A Shadow that Speaks: Varastettu Kuolema by Nyrki Tapiovaara

 

“It’s normal: when the cinema was “silent,” we were free to lend it all the noises, the tiniest as well as the most intimate. It was when it set about talking, and especially after the invention of dubbing (1935), that nothing remained to challenge the victory of dialogue and music. Weak, imperceptible noises no longer had a chance. It was genocide.” – Serge Daney, Cinemeteorology

The new restoration of Nyrki Tapiovaara’s Varastettu kuolema happened without much notice last year, released on DVD in Finland from a new digital transfer, a restoration of the original cut released theatrically. Unavailable until now, it was then-criticised by the social-democratic magazine, Kulttuuriskandaali, for including insert shots of decadent objects owned by two of the film’s principal characters. In 1954, 16 years later, the film was re-released with changes made by Tapiovaara’s editor/cinematographer, Erik Blomberg. Blomberg elected to cut all the high angle and insert shots from the film for the reasons above, deeming them too extravagant and inspired by a French Avant-Garde cinema irrelevant to the film’s narrative of Finnish resistance fighters. Tapiovaara couldn’t approve of these edits, however, as he’d died two years after the film’s original release fighting for Finnish independence in the Winter War of 1940.

Opening with the machinations of a covert, student-activist printing press, Robert (the film’s initial protagonist), leads his comrades through the streets of Helsinki, before being tailed by a constantly-looming Russian force, attempting to overthrow their grassroots resistance against Soviet rule. Robert and his comrades are eager to increase their partisan efforts by transporting weapons to fellow comrades on the Russian/Finnish front. Only the local arms-dealer, Jonni, stands in their way – offering them weapons and passports by way of blackmail, holding Robert’s list of partisan names as collateral. Both parties are well-aware that Jonni’s the only feasible way of purchasing and transporting weapons out of the country. If Robert and his partisan cohort refuse to buy Jonni’s weapons (with money that they don’t even have), the list of names will be released to Soviet authorities and they’ll be sent to death. Even still, they rebuff Jonni’s advances and opt to transport the weapons themselves – but with few means to do so. The film’s characters are among one of two factions: collaborators or dissidents. The collaborators are made up of Jonni, Robert’s bourgeois family, the aforementioned gendarmes looming among the spare Helsinki streets and their higher-up czarist officers unerringly chasing down our leads in the film’s climax. The revolutionaries are an even smaller group, primarily made up of Robert and his comrades, Jonni’s former accomplice Manja, a shoemaker who shelters Robert from the gendarmes and the dispirited trinket shop-owner with whom Robert covertly deals in black-market passports.

The film’s focus eventually shifts to Manja, one of the great partisans I can recall in cinema. Upon meeting Robert, she turns his printing press into an arms trading post, flouting Jonni’s grip over her in the process. She helps Robert – with her knowledge of Jonni’s weapons and their whereabouts – to transport guns in coffins and haul ammunition belts beneath her many hats and dresses. In this time, she’s now been fully radicalised and still experiences the majority of the film’s indignities both firsthand and undeterred. Firstly, she’s shunned to her face by Robert’s mother as a working-class wastrel and – when running a gun hidden in a baby carriage – is swarmed by the gropes and advances of a lurking gendarme officer. Still, through her, both the film’s noir and melodramatic trappings manifest – then quickly metamorphose beyond themselves and into a higher purpose. When faced with the film’s potential noir narrative, Manja the femme fatale is summarily left behind by Manja the revolutionary. As the primary example of this, when first left alone with Robert, she describes to him her upbringing and life thus far: having been a seamstress in rural Finland, she’s now adorned with shiny jewellery and tea gowns from Jonni (the same gowns she uses to transport guns), donning this bourgeois-collaborator facade with a simmering contempt. She then approaches Robert like the „femme fatale“, insinuated through her longing glances and the shadow-filled room they’re cast in. But this (additional) facade is undone-then-re-established within the movement of their embrace, all for a greater purpose; that of her newfound revolutionary drive, one she sees in Robert.

