunden.


This is the TV I’ve used for the past eight months. It’s an appendage for my laptop, above all – connected via HDMI. I haven’t watched any “TV” on this TV, as far as I can recall.

But it taints my desire to watch films, as all I know of the act from these past months involves shitty sound, frayed concentration, numb limbs and sore eyes. Is it any different from the actual cinema-going experience? I can no longer remember.

However, images I’ve loved and hold dear were displayed on this TV appendage. How do I reconcile this? I’ve obliged myself towards both my hard drive and the Criterion Channel’s seemingly vast catalogues, both of which now resemble filmic swamps more than anything else. The surrounding windows now take my attention. Jonas Mekas’ trees resemble the ones outside my window, a resemblance that encourages a wandering of the eyes onto the outside landscape. When looking out this window half-watching prior films, the act felt like a distracted reprieve from the mire of structural cohesion and serious worlds that never-quite resembled my own. Whereas here, in As I Was Moving Ahead I Saw Brief Glimpses of Beauty, the act is a continuation of what’s on screen, introduced via the light reflecting from the opposite window. Because of this “distraction” on the TV’s image, I realise that it’s still light outside, go out to touch the tree and take a 35mm still of it. I then return inside to finish watching As I Was Moving Ahead….. It’s become dark outside, now that the film has ended.

SEBASTIAN BOBIK: It seems that discovering films while watching TV late at night is a thing of the past. Nowadays I suppose films are “discovered” through streaming, through algorithms making choices and presenting it with things we might probably enjoy according to some variables.

But there was a time, when one could simply stumble upon strange films programmed usually late at night. And though I must confess that most of my personal discoveries in my younger days that lead me towards believing that cinema could be something very special, were made through renting DVDs, there are some films I vividly remember being on TV when I saw them first. I remember the atmosphere of Ridley Scott’s Blade Runner scaring me so much as a young boy, that I had to turn it off after about 30 minutes. Nevertheless, the next day I was begging my mother to rent the film so I could watch in its entirety. Something about it had just made me curious.

Around that time (at least in my memory it seems like this) a smaller private channel would show some classic movies on Thursday evenings at about 10:30. Since there were so many commercial breaks, the films would usually run past midnight. I discovered some of the well-established classics of American cinema through this programming. My mother would allow me to stay up and watch them, while everyone else was already asleep. I vividly remember seeing The Godfather and Pulp Fiction in those time slots, and a handful of other films too, but I have forgotten which ones exactly those were. I think ever since then I very much enjoy watching movies late at night, instead of early in the evening. The other thing I remember vividly, is that after midnight the commercials would suddenly change and most ads after midnight were for sex hotlines or other pornography. It was very strange how in one commercial break they would still be playing ads for cars and detergent and 15 minutes later it would only be naked women asking you to call a hotline.

It’s been years now since I’ve watched television, and honestly there isn’t much that draws me to it anymore these days. But these memories have stuck with me. Nowadays, when I think about Television, it’s probably the band.

DAVID PERRIN: My earliest memory of television, or at least the one that comes immediately to mind when asked to think back on it, is from when I was four or five years old in a seaside hotel room in Jesolo, Italy with my grandfather watching a Charlie Chaplin short set during World War I called Shoulder Arms from 1918. I cannot recall the plot and have not seen it since that late afternoon twenty-five years ago, though I do vaguely remember images of Chaplin as a foot shoulder trudging through trenches, the horror of which at the time I knew absolutely nothing about, but that’s basically it. Much more present in my mind is the sound of my grandfather’s voice talking to me about Chaplin, the sound of his laughter like rough paper being scratched as Chaplin commits one of his comic blunders, a laugh made all the louder by the film being silent coupled with the smallness of the hotel room…Perhaps too I remember the rearrangement of shadows in the room as the light changed outside, the sound of children splashing around in the swimming pool somewhere off in the distance, the wind in the pine wood trees beyond the window, but I’m probably making all those things up.

In the twenty-five-year interim between then and now my relationship to the medium has fluctuated considerably, oscillating between enthusiasm, indifference, and outright hostility. (Upon seeing a video on YouTube of a visibly irate John Cassavetes exclaiming: “Television suck!”, I remember thinking: right on.) But the period of my life when I dedicated a large chunk of my time to watching television was between around 1998 and 2001, which coincides with the period when Tobias Moretti starred as the hard-ass cop Richie Moser in Kommissar Rex, a show about a crime fighting canine in Vienna that I watched religiously with my brother; and also when I saw in real time, along with so many other countless pairs of eyes around the world, images of the World Trade Centre repeatedly collapsing into a senseless heap of smoke and dust in downtown Manhattan.

As I grew older television became supplanted by cinema, disappearing altogether from my life by the time I reached my late teens. (The only remotely tangential connection I had to it then was listening to the punk band Television.) Nowadays, I only watch television when traveling and staying in a hotel (which, due to the pandemic, is never), sitting or reclining in bed late at night while flipping through the channels that are often in languages I rarely understand. Sometimes a movie that I’m familiar with will be on, dubbed in the language of whatever country I happen to be in; I’d watch the whole thing through, not understanding a word, yet able to follow along with the plot as if I were a native speaker. Maybe I only watch television in hotel rooms, because subconsciously, I’m hoping I’ll reencounter the Chaplin short from many years ago, and thus be able to relive the memory of my grandfather in a moving way, but I seriously doubt it.

SIMON PETRI: Discovery, Budapest: Film programming on Hungarian television never really existed as a conscious or conceptual method of making cinema available. There were accidental cracks in the system, however, and individual titles could be discovered by chance late at the night. This is how I managed to catch a glimpse of Shadows, Rosemary’s Baby and Paris, Texas on a circa 30-year-old color television at a very young age by going through the three channels we had, and sticking to the films for a while despite my complete lack of care for cinema. Most vividly I remember the peepshow club’s room with the one-way mirror in Paris, Texas – more than simply noticing how different this is from what I knew and enjoyed as films (Hollywood comedies), it had been a clear revelation that films can teach and show experiences, events or objects which I hadn’t even known would exist (peepshows and one-way mirrors), almost a decade before I actually started to watch films, to learn about them and the world through them.

Of course, because of this very indifference towards cinema these are memories magnified retrospectively. My conscious choices were Columbo and nature documentaries at the time. I got lost in the forests of India with a ferocious tiger mother and I learnt a lot about where to find king cobras.

At the end of 2007, during the last days of prosperity, when people paid for paintings before the crisis hit, my mother sold a work and purchased a modern television which led me to an even greater discovery, that of the recording device – the remedy for the horror of only being allowed to watch the first half of UEFA Champions League matches, waking up at six filled with hope to see an almost-live-miracle after a petrifying live 45 minutes, and yes, Iniesta in the 93rd made it happen.

Revoking punishment, Budapest: My unchangeable decision to not step on the pitch and harshly neglect the trainer during football training on an unpleasant and humid night had prompted my grandmother to prohibit me from watching television. Then she saw that Chaplin was on the program that night which she insisted to show me, and the ban was lifted.

Community, Jena: Years before I first heard about the esteem of television in German film culture, I had spent every Sunday for almost a year in a ravaged, stinky bar in Jena to watch Tatort on a television we only saw through a dense smokescreen. A free round if you guess the culprit. Many nights well spent with the most devoted communal audience I’ve ever been a part of.

News, Wien & Donostia: Following the political and economic events of Hungary from abroad, I often sit in front of my laptop watching roundtable discussions and interviews with experts and politicians. The intellectual quality is poor and the tendency for sensationalism is alarming. Yet, as long as channels regularly find 15-30 minutes in the evening to let Tamás Gáspár Miklós speak, there’s something to look forward to.

