Seehundwürde

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.

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

ACR
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.

SMD
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.

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

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

ACR
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.

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

ACR
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.

SMD
Did that happen with bingeing, too?

A C R
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.

SMD
When you had the breakdown last year . . .

ACR
In September and then again in November.

SMD
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?

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

S M D
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?

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

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

ACR
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.

SMD
How much other avant-garde film have you seen?

ACR
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?

SMD
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].

ACR
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.

SMD
That’s a powerful part of your film.

ACR
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).

ACR
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.

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

ACR
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?

ACR
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.

SMD
How many times have you shown the whole diary?

ACR
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.

SMD 
That’s an interesting way to show it.

ACR
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.

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

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

SMD    
You’re showing originals all the time?

ACR
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.

SMD     
Have you applied for grants?

ACR
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.

SMD    
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 . . .

ACR
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.

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

ACR
You were thinking that about my film?!

SMD   
The celluloid is like an outer skin.

ACR
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 . . .

SMD   
Tom Baker?

ACR
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.

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

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

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

ACR
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.

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

ACR
Every day and twice the dosage I’m taking.

SMD   
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?

A C R
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)

Anne Charlotte Robertson’s Five Year Diary (1981–1997)

by James Waters

There’s an old aphorism that states: “a problem shared is a problem halved”. What’s been cleaved from this problem – and its subsequent phantom limb – is essential. It is the home of Anne Charlotte Robertson. Her decades long-journaling calcifies with the thirty-seven-hour Five Year Diary, shot in the small-gauge 8mm film format that was her métier. This practice maintained dietary regimes, exercise and mental health check-ups. It became, inevitably, a document of narrative ruptures. Initial reels feel strained and inhibited (Robertson is telling the camera about the many medicines she’s tried and prolonged visits to psych wards). In returning to the camera, she risks reducing her lived experience to an institutionalised format – but Robertson’s cinema, unbound by a diary’s margins, exists in a realm with a horizon line, facilitating the something within the distance.

What was experienced can only be conveyed via a fragment from these sixteen years. The titular Five Years, like the fractured routines the diary depicts, won’t be bound to a standard temporal logic. Instead, they represent the memories that remain. “I got into Hell again today,” Robertson remarks. From the outset, hers is an Orphean project of retrieval. Except, only within Robertson’s work is this Orphic gaze given a monotonous bent. That Robertson can routinely reach the edges of reality is a given. What matters is the return, the confessions of someone who has made it to the other side and professes fatigue, a constant reminder she relays to the camera – until one day, in a reel untitled, she stops.

~

“It’s more than keeping the audience interest up, it’s like developing your mind,” says a professor from Robertson’s alma mater, MassArt, in Reel 26. The previous 25 reels play in time-lapse as a conversation between Robertson and her advisors provides voiceover. It’s a reprieve from insular, stream-of-conscious journaling – a simultaneous check-up and affirmation that the sixteen-year project is underway. Reels prior flit by, the mental baggage tossed scrupulously aside to maintain a capacity for further introspection. The advisor’s comment doesn’t refer to a literal audience – much like the titular Five Years, it is figurative. What he refers to as a “developing” mind foments Robertson’s already nascent self-sufficiency; reverse-engineering the inner monologue into an outer dialogue. Robertson replies: “Always about keeping the audience interest up … well, my audience … I want to be able to see it three times at least.” Elsewhere in Reel 26 we see her at a Steenbeck, editing away in a time-lapse, lit by both a flickering lamp and an adjacent window, its reflected glow blackening. Many new dawns were sacrificed at this Steenbeck’s altar – something that, again, runs the risk of sapping lived experience of its worth.