Without the burden of boy-meets-girl inner conflicts or this bi-polar, femme fatale persona, she very readily leaves Jonni shortly after this encounter and even more readily kills him when kept from Robert in the final act. Though these femme-fatale/love interest constructs are bypassed altogether, one can sense the spectres of their narrative constructs floating through the film’s darkened palette: the glint of Manja’s earring in a close-up that merely traces the outline of her face in a silvery light; the glaring white spotlight of a streetlamp that punctures through the pitch-black fabric of a night-time-set, overhead shot; the swinging light that sways over Jonni’s dead body, splayed atop his taxidermied panther – among these images, the film’s iridescent whites burn with a greater mystery than anything said or inferred through conventional narrative incident or spoken dialogue. Tapiovaara understood, at a point when noir cinema was in its nascency, that it’s the swipe of a hand, a sliver of light that reveals an eye or the passing of currency in close-up that keeps a mystery alive, not the narratives that incite it all.

Mandated by the time and technical means, the above incidents are set to one of two sounds at any given moment: either a tinny, interpersonal dialogue spoken in the film’s interiors or a degraded-sounding orchestra underscoring the exterior set pieces (a bipartite limitation set by its early post-sync sound, monaural soundtrack). Tapiovaara, by necessity most likely, wasn’t tempted to overwhelm his film with overdubbed dialogue or foley work in a time when Northern/Eastern European cinema was first learning how to speak. Set only to the orchestra’s swells, the film’s final set piece reunites Robert and Manja as they speed through in a carriage – machine gun in tow – to a getaway boat on the Finnish/Russian border. Manja is shot by the trailing gendarmes and dies a slow death on the way to these Finnish borders. Having been pilfered, cheated, masqueraded and used as a form of transportation, a true death has manifested through a soldier of the revolution. As Robert closes Manja’s eyes, the film fades to black, without an “end” title card. Eliding spoken and written text, there’s the sense in the film’s conclusion that there’s no time left for explanations and – as a result – no time for a film that speaks of a then-unforeseen national independence; only time for one that shows it.

Glimpses at WRITING

RONNY GÜNL:

Ein einfacher Zettel, geschrieben in der bekannten Schrift des Leibkalligraphen der Firma Pathé, meldete ganz einfach: ‚Und so setzen tagaus tagein die Islandfischer ihr gefährliches Handwerk fort, unbekümmert um usw.‘ O, ein paar sehr gute Zeilen, die mein Schriftstellerherz höher schlagen machten, denn endlich sehe ich der Sprache, meinem Liebling, den bloßen Worten, offensichtlich den Oberrang über Photographieren und alle modernen Techniken zuerkannt.“ – Max Brod, Kinomatograph in Paris

Es ließe sich denken, für das Schreiben sei im Film kein Platz. Bilder und Töne drängen darauf hin etwas zu vereindeutigen, anstatt beschreibend zu umfassen. Gleichzeitig scheint ein geschriebener Satz unumstößlich, der Film aber beweglich. Den Schreibenden im Kino kommt dabei die Rolle ihrer Person zu und weniger ihrer Tätigkeit. In Le Magnifique von Philippe de Broca ist der Autor François Merlin wie gefangen an seinem Ort des Schreibens, von dem er sich in seinen rauschartigen, zügellosen Fantasien entzieht. Der Film übergeht die Grenzen der eigenen Vorstellungskraft und versetzt ihn in einen Zustand aller Möglichkeiten. Es ist nicht viel von Nöten, sich vorzustellen, dass dies auch einen heimlichen Traum des Filmemachens selbst darstellen könnte.

Dann verkörpert sich das Schreiben aber doch in Form einer Sehnsucht wie etwa in Claude Sautet Les Choses de la vie. Ohne seine Hinwendung für sie zu verstecken, zeigt er Romy Schneiders Rücken sowie ihr umgewendetes Gesicht. Sie erwidert den Blick, der sich in Michel Piccoli personifizierte. Während sie nach den richtigen Worten einer Übersetzung sucht, bleibt der Text, den sie in ihre Schreibmaschine tippt, ungesehen – ungelesen. Für einen Moment erinnert der Film so vielleicht auch an die Texte, die nie geschrieben oder nie veröffentlicht wurden, weil sie sich nur an einem einzelnen Blick festhielten: Was hätte wohl Antoine Doinel aus François Truffauts Les Quatre Cents Coups in seine gestohlene Schreibmaschine getippt?

