Glimpses at DANCING

PATRICK HOLZAPFEL: Only the slow ones oder zumindest so wie Grégoire Colin in US Go Home, das heißt so, dass man sich allein und frei wähnt (sich selbst vergessen). 

Agnès Godard ist die beste Kamerafrau, wenn es ums Tanzen geht, ich weiß es. Ich glaube, dass sie verstanden hat, dass man Tanzende so filmen muss, als wäre man an zwei Orten zugleich. Die eine Hälfte ist in einem Schlafzimmer, alles ist in Zärtlichkeitsfarben getüncht, man sieht durch die Haut und wie sich Finger umschlingen. Die andere Hälfte ist in einem Raubtierkäfig, auf Zehenspitzen und darum wissend, dass jeder Schritt, ach jeder Mucks ins Verderben führen kann. Wenn Godard im Schlafzimmer ist, tanzt sie mit. Wenn sie im Käfig filmt, verharrt sie am Rand der Tanzfläche, so wie jene, die sich nicht ganz trauen, aber die trotzdem jeden Abend dastehen und warten, dass was passiert oder sie wer anspricht. 

Ich stelle mir gern vor, dass die, die ins Kino gehen, eigentlich nur kommen, weil sie hoffen, dass sie angesprochen werden. Sie schauen auf die Leinwand und für einige Minuten scheint diese Vorstellung zumindest halbwegs plausibel, ja, warum eigentlich nicht…aber wenn die Lichter angehen (und das ist etwas, was die Lichter immer tun), dann verpufft diese kurz aufkeimende Hoffnung genau so wie die erschöpften Körper nach einem Tanz plötzlich merken, dass sie atmen. Inzwischen gibt es eine ganze Apotheke an Medikamenten, die man sich auf verschiedenste Arten einverleiben kann und die dafür sorgen, dass die Musik weiter durch den Körper fließt, auch wenn sie längst verstummt ist. Hört man die gleichen Rhythmen wie sie, schwingt die ganze Erde wie eine Schaukel und man tanzt, wie es so abgedroschen heißt, durch die Nacht. Hört man den Rhythmus aber nicht, fragt man sich, wer da mit krummen Rücken und ulkigen Sprüngen über den Asphalt torkelt. 

Ich habe festgestellt, dass man eine Tanzszene in einem Film ohne Ton betrachten muss, um zu sehen, ob die Menschen wirklich tanzen oder ob sie nur Bewegungen für die Kamera vollführen. Sie tanzen wirklich, wenn sie verstummt auf mich wirken, wie die durch die Nacht Stolpernden auf den Straßen, also die, die spüren, dass sich die Erde dreht. 

Trotzdem only the slow ones, denn nur dann hilft das Tanzen dabei, die Gefühle zu verlangsamen und ich will wenig so sehr, wie langsamer zu fühlen.

JAMES WATERS: Until recently, I’d assumed a level of irony in Claire Denis’ use of Corona’s Rhythm of the Night in Beau travail; an irony stemming from my belief that there has to be something behind a filmmaker as established resorting to such music. The implication I carried to it was that “Rhythm of the Night” isn’t what I consider “real music” – at least, compared to Tindersticks. Poisoned by a sense of irony, the closest I’d gotten to Galoup’s (Denis Lavant) final, transcendent dance was in my conception of Corona as a “guilty pleasure”, a perspective inevitably eclipsed by Denis’ filmmaking; one deprived of irony and yielding to the perfect club song that mirrors Galoup’s eventual, mortal submission (aided by a lit cigarette, a glaring spotlight and rising tempo of the song’s build-up). 

Dealing with a more recent song that has yet to be “reclaimed” in the same way, Valeska Grisebach’s Sehnsucht also shows – through dance – the untainted bliss that can be elicited from an excerpt of Robbie Williams’ Feel, a piece of music I’d also dismissed up until watching Grisebach’s film. One can read as much as they like into the choice and the film’s general music editing, but its intent can be nailed down to the facts that: 

a) It was popular enough at the time to circulate the airwaves (or, at least, within the 5–10- year release window in which a song like “Feel” existed; remaining a ubiquitous chart- topper/record holder for years without seeming either old or new). 

b) As with most public spaces, an environment like a small, mess hall party for German firefighters would be absent from on-the-pulse music curation. So, the best choice of song should re-create what’d already exist if Grisebach and her crew weren’t there to film it.

The film’s lead, Markus (Andreas Müller), seems timid at first, swaying timidly in front of the camera as the song’s percussive beat kicks in. He shuffles along in what could equally be attributed to his character’s drunkenness or the first-time actor’s reticence at being vulnerable in front of the camera. He sways according to the song’s continual build-up, with two jump-cuts interrupting his flow (yet the song flows through these cuts’ continuity, uninterrupted). After the jump-cuts he seems genuinely into the song’s rhythms, carrying the viewer along with him. He evolves as a listener and dancer, swaying – with eyes closed – to the ecstatic build-up of Williams’ song. It’s an evolution that mimics my own cynicism as a listener: I may hesitate to listen to it because of previous misgivings, but the song will continue playing regardless. It’s only up to the listener to submit to its sway.

IVANA MILOŠ: There are few things I love more than my favorite dance scenes in cinema. Not only do I watch them time and time again, I hear them, I listen to them, I dance to them, together with them, for them, for the characters whose movements are akin to mine, whose ears are akin to mine, and whose musical hearts beat to the same rhythm, even if for just a few brief instances. In truth, what is better than music? This is, undoubtedly, a rhetorical question, and let’s not leave it at that.

1, 2, 3, 4, it’s time to share and more.

Gregoire Colin and The Animals getting down, cigarette-in-mouth, youth in body, what a dance, what a feast of feeling:

Denis Lavant and David Bowie, the epitome of modern love in all its shapes and forms. Let me run like that for once in my life, I might never stop. He hardly does.

Denis Lavant again, now and forever, in a rendition of Corona’s Rhythm of the Night unlike anything else known to humankind:

Melina Mercouri takes up Ta Paidia tou Peiraia, dancing and singing in her bedroom, not to mention those snapping fingers:

Ana Torrent plays a record of Porque te vas in Cría cuervos. It’s music and joy on a whole new level, and childhood at its most moving:

Everyone can dance beautifully in Ermanno Olmi’s I fidanzati. A motion goes through the room and the importance of dance becomes vividly manifest:

Don’t let it end at that. Dance, dance, dance to the music!

ANDREW CHRISTOPHER GREEN: Not long into Angela Schanelec’s Plätze in Städten the main character Mimi dances with her mother at a public swimming pool to Joni Michell’s California. They’re listening to it on a portable speaker at first, and we’re listening to the song with them as it echoes through the room, but then the track gets louder and is synchronized over the ambient audio. There is a curtain of glass windows behind them, and they twirl around in their swimsuits against a cold cityscape. The shot is three and a half minutes long, long enough for Schanelec’s strange composition to take our focus from the dancers moving peripherally through some pillars to the space they’re in and its relation to the barren trees and environs beyond. They stand over the hostile outside like one of Caspar David Friedrich’s Rückenfiguren, only they’re not contemplating their relationship to the distance beyond as Friedrich’s figures would. They dance indifferently to the foreground/background and inside/outside dialectics the framing composes, absorbed in themselves and their movements.