SIMON WIENER: When football matches are broadcast on television, they boast some decisive melodramatic moments – moments so suffused with drama, indeed, that it would always be hard for me to keep my eyes on the screen. If one side scores, the goal is seen time and time again, from multiple angles, and with it the turning away of the scorer, away from the goal and towards the teammates – yet the most decisive melodramatic gestures, scorching their way into consciousness, lurk at the fringes of the frame, evinced by the conceding side. Sure, one could try to ignore them, and just focus on the jubilant gestures of the scorers; but the montage-within-the-frame can’t quite escape one’s grasp. Our gaze collects those silent figures on the edges, behind the main actors; standing apart, distraught, defeated, their ordeal magnified by slow-motion. Heads are starting to hang, eyes torn wide open in disbelief; hands and arms are slowly being raised, wrestling with destiny or blaming other defenders. The players are now kept prisoners, as it were, of their one crucial failure; held captive within countless repetitions of the televisional direction, they seem forced to witness their own errors, marginal as they may be, leading to goal, again and again. A “loop of failure” is superimposed on the relish, the beauty, and the celebration of the goal; and if the images’ slow-motion and repetition work together to construct our thorough, analytical understanding of the goal, how it originated and played out, they also act as prime carriers of melodrama. It’s only when the kick-off succeeding the goal is taken, that we, slightly astonished by the tenacity of the conceding team (a tenacity not warranted by the images we just saw), may utter a sigh of relief: ah yes, they decided to fight back; they collected themselves, ready to take their turn hurting the opponent; ah yes, they do not succumb to their total inner destruction those previous images have suggested.

Glimpses at COMEDY

„Lubitsch shows you first the king on the throne, then as he is in the bedroom. I show you the king in the bedroom so you’ll know just what he is when you see him on his throne.

Erich von Stroheim

The writers of Jugend ohne Film begin a new series called Glimpses at, in which we share our ideas about certain topics. Whether we identify humour with repetition, persistence or diversity, if it means liberation or rejection, comedies profoundly shape our understanding of cinema. Thus, let’s start with a discussion on what we find funny in a film. Laughing far away from one another and at different situations and lines, we use this opportunity to learn about each other and, consequently, about comedies.


IVANA MILOŠ: What is laughter but the unwinding and undoing of constrictions and restrictions, an introduction of familiarity and equality where none have reigned before? Proper laughter, that is, and this phrase already constitutes an oxymoron. But this is what lies at the heart of comedy — opposites and extremes brought together, unadvised revelations and disclosures in the bright light of day, actions repeated to the point of absurdity, leaps into the surreal, and in all of these a common factor. For me, this shared trait is what makes comedy shine: surprise. In that sense, it is like tickling — if it’s going to work, it has to spring on you unexpectedly, from an angle beyond your field of vision. My favourite joke for a very long time was a kind of pocket-size absurdist poem, where a fare inspector asks a tram passenger for a ticket. The passenger’s calm reply to this accosting is: „Giraffe.“ Inspector: „What giraffe?!“ Passenger: „What ticket?“ It’s like having the rug pulled out from under your feet. My love for humour is the love for how such a small snippet of words can lay bare the actually absurd system we rely on in order to be capable of leading our daily lives within it. In Stanley Donen’s Indiscreet, despite all of Cary Grant’s antics on the dance floor, my favourite moment is the line spoken by an elderly British gentleman whose function as a side character has up to that point been an upholding of form and courtesy — the embodiment of society, as it were, with all its laws intact. After much tomfoolery leading up to an inevitable eruption, which we might as well call a carnival with Bakhtin in mind, the gentleman in question settles down to his table and says: „You know I’m too old for this sort of evening, I always was.“ A brilliant revelation of character as well as a rebuke of the tiresome constancy of rules made to be broken, this moment captures a simple, but relevant collapse. In stripping away the contours of society, humour makes us see through veils. It’s a magical encounter in a place where things and people are closer to their inherent selves. Maybe that’s why it only comes in bursts and fragments — its revelatory power is a force to be reckoned with.


PATRICK HOLZAPFEL: Here is what makes me always laugh in a film: a character, mostly it’s a man, continues doing whatever he does although the world around him is changing in a way that would urgently ask for him to stop what he is doing. One of my earliest memories of such an incident is a scene in Mr. Magoo in which Leslie Nielsen tries to prepare a frozen chicken for dinner. Since cooking is not his strength, he needs help from a cooking programme on television. Yet, his eyesight is not at its best (to put it mildly) and when he gets distracted for a moment, his dog accidentally changes the television programme to a kind of aerobic workout broadcast. As soon as Nielsen returns to his chicken, he begins to stretch, jump and rhythmically dance with the frozen animal.

This can go pretty far. I saw Will Ferrell put a knife into his thigh, Charlie Chaplin jump out of a window (more than once) and Peter Sellers, well Peter Sellers doing almost everything with this joke (as well as Rowan Atkinson). Another favourite of this kind is even closer to life. In Bill Forsyth’s Gregory’s Girl a schoolboy is enthusiastically reading from Shakespeare in class when suddenly a window cleaner appears at the window and takes away the attention of everyone including the teacher. However, the boy is so into his reading that he doesn’t stop. It goes on and on and even if I laugh about it, I know that I have been this boy many times in my life.

One of the sentences sometimes uttered under these circumstances is already a sign of advancing chaos: I have everything under control. Strangely, men pretending to go on with what they are doing whatever is happening around them has become a norm when it comes to political behaviour or even behaviour in general. So maybe I’m not laughing because somebody is doing whatever they are doing but because a change is visible. It’s called tragic irony.

ANNA BABOS: Luc Moullet’s short, Barres is a film that I watch almost every week and it makes me laugh from time to time. I attribute my tenacious enthusiasm to the fact that the film essentializes the elements I appreciate most in comedies. First and foremost, repetition and variations. I love catalogue-like structures, examples of solutions that are offered to resolve the same situation in manifold ways. Going to the metro, the people in Barres try to dodge the system, which seems rather irrational. These people often fail. I find their falls, crashes and other kinds of physical injuries fascinating. Charlie Chaplin’s Kid Auto Races At Venice perfectly exemplifies the combination of these sources of fun, a film that had a similarly overwhelming impact on me. Apart from being a great comedy, it’s also one of Chaplin’s most reflexive early works, about a man who does everything to be the centre of attention, which makes for a liberating experience to those who find it hard to allow themselves to be eccentric.

Another facet of Barres is that it shows scenes that we might have imagined while travelling by public transport – at least I imagined some of them several times. Travelling is dead time, you do not have something else to do, so you can let your mind wander. I like Technoboss for the same reason – the main character has a lot of free time and imagines things. He also fills his job with creativity and this way of life, which might be called boring or uneventful, becomes a rather adventurous and lovely story. The film stands against the concept of boredom.

Égigérő fű was my favourite film during my childhood. I was totally amused by the unique characters. The tenement house, which is the centre of the story, works, again, like a catalogue, and the residents represent figures from an at once fable-like and realistic picture book. Only this year I realized that the whole story had been made with exceptional creativity and wit – and the simplicity of the story continued to amaze me. “That lovely green grass. I will only miss that. The grass.” says Misu’s grandfather, who is preparing to retire, but he worries about his life afterwards. We follow Misu’s adventures as he lays down green grass in the inner court of the tenement house, in order to ease the worries of his grandfather. While asking for permission and working on the great plan, he and his friend Piroska meet lots of funny characters, for instance an old lady, who has been removed from her big house to a small flat, hence all the furniture had to be cut in half to fit in. While it is hardly possible to live in a flat as crowded as this one is, the lady and her son have very creative ways to solve this situation, and their flexibility is confronted by Kamilla, an anxious adjuster, who is always preoccupied with horrible news and gets terrified by the irregularity of the old lady.

With a lot of funny scenes and surprising plot twists, Spanglish talks about a great variety of everyday issues – parenthood, marriage, cultural difference and so on. However, what makes this comedy a particularly funny and touching one, is the character of Deborah, the mother. Deborah is a neurotic woman, a terrible mother and an unfaithful lover who is in constant rage. Her unforeseen bursts and absurd reactions are hilarious – partly because of the exaggerated acting of Téa Leoni, and also because one can easily recognise and empathise with the state of unbearable hysteria. The situation is clarified step by step as we get closer to Deborah, who got herself into a vicious circle, but taking responsibility does not make solving the situation easier. In the end, her husband, John Clasky forgives her – Adam Sandler’s low-key, humorous acting is another gripping aspect of this movie.

