To mark International Women’s Day 2014, we celebrate women in film from around the world. Here are 25 women to honour and admire this year.
To mark International Women’s Day 2014, we celebrate women in film from around the world. Here are 25 women to honour and admire this year.
It’s 20 years since Derek Jarman‘s (1942-1994) death, but his films continue to inspire audiences with his romantic and subversive imagery. Jarman contracted HIV in 1986 and he publicly discussed what it is to live, work and influence change with this controversial virus. This year London celebrates his legacy and eclectic work reviving key gay and homo-erotic figures from the past such as Saint Sebastian, and the painter Caravaggio.
Jarman’s work is featured in a huge season at the BFI Southbank coinciding with Derek Jarman: Pandemonium, a King’s Cultural Institute exhibition in the Inigo Rooms, Somerset House, and other events happening as part of Jarman 2014.
Here we present 21 photographs put together to revisit Jarman’s intriguing work.
I’ve never worked a wave beaten shift on a night time fishing trawler in the North Atlantic. I will never become a motor-powered boat nor squirm like a slowly dying sea fish. Yet, after watching the documentary Leviathan projected onto a screen in London, I feel that I have lived through all of these. However I did not feel that I experienced this as a human, sea gull, starfish or fish, but as a techno-organic hybrid ‘camera-human’ or a ‘camera-fish’: An artificial sensory body, similar to the real eyes and ears on board this vessel, but always feeling a bit ‘tinny’, lens-filtered and plastic.
Whether or not these impressions were intended by the filmmakers, this film, ostensibly a rugged record of one night’s expedition into the wild sea, did seem to be an attempt to give a new documentary experience of the human animal world.
The tradition of nature documentary or wildlife filmmaking evokes images of the human centred exploration by Cousteau and Attenborough, with discovery of animal world perception being the subject rather than the method of the film. However, this zoological desire to be audio visually closer to the lives of animals has benefitted advancement of technological invention; building camera rigged sets, hives, nest boxes and submerging cameras to new depths of the ocean. The scientific need to observe untamed subjects in their natural habitat necessitates evolved approaches filmmaking methodology, see the beautiful early 20th century BFI DVD collection Secrets of Nature.Yet the creative results of these endeavours have often been restrained, conservative and always from a human storytelling perspective.
The present excitement about increasingly smaller, more mobile and more powerful cameras continues this desire to be given new images, new perspectives on the world. Leviathan seems to embrace combined axis of techno-perceptive advancement. The film adopts the gopro, a small rugged HD sports camera, to cinematically decentre and dehumanise the film audience, offering a journey that is neither simply zoological nor something zoomorphic attempting to embody the animal’s point of view. The resulting journey is engrossing but rollercoaster disorientating with moments of deep thrilling engagement and others of slow anticipatory distance.
What perspective do these miniature cameras provide when removed from the hand, removed from the dexterity of a DOP and thrust freefall into the bestial world? Do we now have an option to see the bird’s eye view or a drones eye view?
Leviathan continues a recent resurgence of new theatrical nature documentaries, but very few place the viewer in such sensorial proximity with their subject. Bestiare (2012), Nenette (2010), Le Quattro Volte (2010), Bovines (2011), Facing Animals (2012) take a step back and stand in an objective category of nature films, simply observing animals from close proximity and making little human interpretation of their life as story. Other
contemporary examples show entwined worlds of humans and animals in the frame of creative anthropological and traditional narrative cinema: Sweetgrass (2009), Winged Migration (2001), Aatsinki (2013), Grizzly Man (2005), The Wild Parrots of Telegraph Hill (2003), The Day of the Sparrow (2010), Birders: The Central Park Effect (2012), The Moo Man (2013) and Blackfish (2013).