Womöglich kommt gerade dort, wo sich der Film durch die Schreibenden seine eigene Fiktion begreift, einen Augenblick lang das Wirkliche zum Vorschein. Etwas, das Georg Stefan Troller in seinen zahlreichen Personenbeschreibungen aufsuchte, sei es bei Thomas Brasch, Peter Handke oder Leonard Cohen. Diese Filme sind den Personen zugewandt, aber letztlich dem Schreiben verpflichtet. Jedoch zu zeigen, was das abstrakte Schreiben für das konkrete Leben bedeutet, hat vielleicht nur Georg Brintrup mit seiner Arbeit Ich räume auf über Elsa Lasker-Schüler verstanden. Gisela Stein spielt und zitiert Lasker-Schülers Streitschrift: „Ich räume auf! Meine Anklage gegen meinen Verleger“. Statt zu schreiben, streift sie durch die Straßen Berlins, von dessen Mauern im Hintergrund die Parolen prangen. Schreiben als eine Minimalform, das Unglaubliche zu bewältigen?

IVANA MILOŠ: The trouble with artists depicted in cinema is manifold. To my mind, however, it mostly centers around the portrayal of the unportrayable – trying to lend form to that which evades form, instead swishing around edges, flowing in daunting, meandering directions, careening off the charts, off the map, moving off the known world. This, in a manner of speaking, can be called creation. But I am not sure as to how much of it can be shown, recorded, reproduced – especially not when it comes to an art as abstract and solitary as writing. Still, there are enough examples of biopics focused on artists, or films where the main characters are supposed to be visual artists, where we find ourselves looking away with embarrassment once their “art” is actually shown (it seems as easy enough solution, not showing the artist’s work, but apparently it is hard for film directors to resist the temptation) or the process of making is played out by actors. This is one of many reasons why poet-filmmaker Margaret Tait occupies such a unique position. Her depictions of writing are simple, yet unswervingly nuanced, not shying away from the action itself, but also never crossing the line towards the awkward. She is, after all, a writer herself, and well aware of the pitfalls of creation in words as well as images, seeing as she is a filmmaker too. Her film poems are perfect vessels of plurality, a bringing together of layers, an unearthing of the visible and invisible all at once. In Where I Am Is Here, her stunningly beautiful film poem made up of stanzas/parts/chapters, there are several instances in which the act of writing comes to the fore. Experienced in all their intricacy, these communicate the truest feeling of writing in cinema that I am aware of. The first arrives in the part simply called “Complex,” where a hand is poised at the edge of a page, about to write. The hand is unmoving – all movement is reserved for the camera trying to capture the scene. In the very moment the hand begins to write, the shot ends, shifting to the motion of drops creating rings on the surface of water. Here is the motion beyond all motions, words and images conjoined seamlessly, the invisible shifting into the visible, calling to the viewer as well as the writer, the reader, the dreamer: Here is your world, don’t shy away.

SIMON WIENER:

…through all of this
you’re knowing that I’m here
while you’re there…

In Joseph Bernards Film for Untitled Viewer wendet sich der Filmemacher direkt an mich, den Zuschauer. Er schreibt mir eine Nachricht, Wörter, Satzfragmente, die auf dem Bildschirm aufflackern. Es gibt nur uns zwei; die Nachricht bahnt sich einen Weg, nicht nur durch Zeit und Raum, sondern auch durch den Film selbst. Wie ein Flussbett trägt der Film die Worte, transportiert und präsentiert sie, hält sie zusammen; zugleich aber setzt er ihnen etwas entgegen; stört sie, die sie Wasser sind, unmittelbar alles zu durchträufeln, in all Erde einzudringen, überall einzusickern.In Kurven, Umwegen, sich zuweilen spaltend, um Binneninseln zu umsäumen, lässt es das Wasser dem Meer entgegenschlingern, hindert es daran, geschwind, geradlinigst dem Meer zuzuströmen. Das Flussbett: einerseits das Film-Material, zwangsläufig mit der Zeit sich abnützend; andererseits ein Arsenal filmsprachlicher Effekte und Eigenheiten, die uns das Gefilmte, oder hier: Geschriebene aufbereiten, die ihm dienen oder es konterkarieren. Die Unterlage formt das Geschriebene, bestimmt dessen Textur und Schärfe. Wie Tinte auf Gestein wirken auf uns die Worte in Bernards Film; zerklüftet durch den Film, durch dessen Flickern, Auf- und Abblenden, Schärfenverschiebungen. Der filmische Rahmen, den gitterartige Strukturen im Bild nochmals echoen, zerschneidet die Worte in Fragmente. through all of this, lesen wir immer wieder. Das Geschriebene behauptet sich, bohrt sich durch all Filmisches hindurch. Die Tinte behauptet sich bei aller Härte und Schroffheit des Gesteins; mäandernd durchfliesst das Wasser die Erde.