Finishing the list of my favourite comedies, I realised that all of them are made in the mood of love and empathy. It does not mean that I do not like black humour, aggressiveness or grotesque stories, rather it speaks about my personal understanding of comedy, as something that calms me and cheers me up.

DAVID PERRIN: Ozu’s children thumbing their nose at parental authority; Jimmy Stewart as the Texan Marshal Guthrie McCabe in Two Rode Together and really not giving a damn about his civic duty, or the law for that matter (and note how different he leans back in his chair compared to Henry Fonda in My Darling Clementine); the great pleasure of watching people getting totally, joyously sloshed on screen, for example in Hong Sang-soo’s hilariously awkward table gatherings exacerbated by endless supplies of Soju; Peter Falk, John Cassavetes and Ben Gazzara as three boorish drunks desperate to mask their own despair by gulping down drink after drink and singing and stripping bare in front of strangers, or Bela Tarr’s villagers jubilantly shitfaced on Pálinka while wildly dancing and careening across the floor of their local tavern while outside the rain pounds down; the everyman presence of Matti Pellonpää (the saddest pair of eyes in Finnish cinema according Peter von Bagh) in any Aki Kaurismäki film, where the humour is so achingly dry and bittersweet you never know whether to laugh or cry; Roberto Benigni’s twitchy hyper-caffeinated body language as it tries to contain itself within the claustrophobic confines of a New Orleans prison, and even when he is still his body appears to jitter and shake (not to mention his frequent linguistic mishaps as he tries to negotiate, as a foreigner, the ecstatic poetics of Walt Whitman and the hip flattened American parlance of John Lurie and Tom Waits); Ernst Lubitsch howling with laughter on his own set, because even he can’t resist the humour in his films and finally isn’t it a delight to watch an exasperated Cary Grant stuck in a puffy silk negligée as he tries to wriggle his own clothes back from Katherine Hepburn’s lovesick grasp in one of the great screwball comedies: Bringing up Baby.

Good Morning 

Two Rode Together

Nobody’s Daughter Haewon 



Varjoja paratiisissa

Down by Law

Ernst Lubitsch on set

Bringing up Baby

Luc Moullet – Barres
Underdog Luc Moullet’s screwball gem of a short is a mischievous paean to “Schwarzfahren”, revealing the subtle forms of civil disobedience as Paris Metro passengers perform various ingenious feats of acrobatics and DIY maneuvers to bypass paying an exorbitant subway fare.

Orson Welles – Paul Masson Wine Commercial Outtakes
This is already very well-known, but I’ll include it anyways: a bulging and visibly drunk Orson Welles refusing even an attempt to act professional or conceal his boredom and contempt for the job at hand – a wine commercial for Paul Masson for which he clearly couldn’t care less.

SIMON WIENER: Einen Film, der gängige Konventionen und Seh-Muster hinterfragt, der ausbricht aus ihn für gewöhnlich bestimmenden, ins Korsett zwängenden Formen, nennt man häufig experimentellen Film; und einen solchen stellen wir uns meist als eine sperrig-ernsthafte Sache vor. Immerhin steht viel auf dem Spiel; der Weg ins Zukünftige soll gewiesen werden, und ein solcher Film trägt die Verantwortung, Vorreiter zu sein, bisweilen vorwurfsvoll hinzuweisen auf dem Medium offenstehende, aber nicht ausgekostete Möglichkeiten.

Diese unsere Vorstellung trügt – der experimentelle Film ist seit Anbeginn auch eine äußerst humorvolle Sache. Steckt nicht gerade im Überschreiten gängiger Grenzen, im Zutagebringen eines uns zunächst Ungewöhnlichen eine zwangsläufige Absurdität? Die Einsicht in einen neuen Blickwinkel, ein neues Zeitverstehen: sie erscheint uns absurd, und ist von Übelgesinnten deswegen leicht mit Kopfschütteln als unnütze Spielerei abzutun, wie sie uns Wohlgesonnenen aus gleichem Grund bewegt und anregt; denn eine vorwärtsgewandte Kunst ist immer eng mit dem Spielerischen verknüpft, schließlich geht es darum, deren festgefahrene Regeln abzuändern, zu missachten, oder, im Gegenteil, absurd genau zu nehmen.
Hier als Beispiele Max Richter, Oskar Fischinger oder Len Lye anzuführen, liegt nahe; deren abstrakte Filme, Tänze von Formen und Farben, welche, sich abstoßend oder anziehend, untereinander Kämpfe auszufechten scheinen, oft unterlegt mit witziger Musik, mühen den meisten von uns ein Lächeln ab. Ich sehe aber auch im streng seriellen Film, etwa jenem Kurt Krens, eine grosse Portion Humor. Just diese Strenge, also die mathematisch-berechnend-seriöse Struktur dieser Filme, die dem slice-of-life, dem völlig Unbedeutenden, das ihr zugrunde liegt, und das sie formt, widerspricht, ist absurd witzig. In TV werden fünf sehr kurze Einstellungen eines Fensters, vor und hinter dem einige wenige Gestalten auszumachen sind, in immer wieder neuen Anordnungen und Permutationen aneinander gereiht; „nach Art eines Kinderreims“, wie Kren selber sagt. Humor ist ebenso zu finden in Heinz Emigholz´ Sullivans Banken, wo lange und unbewegte Kameraeinstellungen auf die Banken des bekannten Architekten gerichtet sind; rigoros beobachten wir stumme Gebäude, die den Blick der Kamera zugleich erwidern und nicht erwidern; zeugen zwar von Geschichten und Menschen, unserem so bohrenden Blick aber ausgeliefert, ohne sich vor ihm in Sicherheit bringen zu können.

Zu erwähnen auch Patrick Bokanowskis spätere Filme, etwa La Plage, wo verzerrende Linsen Urlauber am Strand in kubistisch-komische Gemälde transformiert; oder Vivian Ostrovskys Cobacabana Beach: im Zeitraffer durchwuselt eine Menschenmenge das Bild, wie zu kleinen Ameisen reduziert, und wahrlich grotesk und drollig nehmen sich die Turnübungen aus, die da praktiziert werden, durch den Zeitraffer transformiert zum irrwitzig-quirligen Ballett.

ANDREW CHRISTOPHER GREEN: In Jacques Tati’s Mon Oncle the clash between the rural and urban-industrial maintains a linkage between the past and the then-present. The audience gets a last laugh at the rural-folk who haven’t yet fully adjusted to the mechanized rhythms of city-life in contrast with the absurd technocratic control of the emerging nouveau-riche’s consumerism. Tati’s tenderness demands a counter-identification with the Oncle’s dysfunction while simultaneously prohibiting a simplistic epithet for the automated bourgeoisie. The film doesn’t escape the world that gave birth to it; it bears the marks of its contradictory situation. But unlike with most comedies, which draw their life-source from a formulaic rejection of the absurd thought that things could be otherwise, I think the warmth that permeates Tati’s film is strong enough to give us a heartfelt and sober look at what we go on thoughtlessly rejecting. My lingering experience of the film isn’t with the forgetful laughs but with the dissonant way they grind against the melancholic task of reconciling that which no longer has a place in our increasingly ugly world. I think Tati’s film can fortify us with the strength necessary to go into dangerous places and objectify ourselves. But if what I have said is true, this would mean that Tati’s film is an anti-comedy.

Mon Oncle

RONNY GÜNL: EINSAME FRAU Ich heiße Barbara und das klingt besser als Dingsbums. Ich bin eine einsame Frau und verbringe jeden Urlaub auf dieser gottverlassenen Insel.
BLÖDE WOLKE Ich sage, daß Dingsbums besser klingt als Barbara. Barbara ist ja ein ganz einfaches Wort. Da ist Dingsbums schon richtig kompliziert dagegen. Zweimal bar und dann ein a. Soll das auch schon was sein?! Bar-bar-a
BARBARA Und der, der neben dem Plapperlaplapp, warum trägt der einen Stahlhelm?
LETZTE SUSN Weil er sich fürchtet.
BARBARA Wovor fürchtet er sich?
LETZTE SUSN Vor den Deutschen.
— aus Herbert Achternbusch: Das Haus am Nil, Frankfurt a. M.: Suhrkamp 1981, S. 147f.