I don’t know how one ought to dance to Joni Mitchell’s folkish songs, but the way they do seems wrong, or at least excessive. The mother is more enthusiastic than Mimi is, but they’re both very present in this scene, experiencing something like joy and togetherness. It’s a presentness which foreshadows Mimi’s constant displacements between cities and sexual partners and her estrangement from her mother. Towards the end of the film she gets pregnant and runs away, probably to Paris (her locations aren’t always made explicit but just appear in the backgrounds), winds up homeless, and is sitting in the cold outside a bar when someone sees her and invites her in to dance. A bass-heavy, electronic song plays first, and she just stands there. The flickering lights show everyones bodies in different positions as they strobe, but Mimi doesn’t hardly move at all. She’s offered a drink, an outrageously nostalgic song by Ben Folds Five comes on (we heard her listening to this same song at home earlier), and she sways around like a zombie. Somebody probably slipped something. Next we hear a song by Portishead, which itself sounds like a bad drug trip. Another composition; there aren’t surroundings anymore, just a black wall behind Mimi. We see outlines of her body in an ominous red with sporadic flashes of blues and greens. She’s not twirling but spiraling, something like the inverse of her mother at the beginning of the film when they were together at the swimming pool. She falls asleep on a chair and we don’t know what happens after. I couldn’t help but think that the lights were perfect in their sobering irregularity, plotting out the spatial coordinates of Mimi’s regression into a womb of darkness. It’s a cruel and ironic twist of fate that the ones who feel the most intensely in our world are the ones most vulnerable to being disarticulated by it. In these final scenes I thought of Friedrich again, this time one of his moonlit compositions, Der Mönch am Meer. They share the motif of an individual surrounded by darkness. One stands looking out into the abyss, the other is being swallowed up by it.

ANNA BABOS: “It’s not the music that gets to you. It’s the marching feet.“

Máté and Mari, the peasant protagonists of Fábri Zoltán’s Körhinta, are in love. Their longing for each other is hindered by political circumstances and the expectations of Mari’s family. Mari has a fiancé, Sándor, and her parents rather support their marriage, because Sándor, like them, opposes the concept of forced collectivization of land. The family and Sándor hope to keep their land and unite them by marriage, in accordance with the tradition. 

Despite the difficulties, Máté does not give up his love for Mari. His fiery and combative desire culminates during the wedding of another girl from the village. To the astonishment of the community, Máté asks Mari to dance. The provocation manifests physically in his virtuoso and intimidating dancing: like the stars of the classical Hollywood musical, Máté uses movement to express dominance. But it is not strictly choreographed, nuanced movement, and Máté is not aware of his virtuosity. Folk dance is his only weapon in the fight for the freedom of their love, which has the undertone of fighting those who are against the new regime and refuse collectivization. When other men from the village ask Mari to dance, Máté seizes her, and, seizes the day. They dance until they light-headed; Mari hallucinates in exhaustion.  

The increasingly rapid spinning recalls an earlier encounter when Máté and Mari were on a rapidly spinning merry-go-round (the title of the film) at a village fair. The combination of dance and flight, set to the liberating rhythm of Hungarian folk music, evokes a romantic image of the burning flame or the free-flying youth. At the same time, the scene conveys something else.

La grand illusion comes to mind. “It’s not the music that gets to you. It’s the marching feet“, says Jean Gabin as lieutenant Maréchal. 

The sounds of Máté’s and Mari’s dance steps slowly take the place of the joyful violin playing, and the music almost gets disoriented by the hard thuds of feet in a dreamlike tangle. Dance becomes a militant gesture through Máté’s wilfulness. He experiences the fight for communism through his fight for love.

DAVID PERRIN: „Im Pariser Jeu de Paume hängt ein Bild von Cezanne, vor dem ich dann zu verstehen glaubte, worum es geht, nicht nur ihm, dem Maler, und nicht nur jetzt mir, einem Schriftsteller…

Schwer zu sagen, was ich da verstand. Damals hatte ich vor allem das Gefühl ‚Nähe‘. Im Bedürfnis, das Erlebte doch weiterzugeben, kommt mir jetzt, nach langem ‚Bedenken des Geschehen‘ (eher ein Denksturm), ein Filmbild in den Sinn: Henry Fonda, wie er in John Fords The Grapes of Wrath mit der eigenen Mutter tanzt.

In jener Szene tanzen alle Anwesenden miteinander, zur Abwehr einer lebensgefährlichen Bedrohung: so verteidigen sie, vor der Landnot Umgetriebene, das Stücken Erde, auf dem sie endlich Bleibe gefunden haben, gegen die sie umzingelnden Feinde. Obwohl das Tanzen demnach pure List ist (Mutter und Sohn, sich rundum drehend, werfen einander, wie auch den übrigen, schlaue wachsame Blicke zu) ist es doch ein Tanz wie nur je einer (und wie noch keiner) der überspringt als ein herzlicher Zusammenhalt.“ – Peter Handke, Die Lehre von Saint-Victoire, S. 60-61.

RONNY GÜNL: Alltäglichen Bewegungen gleicht selten etwas Tänzerischem angesichts ihre Unbeholfenheit. Routinemäßig lässt sich das Geschirr durch die eigenen Hände abspülen, ohne dabei nur einen Gedanken daran zu verschwenden. Fast scheint es so, als bestimme das Geschirr den Vorgang selbst. Im Film ist dem offenbar nicht so; es ist möglich jede noch so erdenkliche Schwerfälligkeit tänzelnd in Schwebe aufzuheben. Der Unterschied ist zwar ein geringer, aber umso entscheidender. Nicht der Ort der Bewegung beziehungsweise dessen Gravitation hat sich verändert, sondern die Zeit.

Die Filme von Maya Deren erkunden diese Verschiebung. In Rituals in Transfigured Time erlangen die tanzenden Bewegungen nicht jene absoluten Form, worin die Person ganz in der Choreografie transzendiere. Vielmehr beschreibt der Film – ohne Musik – nur mit seinen Bildern einen balancierenden Zustand, der um seinen Schwerpunkt kreist: Für kleine Momente deuten sich rhythmisierende Fragmente an, die sogleich verschwinden, als wären sie nie geschehen. Immer wieder wird der Fluss der Bewegung unterbrochen und zeitlich versetzt weitergeführt.

Es ist eine Tanzfläche in einem Lokal zu sehen. Menschen sind willkürlich im Raum aufgestellt. Sie gestikulieren und reden aneinander vorbei. Sie treffen aufeinander und trennen sich. Weder Orientierung noch Sinn fängt das Bild der Kamera dabei ein. Während die Protagonistin (Rita Christiani) Hals über Kopf im wellenartigen Treiben genau danach zu suchen scheint, sehen wir Anbahnungen, von etwas, das beginnen könnte, sich jedoch unmittelbar – zugleich zyklisch – in der Luft verflüchtigt.

SIMON WIENER: Often I think of experimental film as a dance. I think it is no coincidence that both can give me joy like little else can, maybe because both are expressions of a peculiar movement through space, one not usually explored in our day-to-day-life. They both estrange us from our usual movements, which can be seen as the most efficient means of connecting the dots that make up a space. One leaps through space in order to reap it, thereby distilling space into movement. A hierarchy is created: space serves us, feeds our desires, adorns us. If our usual movement affirms the self, Dance-Film-movement, instead, proposes an opening for the abandonment of the self, it proposes a spring-board for dissolving into the Other… dis-selving. The joy of this dissolution is best denoted by the German word aufgehoben; we are lifted, nullified by the object of our devotion, namely space. Maybe the hierarchy is inverted; space cracks us open, finds a means of expression through us, a revenge of sorts; or maybe the hierarchy is preserved but given a twist, wherein the desire fed by space is directed towards space itself. An urge to move, in order to reveal and preserve space – a negative expression where the self is defined by its surroundings.