But the filming Robertson and living Robertson develop a dialectic. See Reel 47: a butter knife protrudes from the bottom of the frame, wobbling in and out of focus as Robertson wields it in the same hand she uses for her camera, scraping butter across a piece of toast held in her other, free hand. The routine of filmmaking and domesticity become both distinct and complementary as she communicates – above all – a sustenance to the camera. At first glance this daily passage lost is one gained for the diary’s splintered chronology, yet the proficiency with which Robertson wields both artistic and domestic tools troubles that binary. Powell’s camera of a Peeping Tom is inversed; stalking is traded for rabid introspection (there is now only oneself to stalk) and his murder weapon blunted, now a butter knife. The semiotics of cinema bemuse the exiled artist’s M.O., wherein the camera is merely an unspoken necessity. The dual wielding of camera/butter knife permits an unfolding action to exist without pretense, a resourcefulness that briefly wrests the cameras gaze out of the world of cinema and into the world, proper. Crucially, the two are seen – not exclusively – but as distinct.

This image of a butter knife and camera is something new, as the former is seen, the latter felt. This is the image of the exiled artist, an image that’s partially missing, existing in the cinephilic land of nod. Getting there demands one to begin twice; to begin with a structural absence. This absence – this “something missing” – also describes an untapped potential, the space wherein the aforementioned “more” can percolate. Back to Reel 26 and within it one of Robertson’s supervisors (Saul Levine, perhaps?) compares her work to Carolee Schneemann’s Plumb Line, yet can’t help but stress the more-ness of it, space within it that is both something missing – a void – and readily available. A vacant realm with no effect after cause. This vacuum is absent from Schneemann’s work, the paradoxical absence being; something missing is missing.

~

“All of life is sufficing.”
Robertson’s diary, 1967 (age 18)

The bags under her eyes sink deeper, though her face is otherwise unchanged. There’s talk of a newfound faith and an immense fear of god. She grows afraid to speak, as though – if she were to open her mouth – an unknown spirit would sneak its way in. The diary’s size ignites this fear, bolstered by unstable voiceover that both guides and refutes the proceedings. When we speak of the diary’s size, we mustn’t refer to its duration nor framing. Instead, we must speak of the increased space that can be tread by its ever-dexterous operator, as her two gazes (I & other) synthesise. As Bonnard says, “this vision is mobile”; the tripod is replaced with a hand, we as viewers see this increasing mobility.
At any given point, three layers of audio will drown out the images: direct sound captured while filming, cassette v/o recorded while editing, and v/o recorded later, in the mid-’90s. The latter recordings replicate the screenings in which Robertson performed live commentary over the most recently completed reels. The technique is the most brute-force literalisation of journaling: one can hear Robertson obliterating each thought with the lick of a pen, making room for the next – hopefully, truer – sentence. The paper diary reinvents itself as a soundtrack, a rebellious jukebox’s gargles, playing only for itself.

Suddenly, there comes a phrase that is irrefutable: “I was nearly raped at the hospital”. Heard in Reel 23, the candour baked into this sentence resembles Reel 27’s boardroom meeting. Robertson’s register when uttering the above is stumbled upon in a way that doesn’t suggest intent as much as necessity. Although said to herself, the confession is spoken neither as a reassurance nor as a reminder. Instead, the diary’s auditory feeds have allowed Robertson to speak as a listener. The physical self-sufficiency shown when dual wielding a butter knife and camera is mirrored here within the confessional, through Robertson’s lifelong practice of sufficing. A temporary space has been created by and for herself, and suddenly the sixteen year-long project has reaped a lapse in consciousness.
~
Reel 83 (Untitled) ends without a conclusion. Robertson now weighs over 237 pounds and insists she must get down to well below this weight. We see her standing next to score cards that go from 237 to 232, interspersed – between each dwindling number – with footage of her mother’s garden. All is silent as the interspliced footage lessens the weight Robertson has carried. Finally, this is a cinema that nourishes and deprives simultaneously, within the perpetually unoccupied space of the exile.

~

Some parts of Robertson’s archive will remain unavailable until 2023 under the conditions in her will. The significance of this request – and of the year 2023 – are unclear. Per Robertson’s trips to hell, she imparts the belief that one can’t die too many times. It is she, after all, who asked: “Nobody wants to live forever? Why not?”