Das letzte Loch

SEBASTIAN BOBIK: What makes a comedy? How is it defined? What do we want from it? In general, the idea seems to be that if a film is happier than sad, more funny than tragic, we can speak of a comedy. So, if comedies are supposed to make me happy and tragedies sad, how come I have probably cried more in comedies than in tragedies? (Playtime, Inherent Vice, Hausu, The Last Detail,…) There is clearly a potential in comedies to move and touch us in ways that are specific to them. Something funny is something that rings true. Comedies often catch moments and behaviours in which we might feel embarrassed. Yet comedies are often also downplayed, their potential underestimated. “It’s just a comedy,” they say.

Comedies are treated as a silly little pastime.

Comedies have for a long time had the potential to threaten power. The hypocrisy of those in power can be laid bare. The Emperor has no clothes. Sometimes I think this potential seems lost these days. Comedies also have the potential to create utopias in some way, by showing us love, community and tenderness. I think of Chaplin in The Kid (or in any of his films), Kitano and the band of outsiders in Kikujiro, the townspeople in Tati’s Mon Oncle. There is an idea of not adhering to society, of resisting the norm that is celebrated in comedy more than in any other genre. Their outsiders and outcasts are allowed happy endings and prospects; their eccentricities are appreciated, not judged. Oftentimes comedies are celebrations of the art of living.

There is a saying attributed to Charlie Chaplin that goes: “Life is a tragedy when seen in close-up, but a comedy in long-shot.” It is a quote one stumbles upon quite often to the point where it has become a bit of a cliché. Obviously, it means on the one hand, that instances in life seen in the very moment can be tragic (“in close-up”) but once you step back and see the bigger picture of your life you can see the humour and comedy in that same situation (“in long-shot”). Does this also mean, that comedies are somehow wiser than dramas because they see the bigger picture? Is this why so many great filmmakers of comedy like framing in wider shots (Keaton, Chaplin, Tati…)? Though these same artists are also known for wonderful close-ups (just think of the faces of Chaplin!). So, of course, it isn’t just a question of wide versus close, but the delicacy of the close-ups themselves must play a part in this balance.

SIMON PETRI: „He was Lord Aldergate’s valet for 20 years but it didn’t last. They differed in their political views. The situation finally became impossible when Lord Aldergate joined the Labor Party.“ Listen to the butlers and look for the subplots in Lubitsch’s films. And remember to be common and land on your ass every once in a while!

Maybe after having a drink or two with Michel Simon, tasting some of Jerry Lewis‘ poisons or the left jab of Michael Clarke Duncan from The Whole Nine Yards.

Then let a strong man, Alberto Sordi, Carlo Pedersoli or Eddie Murphy take you under each arm before Zero Mostel sits on your face. You’ll be standing in a moment!

And once you’re on your feet, take a walk around the city, engage with the streets as a Tramp and as a King. When you’re in the neighbourhood, say hello to cher Levy and join the dance of Rabbi Jacob. Stop at a cinema and smile at the ingenuity and magnitude of film – it doesn’t have to be humorous per se; the overwhelming sweep of a Samuel Fuller film, the opening images of Mean Streets or The Irishman, a montage in Mauvais sang, Erich von Stroheim’s gaze, the warmth of Menschen am Sonntag will get you energised and giggling, giving the feeling of “Here we go, this is my art form!”

Then escape to nature and learn about it from Elaine May.

Always be chivalrous and a proud petit bourgeois like Kabos Gyula. Cherish the cuisine of his time, dedicate a Schnitzel to him; for masterstrokes, see Fragments of Kubelka.

If not, don’t be surprised if you are cursed with a Xala. When cursed, you’ll be feeling down and nothing will cheer you up, like a cunt can’t Kant.

Make sure to release the pressure, learn from Governor Feuerstein in Dargay Attila’s Szaffi. Otherwise, you’ll explode like a mosquito by Winsor McCay.


MAËL MUBALEGH: I often feel the popular consciousness about comedies can indicate that they are more demanding and riskier in terms of writing than dramas or more “naturalistic” orientated forms of cinema. Why is it actually so? Because comedies are supposedly made for broader audiences and thus require an unequivocal universality of tone? And if so, then what should this universality consist of? I’m personally not totally convinced of that. A lot of mainstream comedies I have seen early in my life or in more recent years have only shyly stirred a smile from me, which makes me think this hypothetical universality of laughter is merely a myth crafted by the industry in order to maintain itself within its own system of belief. Rather than trying to define what “comedy” is within my own standards, I’ll casually and swiftly go through some aspects of cinema – ancient and modern, mainstream or more confidential – that could be connected to it.

Ambivalence: here it’s not really a single film in itself, a genre or a way of filming that I link to the term, but something more like a mood that can be conveyed by an actor or an actress. Even if typecasting can work wonders, I’ve always felt more attracted to comedians who evolve in a versatile universe, jumping from a tragic part to a much lighter one. I like, for instance, that Henry Fonda can be this almost allegorical figure of justice and order in John Ford’s My Darling Clementine whose imposing stature a few years before went through a whole lot of awkward twists in Preston Sturges’ delightful The Lady Eve. In recent cinema, I have the feeling this mixture or this fluid duality is more seldom to be found. Yet it still exists in some areas. In this respect, someone like Virginie Efira might be one of the most surprising actresses of the moment: though she started her acting career quite late after working for years as a popular TV moderator for various shows, she has already proven to be able to communicate a wide range of subtle emotions. In Victoria and, more recently Sybil, both by Justine Triet, she can appear irresistibly hilarious and vulnerable, making one unsure as to how one is supposed to react as an audience: to laugh? To cry? This is the question.

Vulgarity: for a scene to be really funny, the borders of good taste must sometimes be pushed out very far – laughter and subtlety don’t always get along well with one another. I think of Kirsten Dunst in the only mildly entertaining Bachelorette by Leslye Headland: the palpable enthusiasm with which she takes upon herself the trashiest aspects of her poorly outlined, almost one-sided character of the unlucky, bitter thirty-something, is a feast in itself. Elsa Zylberstein is another actress alternatively cast in dramatic and funny roles, who shows similar qualities: in Philippe de Chauveron’s very polemical A bras ouverts, she plays quite masterfully the slightly zany bourgeois, incorrectly politically correct spouse of a left-oriented star essayist pathetically struggling to act accordingly to his self-claimed ideals. The detached manner in which Zylberstein gives shape to the outbursts of stupidity and ridiculousness of her part is very often fascinating, and thanks to this precision in acting, the over-readable, Manichean comedy of manners then sporadically verges on a Buñuelian absurdness.

Politics: Maybe more directly than drama, comedy‘s register lends itself to politics, be it on an intimate level (screwball) or a broader one (“social” comedies among others). A strategy to make someone laugh is to be nasty – one that comedy screenwriters and directors have well understood – a nastiness that can in turn become political. Mark Waters’ Mean Girls is a very good example of this ability of mainstream comedies to tackle societal issues: on the surface, it is merely a high school movie dripping with over-the-top feelings, shrouded in an almost unbearable pink and “girly” cinematography. Yet on the inside, it is most certainly one of the best movies ever made on the issue of bullying, showing the cruelty of teenagers among themselves without the slightest bit of candidness. The film moves – sometimes deeply – because it doesn’t fear the radical meanness that often characterises this period of life.