SEBASTIAN BOBIK: Like many other things in life that bring us joy, dancing is something that always seems to have been a part of cinema. One of the earliest films to show us a dance is the beautiful Danse serpentine by the Lumiere Brothers. Since then dances have been everywhere in films, and every film has at least one or two dancing scenes, which are especially important and touching. Dancing also seems to be something that shows up in the oeuvres of even the most different filmmakers. They can be found in images as different as those of Agnès and Jean-Luc Godard, Donen and Donschen, Deren and Leisen, Chaplin and Tashlin and many, many more.

When I am asked to think about a scene of people dancing in a film my mind will often go back to one of the early instances of a dance being captured on celluloid. The Dickson Experimental Sound Film was an early attempt to create a film with synchronized sound to accompany the images. The attempt failed at its time. The film is only about 30 seconds long. We see several things in one image: On the left side we see a man playing the violin into a device, which is supposed to have recorded the sound. On the right hand two men are sharing a small dance with each other. Are they waltzing? As they dance one of the men can be seen visibly smiling. Another man walks into the image from the left, then the film ends.There are versions of this film that are silent, though I have also seen some versions with the sound of a violin. It is a small film, but it sparks of joy and delight. Somehow it always touches me, whenever I see it.

SIMON PETRI: Dance scenes in cinema are often described as liberating although the characters in motion in the image are already liberated; they have either overcome the constraints of self-consciousness or never suffered it to begin with, unlike those sitting around them, squirming on the margins of the frame. They go well together, those who enjoy the attention (or at least don’t mind it) and those who attract attention by existing in the shadow of the spectacle just to performatively deny it.

Trees, leaves and flowers dance involuntarily, without an audience for the most part: algae in the unexplored depth of oceans, miniature branches of lichen in the Scandinavian frost, odorous linden towering over entire counties give themselves up to forces without a predictable trajectory.

For the fortunate the wind blows a metronomic rhythm to the fertile pollution. More violent movements happen in and because of human presence: mimosa leaves close and open with the discipline of Busby Berkeley’s objectified legs, grass and pine fall and whirl as dictated by the scythe and the jigsaw. 

The most heavenly of dance genres is heliotropism. It’s free of contact and violence: there’s unparalleled distance between choreographer and dancer, yet each movement follows a perfect curve. 


Variations on T.S. Eliot — II

T.S. Eliot: Lines to a Duck in the Park 


The long light shakes across the lake,

The forces of the morning quake,

The dawn is slant across the lawn,

Here is no eft or mortal snake

But only sluggish duck and drake.

I have seen the morning shine,

I have had the Bread and Wine,

Let the feathered mortals take

That which is their mortal due,

Pinching bread and finger too.

Easier had than squirming worm;

For I know, and so should you

That soon the enquiring worm shall try

Our well-preserved complacency.

Variations on T.S. Eliot — I

T.S. Eliot: The Naming of Cats


The Naming of Cats is a difficult matter,

It isn’t just one of your holiday games;

You may think at first I’m as mad as a hatter

When I tell you, a cat must have THREE DIFFERENT NAMES.

First of all, there’s the name that the family use daily,

Such as Peter, Augustus, Alonzo or James,

Such as Victor or Jonathan, George or Bill Bailey

All of them sensible everyday names.

There are fancier names if you think they sound sweeter,

Some for the gentlemen, some for the dames:

Such as Plato, Admetus, Electra, Demeter —

But all of them sensible everyday names.

But I tell you, a cat needs a name that’s particular,

A name that’s peculiar, and more dignified,

Else how can he keep up his tail perpendicular,

Or spread out his whiskers, or cherish his pride?

Of names of this kind, I can give you a quorum,

Such as Munkustrap, Quaxo, or Coricopat,

Such as Bombalurina, or else Jellylorum —

Names that never belong to more than one cat.

But above and beyond there’s still one name left over,

And that is the name that you never will guess;

The name that no human research can discover

But THE CAT HIMSELF KNOWS, and will never confess.

When you notice a cat in profound meditation,

The reason, I tell you, is always the same:

His mind is engaged in a rapt contemplation

Of the thought, of the thought, of the thought of his name:

His ineffable effable


Deep and inscrutable singular Name.

Glimpses at THE SKY

DAVID PERRIN: Die Erinnerung an einem späten Abend vor mehr als zehn Jahren, als ich Der Himmel über Berlin in einem Kino zum ersten Mal sah. Wie die Kamera durch den Himmel über die geteilte Stadt streift, schwenkt und fliegt und danach, als ich zwei Stunden später wieder auf den nächtlichen, leeren Straßen von Downtown Manhattan trete, schien sich der Himmel über New York zu einer Kuppel zu wölben. Und da fiel mir dieses Zitat von Peter Handkes Das Gewicht der Welt ein, das ich gerade im Film wiederhörte, als Teil von Marions innerem Monolog, während sie in einem Nachtklub sanft mit sich selbst tanzt:

„Manchmal ergreift mich ein Wohlgefühl – wie wenn sich im Innern meines Körpers sanft eine Hand schließt.“

Und dann vor wenigen Monaten las ich eine kurze Erzählung von Filmkritiker Peter Nau über Brieselang. Eine kleine, unspektakuläre Ortschaft westlich von Berlin-Spandau, wo jedoch der Himmel darüber auch die Fähigkeit besitzt, die Augen für die Weite zu öffnen:

„Wenn man in Brieslang aus dem Zug steigt, erblickt man, ähnlich wie in den Momenten, da sich vor einem ein weiter Platz auftut, einen ausgedehnten Himmel, wo die Flugzeuge und die Vögel lange sichtbar bleiben.“ – Peter Nau, Brieselang, Lesen und Sehen: Miniaturen zu Büchern und Filmen.

Drei willkürliche Einträge aus dem eigenen Tagebuch:

07.07.21. Als ich das Funken eines vorbeifliegenden Flugzeuges im Nachthimmel über den Bahngleisen des Westbahnhofs erblickte, wurde der bis sonst bilderlosen Tag endlich Tag – und das trotz der späten Stunde. (Rustensteg Brücke, 1150 Wien)

3.10.21. Der fliegende Vogelschwarm im grauen Himmel und unten auf der Straße schreit ein betrunkener Rollstuhlfahrer. (Reithofferplatz, 1150 Wien)

26.11.12 Der Laubblätterwirbel und dahinter die weiße Taube gegen einen graublauen Frühwinterhimmel, von dem man hofft, dass die ersten Schneeflocken des Jahres bald fallen werden. (Markgraf Rüdigerstraße, Wien, 1150)

…wenige Stunden später: und jetzt schneit es tatsächlich! Kleine, winzige Flocken, die so langsam vom nebeldichten Himmel schweben, wie man es nur in einem Traum erlebt hat. (Zuhause aus dem Fenster schauend)