Speaking in Tongues: an interview with Yael Perlov on Yoman by David Perlov

by James Waters

David Perlov’s voice reminds me of a serpent’s hiss, a rare example in life of a voice inseparable from its body. Save for a doctor’s examination of the eyes – a check-up for an oncoming vitrectomy – in Perlov’s voice lies this body, spoken in the diary without fear of separation between the two. We’re only periodically updated on the body’s status, namely when it lies horizontally, both a kind of death and the most difficult position from which to film. As such, his sole near-death experience within – and only proximity towards this bodily separation – is told to us in the past-tense, looking out from a London hospital bed. But one can only speak of this death in the past-tense, as the diary’s default is to restart, re-unifying Perlov’s body and voice. The Perlovs –David, Mira, daughters Yael and Naomi – make tangible this dissociative recall throughout Yoman. Theirs is a dissociation both mobile and distinct – a generational trait not passed on as much as it snakes through their lineage; their serpent that speaks of separation. David’s daughter, Yael, spoke to me from Tel Aviv.

James Waters: What’s your first memory of cinema?

Yael Perlov: I’m a twin, so when me and my sister were very young, each birthday my father screened La Ballon Rouge (Albert Lamorisse, 1956). Every birthday we invited some kids and we screened it at home, on 16mm. Later in my life, in the editing room with Claude Lanzmann, we were next door to the son of Lamorisse (Pascal Lamorisse), so we became friends. You know that he is in that film, also?

JW: Yes, I do. I also remember the sections when you were with Claude Lanzmann in Paris editing Shoah (1985). So when your father had this 16mm projector in your childhood – had your family been in Israel long? Were you both born there?

YP: I’ll tell you the timeline. We [Yael and Naomi] were born in Israel – I am the daughter of two immigrants, from Brazil (David Perlov) and Poland (Mira Perlov). We are the second generation. And then we left for Paris at around 20 y/o, not together, but at the same age… How old are you, James?

JW: I’m 21.

YP: Yeah, so that’s the age to ask questions (laughing). So at that age we left the country, and until 26 we lived in Paris.

JW: I myself went to Paris for similar reasons, so I had a lot of affinity for this passage of the film, where going to Paris felt almost like a pilgrimage. Considering your father lived in Paris at a similar age, what was the importance of this trip at that point in time?

YP: Firstly, we are children of immigrants, which means we can move. Where you stay doesn’t dictate where you stay for life. I believe in this feeling, of being here and there at the same time, of feeling strange here and feeling strange there. I think that this is one of the reasons why we decided to leave the country, because we felt that this is the time to be uncertain about Israel. So [this feeling] came, of course, from home. And secondly, I recommend it now to my children, to leave as part of their education. It was very natural to us, also, because of cinema. I grew up in this ambiance of cinema – of the Nouvelle Vague, or whatever, you name it – during the 60’s. My father was a part of it, so of course this culture of the French was very familiar to us, still to this day. I speak French, my sister speaks French, we lived in France.

JW: And did your father know Claude Lanzmann?

YP: Yeah. I mean they were not very close, but they knew each other.

JW: And you’d been editing the diary for how long at that point?

YP: It was on and off. We were quite free – I mean, the discipline was there but otherwise I had my life, I wanted to leave… it was a circulating group of students who would edit. If it wasn’t me then it was my friend, but… in the end it was me, because I took the editing as my overall responsibility.

JW: So the editing stopped and started based on where you were in life?

YP: The editing was a constant. David always worked. There would be a student who came, he would take a pencil and mark for the students where/what to cut then left to his office to write the commentary – this I only understood later. Then he would rest and another student would arrive… all in all the editing lasted four years. Then there was of course the shooting, because editing and shooting were done at the same time. We were editing, then came demonstrations, specifically – by the way there is a demonstration right now… but there were demonstrations all over, here in the centre of Tel Aviv, so we’d leave editing to go down and shoot – back and forth.

JW: Were you an instructor for the students or were they left to their own devices?

YP: No, we worked under his control. We were his assistants: shooting, going to the lab, coming back from the lab, taking a taxi to the lab and bringing the rushes, because it was not the same back then as it is now…. Then reviewing the footage, then suddenly a demonstration, and then in the evening there were screenings of parts of diaries, so it was all part of our daily life.

JW: I even remember you in the diary at the window with a tape recorder…

YP: Right, running with the rushes and carrying his suitcase with the camera…

JW: So I presume all the sound was recorded after the fact?