Our Hospitality


Du hast ihn nie spielen sehen, für dich ist er ein älterer Verrückter, der fast von der Tribüne fällt, unkontrolliert von einer Trainerbank aufspringt oder bei Benefizspielen seinen viel zu schweren Körper über den Platz schleppt. Du hast ihn nie spielen sehen, für dich ist er Boulevard, Exzess, eine Welt, die du dir nicht vorstellen kannst. Du hast ihn nie spielen sehen, aber sein Name klingt auch in deinen Ohren: Maradona. Diego Maradona. Diego Armando Maradona. Einer, der nie wirklich aus irgendeiner Zeit stammte, einer, der die Zeit prägte, der die kommende Zeit veränderte. Einer, bei dem selbst die kühlsten nordischen Gemüter das „R“ rollen, weil in seinem Namen bereits die Leichtigkeit, ja Poesie des Fußballspiels enthalten ist.

Wie bei einem Seehund gibt es bei diesem Maradona das Leben an Land (unbeweglich, schrecklich anzusehen) und im Wasser (pure Eleganz und Würde). Wie bei einem Seehund muss es Land und Wasser im Leben geben. Du hast ihn nie im Wasser gesehen, aber du hast davon gehört, wenn dir andere erzählten, du hast ungläubig Ausschnitte von ihm gesehen, später auch Clips auf Youtube, aber du hast nie ein ganzes Spiel mit ihm gesehen…wie hat er sich bewegt? Ist er gelaufen oder nur mit Ball? Du glaubst zu wissen, dass der Fußball kaputt ist und dass das, was er heute noch geben kann aus verblassenden Erinnerungen besteht. Identifikationen, die die Alten an die Jungen weitergeben, ein alter Wimpel ganz zerfressen von Motten und vielleicht die immer gleiche Erzählung von einem Tor, einer Verletzung oder dem Tag an dem man es selbst hätte schaffen können.

Dass ein Trikot mit der Nummer 10 etwas bedeutet, scheint lachhaft, wenn man sieht welche Spieler diese Nummer heute tragen. Du weißt, dass Jugendspieler für jedes Dribbling gescholten werden, weil die Mechaniker dieses Sports einen immer schneller werdenden, immer körperlicher werdenden Rhythmus suchen, einen bei dem am Ende immer die Effizienz steht, nie der Ruhm. Bei Maradona ging es um den Ruhm. Die höchsten Höhen, die tiefsten Tiefen, alles Ruhm. Maradona wurde nicht von dem Kapitalismus regiert, der heute fast alle Spieler zu Marionetten macht, zu Managern, die so gezüchtet scheinen, dass sie auch ohne Herkunft sein könnten; ohne Fremdheit, sie funktionieren einfach, man ist froh um jeden Spieler, der sich unwohl fühlt in einem neuen Verein, am Druck zerbricht oder etwas sagt, was er nicht auch in der Werbung von sich gibt.

Maradona hat natürlich auch Werbung gemacht, für Dosenbier oder Fast-Food-Ketten zum Beispiel. Er hat die schönsten und die hässlichsten Seiten eines Sports offenbart, der spätestens mit ihm und an ihm seine emotional überwuchernde Zerstörungswut vollkommen entfaltete: an einem Menschen, der nur spielen wollte (oder konnte), als politische, gesellschaftliche, religiöse Waffe, die alles übertüncht, die Kriege nachspielt, Verbrechen und Korruption inspiriert und eine Blindheit vor den eigentlichen Problemen in der Welt verankert, sodass wir uns alle freuen können, wenn die Kinder aus den Slums in Buenos Aires, die armen Bettler Neapels oder sonst irgendwelche „Benachteiligten“ endlich ihre Gerechtigkeit erfahren, wenn auch nur für 90 Minuten. Ja dann können wir die Augen schließen und trauern über einen Mann, der viele Menschen glücklich machte. Denn das eigentliche Herz des Fußballs, dass wie eine romantische Pandorabüchse von Generation zu Generation weitergetragen wird, das von jenen genährt wird, die das Spiel so sehr lieben, dass daraus eine Bindung entsteht, die Gerechtigkeit, Gemeinschaft, Eleganz, der Wahnsinn, die Ungerechtigkeit, der Mythos, das alles ist Diego Armando Maradona.

Anne Charlotte Robertson interviewed by Scott MacDonald

I first became interested in Anne Robertson because of her unusual relationship to her films. At the time when her Diary was shown, complete, at the American Museum of the Moving Image in 1988, it was over forty hours long, and was shown in a room that Robertson had decorated with childhood artifacts. The extended screening invited viewers out of their lives and prearranged schedules and into hers. Robertson’s use of three sources of sound during the screening sound-on-film, sound-on-tape, and in-person commentary confirmed the viewer’s immersion in Robertson’s experience. That the diary reels were often startlingly beautiful was an unexpected surprise. As this is written in July 1990, the film continues to grow, though some reels have recently been censored by Robertson (see her comments in the interview). The diary is essentially every film she’s made: even films listed under separate titles in her filmography Magazine Mouth (1983), for example are sometimes included in presentations of the diary. As I’ve grown more familiar with Robertson’s work (to date, I’ve seen about eight hours of the diary), I’ve come to understand that the relationship of this filmmaker’s life and work is even more unusual than I had guessed. For Robertson, whose manic-depressiveness has resulted in frequent hospitalizations, making and showing the diary has become a central means for maintaining psychic balance, her primary activity whenever she is free of the mental hospital and free enough of drug therapy to be able to produce imagery. Robertson’s Diary can be experienced in a variety of ways. She most likes to present it as a ‘marathon’: complete and as continuous as possible. But in recent years, she has also begun to fashion shorter programs (the most recent I’ve attended was four hours long). The scheduled show date has become a means for sampling from the diary. If Robertson schedules a show for April 25, for example, she may show all the reels thawt were shot during April: viewers are able to see the development (or lack of it) in her life from year to year. In general, we see Robertson simultaneously from the outside (within her recorded imagery and sound, and usually as the in-person narrator) and from the inside, as she expresses her moments of clarity and delusion in her handling of the camera and her juxtapositions of sound and image. While my original interest in Robertson was a function of the fascinating and troubling interplay between her filmmaking and her illness, my decision to interview her was determined both by the compelling nature of her presentation (particularly her courage in submitting her films and herself to public audiences) and by her frequently breathtaking imagery. The single-framing of her activities in her tiny Boston apartment in early reels she flutters around the rooms and through the weeks like a frenzied moth and her precise meditations on her physical environment make her Diary intermittently one of the most visually impressive Super-8 films I’ve seen. And the way in which she enacts contemporary compulsions about the correct appearance of the body (her weighing and measuring herself, nude, is a motif) and about the importance of meeting ‘the right guy’ provide a poignant instance of those contemporary gender patterns so problematic for many women. Robertson’s Diary along with films by Su Friedrich, Diana Barrie, Michelle Fleming, Ann Marie Fleming, and others has re-personalized many of the issues raised by the feminist writers and filmmakers of the seventies. I talked with Robertson in April 1990.

Scott MacDonald
You remind me of a line in Jonas Mekas’s Walden: ‘I make home movies therefore I live.’ For Mekas, the ongoing documentation of his life is very important. But as important as his filmmaking is to him, I think the line is metaphoric, rather than literal: Mekas has a busy organizational life, as well as a filmmaking life. His statement seems more applicable to you. When you’re not able to make films, your life seems in crisis. Could you talk about the relationship between your films and your life? Perhaps you could begin with how you got started making films.