IVANA MILOŠ: Here’s a pretty basic riddle. Skies are omnipresent in cinema: peeking around corners, swerving along dangerous mountain roads, stretching into the distance behind an impressive landscape (John Ford’s beloved Monument Valley). Then there are sunsets depicting endings, sunrises starring as beginnings, any old sky shot playing a stalemate and, of course, the blue beyond depicting time (Ten Skies, indeed). “Look up, something is coming!” cinema screams at us. Or: “Look up, remember you are small,” a carefully written note reads. Or, in the words of yet another classic: “Never look up, just go on about your business, stare straight ahead, the sky be damned—never deign it a single look.” All in all, a very mixed crowd, and yet none of these are what pops straight into my head the moment I think of the sky in cinema. See, there is something about the sky being the sky that doesn’t fit into a frame. No long shot, close-up, or any angle or duration can alter that. Still, we feel for cinema’s ingrained frame because our natural vision is (slightly less, but nonetheless) limited. So, since it is impossible to express the vastness of the sky while keeping it framed, what could be more logical than an already pre-framed sky in a film shot? I can’t claim this is why I think of Frank Borzage’s Man’s Castle when I think of the sky. Nor can I pinpoint why exactly the idea of seeing birds fly past or the stars shine in the night through the roof without any boundaries separating our body from the sky is so appealing and instantly warming to the soul. Maybe it’s something akin to a comet. Something that catches at the inner workings of human nature. Something stuck, but gorgeous, like a match striking fire in the right place at the right moment in time. Nothing about this is necessarily simple, as the film goes to show. But, at the same time, everything about it is, from the look directed upwards to the lack of reply. The sky doesn’t need us, nor do the skies. However, we might find ourselves hard pressed without anything to look at that stretches so ceaselessly into invisibility and against framing. Maybe this is why every shot of a sky is a small meeting with the unseen, and, even if for a single frame, cinema seems to catch the sky looking back.

SEBASTIAN BOBIK: “Only cinema lets you look straight at the sun, and death”. This sentence opens the film La deuxième nuit by Eric Pauwels. From childhood on we know better than to look directly into the sun. We know, that our eyes are too sensitive and that risking a direct look could possibly damage our eyes. Yet or maybe because of this we find it hard to resist. And so we also point our cameras towards the sky and the sun. By now it is not unusual to see the sun directly in cinema. But this wasn’t always the case. In fact it was a rather well known taboo of cinematography. As legend has it the first film to contain shots directly at the sun is Akira Kurosawa’s Rashomon. The film was released in 1950. In one of the most famous sequences of the film, we see a woodcutter walking through the woods. Right as the sequence begins we are immediately looking upwards towards the tree branches and through them we can catch glimpses of the sunlight directly shining into the lens. To make this shot was considered a risk. There was even the fear, that directly filming the sun might cause the film to burn, or the shots to be unusable. This shot proves those fears to have been wrong.

SIMON WIENER: Allan Dwans The Restless Breed ist durchsetzt von Einstellungen des Himmels. Es ist, wie viele andere Western, ein Film des Wartens; die Hauptfigur harrt der Ankunft des Ganoven, um sich an ihm zu rächen. Immer wieder wird der Himmel in dieses Warten hineingeschnitten; „nothing will have taken place except [the] place“, schreibt Bill Krohn über den Film, Mallarmé zitierend. Der Himmel konstruiert den Film-Raum ebenso, wie er ihn auflöst. Gegen Ende wird unerbittlich hin- und hergeschnitten, in absurd kurzen Intervallen, zwischen den verschiedenen Protagnisten, alle wie erstarrt, wie gefangen in ihren Bildern und in den beobachtenden Blicken der andern. Der Himmel fungiert dabei als Binde- und Lösemittel, er vereint in sich all diese voneinander abgetrennten Einheiten genauso, wie er sie zerfallen lässt, als flüchtiger Durchbruch, impressionistischer Einwurf, unkontrollierbar, Gegenbild des Rigiden und Konstruierten, das der Filmhandlung zwangsläufig anhaftet.

JAMES WATERS: Here are my impressions of Howard Hawks’ The Big Sky, relayed in the form of three quotations and some screenshots from the film:

“I go and see films by my colleagues and I don’t see this promise. Even Fincher. Which is a shame as he is the one who is connected to reality. I saw the girl, I saw the motorcycle, I saw the tattoo, it’s all right. It’s a bit too fancy, too chic maybe, but I understand. There’s the iPhone, the sex, the loneliness. It’s three hours because there’s a guy killing girls. Why not just have no-one killing anyone and having a girl with a motorcycle? Can he do this? I think he can. I sent a message to his DP who I know very well. I said, “Avoid the killings. Three hours without the killings. You can have the Bond guy. Let’s set it in Sweden for the yellow light. You can have the editor, the lover, the challenge between young and old, bodies coming together. I understand those fetishes. Let’s avoid every single murder, killing, weapon. That’s the challenge.” I have to deal with this. You can see The Big Sky and analyse it shot by shot. It’s an amazing piece of craft. But you have to do a little bit more. It’s about destiny. It’s about going beyond something. It’s about love. It’s about racism, humiliation, pain. And it’s a long film. It’s big. Big scope! The Big SkyThe Girl With The Dragon Tattoo should be a remake of that film.”

Some Violence is Required: A Conversation with Pedro Costa, Interview conducted by David Jenkins for MUBI, 12/07/13

“The sky was so bright and starry that when you looked at it the first question that came into your mind was whether it was really possible that all sorts of bad-tempered and unstable people could live under such a glorious sky.”

Belye Nochi by Fyodor Dostoevsky

“Big Sky looked down on all the people who think they got problems
They get depressed and they hold their heads in their hands and cry
People lift up their hands and they look up to the Big Sky
But the Big Sky is too big to sympathize
Big Sky’s too occupied
Though he would like to try
And he feels bad inside
Big Sky’s too big to cry”

Big Sky, performed by The Kinks, written by Ray Davies

RONNY GÜNL: Von oben auf die Welt herabzublicken, hat im Kino ein Stück weit Tradition. Die Menschen, deren Gesichter eben noch die Breite der Leinwand ausfüllten, werden zu gleichmäßig verteilten Bildpunkten zwischen anderen. Was chaotisch schien, geht in einer seltsamen Ordnung auf, während zugleich die unmittelbaren Probleme winziger Existenzen immer nichtiger werden. Es gäbe größere, wichtigere Zusammenhänge, denen man sich erst mit dem erhabenen Blick bewusst werden könne, so der bekannte Stehsatz von Weltraumrückkehrern.

Offenbar vogelleicht lässt sich über alles hinweggleiten, seien es Bergpanoramen oder Häuserschluchten. Doch um der Schwerkraft zu entfliehen, muss wie beim Aufsteigen einer Ballon-Fahrt, etwas zurückgelassen werden. Man könnte denken, der ohrenbetäubende Kraftakt eines Helikopters oder Flugzeugs löse sich mit den Bildern in Luft auf. Neuerdings sind diese unerreichbaren Perspektiven auch für den kleinen Mann mit ebenso kleinen Gerätschaften in greifbare Nähe geraten. Vom Surren entrückt, schaut man von unten nach oben und fragt sich, wonach sie eigentlich suchen.


One day we thought of painted furniture, of how
It just slightly changes everything in the room
And in the yard outside, and how, if we were going
To be able to write the history of our time, starting with today,
It would be necessary to model all these unimportant details
So as to be able to include them; otherwise the narrative
Would have that flat, sandpapered look the sky gets
Out in the middle west toward the end of summer,
The look of wanting to back out before the argument
Has been resolved, and at the same time to save appearances
So that tomorrow will be pure. Therefore, since we have to do our business
In spite of things, why not make it in spite of everything?
Pyrography by John Ashbery, fragment


nur Gefieder im leeren Stall,
nur Sterne anstelle des Himmels.