YP: Of course. It was off-screen – not off-screen – off-sync. Because the camera was de-synchronised, only for 3-4 sequences was the sound synchronized; for the interviews he did with me and my sister. These were recorded with synchronised sound and we made a lot of rehearsal for these scenes, also.

JW: Oh really?!

YP: “Really?!” (Laughs) I knew that you’d be shocked! We made rehearsals for these scenes – not for long – but we made rehearsals because it was a big production to bring an Arriflex and then to block the scenes, also knowing where to put the lights. It was the same with my sister.

JW: Because I was really astonished at your first big scene in the diary. Not only did I get the impression that I was watching the essence of you as a young person, but that you were re-creating/performing this moment, this moment of pain and misunderstanding. So this was all rehearsed?

YP: When I told my father about this story, he talked to me and he said; “We should use this in the film… are you okay with this?” Because it was always an agreement, always consenting and never imposed upon me. So then I responded; “Yes, why not?”. Then I told him that I wanted to put on a record, so he said okay. He asked, “Do you know which record?” and I responded, “Yes, but…”. So he knew that I would put on a record in the middle of the scene but he didn’t know that I would then cry.

JW: And you didn’t know yourself, either, that you would cry?

YP: No I didn’t, of course I didn’t know. But I knew that he was going to ask me these questions, I knew that it would hurt me to talk about it again, but I didn’t know that I would cry. But it created this intimacy between us. We were close, you know. My sister also was very close with him, but in a different way.

JW: Because your familial rapport seemed intimate throughout the diary despite – and perhaps because of – the filming that was now taking place between the four of you. I wonder – at the beginning, especially – if it was difficult to adjust to your father’s new practice of filming (i.e. turning your bedroom into an editing room, filming and interacting with you from a distance)?

YP: No it was not difficult because – at your age – I was very curious to take risks in my life. Not just to go the same way as everyone else, not to be conformist; I just wanted to choose my own way forward. So it was very natural to learn filmmaking, I was very sure while editing the diary that I was doing something that nobody else was doing, I knew it deep in my heart, you know? That we were trying to do something and we didn’t know what would come of it, this I can tell you. We didn’t know that it would be six hours, didn’t know that Channel 4 would take it… It became six hours because Channel 4 asked us to make it this long. The commentary was written in Portuguese, then translated by my mother into English – even though we lived in Israel for 30 years by that point. Like I told you, they are immigrants, so it was translated into English – because of Channel 4 –And only ten years later did Israeli TV decide to make a Hebrew version. It’s crazy.

JW: Did you speak Portuguese at home growing up?

YP: My parents? Yes. My mother spoke seven languages. She speaks Portuguese very well, my mother, with a very Polish accent. I didn’t speak Portuguese. I understand Portuguese but I speak French only. And English and Hebrew, of course.

JW: So you said there needed to be a kind of structure for the diary eventually, because you said that there were two hours’ worth at first?

YP: Yes but it was very modular. Because it was during three – three or four years, I don’t remember even – but it was modular. We worked at the same time with different chapters.

JW: In the film’s narration there’s talk about moving away from traditional filmmaking and “refusing to film the drama”. Did this create, for you as an editor, a contradiction in both maintaining the footage’s beauty without manufacturing drama, as such?


YP: As an editor, you mean? During the editing the commentary arrived very late. Prior to this, I edited the film mute, I didn’t know what I was doing!

JW: So it was all intuition?

YP: Intuition. Intuition and sensibility, you know, because I understood the shots when I looked, when I contemplated them. It’s not just looking. There were hours of just watching and watching the films, without understanding what they were (w/o narration). It was explained somewhat, but when the commentary arrived, I was very surprised. I had no idea that when I’d edit it, there’d be footage of trams in Lisbon aligned with him talking about Miguel, who was his childhood friend from Brazil etc. You know, it’s completely different. But as an editor I understood it, and this came very late.

JW: You didn’t have to re-edit the diary once the narration was finished? Did it stay in the same order?

YP: No, because everything was already in his mind. Also, you know, the shooting/editing, it was almost 1:1.

JW: I just assumed that there were hundreds of hours of footage.