SEBASTIAN BOBIK

Victor Erice’s Sea Mail is part of a series of short films called “Correspondences”. This series consists of 10 filmic letters, that Abbas Kiarostami & Victor Erice sent each other from April 2005 – May 2007. Over the course of this exchange we see amongst other things: children drawing a tree, a quince streaming down a river until it’s found by a shepherd and a rainy day photographed through several windshields. In Sea Mail however we see only a simple scene. It is the 6th film in the series. Erice sends it to Kiarostami on the 10th of August 2007. In the film we see Erice sitting at the seaside, reading poetry and writing a letter to Kiarostami. The film is only 4 minutes long, yet it seems to tell about the length, care & time it takes to write a letter. It only shows us some steps in this progress: Erice sits at a table reading a book of poetry by a 12th century Persian poet (on the cover of the book he is spelled as Omar Jayyam, though in the English language one seems to mostly finds the spelling Omar Khayyám). In the background we see another book, this one with poems by Forough Farrokhzad. After drinking a glass of water Erice starts writing. We can only make out the opening words of the letter before the film cuts into wider shot again, showing us Erice writing against the backdrop of the sea and a mountain. After finishing the letter he carefully rolls it together and puts the paper into a glass bottle, which is then thrown into the ocean, where the waves will take it to unknown shores.

ANNA BABOS: Sonia in Ernst Lubitsch’ The Merry Widow is a great diarist. Her desires are deep and conflicted, which makes for a meaningful subject to write about. Nevertheless, the typical hardship of isolated writers casts a shadow over her as well. She encloses herself in her bedroom and has no experience of life, she cannot relate her lovesickness to impressions that could be formulated into thoughts. The great object of writing, pain, becomes the obstacle itself. Thus Sonia’s sentences get shorter and shorter, simple, unexpressive, and unnecessary. Then – without any apparent external change –, she gets out of bed, frees herself from the space of self-pity, sits down at the table, and starts to write; in fact she writes as much as a glass of ink, as suggested by Lubitsch’s elegant dissolve. From the synchronized rhythm of her singing and writing, it seems that what she puts on paper is the lyrics of her song. This song contains imagination, speculation, introspection, conditional sentences. What changes is the extent of her unhappiness. Lubitsch asks the question: how can one write about the sentiment if the endurance of it is so tiring and uninspiring. As he answers, he depicts time and the process of Sonia distancing herself enough from the disappointment to be able to write self-reflectively.

JAMES WATERS:

There is a scene in the final part of C.W. Winter’s and Anders Edström’s The Works and Days (of Tayoko Shiojiri in the Shiotani Basin) in which an elderly man describes his process of writing postcards. He emphasises the fact, multiple times, that he writes them by hand at the encouragement of his calligraphy teacher. He began this ritual many years ago, writing to various friends and family members – likely among the 48 people in total among the Shiotani community, up in the mountains of Kyoto prefecture. We’ve seen some of these people earlier in the film, sharing a land that doesn’t seem demarcated by neighbouring sections or designated housing. He describes the process of writing these postcards – when he began many years ago – as somewhat difficult, initially struggling to write more than one a day.

This is of no concern after enough time, however, as he now finds an immense pleasure in picking up a pen and exerting part of his days’ time and effort into these postcards and can write up to ten of them a day (spending one minute on each). Having received an expression of concern, a question or compliment, the recipient has been reminded that someone nearby is thinking of them. Regardless of a response, the writer will have already engaged in the now decades-long ritual of stimulating his mind; asking questions and making observations that – with the years – have become increasingly succinct. The man’s own articulation and clarity of perspective will no longer be so hard to reach.

