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Some thoughts

I think Werner Herzog is a filmmaker whose memorable and colourful comments on his work and drive behind filmmaking should be read with the awareness that they come from a man who with the skin pore of his existence beliefs that it is his fate to realise dreams and stories (into films); one can see that when he admits himself how he enjoys nurturing the many rumors that surround his persona.
Hence one would be a ‘fool’, a word he likes to use, to take them frankly as they are dished out, just like his documentaries are also always fictional to a certain degree. Nonetheless many of them to me seem to contain important truths, not only on filmmaking, but human life in the whole.
Here is one, taken from wikiquotes, which brings to memory some of the intentions that lead me to study film and visual art:

I have the impression that the images that surround us today are worn out, they are abused and useless and exhausted. They are limping and dragging themselves behind the rest of our cultural evolution. When I look at the postcards in tourist shops and the images and advertisements that surround us in magazines, or I turn on the television, or if I walk into a travel agency and see those huge posters with that same tedious and rickety image of the Grand Canyon on them, I truly feel there is something dangerous emerging here. The biggest danger, in my opinion, is television because to a certain degree it ruins our vision and makes us very sad and lonesome. Our grandchildren will blame us for not having tossed hand-grenades into TV stations because of commercials. Television kills our imagination and what we end up with are worn out images because of the inability of too many people to seek out fresh ones.

One of the most interesting concepts is that of the ecstatic truth which he says to try to attain with the images that he makes for his films. He contrasts this truth to the ‘factual’, e.g. cinema verite; an essential truth. In his films this ecstatic truth perhaps can be found at the beginning of Aguirre, when the camera slowly reveals the great Spanish conquerers as they are marginalized and struggle to come forward as little dots in a vast, hostile environment of steep mountains and impenetrable jungle; or when the single penguin in Encounters At The End Of The World is seen walking towards what looks like an infinite landscape of ice, according to the director’s voiceover “walking to certain death”.
Indeed I could attribute Herzog’s ecstatic truth to many of the great film moments in my memory, in Apocalypse Now as well as in Claire Denis’ Beau Travail.
The reason to mention this here – I’m not sure whether it was the urge to find ecstatic truth that started this project, but the urge to look for truth in the image certainly played part in it, if only the truth of what it means to relate to a particular urban night environment and its inhabitants through a camera, and how our experience of these always already is fiction to some degree.

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Some still shots and concept photos

Working title Inside/Outside

There is roughly two weeks to go before the deadline, and the current state of the project gives more than enough reason to worry. While trying to focus on progress and forming it into being, the same problems that were responsible that things did not move forward earlier are amplified by the time pressure and constant questions that seem to hinder the realisation of new ideas from the start. But then this has always been a personal project, an experiment into time-based media art production and interrogation with my own ‘media practice’, and an honest and, perhaps, cathartic way of its realisation would be to deal with these issues by dealing with them through the project itself, which it was in a way from the start. In practice this could be unexplainable delay, disorientation, distraction, fatigue, misinterpretation, disconnectedness… What speaks against this approach is, aside from issues of professionalism, that it likely adds further complexity. Better, in my opinion, is when the character of the maker / artist is reflected in the work very subtly and unconsciously.

On the other hand, really good works of art show elements of various fields and themes incorporated in them, and the reason they are so good is that their strength results from their form being build of the tension between these fields, concepts or ideas. As I found out in my dissertation, Philippe Grandrieux’s films affective, moving character and their seeming incomprehensibility from a rational-moral perspective are based on such a successful construct of tensions.
To come back to topic, there are some great ‘self-protrait’ works and oeuvres, particular in moving image art, and the films of Stan Brakhage certainly have been in some way or the other inspiration and motivator to embark on such a risky project for a graduation work. While Jem Cohen and other contemporaries who look with their cameras in a less abstract-lyrical way than Brakhage, I think that their drive is in essence the same. And the meshing of documentary with fictional elements is something that attracts me for this project too.

An article from an Irish blog on experimental film brought this back to my mind and lead to this post. Here an excerpt, a review of a work which sounds quite interesting:

SELF-IMPORTANT EMPIRICAL FILM #3, WITH VOICE-OVER (2005, Dave Andrae, 5mins) is a contemporary work that bears some relation to the work of Brakhage and Schneemann in its carefully fragmented formal approach—but the key differences are Andrae’s use of narration and his related focus on the experience of isolation and loneliness as opposed to the intense connectedness and intersubjectivity of the earlier films. Andrae describes the film as “an honest attempt at examining the heavy fog of apprehension that pervaded my early twenties. In making the film I wanted to capture the listless abandon of young adult life—not just the obvious awkwardness and disillusionment, but also the occasional grace achieved during solitude.” If, in the earlier two films, the filmmakers’ self is defined and expressed in terms of what it is connected to (a lover, a family), in Self-Important… Andrae is left with nothing but himself with which to define his “self”. The filmmaking process—by allowing Andrae to film himself and his everyday world, and subsequently order and narrate these images—becomes a means of facilitating this internal process. In this case, the film’s formal innovation (in particular, it’s creative use of dissonance between the narration and imagery) develops from a very personal impulse—an attempt to elucidate and overcome his apathetic state of being.