YP: No, that’s not the case. It was tough work, very disciplined. Like fiction. And it was 1:1 with the ratio between rushes and the finished film. There are two sequences that are not in the finished film: one is the sequence of his father – “The Magician” – which he put away in a box and the other one was an interview that was not important anymore for him so we just (makes a discarding hand motion). But each magazine was three minutes and ten seconds. So the diary was based on these increments of three minutes and ten seconds, all six hours of it.

JW: Right, so this is very –

YP: Very few [scenes] cut out, very few. Almost all the things that he shot – you know, you have to trim the shots… but the concept was very much 1:1. It was very dangerous because we were very limited in budget, so when we shot it, it was already in his mind. The only thing that is a little bit fragile is the commentary. I can show you a paper of the commentary, it’s full of – (waves a pinched index and thumb in back-and-forth motions) comment tu dis…..

JW: Scribbles or…

YP: Yes scribbles. Full of them. This was very fragile, the text. I will show you. (Reaches for text). You see this is his handwriting, you see?

YP: Modulo, modulo, this is what we called it. And he read it like this (Yael holds the sheet close to her face and stares at it attentively). Understand? You see this is the commentary for part six, for example. “Belo Horizonte…. I found it not a long time ago…”. Belo Horizonte. And there were hundreds of papers like this for a long, long time. But the image was very… in his mind. It’s like writing, the shots were like – cinema d’auteur – it was like writing. Something like this. You will explain it to me! (Laughs)

JW: Well, I guess that’s where I found the contradiction with the narration and the image, where throughout the images are so precise but I was being told that they weren’t precise – that they were spontaneous. And I believed what he said, I believed everything…

YP: Yeah. And you know that the prologue is about his mother, it’s written;
In the lands of poverty…So it’s because of his mother.

JW: So you never met your grandmother?

YP: No, never. But we are the generation that didn’t have grandmothers. All because of the holocaust or because of tragic stories like my father’s, you know. I didn’t know who my grandmother was. While making the film about my father I discovered it but I didn’t know her. I didn’t know this woman who was supposed to be the mother of my father. “The Magician” I saw once, in Brazil. I saw him once and they told me that; “this is my grandfather”.

JW: So you think of him as “The Magician” as opposed to your grandfather?

YP: Yeah I call him “The Magician” because I met him once when I was thirteen years old, he made some magic tricks and then he died. He died very young. You know that he was seventeen when my father was conceived?

JW: How old were they when you and [Naomi] were born?

YP: They were 27 or 28? Something like this.

JW: And then… I’m just getting the timeline right because… they met in Brazil and then your father went to Paris?

YP: Yes, for six years.

JW: And then they reunited in Israel?

YP: Yes, exactly. My mother I think arrived one year before him and then he came to Israel. Because they were revolutionaries, Zionism was a revolutionary movement… in a way.

JW: So by the time the diary began, were they both disillusioned by this idea of revolution or…

YP: They were – how should I explain it to you – my father began to make films “en command” – comment tu dis…

JW: Like commissions or…

YP: … very nice films. But they were films “en command” – commissioned films. Very interesting to watch it. And then he made In Jerusalem (1963), that you have to watch, that is very important too, because with In Jerusalem he left the very formal, you know – this very formalist filmmaking that he didn’t want. And then, in ’73, he began something like [Diary] – you have everything in the [documentary]. I remember him talking to me about the moment he decided to leave this professionalist mode – it was because of In Jerusalem, and if you want to understand this, you have to see the film. It’s on vimeo. Four dollars, I think. It doesn’t belong to me, but I put it in.

Photo by Danny Shik

Scans and photos provided by and used with the permission of Yael Perlov

Ma ma he qi tian de shi jian von Li Dongmei

Für gewöhnlich wird Gleichzeitigkeit im Kino mit schnellen Schnitten, Parallelmontagen oder gar Split-Screens erzählt. Li Dongmei dagegen beweist in ihrem international kurz als Mama gehandelten Film, dass es vielmehr ein Bewusstsein für die unterschiedlichen Ströme der Zeit braucht. So handelt das autobiografische Werk (wie die meisten autobiografischen Stoffe) von der Erinnerung. Zurückversetzt in das ländliche und zugegebenermaßen recht zeitlos wirkende China der 90er Jahre, zeigt sich in langen und totalen Einstellungen das Leben in einem Dorf, in dem die 12jährige Xiaoxian mit ihrer Familie lebt. Diese Bilder und das tragische Ereignis rund um die Mutter von Xiaoxian basieren (wie man so sagt) auf dem echten Leben von Li Dongmei, sie gehören also in die Zeit der Vergangenheit.