ANDREW CHRISTOPHER GREEN: It took six years for Rita Azevedo Gomes to secure funding for the production of her first film, O Som da Terra a Tremer. You get the sense watching it that the script was written and unwritten and rewritten many times during those six years. The film is about a writer named Alberto (played by José Mário Branco, though originally intended to be Antonio Orlando, who died just days before shooting began). It begins with him narrating a story he’s writing (the namesake of the film), and one gathers that this narration is Alberto’s inner-monologue, indulging in a stream of thoughts about his life, his personal philosophy, what he sees through his window, and so on. We don’t assume it to be the content of a fictional story he’s writing. The camera’s movement over his shoulder out through the window above his desk seems to further establish our assumption that the voice is dictating the present, but then there is a cut and pictures of the blue ocean flood the screen, and the narrator begins talking about his life in the marshlands, far away from the location we just saw him in. This schism isn’t merely a disjunctive introduction but becomes the core dynamic sustained throughout the film: many layers of stories are compounded on top of and interwoven into one another. One of the plot lines deals with the character in the story Alberto is writing, a sailor, who has a missed encounter with a woman while on leave. This is the sailors backstory, though. We get a glimpse of his life before he is stationed in the marshlands where he’s taken up in Alberto’s story. Alberto’s writing is taking a toll on his life. He’s insecure about it. He tries talking to his friends, who are mildly supportive, but he claims he can’t explain his intentions for writing without them loosing their meaning. He ends up renting a hotel room across the street to see if anyone will come check in on him, and also to get a bit of distance from himself and his process. “I don’t know how to invent, all of this was already written by many others, long ago,” Alberto confesses. He claims to be searching for the unconscious, which he calls the “part of God”, and for it to narrate all this written by many others, long ago. Gomes’s script, too, was already written by others; it’s a loose collage made up of parts of André Gide’s “Paludes” and Nathaniel Hawthorne’s “Wakefield.” There was already a great deal of resistance and fragmentation written into the patchwork script, but Gomes’s direction of it into a film became another opportunity to unwrite it all over again. She places a lot of value in the possibility of a chance encounter between speaking and seeing, between whats been written and whats being shown. There’s the hope, most acutely felt in the overlays and dissolves between scenes, that new associations might be unearthed in this interaction. “I like my epoch, for it is an epoch where everything is missing, and for this very reason maybe it’s the true epoch of fairy tales,” the narrator of her A Colecção Invisível begins the film saying. Similarly, Alberto insists that his character isn’t unhappy despite the loneliness of his situation surrounded by the swamps; he tries to make peace with his situation and wouldn’t trade places with anyone else. I sense Gomes doesn’t resent her situation either; the six years of dreaming and writing in an epoch where everything is missing lead to the creation of a beautiful film that feels like a half-remembered fairy tale, one that writes and unwrites itself on us through iridescent celluloid.


DAVID PERRIN: Denke ich an die ersten Bilder meiner Kindheit, fällt mir jenes von Jack Nicholson aus dem Film The Shining ein, auf dem er an einem riesengroßen Tisch sitzt und auf einer Schreibmaschine wieder und wieder den selben Satz herunterhämmert: All work and no play makes Jack a dull boy. Das Geräusch der Schreibmaschine, ein stetiges Rattern, das gespenstisch durch die leeren Räume des Overlook Hotels hallt.

Die Schreibmaschine des Großvaters hatte ich auf dem Teppichboden des Wohnzimmers vor dem Fernseher gestellt, auf dessen Bildschirm Jack Nicholson seinen Satz endlos weitertippte, während ich als achtjähriges Kind versuchte, den Schauspieler nachzuahmen; ein ungeschicktes Stottern und Stolpern, ohne jene schöne Regelmäßigkeit der Bewegung im Film. Die kleinen Finger verpassen die Buchstaben, die Typenhebel der Tasten klemmen zusammen, die Wörter auf dem Papier bilden ein sinnloses Wirrwarr.

Jahre später: Der Großvater längst verstorben und die Schreibmaschine liegt verstaubt als Erbstück in einer vergessenen Ecke der Wohnung. Inzwischen wurde das Filmschauen auch zu einer Art Schreiben. Doch ab und zu lasse ich die Finger über die Tasten streifen, deren Buchstaben mit der Zeit verblichen sind, und erzeuge damit eine Musik, die durch die überfüllten Räume meiner Erinnerung ihren Nachhall findet.