What shifts in perceptive politics are induced by more animal centric cinema? One obvious danger is that the non-human image becomes a misanthropic image, criticising the way mankind ruthlessly constructs, consumes and ultimately abuses that which is non-human. This polemical ‘human vs animal’ cinema has some history in politically motivated environmental and food chain documentaries like The Cove (2009) or The End of the Line (2009). Plus a more creative lineage such as Baraka (1992) or more recently Animal Love (1996) and Our Daily Bread (2005). These two films achieve a sense of distant, alien gaze towards the human, a gaze that is perhaps not human or animal but its awkwardly misanthropic images place sympathy with the latter.
This growing number of new nature documentaries show a willingness to go beyond the tradition of objectifying distance and romanticising narrative construction common of earlier wildlife filmmaking. Yet they still observe animal behaviour, movement and interaction from the exterior perch of a manned camera. Leviathan further disrupts tradition by pushing the viewer into a discomforting, zoomorphic closeness to the animal as a subject, so close that it’s no longer the subject that we tell a story about: The sensorial experience of the subject is the story drive and the camera becomes the sensorial subject. Such documentary proximity prompts the question: If we as viewers become the animal, can we reflect upon the animal world as a human or as an animal? Are we still able to create a narrative in human terms? Is narrative structure necessary in primarily sensorial cinema?
Humourously one blog comment remarked in response to Leviathan: ‘David Attenborough saw this in a theatre, and halfway through started shouting out verbs.’ Of course human descriptive language is not of the animal perceptive vocabulary. Perhaps Leviathan attempts a cinema language of the senses where objects, humans and animals, solids, liquids and gases are fused; nullifying external human subjective or objective stance. Almost an anti-intellectual cinema hailing from the intellectual grounds of Harvard Sensory Lab.
It would be easy to label cinema that preferences the stimulation of the senses over narrative as simple childish, primitive and playful modes of looking the world. Yet this form of cinema feels more arresting for the mind and body than hand-holding, dictated narratives that require little reconfiguration of a spectator’s point of view. It’s the beautiful difference between getting lost in the wonder of a place and using a GPS journey planner to get from point to point.
For urban cinema goers, the environment given in Leviathan is extraordinary in its harshness of conditions therefore it takes time and observation to adjust and feel present in such a place. Even if sensorial cinema’s central offering is a very literal displacement of human point of view, the duration of altered exposure has a transformative and transplanting quality for the blackbox cinema audience.
How do we film in a way that makes us feel animal? Fictional cinema such as The Birds (1963), The Story of the Weeping Camel (2003) and recently For Those in Peril (2013) readily use the whole body of the animal as totemic devices for psychological and emotional change in a narrative. Robert Bresson moved closer to specific animal body qualities. Au Hasard Balthasar (1966) shows a highly economic use of symbolic framing of the donkey; capturing a sad eye, a scraping foot of impatience, a shaking tale of anger.
However these images are always positing the viewer outside of the animal. Perhaps as technological development permits us to see the animal’s world much closer, from zoomorphic perspectives, the ethical position of new nature documentary will be one of deep empathy rather than distant sympathy, not a question of ‘how do we look at’, but ‘how do we see as’. How do we feel and see as the animal? The answer is not simply attaching a camera to an animal’s head. After watching Leviathan it appears that a disembodied camera offers the presence and point of view of a camera body not the prosthetic host.
Why preference the position of the eye being the position of the body as a whole: the body-vision. What happens if we view the world from a camera attached to the bear’s claw, the whale’s fin or bird’s wing? Each body parts give distinct qualities of movement, texture and pace very different from the eye. Why not embody these movements? Would the human viewer become nauseous? Would this form of sensorial cinema be unwatchable? On a very simple level: how do the new images we are afforded by these technologies make us feel when watched at length? I would argue that in the case of Leviathan they make us feel less human, less animal and more like an indestructibly prodding, endoscopic camera eye.
The duration of sensorial exposure seems to be a repeated criticism of Leviathan, and perhaps the intensity of scenes awash with waves and drifting starfish make other more straight forward observational moments in the shower or the gutting room feel dull and numb in comparison. In an animal world, absent of dialogue and human emotion, where we place the camera becomes a primary concern for the viewer. Thus the awe inspiring bird’s-eye-view shot becomes a unique selling point for the film. But now that we can poke a camera into almost any bestial space, what will differentiate strength of filmmaking in new nature documentaries of the future?