The other three films in the programme highlight the ways in which film can be used not only to express but to actively develop and transform oneself. One of the key ways of doing this is by turning the camera on the filmmakers, subverting the traditionally voyeuristic relation filmmakers maintain with their subject. This puts the artist in the exposed position of performers, but with the added vulnerability of being seen as the author of their own image.

From the edit room

It’s been a long while since the last post, and while I had started a new entry on Dryden Goodwin and his work I eventually wrote it down in my paper notebook. Currently trying to put a form to the (still/moving) visuals and sound material I have recorded, which is complicated by the various themes I seem to touch with this work (multi-screen installation, field recordings using different microphones and the role and nature of sound along moving image, psychology of space, architecture and film, street photography and issues of voyeurism, the city and alienation…).

Anri Sala – Long Sorrow

Anri Sala - Long Sorrow
Anri Sala - Long Sorrow

Unfortunately missed the exhibition of this piece about a saxophone musician playing while being suspended from an upper floor window of a Berlin high rise flat landscape. Found at Londonsmog blog.
Seems to be a quite affective, original piece of work, that I mention here because it also deals with issues of isolation and alienation within a particular urban environment.

Re last post

From the interview with John Smith in the Solo Show publication (p. 53-54):

In regard to the different use of the voiceover in The Girl Chewing Gum, Home Suite and Hotel Diaries could you reflect on how you relate sound to image elsewhere?

I’m really interested in the balance and tension between working with image and sound. If I made a film where the image constantly dominated and the soundtrack was illustrative I would feel that the work had failed. […] I’m also particularly interested in the ambiguity of sound, which is clearly illustrated in Om (1986) [seemingly a close-up of a monch, who in the end turns out to be a hooligan wearing a hair dresser robe], but it happens in other films too. For example in Shepherd’s Delight there’s a point at which the same sound continues through two images – one of an egg frying and another of heavy rain falling – and this could relate to either one or the other. […] I’m really interested in the abstract qualities of sounds as well as their representational significance. […] I like introducing sounds for a reason within a narrative context, but then playing with them so they take on a different kind of significance, a quality of their own that is beyond the logic of representation.

I find quite interesting what Smith is saying in the last sentence. In my dissertation I discussed a type of film in which the images and sounds are ‘beyond representation’. How ever not by way of abstraction as Smith describes it but, as Gilles Deleuze theorized in The Logic of Sensation on Francis Bacon’s work, bodies of their own. Like in musique concrete, they become objects that resonate that much more with the viewer/listener and her body in that they themselves are aural and visual ‘bodies’ (as a way of describing such objects outside the representational system).

Such ambiguity of sound, as Smith coins it, the has also been explored by experimental composer Karlheinz Stockhausen such as in his Gesang der Jünglinge, which explores similarities between natural and artificial sounds by blending samples from a boys choir with electronic sounds (wikipedia: “it seamlessly integrates electronic sounds with the human voice by means of matching voice resonances with pitch and creating sounds of phonemes electronically”).


On music, the image, the other and art

This is a post I started  a week ago or so and then didn’t finish because it was late.  Consequently the argumentation seems somewhat flawed and I don’t know where I wanted to go with it and seem to have got lost of a personal definition of art, so I just post it here like it was saved. Without doubt it is about the sensual quality of sound. But I’m not sure why I thought that would make it less deceiving then the image; perhaps it is more difficult in that medium. But like John Smith has explored in his works, the soundtrack, particular in form of a narrator, has the potential to mislead just as much.

I am just now, after a long day or long week of work, listening to an album by Monty Alexander, a very uplift Jamaican Jazz musician. And listening to it relatively active, with finger-snipping etc, I was reminded of the video moving image portraits by Candice Breitz mentioned earlier; but for more reasons then the little funny performer that is in all human beings. “The piano, to me, is a vehicle for connecting to other human beings”, says Alexander. Music as a way of connecting with other humans, or the other. Kind of a banal finding, yes, but I found it interesting because I keep returning to the question of the other, how human relationships and communication function, and the way we behave towards each other. I don’t want to go into psychoanalysis, interesting to me is the complication of general  human relationships and what things facilitate connections, e.g. good music, or good art.

All great art has a connective function in some way, because it, at least that is my understanding of good art, widens the  perspective beyond the subjective horizon, not against the individual but beyond individuality, gives a greater understanding of life and what it means to be human without the need to proclaiming (false) greater truths for itself. And such art need not be greatly sophisticated in its form; as Japanese visual art shows for example (particular 60s and 70s photography from there), some of the greatest art is in nature and the everyday (not to mistake with attempts seen in most calendar pictures and amateur photographs that are in fact at the opposite end, emotionalism).

Compared to the image, sound to me often seems more direct in a sensual way. And, as long as it does not include language, it also seems a by far more ‘honest’ medium.

An interesting juxtaposition between image and sound is the dubbed film. The visuals can acquire completely different meanings  with the change of the soundtrack, be it dialogue, music or sound effects. Not without reason their was a great scepticism in film studios when the technology came up, as I learned from a chapter in a book I’m currently reading, Saving the image: Art after film.