PATRICK HOLZAPFEL: Ich war einmal im Kino mit einer Frau, die mich an Marguerite Duras erinnerte. Sie sprach schnell und langsam zugleich. Es war, als wollte sie vergessen, aber mir mitteilen, was sie vergisst. Kaum hatten wir uns gesetzt, es war irgendein belangloser Film über die Liebe, wurde der Saal abgedunkelt. Ich sah, wie ihre blasse Hand in ihrer goldenen Handtasche nestelte, um ein schönes altes Notizbuch mit ledernem Einband hervorzuholen. Es war, als leuchteten ihre Bewegungen in der Dunkelheit, ihre Hand, ihre Tasche, das Büchlein. Der Film begann und mit ihm das Schreiben. Diese Frau schrieb beinahe ohne Unterbrechung während des gesamten Films in ihr Notizbuch. Manchmal blickte sie auf, zum Beispiel, als auf der Leinwand geschluchzt wurde, so als wollte sie sehen, wer da weinte und dann schrieb sie weiter. Noch während des Abspanns ließ sie das Buch zurück in ihre goldene Handtasche gleiten. Sobald das grelle, ernüchternde Licht angestellt wurde, schenkte sie mir einen müde lächelnden Blick, als wäre nichts gewesen, als wäre nichts geschehen, als hätte sie nicht eben in ihr schönes Notizbuch geschrieben. Wir spazierten etwas in der angebrochenen Nacht, aber ich traute mich nicht, sie nach dem zu fragen, was sie geschrieben hatte. Erst als wir nach einiger Zeit in einer Bar saßen und sie sich kurz entschuldigte, wagte ich, in ihre goldene Handtasche zu greifen, um das Notizbuch mit dem ledernen Einband hervorzuholen. Ich schlug es auf. Als sie zurückkam, weinte ich. Das Notizbuch hatte ich zurück in der goldenen Handtasche verstaut. Sie sah mich verdutzt an. Warum ich weinen würde, fragte sie mich. Weil der Film so schön gewesen wäre, entgegnete ich.

Erinnerungen eines Anderen: München – Berlin Wanderung von Oskar Fischinger

Manche Filme wirken, als wären sie aus ihrer Zeit gefallen. München – Berlin Wanderung von Oskar Fischinger aus dem Jahr 1927 scheint einen anderen Filmemacher schon vorwegzunehmen. Man kann sich beim Sehen des Filmes kaum davon abhalten, an die Filme von Jonas Mekas zu denken. 

Der Film dokumentiert eine dreieinhalbwöchige Wanderung von München nach Berlin, die Oskar Fischinger unternahm. Er könnte als eine Art travelogue, also als Reisefilm bezeichnet werden. Doch der Film arbeitet nicht mit den üblichen Methoden dieses Genres. Die meisten Reisedokumentationen sind länger als dieser Film, der nur dreieinhalb Minuten dauert. Viele dieser Filme haben eine erklärende Stimme, dieser Film erklärt sich nicht. München – Berlin Wanderung wirkt dabei weniger, wie eine genaue Dokumentation, sondern eher, wie die Erinnerung an diese Reise. Die Bilder flackern nur kurz auf, bevor sie wieder verschwinden. Sie brennen sich direkt in unser Unterbewusstsein. Der Film überfällt und überrumpelt. Man will sich jedes Bild einprägen, doch die schiere Flut überwältigt. Es bleibt nur ein Gefühl. Man weiß, dass ein Mensch etwas gesehen hat. Fischinger hat auf seiner Wanderung Dinge gesehen und er hat Zeugnis davon abgelegt. Wir jedoch können nur noch erahnen, was das Gesehene wirklich war, nur noch einen Eindruck davon bekommen. Es existiert nur noch als eine Folge von Erinnerungsbildern, die vor uns aufblitzen und wieder verschwinden. 

Oskar Fischinger ist eigentlich als ein Filmemacher der Bewegung des absoluten Filmes bekannt. Er wird oft  zusammen mit Walter Ruttmann und Hans Richter genannt. Dieser Film ist ein untypischer Einzelfall. Erst Jahrzehnte später wurde fortgesetzt was er angefangen hat. Diese schnelle Abfolge von Porträts und Landschaften findet man in den Filmen von Jonas Mekas wieder, den dieser Film angeblich inspiriert haben soll. Wer München – Berlin Wanderung gesehen hat, wird nicht überrascht sein. Er wirkt wie eine Blaupause.

Einige Motive und Bilder bleiben hängen oder wiederholen sich: Das erste Bild zeigt Zugschienen, die sich in die Ferne ziehen. Schienen, die für diese Reise nicht verwendet wurden, welche zur Gänze zu Fuß stattfand. Dann sehen wir immer wieder: Dörfer, Kirchen, Häuser, Blumen und weite Wiesen. Fischingers Kamera trifft auch auf verschiedene Tiere: Schafe und Ochsen, Hunde und Katzen. Doch am stärksten prägen sich die Menschen ein, die wir im Film sehen. Sie posieren für Porträts, die kurz aufleuchten, bevor auch sie, wie alle anderen Bilder, wieder verschwinden: alte Bauern grinsen, junge Mütter stehen mit ihren Kindern vor ihren Häusern , ein kleines Mädchen hält eine Katze in ihren Armen und scheint sich vor der Kamera zu fürchten. Eine Frau wird aus mehreren Blickwinkeln gefilmt. Die Bilder erscheinen in schneller Abfolge. Wir sehen diese Menschen auch bei der Arbeit. Zwischen den Menschen sehen wir immer wieder die schon besagten Dörfer und Gebäude, die Tiere und Landschaften. Das letzte Bild zeigt Wolken im Himmel. In nur dreieinhalb Minuten sehen wir all diese Dinge. 

