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.

Glimpses at COMEDY

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

Erich von Stroheim

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

Ninotchka

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

Indiscreet

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Good Morning 

Two Rode Together

Nobody’s Daughter Haewon 

Husbands

Sátántangó

Varjoja paratiisissa

Down by Law

Ernst Lubitsch on set

Bringing up Baby

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

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

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

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

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

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

Mon Oncle

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

Das letzte Loch

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

Comedies are treated as a silly little pastime.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Szaffi

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

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

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

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

JAMES WATERS:

Our Hospitality

Please don’t keeks me anymore: That Uncertain Feeling von Ernst Lubitsch

Das Genre der Ehekomödie ist längst ausgestorben, weil die Welt zu absurd ist, um nur über das zu lachen, was man kennt. In That Uncertain Feeling, einem gemeinhin als minder angesehenen, aber so gar nicht minderen Film von Lubitsch dreht sich alles um eine Ehefrau, die an chronischem Schluckauf leidet, wahrscheinlich oder ziemlich sicher, weil sie unglücklich ist in ihrer Beziehung mit einem Versicherungsvertreter, der gerade Hals über Kopf in Verhandlungen mit Matratzenvertretern aus Ungarn steckt. Er führt die immergleichen Dialoge mit ihr, sieht sie nicht an, interessiert sich nur für seine Arbeit und zu allem Überfluss steckt er ihr immer seinen Finger in den Bauchnabel und sagt laut „Keeks“. Irgendwann hält sie es nicht mehr aus, als Möbelstück zu leben. Diese Versicherungsvertreter gibt es natürlich zuhauf und immer noch, meist haben sie weniger Humor als dieser hier.

Lubitsch zeigt hier die erschreckende, aber grausam gewöhnliche Parallelität zwischen Verkaufsgesprächen und einer Ehe. Er müsse sich selbst verkaufen, rät ein Arzt oder Anwalt (sie alle verkörpern dasselbe hier, nennen wir es „Berater des Lebens“) dem verzweifelten Ehemann, dann würde es wieder klappen. Erste Vorboten einer neuen Selbstständigkeit, die Ehe als Testgebiet des neoliberalen Prinzips, in dem man sich selbst zur Ware erklärt. Der Erfolg, so er sich denn äußert, findet hinter verschlossenen Türen statt, der Mann hat erobert, zurückgewonnen, er erlaubt sich kurze Zuckungen, ehe er ganz bescheiden nach Außen hin die Contenance bewahrt, sachlich und tollpatschig, Hauptsache niemand merkt wie wichtig dieser Deal für ihn war. Wer auch immer die Tür hinter sich schließen darf, ist bei Lubitsch auf der Seite des Erfolgs. Das Subversive am Film ist, dass die Ehe als weiterer Schritt in der Karriere entlarvt wird, ein Meilenstein, den es zu meistern gilt. Die vom Film nie genannten Gefühle zeigen sich dann, wenn die Handlungen nicht mehr der selbst auferlegten Logik folgen, wenn sie aussetzen und ins Irrationale driften.

Die Frau jedenfalls lernt im Wartezimmer ihres Schluckauf-Psychiaters einen exzentrischen, weltverneinenden Pianisten kennen und brennt durch, zumindest versucht sie das. Nun ist es so, dass sich viele Paare in den Wartezimmern von Psychiatern kennenlernen, wahrscheinlich, weil es dort mit der Contenance besonders schwierig ist. Es gibt wahrscheinlich wenige Orte, an denen man sich so nackt fühlt. Der Film beweist, dass die verdorbensten Filme Hollywoods innerhalb des Production Codes entstanden. Lubitsch scheint in beinahe jeder Szene damit beschäftigt, die Grenzen dessen auszuloten, was er zeigen darf; let’s not mix musicians and mattresses, sagt jemand während genau das passiert. Der musician ist ein grimmiger Geselle, seine Gefühle äußert er in seiner Kunst, die natürlich nichts anderes ist als Versicherungen oder Matratzen. Scheitert die eine Beziehung am Verkaufsgehabe, zerbricht die andere auch am Dauergeklimper; insgesamt wohl daran, dass die Egos der Männer sich um ihre Berufe drehen und die Liebe für sie eine Vereinigung von Beruf und Bewunderung bedeuten. Als die Frau ihren ursprünglichen, im Sinne des Films eigentlichen Mann als mittelmäßigen Verkäufer bezeichnet, trifft ihn das am Schwersten.

Einmal gibt es ein Abendessen, das der Gatte für die wichtigen Kunden aus Ungarn gibt. Er bittet seine Frau an der entsprechenden Stelle ein lautes „Egészségedre!“ zum Besten zu geben, was eine Nostalgietirade zur Folge hat, in der sich sämtliche anwesende Ungarn ihren Heimatgefühlen hingeben. Mit den Matratzen hat es ohnedies so eine Bewandnis, stehen sie doch zugleich für die Essenz und die Abnutzung einer Ehe zugleich, das Abenteuer und den Alltag, das Liebemachen und die Rückenschmerzen, die Geborgenheit und die Schlaflosigkeit. Hinter den Bildern grinst irgendwo Lubitsch, der so leicht erscheinen lässt, was so schwer ist. Er baut eine Szene auf wie einen großen, runden Kuchen. Sobald geklärt ist, was die Zutaten des Kuchens sind, beginnt er damit, genüsslich kleine Stücke herauszuschneiden, immer genau so groß, dass sie auf das Ganze schließen lassen und ganz gründlich, bis nichts mehr übrig bleibt. Im Gegensatz dazu scheinen Komödien heute nur noch zu wissen, wie man den Kuchen in Gesichter wirft. Womöglich war die Ehekomödie auch prädestiniert für das Studiosystem, als das Filmemachen einem gewissen Alltag folgte, indem bestimmte Regelmäßigkeiten, so albern sie auch scheinen mögen, den Ablauf regelten. Wahrscheinlicher ist aber, dass wir die Ehe heute einfach nicht mehr Ernst genug nehmen, um darüber zu lachen.