I’m just back from the Lucca Film Festival, where two of my films, Under and Removal, were screened on October 4th, and where I was privileged to encounter an astonishing number of fascinating people (and films). I’ll be writing a detailed article on the whole experience, but in this post I wanted to look back over the various cultural events I’ve attended over the past several months—which have, from May through to September, been an incredible, extended and culturally packed summer for me—and of which Lucca was the fittingly superlative finale (I’m now into my final year of my degree at the National Film School in Dublin, so I’ll have to try to limit my cultural intake while I get stuck into my thesis and various film projects.) These are all events I would have liked to have written about in more detail at the time, had I had the time—but at this stage it will have to suffice to briefly assess their significance.
First of all, back in Berlin, there were a few important curated events that don’t fit into the my ongoing series of Berlin posts—although the four events would perhaps make an interesting series by themselves, since each, despite their differences, create a sense of movement that is more perceived than acted; that is to say, movements that inhabit and compose the world rather than movements, like work and play, that man brings into the world.
At the ever-reliable Arsenal Kino, “HARDfilms: pixels and celluloid”, a seven-part series of short film programmes curated by Maria Morata, presented an amazing selection of classic and contemporary experimental cinema, many of which are simply impossible to see outside of occasional big-city screenings like this. Arranged into thematic groups, Morato’s series attempted to illustrate the ways in which avant-garde cinema aesthetically and theoretically anticipated and developed many of the elements and principles that digital and media-based artists work with today. I only caught the third and fourth instalment, so I can’t say whether the overall chain of Morata’s curatorial argument holds together, but either way the invention of some of these films is so inspired, one can see the webs of their influence extending far beyond an anticipation of digital media. A few stand-outs from the programmes I saw and in case they ever come your way: RÉCREATION (1957, Robert Breer), T.O.U.C.H.I.N.G. (1968, Paul Sharits), PIÉCE TOUCHÉE (1989, Martin Arnold), SCHWECHATER (1957-58, Peter Kubelka) – pictured above, AUTOPORTRAIT ET LE MONDE (1997, Johanna Vaude) and of course Stan Brakhage, who’s BLACK ICE (1964) was screened. These third and fourth programmes in the series ( “sampling: breaking time” and “sampling: writing movement”) focused mainly on filmmakers using film as a structure of single frames (eg Sharits) or as a graphic surface (eg Vaude and Brakhage), rather than as a temporal continuity in the tradition of figurative cinema.
In the same week in early June, the independent record label naivsuper presented an evening of experimental electronic music across town at the Electronic Church, a small gallery space who’s only sign is a tiny felt-tip scrawl on an advertisement adjacent to its front entrance. The lineup of four acts—Stephane Leonard, Marcel Türkowsky, Ludovic Fresse and a duo called Chronic—each created distinct soundscapes that were as exterior to conventional musical structures as Morata’s film programmes were from the temporal patterns of mainstream cinema. This took different shapes: Leonard’s laptop-induced sounds were broad and oceanic, sounds you float in, that fill up the space and slow down everything in it. Türkowsky’s were more manual and etched: by manipulating everyday sounds with the rewind/fastforward buttons on old walkmans and building these sounds together with a loop machine, he weaved different velocities of sound together into a kind of mosaic found-audio orchestra. Fresse was more concrete again, albeit to an absurd degree: against a pre-recorded electronic track, a host of household objects were gradually exhausted of their acoustic possibilities, building to the indescribable sound created when you let a vacuum cleaner play a clarinet. The final act, Croniq, used a live saxophone player and another laptop-ist, and took things back to a more general oceanic vibe, though lifted by the added emotional and melodic drive of the live instrument.
As Berlin cinemas go, the Kino Krokodil, a charming backstreet single-screener in Prenzlauerberg, deserves special mention. For the whole of my three weeks in Berlin, this cinema was regularly repeating a special programme of Russian cinema, including (every day at 7.30) Alexander Sokurov’s hour-long RUSSIAN ELEGY. The day I finally made it to the cinema, I was a half-hour late, but found the cinema empty, and one guy outside reading the newspaper. When I asked about the movie, I realised he was both the ticket-seller and projectionist, and he kindly proceeded to give me a private 35mm screening of the film….
RUSSIAN ELEGY isn’t the first of Sokurov’s “elegy” films I’ve seen, but it does seem to be one of his most deepest and, unfortunately most off the radar. Beginning with an old man’s death (depicted only by his hand and the hand of his loved one), the film consists mostly of dreamy but palpable landscapes, with a large central section consisting of photos taken at the turn of the century by Maxim Dmitriev. Each photo is given ample time on screen before a detail of the photo is emphasised in close-up. As Alexandra Tuchinskaya has written, RUSSIAN ELEGY is a film “without stitches or knots”, and the overall effect of these disparate images is a remarkably organic sense of wholeness, in which an old man’s breathing, the pulsing life of a damp landscape, and the dynamic energy of old photographs become exhalations of the same breath, circulations of the same blood. The film’s ease in synthesising natural and historical phenemonenon somewhat recalls Tarkovsky’s MIRROR (to whom Sokurov is sometimes too readily grouped in with by critics)—but the distinction is that here, Sokurov seems less concerned with personal and cultural memory and more interested in the creation of a flow of energy beyond, or maybe beneath, those things.
In all three of these artistic events, the common effect was that rather than presenting an act (musical or cinematic) within an already-established framework or set of laws, an original and enveloping world of movement was created, with its own laws. It’s really not hyperbole to say that each effectively creates a new imaginative space in which, potentially, new kinds of actions and thoughts can take place.