Die Form hinterlässt den Eindruck, dass man gerade die Erinnerung eines Anderen sehen würde. Man stellt sich vor, dass so der Film aussehen muss, den man sieht, wenn man stirbt und das Leben vor einem vorbeizieht. 

 

The FIlmic Glissando – Out of the Blue by Holly Fisher

At one point in Holly Fisher’s feature film Out of the Blue, an on-screen text appears which reads, „Bring out all glissandi. They are not just ‚ornaments.‘ ” This is an instruction by composer Lois V Vierk regarding the interpretation of her piece Words Fail Me, written in the score’s legend as direction to the musicians preparing for performance of this work. Fisher includes several such instructions in addition to the full 20-minute music composition within her film. To me these words apply not only to this film as a whole, but to many of her other films as well (thinking Ghost Dance; Here Today Gone Tomorrow aka Rushlight; Softshoe for Bartok).

In Western music tradition, glissandi – the sliding towards or into certain notes, thus foregrounding them – are indeed used as ornaments; they are a means by which the performer may add some warmth, charm, or „personality“ to their interpretation. Glissandi in that tradition demonstrate the player’s virtuosity and confidence, making sure listeners deem themselves to be “in good hands”.

Here, however, the glissandi have become emancipated. In the first movement of Words Fail Me, they seem braided into the melodic lines, melodies, into the phrases themselves, and made a fundamental part of their expression – standing next to stable notes, equal to them instead of heightening their importance. In the second movement, slow glissandi are broken up into jagged fragments, shards, relentlessly driving forward, downward, upward, as if in a frenzy. I think that Fisher’s expressive description of Vierk’s music as “uncanny movement through space” stems from, among other things, the composer’s use of glissando. Both music and film build a sort of fictional architecture, opening up rooms which might not be possible in reality, where askew angles, warped walls abound. The glissandi can be regarded as warped walls connecting past, present, and future in a single line, and which is analogous to what is happening with images in the hands of the filmmaker/editor. The glissando is about transitioning or mediating between two stable notes, one in the process of fading away, the other in the process of emerging. The feeling of in-between-ness, as conjured up by the glissando reverberates throughout the film. The question arises, is there a filmic glissando? And if so, what would it look like?

I believe the glissandi in Out of the Blue are to be taken both in a literal and in a broader sense. They are central to they way the film moves forward. Considering the broader sense of this concept, it seems no coincidence that Vierk’s instruction to bring out all glissandi appears over one of the film’s most crucial images.

The sky and snowy landscape as seen from an airplane are superimposed upon a “snowy”, noisy malfunctioning television, while the shadow of a hand seems to touch this mixture, this “fictional architecture” of imaginary and unbuilt structures, as an onscreen text states, of earth and sky, of reality and (lacking) image, of real and fictitious snow, of beauty and noise, of order and disruption. It is an impossible touch, but one that reforms those disparate elements into a unity, a unity which is not just rigidly imposed upon its elements but is alive, moving, shifting, scintillating. All of its elements at other points in the film are linked with their own distinct chains of associations; the lacking image, in particular, is connected to an image lost in the editing room, as well as to 9/11. Other associations include the plane trip crossing the Atlantic during which real life seems to be suspended, the haze between waking and sleeping, doing laundry, or the “need to talk” (hinted at by both on-screen texts and the sound of a calmly ringing phone): in-between spaces, phases of transition, all brought together yet preserved in their autonomy by this touch which works as a glissando: a realm of connection, letting both the eye and the mind wander, indeed glide between its various parts. These elements are connected not to smooth a transition to a new image or a new idea, but invite the viewer/listener to dwell on the connection itself.

A narrower translation of the concept of glissando into film language is perhaps obvious. In Out of the Blue as well as in Fisher’s work in general, one can find many instances where a film shot lingers, and slowly glides into the next one; where the image is abstracted, where movement crystallizes, or where one image-box which makes up only part of the screen interacts with either the full screen or another image-box. The beauty of a “gliding” image lies not in perfect proportions or perceived order, but in this abstraction of well-known sights which leads the viewer to discover uncharted viewpoints; as if one would take a step back from one’s personhood, only to become awash with surprising sensations (there is a car wash scene in Blue which illustrates this point perfectly).