Bis du ankommst von Pilinszky János, Übersetzung von Eva & Roman Czjzek

SIMON PETRI: When I look at the sky, I see these little spots in constant motion. They resemble the microscopic view of cells. I would tell my doctor but having been conditioned on my “symptoms”, his conclusion would be that the patient experiences discomfort when he looks up. Or just, don’t look up, then. Apparently, the phenomenon can indicate serious neurological syndromes or irreversible physical damage in the retina. I’ll ask for an online consultant if I want to make Christmas decoration out of a rusty peeler. Mhm. I can take a hint. We all have our field of expertise, and each of these can be relevant at different points in life. I should find a subtle way to remind him of possible diagnoses that he might have overlooked. If he didn’t turn me down scornfully, Doctor Heisler would probably order a blood test. In this case, I would have an infinite number of potentially discovered conditions to worry about instead of the spots. Not to mention the possibility of having my sample mixed up with that of an ill person, receiving incorrect treatment in effect and getting something from the unnecessary medicines. Maybe he would also use compressed air to examine my eyes and I couldn’t resist to pull my head away. I would completely embarrass myself, like when I couldn’t stop giggling at the dentist because plaque removal was so ticklish. How old are you? And then, he would ask his assistant to hold me down, and the assistant would feel the eczema and the dandruff on my head, so I would be sent to a dermatologist, or worse, they might figure that the eczema is related to dental focal infection, which means dentist and giggling again. Having said that, I try and not see the little spots when I look at the sky.

Glimpses at CLERGYMEN


“It’s like this. You see I’ve been a minister for a long time. I like it. I’ve been at this church and this church is very good. In fact, the people are very warm to me and they love me very much, which is very good. Because what that pulls out of me, is [also] what gives them something, pulling something out of them also.”

Rev. Luther Williams from Bill Gunn’s Ganja and Hess

The film begins and ends with the Rev. Williams (Sam Waymon, also the film’s composer). He narrates the film’s opening minutes, delineating his vocation as an inner-NYC minister from his profession as Dr. Hess Green’s chauffeur (Dr. Hess played by Duane Jones). Rev. Williams describes his employer as a victim, not a criminal – much in the way he impartially delineates his own employment/vocation dichotomy. Bookending the film, he ordains it with an aura of forgiveness that eludes Hess for the film’s interceding runtime. 

Dr. Hess Green’s vocation is as an anthropologist, specialising in studies of the Myrthians, comprising an ancient African tribe of vampires/cannibals. Having been stabbed and cursed by one of their relics – a dagger at the hand of his academic protégé, George Meda (played by Gunn himself) – Hess drinks the blood of the inner-city underclass, trawling bars for prostitutes and vagrants who live day-to-day, fodder for Hess’ own, eternal bloodlust. Unlike Rev. Williams, Hess experiences no spiritual guidance and transacts from his community to feed a curse, one that plunges him deeper into his immortal self, away from death and – additionally – any kind of spiritual awakening. 

Riddled with guilt, Hess goes to the church where his chauffeur ordains; a church within one of the communities Hess used to scout for warm bodies. This scene at church lasts upwards of 10 minutes and its energy is one of exultance. Rev. Williams’ forgiveness is cast along the entire church. He dances and wails into a microphone, dripping with sweat. One gets the impression that Williams was waiting for his employer to join his parishioners and return to the fold, planting the initial seed with an opening narration that hangs over both Hess and the film. Until this point, Waymon’s score was a non-diegetic ringing of the church’s opening sounds, with manipulated tape loops of choral voices echoing through the mental and physical spaces Hess inhabits throughout. But in this final scene it’s a return to the film’s opening aural diegesis and verité-aesthetic (a form likely dictated by the fact that it was filmed at an actual church with its parishioners, emphasised by the visible tungsten lights, snap zooms and multiple cameras shooting). 

There’s an ecstasy in Hess’ absolution. He’s the only one to step up for forgiveness in the church, shuddering under Williams’ hand and rising up in tears. Returning home, he finds a makeshift cross hanging from a string and shot through with the glow of a lightbulb. Stepping under the cross’ shadow, Hess can finally partake in a death that serves a greater purpose; a life (his own) that he gives, instead of one that he takes.

SIMON WIENER: Wenn ich an Geistliche im Kino denke, kommt mir gleich meine Lieblingsfigur aus Stagecoach in den Sinn: Peacock, gespielt von Donald Meek. Peacock wird von anderen zwar stets als “reverend” bezeichnet, ist aber keineswegs Priester, sondern Whiskeyverkäufer. Tatsächlich kann man den unscheinbaren Peacock in jeder Hinsicht als Gegenteil dessen sehen, was ein Priester verkörpern sollte. Er hat keinerlei natürliche Autorität, keinerlei Einfluss über seine Mitmenschen, kann sich nie Gehör verschaffen. Seinen Namen kann sich niemand merken. Wenn er spricht, muss er sich zuvor räuspern, stottert dann unsicher, verspricht sich; seine Meinung wird aber ohnehin übergangen. Angesichts drohender Gefahr bleibt er nicht etwa ruhig, gibt keine besänftigenden Worte von sich, möchte ihr nicht gegenübertreten, sondern nur wieder zurück nach Hause. Peacock steht in vielen Einstellungen nur im Hintergrund herum. Eine der vielen Vergnügen, die der Film bereiten kann, besteht darin, seine Reaktionen zu beobachten. Das nervöse Klappern seiner Finger; die Aura des sich-Peinlichseins, die ihn beständig umgibt; seine Mimik, die wie ein Seismograph Handlungen der anderen aufzeichnet, vergrößert, kenntlich macht. Alles scheint ihn zu erschüttern; vor lauter Erschütterung ist ihm jegliche eigene Handlungsfähigkeit genommen. Zittriges Lächeln, unangenehme Betroffenheit. Peacock ist selbst fürs Ängstlichsein zu ängstlich. Dennoch versteht man, dass die anderen ihn für einen Priester halten. Sein Gebaren und seine Kleidung geben ihm trotz dem oben Aufgeführtem etwas Feierliches, Würdevolles, Ernstliches, ebenso die Aufmerksamkeit, mit der er zuhört.

SIMON PETRI: The distinctive characteristic of the priests I observe lies in their inseparable reticence and ostentation. They’re blue-eyed, frail and thin, bearing witness to the education that kept them from wind and sunburn and didn’t teach them how to land on their feet. At the same time, they’re theatrical and vain, finding fulfillment in speech acts and performances. They take pride in their sonorous baritone on the distant heights of the pulpit, but they turn quiet when rude practicalities approach them up close and indiscreetly.

Karpo Godina’s Zdravi Ljudi Za Razonodu approaches from up close and is indiscreet. It’s a film of simultaneous dimensions itself: a pictorial, ethnographic snapshot of centuries-long multi-ethnic coexistence in Vojvodina, which makes the inhabitants jubilantly sing about the people of the area. Yet, it’s also a prism that reflects the artificiality of exoticizing ethnographic films with rich irony through the mistrustful half-smile of the performers, who find the paean for the neighboring ethnicity both merited and absurd. There is mischief in the exquisite images: if it’s not the locals‘ prankish spirit, the director tilts the landscape’s pastoral beauty with a modern rock song.

The first priest in the film – out of the five it features – subtly radiates the described ambiguity. He talks about a receipt, chanting words like “pumpkin”, “cottage cheese” or “apple” on a high-pitched, transfigured tone. He constantly looks away from the camera, showing his irritation, questioning why he is asked to do this in the first place. Then he suddenly reappears, posing in two different costumes, wearing the weight of glamorous silk and velvet with the utmost personal honour, preceding the excess of the ecclesiastical fashion show in Federico Fellini’s Roma.

But that look remains, wishing to be left alone by the bothersome crew.