Anne Charlotte Robertson
I started the diary November 3, 1981, which, it turns out, is Saul Levine’s birthday. Sort of a psychic tribute there. He was one of the people who encouraged me to continue making films. I started the diary about a month after I began sitting in on classes at the Massachusetts College of Art. I’d made eleven short films before that, the first in 1976. When I began the diary, I bought five rolls of film. I thought I’d film myself, one scene every day, moving around my apartment. And I would go on a strict diet: I knew of a photographer in New York [Eleanor Antin] who had simply taken a still of herself nude every day while she was on a diet. I wanted to do that, but at first, I wanted to be clothed, I wore a leotard. Every day I’d do one more scene.  Five rolls of film, it wasn’t enough. Sometime in late November, 1981, my father told me to tell a story. I didn’t really have a story to tell, except to expand more on my day-to-day life inside my apartment. The whole film starts out with me carrying some grocery bags into the apartment and then emptying out a huge bag full of produce from my garden and from the co-op. Then I take off a black coat, hang it up, go into the living room, and get myself a dictionary, a 1936 dictionary, which has fantastic definitions for the word ‘fat.’ In the thirties, ‘fat’ meant something good. It meant plump, pleasing the best part of your work is a ‘fat’ job and ‘thin’ had a lot of opprobrium attached: meager, of slender means. Anyway, I started filming myself in this black coat over yellow leotards I wore yellow because the I Ching says that to wear a yellow undergarment brings good fortune. And yellow was the closest to flesh color I could get (yellow is also the color of fat). But instead of losing weight, I was gaining weight. I kept bingeing so I started taking more frames of that. Later, I filmed the actual makings of a binge, and street signs of food. It was all going to be about food. I didn’t really have any goal, just to lose the weight. I would do things like lay out the black clothing on the bed, a full suit, black pocketbook, black gloves, black coat, black dress, black stockings (this is after I had mended the black coat and put it away because I was against wool: I was getting rid of animal products in my life, to become a vegan not just a vegetarian, but a vegan).  Well, my father died January 10, about two months after the film had begun, and well, that laying out of the black clothing went, ‘Bong!’ And, as if that wasn’t enough, I’d just finished weaving a big yellow banner on a loom I had built myself. I had had it on the loom for ten years. The next day, my father died. I felt like I’d predicted my father’s death. And the reason he died was because he was a hundred pounds overweight, when I was a kid at least a hundred pounds. He had a heart attack and strokes. After that, the film just sort of came. I started doing striptease, kicking breadsticks around on the kitchen table; I read The Tibetan Book of the Dead and started taking long strings of pictures of lights, because The Tibetan Book of the Dead says to stare into the bright light.

When you say ‘pictures,’ you mean single frames?

Frames, images just a lot of pictures of lights, lights, lights, lights, lights, lights, lights in the city, lights outside. I used to have The Tibetan Book of the Dead as a soundtrack for the film, but I discarded it because, though the Tibetans say it’s good for people who are alive to hear it, it has an amazing capacity for being used to hypnotize someone. Too many demons, also. I got into a lot of worry about future technologies and people resuscitating brains or keeping people in comas, making them think they’re dead. When you die, if The Tibetan Book of the Dead is true, you first see the white light and then the four bright-colored lights. I’m supposed to warn you: don’t look at any of the soft lights.  I took a lot of pictures inside my studio and gradually started taking pictures more and more of people, of my family, of day-to-day life. Sometimes I’d introduce the film by saying, ‘It’s true, so, it’s a trousseau’: it’s the only gift I have for the guy who will come along and be my partner and say, ‘What have you been doing with the rest of your life?’ Eventually, I just sort of discarded the costume, and filmed myself naked. Last fall, I got very paranoid, and I cut out a lot of the naked parts. A lot of pans down my body were cut out. I left all the shots that were at a distance, but I cut out a lot of the ones that I felt really looked seductive. I wanted to take all that seductiveness out of the film, but I discovered you couldn’t really do that. You take a picture of a naked body: it’s seductive. But I did take out some of the best scenes, several hours of film. Eventually it went from being ninety reels last fall to about eighty-two. I took out nakedness and irreligious statements. I felt I couldn’t leave them in anymore (my films of myself naked Talking to Myself [1987], et cetera are available only for shows with small, trusted audiences and at legitimate artistic venues).  I also took out a certain amount of obscurity, although I did want to leave as much obscurity as possible, because I am hoping that there is a man in the world (whether he’s a video or film artist I kind of doubt; I think he’s more likely someone like this actor, Tom Baker [Baker played Dr. Who on Dr. Who], I’m interested in) someone who has a burning desire to study parapsychology, and who’s in synchrony with me. For several years I kept a dream diary and I would write down in my diaries all the dreams I had. I’m looking for someone who has done the same thing with random thoughts, poems, images that have come to mind. Somebody might have written a poem that said, ‘My love is kicking breadsticks across the table and reading the definition of ‘fat’ from a 1936 dictionary.’  I’ve got notes in my film log for the first two hundred rolls of my film. I’ve got starting and stopping dates, right down to the minute I took a picture. I know Allen Ginsberg dates his diaries down to the minute. I thought that would be a good thing to do, so that later I could prove synchrony with somebody who was willing to keep a notebook with him and make jottings of images or the thoughts that come unbidden and you have no way of tying them to anything. Tom Baker was born in 1934. Tom Baker has two hundred dictionaries. If I can predict my father’s death, I might as well believe I’ve predicted that there’s this guy who is interested in me, who happens to have a collection of dictionaries. The whole diary started when I became fascinated with this old dictionary and its crazy definitions. Sometimes I think I’m going to go back and reinsert the naked parts back into my diary, but I have a feeling probably I won’t. I kept them all on reels. Supposedly, they’re in order. Some reels got so mishmashed by my paranoia last fall, I could never put them back in order again.  When I started the film, I thought I’d lose weight; and the second thing I thought was that I’d try to tell a story, as my father told me to; and the third thing I thought was that the film would be a trousseau; and the fourth thing was my realizing that my children would be watching.

One of the things that struck me last night when you showed sections of the diary at Utica College (I don’t remember this so much from when I saw the film at the Museum of the Moving Image; I guess it depends on which sections you’re showing) was your startling openness about your hospitalization.

Well, I’ve got to be! Otherwise, as Kate Millett says, you’re a “ghost in the closet.”

Is the history of your being institutionalized simultaneous with your making of the diary? How do you see the two things relating?

Well, I think Mekas’s comment, ‘I make home movies therefore I live,’ is really apt for me. You see, I didn’t have any way of explaining why I was into bingeing, but I knew the bingeing was going to go at the beginning of the film. The film had a theme. The theme was I wanted to lose weight, because I didn’t want to die like my father had. Yet, I couldn’t explain why I had gotten into overeating, eating literally until I got sick, until I had to lie down because it was too painful to stand up.

You said last night that you had never been a bulimic, that you never purged.