Gleichzeitig entfaltet der Film durch seine immense Sensibilität für die kleinsten Bewegungen und Töne, die Übergänge zwischen Licht und Dunkelheit, Regen und Sonne, Wind und Stille ein starkes Bewusstsein für die Gegenwart oder Gegenwärtigkeit. Aus dem Off zwitschern und schreien zahlreiche Vögel, man hört den Donner und entfernte Fahrzeuge. Damit gliedert sich Mama ein in die vielen Filme dieses Jahres, die die Welt durch die Kamera hindurchfließen lassen statt sie einzufangen. Zwar ist dieses mit unterschiedlichen Schubladenbegriffen bezeichnete Vorgehen nichts Neues, es fällt aber auf, dass es sich in Filmen wie Mama oder auch The Works and Days (of Tayoko Shiojiri in the Shiotani Basin) von C.W. Winter und Anders Edström etwas löst von der Gezwungenheit und polemischen Überspitzung, die es etwa in den Filmen Albert Serras erfährt. Nein, hier geht es um das Leben nicht um die Kunst.

Die dritte Zeitebene betrifft jene Zeit, die vergeht. Sie ist gemeinhin wichtig im Kino, weshalb das Kino auch (mühselig davon immer wieder zu schreiben, aber man muss anscheinend) nicht für die zeitauslöschende Wahrnehmung des Internets geeignet ist. Mama lässt die Handlung geschehen und zeigt dabei weniger die Handlung als die vergehende Zeit. Das erinnert etwas an frühe Filme von Hou Hsiao-hsien wie Dust in the Wind oder Summer at Grandpa’s. Die Kamera bleibt tendenziell etwas weiter entfernt, lässt den Räumen Raum zu atmen.

So bringen die Männer des Dorfes die sterbende Mutter in das nächste Krankenhaus. Der Weg ist endlos weit und führt über unwegsames Gelände durch Wälder in der Dunkelheit. Li Dongmei lässt die Bilder stehen und macht uns klar, dass das Vergehen von Zeit auch tödlich sein kann. Wir sehen unwirkliche Lichter im Wald, Silhouetten, die sich durch die Nacht zwängen. Wir sehen keine Nahaufnahmen. Was eigentlich passiert, erzählt sich ohne Drama. Man spürt, dass die Natur einer eigenen Zeitlichkeit folgt. Der Bach plätschert unabhängig von den Erinnerungen, die Bäume wiegen sich gleichgültig im Wind, auch wenn jemand geboren wird. Das mag nicht wie eine besondere Erkenntnis wirken, es aber am eigenen Leib zu erfahren, ist wertvoll. Zumal sich derart langsam eine dicke Schicht über die erzählbare Erinnerung legt. Sie bedeckt die Ereignisse unter einem Rauschen der Welt; man könnte diese Schicht beinahe als „Vergessen“ bezeichnen, aber es geht weniger um den Verlust von Erinnerung als einen sanften Wechsel in der Hierarchie von Erinnerungen. Was wichtig ist, ist nicht das Trauma, sondern alles, was um das Trauma schwebte.

Eine weitere Zeitlichkeit betrifft jene der Wiederholung, man könnte sie auch Alltag nennen. Mama schenkt den familiären Ritualen alle Aufmerksamkeit: das schweigsame Essen, das Kochen, die Arbeit auf dem Feld, das Lernen der Kinder. Dadurch entsteht gleichermaßen der Eindruck vergehender und stillstehender Zeit. Die Dinge sind, was sie sind, sie werden nicht, sie waren nicht, sie sind. Die Frauen sitzen auf Stühlen und fächern sich Wind zu. Das Leben ist mühsam, aber man lebt es.