DAVID PERRIN: Es ist schwierig über jemanden zu schreiben – in diesem Fall einen Priester – vor dem man im wirklichen Alltag wenig Achtung empfinden kann. Es fehlt nicht nur die Sprache, sondern die Bilder überhaupt. Da kann das Kino helfen: Eine Figur zu vermenschlichen, ihr einen Glanz zu schenken, den sie in der Wirklichkeit selten hat. (Oder besser gesagt, die ich persönlich nie erlebt habe – darauf kommt es ja immerhin an) Zum Beispiel die Figur des Don Pietro Pelligrini, der Priester in Rosselinis Roma città aperta. Ein Widerstandskämpfer gegen die Nazis, der am Ende des Films von den Faschisten an einem Stuhl unter freiem Himmel gebunden und von einem deutschen Offizier durch einen Kopfschuss von hinten hingerichtet wird. Im Moment vor seinem Tode blickt er mit seinen ermüdeten Augen in dem Himmel, dann kommt der Knall: Der Tod eines Helden.

Oft, um eine für mich unsympathische Person oder Figur in etwas Liebenswürdiges zu verwandeln, habe ich mir immer vorgestellt, wie diese Person einen alltäglichen Vorgang verrichtet, wie zum Beispiel eine Katze füttert, ein Auto fährt, den Abwasch erledigt oder im Schlaf spricht.

„Wie gern der Priester Auto fuhr, und wie schnell, vor allem in dieser weiten, ziemlich leeren Grenzlandebene, wo er damals in seiner Verlobungszeit sogar bei einem Amateurrennen mitgemacht hatte, auf dem Volkswagen großaufgemalt die gleiche Nummer wie dann die für die Wäsche im Spätberufenen-Internat.“ (Peter Handke, Mein Jahr in der Niemandsbucht, S. 375)

Gerne würde ich einen Film sehen, in dem ein Priester während des gesamten Films nur durch eine Landschaft fährt, von frühmorgens bis spätnachts, wie er danach sich in seiner bescheidenen Wohnung, die sich am Rande einer Kleinstadt befindet, zurückzieht, seine Katze füttert, sein Abendessen kocht, danach eigenhändig das Geschirr abspült und schließlich vor dem Fernsehen einschläft, unheimliche Satz-Fragmente in sich hineinmurmelnd. Aber diesen Film gibt es (noch) nicht. Er müsste erst gemacht werden.

ANNA BABOS: A sickly, troubled woman arrives in a pink room for confession. On the wall is a picture of the heart of Christ, the priest is seated next to a cross. Instead of penance, he gives her a needle to prick herself with until she comes closer to the truth. Then, while lying in a hospital bed, the woman keeps the needle with her, under the blanket, pressed tightly to her breast. A visitor arrives and, while patting her kindly, accidentally presses the needle into the woman’s heart.

In Kutya éji dala, the director, Bódy Gábor plays the role of a pseudo-priest, a gesture that is usually understood as a self-confession, referring to his role as an informer in the Hungarian socialist Kádár regime. Although this interpretation seems rather obvious, it would be a pity to simplify his character to a biographical element. It opens up new ways to think about his conscious and narcissistic artistic position, but the pseudo-priest can also be approached as the essence of the Hungarian underground scene of the eighties. Together with other characters, Bódy represents a narrow, unique and outsider stratum, both in thought and humour, which, in addition to its unconcerned criticism of the system and society, looks at people with interest and is open to romantic sentimentalism.

Bódy appears as an eccentric pseudo-priest, who is out of place, doesn’t know the tools, but wants to work for and with the community. In the end, in a truly priest-like combination, there is warmth behind his egomaniac introspection.


I will never forget seeing Strasti po Andreyu for the first time. It was on a small laptop in Russia, where I had been gifted the DVD by a gracious family who knew about my interest in cinema. It was on a cold winter evening that I decided to give the film a try. My friends had gone out to drink, while I had remained at home and sat in complete silence and amazement for three hours. I had never seen anything like it. From the opening, seemingly mythical hot air balloon flight, to the four horses standing in the rain at the end, I was stunned by this overwhelmingly physical and spiritual experience. I remember once recounting this experience and jokingly saying: “Whenever I watch Tarkovsky, I believe in God”. The image is the trinity (in Russian: Троица, pronounced Troitsa) by Andrei Rublev, the Russian icon painter, who was immortalized in cinema by the Russian filmmaker Andrei Tarkovsky. Andrei makes a film about Andrei. In it, he reckons with the struggles of being an artist and being a man of faith, by showing us a man who is also both. For Tarkovsky this trinity by Rublev represented everything he wanted to tell in this film. It takes place in the 15th century, a time of chaos, violence and murder. The film makes sure to show us these acts of violence on several occasions. At this time, the painter Andrei Rublev was commissioned to create a work of art to honour Saint Sergeius of Radonezh. After leaving the sheltered walls of his monastery, Rublev was confronted with the chaos and frightening state of the world around him. In response to this his Trinity was made, to embody the values of spiritual unity, of love, fraternity and humility. In the film we are thrown for three hours into the uncertainty and suffering of this world. At the end of these dizzying and overwhelming wanderings through this world, the images, which had been black & white, suddenly turn into glorious color. A choir sings as we see finally the works of Andrei Rublev. His paintings are filmed in a combination of zooms and pans by Tarkovsky. And there among these works we also find his most famous work, this trinity, which is often seen as the greatest of all Russian icons.

ANDREW CHRISTOPHER GREEN: Kierkegaard thought that we cannot be true to anything if we don’t experience doubt. Doubt doesn’t signify a lack but a beginning. It’s a curious paradox. “A person laments that he has lost his faith, and when a check is made to see where he is on the scale, curiously enough, he has only reached the point where he is to make the infinite movement of resignation.” If Abraham hadn’t thought he was really going to sacrifice Isaac, if he knew God would provide him with a ram, if he didn’t doubt God, then he wouldn’t have had faith, and he wouldn’t have been a great man. The meek, unassuming pastor in Bresson’s Journal d’un curé de campagne practices his faith humbly in a fallen world. He is very ill and tends to his dwindling congregation despite their lack of devotion. The priest assumes this all to be a test of his faith. He gets sicker and sicker until he faces death with a conviction that borders on delusion. But we don’t question the authenticity of his faith, and he’s not at all a simple-minded person. He sees all the ugliness and cruelty of the world with sober eyes. I’ve been told its very hard to make films now, without any political or moral convictions, without hope. Those commitments have become a thing of the past, and we can’t work in the good old days but have to face the bad new ones. I think this is why Bresson’s Priest has always seemed so heroic to me. He holds fast to his beliefs amidst a social breakdown not as an escape from his suffering but out of a love of the world that could be. “The only philosophy that can be practiced responsibly in the face of despair is the attempt to contemplate all things as they would present themselves from the standpoint of redemption.”

RONNY GÜNL: Männer gedrängt in engen Reihen. Gesenkte Blicke, gehüllt in lange Talare. Die Konturen ihrer Körper verschwinden hinter den faltenlosen Stoffen. Reglos verharren sie an ihren zugewiesenen Plätzen. Ein raunendes Murmeln erschwert die stickige Luft. Kratzende Federn auf leerem Papier. Augen gezeichnet von frommer Demut und unterdrücktem Begehren. Eine winzige Handbewegung tritt aus dem Schatten heraus. Sie dirigiert das Geschehen.

Verschwiegen durchkreuzen Blickachsen den Raum. Perspektiven verschieben sich. Jede Richtung ist ein Bekenntnis, das sein Geheimnis verbirgt. Ein Loch in der Wand erscheint. Die aufgerissenen Augen dahinter kennen keinen Namen. Vor ihnen die Offenbarung, im Dunkeln das Unbekannte. Ein Augenblick erfüllt von Unbehagen und Neugier zugleich. Begrenzt vom Ausschnitt verliert sich das Bild im Taumel der Einbildungskraft.