No, that’s true. I wouldn’t do that. But there’s such a thing as making eight dozen cookies and eating four dozen and then just feeling sick. This was after a whole day of being so very, very careful with food. The mental hospitalizations that had happened to me; by 1981 I had been hospitalized three times happened every fall. For three months each year, I was in a mental hospital. Mostly, I’d fight the drugs they gave me, but I would have to give in eventually because they’d say they’d take me to court: they’d inject me. I had no way of explaining why I had breakdowns. It was another inexplicable thing in my life. When I was a kid growing up, I never thought I’d be having delusions, and be hospitalized. In 1981 I started the diary, and in 1981 I didn’t have a breakdown. I think it might be because I was going to film school: I had somewhere to go, I had a camera to borrow. I made several other short films the fall of 1981 and then began the diary. One short film was called Locomotion [1981]. It shows me against a blue wall, screaming and exhibiting the side effects of medication I had observed in the hospitals. The first real breakdown that I got on film was in 1982. I showed my delusions. I showed that I was afraid that root vegetables suffered, so I was going to take them back to the garden and replant them. You can see me getting on my big rain slicker and getting out the beets and carrots and onions and preparing to take them back, making sign language in front of the camera. In fact, that first breakdown occurred shortly after a person at school threatened he’d call the cops and take the camera away from me. Losing that camera, I lost my mind. Every time there’s a breakdown, I try to take pictures of it. My problem with a film diary (and with a written diary) is that sometimes I become so paranoid and obnoxious. Voices in my head become so frightening, and I cannot bring myself to document them. It’s just too terrifying. I believe in film being necessary every day. Monet did his haystacks and I have done the gazebo in the backyard. This winter I was so depressed, after getting out of the hospital and being put under a whole lot of restrictions, I was taking pictures every day of the gazebo in all kinds of weather. In fact, just this last week I stopped. So for a while in the diary there are pictures of the gazebo, and of Tom Baker on Dr. Who. Daylight is the gazebo, where I’d hoped to get married someday (I’ve discarded that notion since I think a justice of the peace is just about as good). Evening is Dr. Who. Anyway, I had so much trouble from my paranoia of the people across the pond, the neighbors. My problem is that a lot of my paranoia is warranted. I can’t say the voices in my head are warranted, but I’m damned if I’m going to say they come from me! When a person starts getting third-person stories, more hideous than they’ve ever heard before, or ever read before, the psychiatric establishment says, ‘You invented that,’ and everybody else says, ‘You thought of that.’ Nobody, not even the psychiatrists, want to know how horrible the stories in your head are. I have never had a psychiatrist ask me, “And what do the voices say to you?” No one has ever said, “What do you mean by the insane monologue in your head?” Nobody wants to know because they’re too scared. They think that the person is insane and hears voices is making them up and is in some way as evil as the voices.  It’s a real old thing. Instead of putting you in iron chains, they put you in drug chains. They’ve done a lot of drug pushing over the years. Speaking of drugs, another thing that’s in the diary is the drugs I’ve chosen to use, at times a lot of pictures of alcohol, of cigarettes, of pot smoking, a few of cocaine, and the prescription drugs. I thought I’d focus on all the things I ever did that were wrong, and then I’d put them, one by one, into the films, along with the bingeing, and get perspective so I could shed bad habits. So far, I’ve come up with excess apologies, thoughts about suicide (for three years, from 1976 to 1979, I heard voices saying, ‘I want to kill myself’, it was my voice) . . . every subject has been affected by being included in a film. I made a film about suicide [Suicide, 1979] illustrating some of the ways I thought I’d kill myself, and literally edited it in about an hour and a half and screened it, and as I watched the film, the suicide voices stopped in my head and they haven’t come back since.

Did that happen with bingeing, too?

Yeah, it happened with bingeing, when I made Magazine Mouth, which we watched last night. I was taking Polaroid pictures of myself with my mouth wide open and closed but bulging like I had a lot of food in my mouth. I filmed all the objects going into my open mouth food, fish, baubles of the rich . . . all kinds of things going into my mouth. And bingeing stopped being a major subject in my life soon after.

When you had the breakdown last year . . .

In September and then again in November.

Did it have to do with preparing for the show we had scheduled? Are there passages in the films that create problems for you when you watch them?

I can handle things once they’re on film. But it’s hard to know what I can have others see.

You’re remarkably good with a Super-8 camera. I don’t believe I’ve ever seen more beautiful Super-8 footage. Sometimes it’s very subtle and precise. When you’re looking through the camera, how fully are you thinking in terms of texture and color and framing what the image will look like?

I’m trying to take a pretty picture, if that’s what you mean.

I was surprised to hear you say that you shot for a long time before you even looked at the footage.

I still do! I don’t look at it for at least a year! I just do assembly editing. Everything I take is in the film. The only alteration I’ve made is taking out of what I’ve been doing lately, and I really regret that in a way. I thought that with the diary it would be great if everything was included, if I left overexposed or underexposed film in. Then the guy who is in synchrony with me somewhere in the world would have plenty of room to put in his words. But lately I’ve been taking more and more out of the diary so that he has less and less space to put his own words over. Mostly I just take out anything that’s not visually comprehensible, that’s completely black or completely overexposed (thinking ahead to video transfer). Almost everything else stays in. The idea of not looking at what I take is so that I always have a naive idea. I don’t take a picture deliberately and then take another picture deliberately. I take pictures when I find something I really like. Recently I noticed that an image of John Lennon and Yoko Ono, naked (I saw it on MTV), had gotten paired up with a picture of myself standing nude in front of my closet where my measurements and weight are printed on the side of the door. So there’s probably subconscious memory and association involved with some of my images.

How much other avant-garde film have you seen?

I saw a fair amount when I was at Massachusetts College of Art, but I’ve gotten out of going to a lot of films. I’ve got to put going to see film back in my life. I’m trying to rebuild into my life things that I let go when I was really depressed like reading. I started reading last fall in order to counteract the boredom of the mental hospital. I read voraciously and I’ve been reading ever since, which is good, because about a year ago, and at times over the last few years, I’ve found it difficult sometimes even to read a newspaper. So I’ve been building reading back into my life.  And I’ve built exercise back into my life. They say a person who wants to lose weight should gradually increase their physical exercise. Well, I’m running every day now. I think the next thing is going to films. The problem is that I moved back home with my mother, to save money for film and get out of the city. It costs about fourteen cents a second just to shoot and process original film, without making prints. Then my mother decided to be the guardian of my mental health. She used to be in the habit of going out to film festivals with me. At the moment, I hardly have anyone to go with except her. And I’m kind of afraid to say, ‘Mom, I’m going out to a film’: she’d be disappointed that I wasn’t going with her. I’m dependent on my mother for transportation, since at the moment, I’m not working full-time. But I don’t want her to think she has to be my moviegoing companion. At least I keep the camera going when I’m depressed. It’s only been one or two times that I’ve let the camera go for two months. When I first began the diary, I used to carry the camera every day and take a picture almost every hour. It’s less, lately between one and four scenes a day. I’m sorry, you asked a question?

About other avant-garde filmmakers. One reason I asked is because. the reel about your cat Amy’s death reminds me very much of Carolee Schneemann’s Kitch’s Last Meal [1973–78].

I saw part of that at Massachusetts College of Art, about three or four hours. I remember the scene of her holding her cat and weeping. I felt really guilty when Amy died, and I took a picture of my guilt. When Carolee was filming her diary, she followed everywhere that Kitch walked. I remember coming up to Carolee and saying, ‘I must go for a walk with my cat.’ I never did that, until Amy was dying. And it came back to me that Carolee had done it. I feel guilty, really guilty about that. Amy was a good old cat.

That’s a powerful part of your film.

It does come off well in screening, it’s a true story.

S M D 
I think what comes through in your screenings is your openness. A lot of filmmakers think they’re open, but you reveal agony in a way that goes much further than what’s usually called ‘openness’, especially on the soundtrack (your in-person narration is less emotional).

Well, the sound is from that time. It’s real. Sometimes I use three sound sources. There’s sound on the film, and there’s sound on tape at the same time, and I narrate in person. I do worry about saying too much in person because to hear two sound sources might be okay, but three is pretty hard. Usually, I interrupt the flow when the sound is from tape that was done at the same time the images were made. Then it’s like you’re looking at a photo album with someone, explaining certain pictures you know he or she won’t understand.

When you’ve shown the diary, have you always combined sound-on-film, tape, and in-person narration?

Yes, but at the beginning I was using unedited stretches of original tapes. I didn’t know I could take samples from recorded sound. I’m afraid of mixers and fancy laboratories. People were telling me how you have to go very complex with films, and make finely tuned, synchronized soundtracks. I don’t do that. If I have tapes for a period of time, I’ll simply go through them and pull out anything I find interesting. Then I play that over the stretch of film and see if anything happens that’s so completely off that I have to cut out a piece of sound. If you don’t go trying to make things match up, they’ll match up anyway. It’s like fate. It’s happened to me when I’ve just played a whole stretch of unedited tape, and it’s happened to me with dubbed excerpts. You put little pieces of tape next to film, without looking at the film, and synchrony happens or an interesting contrast. The sound that goes with Amy’s reel is an original stretch of a tape I made when I was just keeping the diary tape along with the diary film. But most of the tapes I’ve been making lately are dubs of the best of the best.  I have several hundred hours of tape. My problem is that in the last couple of years I’ve been sending most of my diary tapes away to a guy Tom Baker again.  This last year the sound on my camera broke down, but I didn’t know because, as usual, I didn’t look at the film until a year later. Consequently, in 1989 I have stretches of film and no sound to put over them. I figure I’ll read some of my political letters. A fifty-one page letter should cover up several reels! And the audience will get an idea of the verbal delusions I have. Well, I don’t know if they’re all delusions. But some of them are pretty farfetched, I’d say.