The most literal instances of glissando in the film are the many images of gliding, of being afloat. Falling leaves, a swimming goose, a plane hovering over the coast line, recurring shots of continuous pulling back of an island and of moving towards an obscure door, cartoon characters stuck in an air bubble – these moments all recall a glissando.

The performance of Words Fail Me is at the very center of Blue. The rest of the film revolves around it, appears, in hindsight, to be structured by it, by its two contrasting movements. Until the first notes arise, a cloud, a haze of contrasting images, texts, associations is being built, or set afloat; a fluid framework from which the music is borne, airborne. But it is only much later that one realizes how music and film inform each other, without one even remotely illustrating the other. Both keep their independence, their own, contrasting rhythm, and their own ways of moving uncannily forward as they still mirror each other. At times, the musical glissando becomes a filmic glissando, and vice versa.

The Creation of Things – Alyam, Alyam by Ahmed El Maânouni

In the words of the filmmaker and historian Ahmed Bouanani, it’s impossible to summarize Ahmed El Maânouni’s Alyam, Alyam. It’s a film about how things are done. 

The submission to individual aspirations, the possession of one’s life, and the idea of extracting oneself from shared existence are all alien to the Moroccan family shown in Alyam, Alyam. The film was made in the spirit of bringing up a national audience, of creating images that decolonize perception, from which Moroccan viewers can learn to look at themselves and, consequently, as Bouanani writes, to judge the society in which they live. The form of Alyam, Alyam and Bouanani’s proclamation delineate a functional explanation of cinema, which identifies its meaning in the facilitation of a common, popular self-recognition, and that necessitates attention to one’s own social relationships in order to establish a relationship with the film itself. It’s educational art, but it doesn’t teach solidified preconceptions. Rather, the lessons fall into place in the moment the viewer appropriates them. 

This process was hindered by the lack of distribution. El Maânouni’s had no access to the cinema space, and his lessons didn’t take shape for years. The lessons engaged with matters of urgency – Alyam, Alyam stages the representative generational conflict between a young peasant, Abdelwahed, who sees emigration as the only solution, and his family, who expect him to take responsibility for them after his father’s death. Abdelwahed refers to necessity; for him, emigration is not a desire, and the appeal of Western life isn’t gratification, but the minimum conditions to maintain life: less dust, less wind, less coughs, less xerodermia, less wounds on the palm. For his mother and grandfather, the family is one, it is inseparable; it’s one with its land and animals as well, which are not to be capitalised on for the advancement of individual plans. Abdelwahed’s intention doesn’t so much strike the family on account of its specificities. A more severe disturbance is rooted in his very consideration of independence, his imagination of new routes that replace the self-evident, integral continuity of inheritance, namely the inheritance of land, responsibility, and providence. Abdelwahed’s family understands religion in the most self-dissolving manner, in light of which a solitary effort to improve the conditions of life on the earthly world is irrelevant. They’re only here for a while to take care of God’s land, the prospect they look forward to is elsewhere.

El Maânouni observes a temporally and geographically distinctive phenomenon, but emphasizes the universal pain of this cessation. The motif of an ending culture in Alyam, Alyam doesn’t merely signify the knowledge about agriculture and the pre-industrialized living space, but also the way people think of themselves.

A particular composition depicting a debate between Abdelwahed, his mother, and his grandfather reoccurs in the film. It’s a deep-focus medium shot, recorded in celestial clarity; the mother and the grandfather find shelter in the shadow of the house while Abdelwahed sits under the sun. It’s exemplary to the images showing conversations. The film consists of numerous long talks but they are never separated from other activities or reduced to the dramaturgical use of verbalizing a situation. The conversations mostly take place during work like the spindling of wool, the forming of dough, the picking of potatoes. They are never about work, which is done with pristine routine, but if work requires greater focus the talking pauses. This element of distraction marks out the vitality of these scenes. The “actors” in Alyam, Alyam perform conversations in a living environment: while they’re in a dialogue, events take place, make noises, and leave traces behind. The people in the scene rarely look at each other; they contemplate, they are partially involved in the dialogue, partially in something else, work, fidgeting, the tumult in the backdrop or a sleeping relative in the same room. The long takes of Alyam, Alyam register the incidents that make a conversation imperfect and dynamic.

El Maânouni’s form of decolonization is not that of agitation but of observation and distance. Alyam, Alyam is an occasion to experience duration and the environment of creation, that of an argument and that of bread.