Ergeben richtet sich der Kopf zum Himmel. Die Begegnung scheint den Widersinn aufzuheben. Es bleibt ein verzweifelter Rest. Robert Bressons Procès de Jeanne d’Arc lässt zwischen den Bildern keinen Platz für spekulative Erhabenheit. Stattdessen der Versuch, sich dem Schatten des Schicksals zu entledigen. Ängstliches Sehen hält entgegen daran fest.


Hands holding Cameras: A Dialogue on Closeness and Hands in Cinema

To experience something from up-close is to be given a chance to observe its details. This experience presumes the possibility of an intimate relation to the object of observation, and can either emphasize certain parts of the whole or separate a constituent from its object. Close-ups have been a distinguished topic for film criticism, whether as a modest privilege or an incensed assault. On the one hand this is because of its aesthetic and moral implications, but on the other because it is just so unavoidably visceral.

Whether analysing the role of close-ups in a particular film, looking back to classics, or outlining contemporary trends, this focus aims at defining and questioning our stance towards the cinematic experience of proximity.

Dear Ronny,

While reading your text, I was constantly thinking of Maurer Dóra’s artwork, which has continued returning to me ever since I first saw it five years ago upon moving Budapest. Photos of a hand, marked with letters, ordered after one another in different ways. Hand as a singular metaphor, hand as a part of the flow. An image of a hand meaningful per se, or interpreted in its context. Reversible and interchangeable phases of motion. The tactile sensation turned into glances, as Farocki mentions.

Framing a hand in a close-up really gives it an independent life, a graceful creature dancing, like the hand in Yvonne Rainer’s Hand Movie. And even if an artwork doesn’t liberate the hands this way, a close-up of a hand cannot avoid showing some kind of choreography, even if the hand is digging, kneading or mounting. Maybe these movements have gracefulness by nature, but I sense it comes from being seen up close. “The verb working is becoming the noun of labour in the close-up. It is said that a film is considered to be particularly realistic if it does not omit any detail of the work.” (Das Verb Arbeiten wird erst in der Großaufnahme zum Substantiv der Arbeit. Es heißt, ein Film gelte als besonders realistisch, wenn er kein Detail der Arbeit ausspare.)

These sentences held my attention in particular and I find their inner tension captivating; while being close means getting a detailed picture of a working hand, it also provokes aestheticization. Far from the person who works, and deprived of the conditions and circumstances of their work, what we see is often more similar to a divertissement than an actual hand working. However, some films complete the essence of working with other images and shape some other impressions with the image of the working hand, like in Robert Beavers’ The Hedge Theatre. The sewing hands, the sharp branches in the chilly spring, and the Baroque architecture together create a universe of interwoven meanings, preserving and fulfilling the repetitive nature of sewing, describing the hard material of the white shirt with associations of the stone pillars, tying the images of nature, buildings and work with an incredibly rich and accurate symphony of noises.


Dear Anna,

It’s interesting that you mention Maurer’s hand project, because it visually resembles a book about gestures for actors from the early 20th century, which Farocki shows in his Film Der Ausdruck der Hände. But I would suggest that there is no original expression of the hands. Hands cannot express something reasonable without any context. Maybe this is what makes me wonder when I see close-ups of hands, especially working hands. Like, how is it possible to produce meaning between two images? I would say this is a realization of a specific idea we get when we think about working. You also wrote about this in your text: “It overshadows the fact that a work is being done, the dance of the hand resembles more of a performance than actual labour, raising the issue of exoticization and almost erotization of the otherwise exhausting and monotonous everyday work.”

Simultaneously, a hand in a close-up can also express this lack of concrete tangibility. But this differs from just making use of a pseudo-naturalistic flow. For this it needs an experience, which only can arise from the viewer’s mind. Hands in cinema are simply everywhere, but only a few of them are conscious about themselves. I believe this is what makes the sewing hands in Beavers’ film so extraordinary. They are really trying to correspond with the other shots, without reaching for a higher transcended purpose. Maybe this is what strikes us by seeing or hearing close-ups, these overwhelming gestures trying to reach our pleasures. But I would say, that this kind of spectacle, which you allude to, coheres to the whole spectrum of making something alienated. So, I wouldn’t ask for ethics of the close-up but for an ideology in their enigmatic character.

After reading your last two paragraphs, I thought you already had found an answer to what close-ups are really trying to do – namely transforming chaos into order. I could imagine that Daniel Spoerri also said something about this in Anja Salomonowitz’ Film. But for him it’s not about forcing order to make pleasure. There always has to be this irreconcilably irritating rest, which also makes those films of Heinz Emigholz so uncomfortable.


Dear Ronny and James,

Being close and feeling uncomfortable are indeed related, and I think we all perceive it as a kind of deficiency if it’s not reflected in the film. When writing about Nadav Lapid’s Ha-Shoter, James also appreciates it for the unusual use of close-ups, how the director does not aim at clarification or control over the spectator’s attention with them. In his case study, the technical depiction of closeness resembles the functioning of an eye: the imperfections deny a feeling of totality, and offer transient states instead.

As viewers, we cannot calmly occupy these images, and a face slipping out of the frame emphasizes its weight when it reappears. The close-ups of Ha-Shoter speak about absence. One of the scenes described by James, when Yaron looks at Shiri’s photo, encapsulates that quality of the film distinctively. It is a close-up of a hand and the photo. The photo itself isn’t exactly a close-up, rather an American shot. Had it been a close-up, it would only show a piece of paper, which without its surrounding would be incomprehensible and meaningless. Had that piece of paper not been there, it would probably be a close-up in order to intensify meaning and our comprehension of Shiri’s feelings.


Dear Ronny and Anna,

Regarding the presence of hands, I feel compelled to broach the topic of unseen hands, hands holding the camera.

This was what prompted my choice of Ha-Shoter, finding a film overt in its digital technique that still conveys a human perspective – one, however, not as overt as in the films Anna mentioned.

My trouble with the conflation of the human body and 16mm film – as described by Anna – is that the filmmakers deciding on medium and formal specificity don’t expand upon what it means to film a hand in 16mm. The superficial seems to be enough, as it was in Jessica Sarah Rinland’s Those That at a Distance Resemble Another.

Funnily enough this film was the one I referred to in one of our first Skype calls. I didn’t mention it by name, but it was the first example I could recall of a film with dubious close-ups (both aural and visual), specifically of hands. Given the film is, from what I remember, made up of static compositions, one gets the impression the hands that should otherwise be holding the camera are instead performing for it, making explicit their existence. Hand-eye coordination applies to the camera’s use, in these examples especially. When one films without either looking in the eyepiece or holding the camera, the image feels untethered and the camera in a position of danger. The camera is in danger of falling over on its tripod, perhaps, but also in danger of producing surveillance footage.

I’m also reminded – in both of your formal analyses – of shadow puppets. In the way a child learns to create a rabbit, barking dog or human through silhouettes of their hands, I get the impression many filmmakers film theirs or other’s hands as an imitation. Showing hands as they are – facing a camera in a frontal close-up, divorced from their owners – puts them in a situation that could never be seen by the human eye.