S M D    
Who do you send those letters to?

I send them to the United Nations, to representatives, congressmen, governors. The first batch were sent to women representatives. I’ve sent them to show-business figures and music stars, Susan Sontag, a whole bunch of people. I’ve sent them to the president of the United States, that was probably my biggest mistake. Mostly, they’re just sort of your all-purpose liberal-greenpolitics letters.

How many times have you shown the whole diary?

I’ve only done the marathon three times: at the Massachusetts College of Art as my thesis, at Event Works in Boston, and in New York at the American Museum of the Moving Image. I’d like to do it a lot more.  Last night was the third or fourth time I’ve done a sample show, using a cross section of time, sampling from reels that cover the same time period each year.

That’s an interesting way to show it.

Yeah, it is, except this spring show I did last night was really full of breakdowns. Actually, probably the whole film is! I don’t know how many people have documented breakdowns. I understand Carolee [Schneemann] did.

In Plumb Line [1971] she documents a breakdown. Can your films be rented anyplace but from you?

I don’t have any copies. I don’t make prints of any of my films.

You’re showing originals all the time?

I’m showing originals. Every time I see a scratch, I wonder if it’s a new one. I can’t afford to make prints. It’s cost me twenty-four thousand dollars to make the diary so far. I don’t have twenty-four thousand dollars to make a print of the whole thing. No way! I don’t make prints of the shorter films either. All I can afford is originals.

Have you applied for grants?

Well, I’m planning to do that, retroactively to do a video transfer. The problem is you have to make a copy to show people in order to make money to make copies! It’s possible that if I made video copies, I could get the money afterward to cover the cost of the video copy, and film prints.  I’ve applied for grants. I was a semi-finalist once. But they don’t really want a diary of a mad woman.

Well, this is a very beautiful diary of a mad woman. Of course, New England has a long history of quirky women artists: Emily Dickinson . . .

Oh yeah! I read all of her poems last spring. She wrote 1,775 poems in her lifetime and put them in little books and put them in a box. I read somewhere that she asked to have them burned when she died. They didn’t do it, and they didn’t do it to Kafka’s things either. I’ve thought sometimes of killing myself. But it’s interesting, I’ve got myself trapped now. I can’t commit suicide. I have all my written diaries, which fill about four fruit crates, and ninety reels of film, plus a box of edited-out stuff, and several boxes of audio tapes. How could I possibly jump off a boat with all that? It’s too heavy to carry! Then I thought maybe I could just jump with the edited-out stuff. But then my family would be confronted. They would come upstairs and see all this film. It would be the most depressing thing in their lives because there would be all these home movies of the family growing up that they’d never be able to touch again because they’d be too melancholy to rent a projector. I’ve saddled myself with something, in effect, that prevents me from committing suicide. So it’s another way of saying that the film has kept me alive.

I was thinking the other day that the diary is sort of like your skin.

You were thinking that about my film?!

The celluloid is like an outer skin.

There was a lot of skin in it! This last spring [1990], when I edited some of the nude material out, I discovered I’d accomplished one of my goals, which was to look at myself naked and like myself at all the different weights. I discovered it was true that a person who is thirty pounds overweight can be quite beautiful and that there was no reason for me to dislike the way I looked. I sent a ten-minute excerpt of the best of the naked that I was still too paranoid to keep in the film to . . .

Tom Baker?

Yes. (He had written to me in 1989, thanking me for films of myself, my cats, and my family.) He’s a plausible nut. He might be The Guy. The thing is, if he isn’t, I’ve boxed myself into a corner. I’ve said I’d give all this to my husband. If I meet some other guy, and he’s the one, he’s going to say, “Where’s the film for me?” I’m going to have to say, “I’ve already sent it away to some other man.” Earlier, I was sitting out here [I interviewed Robertson on my back porch], and I set the camera up on the tripod and took a picture of me in the corner of your house. Luckily, your house is a nice neutral color, like a lot of other houses. I don’t like taking pictures of other people in my film, because I’ve been a target. Someone has been breaking into my family’s house. They’ve stolen from my garden, and left, really, some of the weirdest things. They’ve dug holes the size of a coffin, four feet deep, at the side of my garden. They’ve left piles of sand with feathers arranged on them. I’ve found a pile of something that looked awfully like human excrement in my garden. They’ve broken into my house; they’ve taken my cats overnight; they’ve left food and lace panties. They took film and then returned it to my house. I feel my letters have made me a target, and I don’t want to get anybody else targeted.

What do the ‘experts’ you deal with psychiatrically tell you about yourself?

I’m a manic depressive. Sometimes they call it “bipolar syndrome”. That’s just the label for it.

It sounded last night like you’ve been through a whole evolution of ways in which they think they’re dealing with it.

Now they think the miracle drug is lithium. It’s not a miracle drug; it doesn’t stop you from having grandiose ideas. I left naked parts in my film and irreligious things that I can’t even look at now. I was on lithium, and they seemed like perfectly fine pieces of film. When I went off of lithium just this last summer, I went into my film and felt I was looking at it with brand new eyes, with my own eyes, rather than drugged eyes. They told me I had to be on lithium the rest of my life. They’ve told me that about a number of drugs that have made me feel like a zombie. Every time they give me a drug, they tell me I have to be on it for the rest of my life. I would be carefully monitored if I were pregnant. They would withdraw me from the drug and put me in a mental hospital. I’ve seen women who were pregnant in mental hospitals. There was one woman I knew who was convinced they were going to give her electroconvulsive shock treatment while she was pregnant. I kind of doubt that’s possible, but I really wouldn’t put it past a psychiatrist. I don’t have any confidence in psychiatrists anymore, not a single one of them. They’re almost all of them drug pushers. Right now, I’m in a situation where I take the antipsychotic drugs and they do a blood test every two weeks and see if I’ve got it in me. That’s all they want to know.

But they would want you to take it, ideally, every day?

Every day and twice the dosage I’m taking.

When you’re on it, is it more difficult to make a film? Or is it just a different kind of film you’re making?

I don’t think I take as many pictures on lithium. I think my mind kind of closes down. What would have happened if van Gogh had taken lithium? They would have prescribed it for him. They probably would have prescribed Thorazine for van Gogh, too. They like to make people take a ‘chemical stew.’ I don’t think he would have taken it. I think he would have had the same problem a lot of mental patients do: they just want to be off all their drugs. There’s no one to talk to about it except the doctors, who say, ‘Take the drug; that’s all you need.’ The patients have no way out. Sometimes, the act of taking a picture every day has kept me sane. I believe in it. I have to take a picture every day. It’s true with tapes, too, though diary tapes don’t help as much except when I started sending tapes to Tom Baker, that helped (I began in spring of 1986). There was a crisis one winter, when I was so depressed and so agonized because my family kept staring at me. I was the nut in the family and had to be carefully monitored, and I had no friends because the friends had left me because of the mental breakdowns and subsequent depressions. The only thing I could talk about was my films, and they just didn’t want to hear about it. I found myself becoming autistic. If my mother said something to me, I’d stammer, and I wouldn’t be able to say anything. The only thing that kept me going was taping for Tom every day. I gradually began to be able to talk again. And I still talk to him more than to any other human being. I talk on tape and I’m normal. I have to lie to my shrink. I have to work part-time in order to make my mother think I’m sane. I can’t talk to the people I work with. The last few jobs I’ve had have been extremely paranoid-building. I have hassles as soon as I emerge from a depression and try to pick up the real world again. A lot of people are crazy out there in the nine-to-five world, but they lay it onto me and say I’m the crazy one.

Reproduced with permission from A Critical Cinema: Book. 2: Interviews with Independent Film-makers, Scott MacDonald (University of California Press: New Edition (26 Oct 1992)

Scott MacDonald teaches film history at Hamilton College and Harvard University and in 2011 was named an Academy Scholar by the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences. He is the author of many books, most recently American Ethnographic Film and Personal Documentary (UCPress, 2013)