Though I said above that hands have owners, I’m now questioning this relation. As Ronny mentioned, there are few hands conscious of themselves in cinema. I’d like to see more filmmakers either aware of or filming the consciousness of a hand. Perhaps the only example that comes to mind is in Chantal Akerman’s Un jour Pina a demandé, wherein a rehearsal is filmed of a man performing sign language over George Gershwin’s The One I Love. We see his mouth move with the music and his hands, in turn, keep up, interpreting the song into a gestural language. We see most everything the man performs yet the hands remain an enigma, in both his rehearsal and final performance. Their movements feel more spontaneous than the man’s rigid posture and affectless recitation of the song.


Dear James,

Your note regarding hands on camera, really made me think, because those are the hands which are the most conscious in cinema, probably. This doesn’t mean that those make the right decisions but they know what they are doing especially when they are filming close-ups. In contrast to this I remember what you said in one of our calls about digital cinema. One of the key possibilities of digital cinema is reframing the image – mostly since the era of 4K and 8K technology. You can easily make a close-up out of a medium shot during the editing process, which was never intended on set. It seems so natural to make use of such tools, but for me there also hides this unease. By this I constantly think of Michelangelo Antonioni’s Blow-Up: Thomas, a photographer who desperately believes that he encountered a murder. The film spins around trying to enlarge a print of a photo where he suspects he can see a hand with a gun in the bushes. He urges to make things clear in such a violent way which seems as a dichotomy to the pantomime performers at the end. They are expressing themselves with absence, like a negative concreteness. I’m not quite sure if this is thinkable for the form of film or maybe this is just a utopia of aesthetic theory.

So, there is a permanent void between language and technology. This counts for the picture and sound as well. I would claim that the whole genre of horror is based on that. As I already mentioned in a call there is this early flick from Oliver Stone The Hand starring Michael Caine. After a discussion with his wife he – Jon Lansdale, a comic artist – loses his right hand in a car accident. After he recovers and receives a prosthetic replacement, his biological hand ‘awakes’ and murders. The hand becomes a mind haunting his life like an embodiment of his past. The end reveals that Lonsdale did all the murders by himself. What didn’t really surprise, recalls the unconscious problems coming from cutoffs. I just want to side-note that the animatronic model of the hand in Oliver Stone’s movie was made by Stan Winston and Carlo Rambaldi who also made Edward Scissorhands and King Kong – both movies about dangerous hands.

The assertion that hands work like a vehicle for the distance between the viewer’s eyes and the canvas of the cinema seems in this sense very plausible to me. But there is a difference between showing the distance or objectifying it. Diagonale showed Friederike Petzold’s Canale Grande this year. It’s a movie about a woman making her own tele-vision, but instead she calls it near-vision. Her videocamera is directly connected to the monitor without any receiver. Consequently, her program is only for an invited audience. And of course, the pictures she films are mostly close-ups of her body. She does this because she is sick of the world full of images. At the same time, while watching this movie, I thought this loop functioned like a mimicry of our times, and not only regarding lockdowns, but more generally it mimics a dynamic that most contemporary movies are looking for.



Dear Ronny,

I’m glad you mentioned the ability to crop into close-ups with 4-8K digital negatives, without sacrificing image quality.

This isn’t necessarily a new technique. “Punch-ins” were implemented by Samuel Fuller as early as the 1950s, even. He had limited days and budgets to shoot his films, meaning dialogue scenes would often be covered in a two-shot and with a wide-angle lens. Punch-ins would then be implemented in the edit, cropping the wide-angle image into a close-up that would frame one body or face, before punching back out into the original two-shot. On the day of shooting, only this one set-up would be necessary and the rest of the scene would be finished in the edit.

The difference with Fuller and contemporary 4-8K digital cropping is that his punch-ins are very obvious, making the image much grainier and sublimating the zoom and jump-cut in the midst of a shot. It’s efficient and – contrary to a contemporary, post-production zoom – sacrificed its 35mm fidelity for a transparency; it’s a visible transaction between efficiency and image quality. The images aren’t any less beautiful because of this transaction, either. There’s a relief in watching them and knowing where/how the filmmakers had to cut corners, equally relieving as seeing Fuller emerge from the shadows to snatch off Kelly’s wig in the opening of The Naked Kiss (another great performance of the hand, shown with its adjoining person instead of isolated).

I was impressed, for example, in Ha-Shoter by its inclusion of a long tracking shot wherein the camera’s dolly tracks are visible. Given it was shot on a high resolution digital camera, this shot very easily could have been “punched-in” – occluding the dolly tracks. But this would have served no purpose other than to hide something from the viewer. It was a rare occasion in contemporary cinema that felt “classical” – more so than any film that overtly mimics the 40’s/50’s now-”vintage” colours and film grain. It specifically reminded me of Ophüls’ Lola Montes or Welles’ The Magnificent Ambersons, films also revealing the mechanics of their tracking shots with occasional views of the camera’s dolly tracks. It’s the only kind of “vintage” reference I can bear to watch, i.e., an incidental one.

And going back to hands, I appreciate Jacques Rivette’s credit in La Belle Noiseuse, in which “La Main du Peintre” is a credited actor in the film’s opening, listed after Michel Piccoli and Emmanuelle Beart. There’s nothing hiding behind the hand, whose performance we see in close-ups lasting 5-10 minutes at a time. The cut between Michel Piccoli and the hand is a cut between Michel Piccoli and Bernard Dufour, seemingly. But the specific credit of “La Main” is essential. It’s Dufour’s hand that plays the role of the painter, in the same way Piccoli plays the role of Frenhofer, each distinct from one another.

I’ll leave you two with a song about hands, one that aptly reminds us:

“But then again, our hands are not our friends/

They’re leading lives of their own/

They don’t need us no more than we can/

Want without looking/

Can’t talk without listening.”

Jim O’Rourke, “These Hands” from Simple Songs


Dear James and Ronny, 

I find the references to the hands that hold the camera very relevant in our correspondence. Apart from the interpretations and associations you outline, the problem is also useful for me, to articulate my elemental reservations towards the close sounds of working hands. Accompanying quasi-naturalistic, tactile images, the heightened clarity of auditory nuances isn’t simply artificial because we wouldn’t perceive sound that way in real life, but also because in order for the details to sonorize, direct sound from the other side of the camera must be eliminated. That to me, given the context, the supposed relation to work, is dubious. Hiding sound – both the recording equipment and the perceptible traces it leaves behind – has of course always been part of cinema. The difficulties that arose during the abrupt transition to sound film necessitated resourcefulness, and these difficulties were documented by the apparatus, which couldn’t be separated from its methods of reproduction. The silencing of the apparatus in contemporary film is done for the sake of a sharper and more punctuated soundscape, but it doesn’t create any technical challenges or require artistic ingenuity. From this we can infer that filmmakers aren’t interested in any evidence of the the way cinema negotiates with the material world, but only in his or her own preconceived ideas of it. For all its social concerns, I now think of the ending of Nema-ye Nazdik as one of its most striking ethical achievements. As Kiarostami’s crew follows Sabzian and Makhmalbaf, the sound becomes inaudible because of a loose wire. The inclusion of imperfections or the attempt to work on them expresses a view of the world and, inseparably, filmmaking. Not only early sound cinema and the challenged tracking shots come to mind of course; in the documentary traditions, filmmakers as different as Günter Peter Straschek, Wang Bing or Frederick Wiseman are known for their transparent treatment of accidental noises. These mostly occur when people talk – nevertheless, it is unfathomable to me why a filmmaker wouldn’t apply this methodology when filming hands at work.

In general, I find that we all share a certain distrust in images that don’t create an environment around its subject or engage with it, images that deny exploration and impose proximity. At the same, we’re all interested in hands and how they function. To end our correspondence on a constructive note, here are three images that direct our gaze towards working hands with composition, while establishing their backdrop.