Leviathan purposefully makes the viewer aware of the machine, they embody the machine, seeing through the shaken camera body and hearing the tinny sound of a submerged low-grade microphone. This is sensing the subject through technological perception: The wired eyes and ears pinball documenting its subject as it prods, pushes, blurs, drifts, clashes, shreiks, whines, grinds and blows in an attempt to transmit the material qualities of the camera’s immediate environment, it becomes a mechanical chameleon. Despite numerous waves of mainstream reflexive directing it is rare to see a film acknowledge its own technology of production. Here the materiality of the subject meets the materiality of the filmmaking technology. It is no less immersive for acknowledging the mediatory machine filter that gives us these images.
The film hasn’t simply provided a step forward in cinematic nature documentary filmmaking but has made an argument for exploration of a sensorial cinema that opens the door to forthcoming affordable digital production equipment such as drone cameras and advanced miniature sports cameras. Increasingly, in an attempt to sense the world of nature, technology and things, the camera will move out of the hand and into the bodyspace of its subject.
The world of Luton, the debut feature of Michalis Konstantatos, is common people in their everyday lives. The three lead characters seem to have nothing in common: Jimmy (Nicholas Vlachakis) is a wealthy high-school student dominated by his controlling mother, Mary (Eleftheria Komi) is a trainee lawyer in her 30s and Makis (Christos Sapountzis) is a 50 year-old family man and the owner of a mini market. What at first looks like episodes of their ordinary lives, it turns into a gothic tale of a city drifting into bleak, doubtful and gloomy prospect.
Atmospherically Luton follows in the footsteps of other realist dramas, such as Corneliu Porumboiu’s Police, Adjective and Michael Haneke’s Funny Games. There is a shot of clear reference to Gus Van Sant’s Elephant when Jimmy walks down the school’s corridor but these references are only “a synthesis of films that I like and grew up with: it is the cinema I understand and admire but each one of these works is different”, Konstantatos explains.
In 2010, I screened Michalis Konstantatos’ intense short film, Two Times Now (2007), in London as part of the film programme Happy End at Yinka Shonibare’s Guest Projects space. The reactions to the story were mixed but there was the feeling that the precise detail and tension in Two Times Now was vital signage this newcomer writer-director has something to say.
It’s no surprise that three years later his debut feature film created a lot of curiosity since its premier at the San Sebastián Film Festival last month. Shortly before its premier at the 57th BFI London Film Festival, I rush to read Luton through the crisis in Greece and the rest of the world but “the idea of Luton started before the crisis” he tells me and he adds “it’s about what leads to a crisis.”
Luton took shape four years ago as work in progress at the Sarajevo Film Festival’s CineLink Co-Production Market. The project was acknowledged by representatives of the Cannes Film Festival and in spring 2011 it got invited as part of the fifteen international projects selected that year for The Atelier. But how Luton kicked off? “The spark of this film” Konstantatos continues, “started from random incidents of violence I was reading about happening around the world and concluded that those who were causing this violence were everyday people and not some thugs or criminals.” Luton is not an easy watch. It’s an insightful film that grows layer by layer. “I started to search for this world, how could we arrive at such violence, coming from what facts, who is doing it and what pushes them to do it. In my previous films violence is employed as a phenomenon [Two Times Now] but just four years ago we gave this idea a shape, a scenario” he reveals.
The script was co-written with Stelios Likouresis and the whole rhythm of the film is built on discovering what’s hidden behind each character. For the first hour we’re taken through the details of three people’s daily routine, near isolated and almost manic depressing. Konstantatos focuses on the details of everyday life, which we pass unnoticed. His long takes with his all time collaborator, DoP Yannis Fotou, give the viewer the space to focus on the invisible signs of madness on the body language of those surrounding us, who otherwise seem normal.
The pale contrasts and flat photography in the film reflect the characters’ equally flat psychology and what Luton says at first hand is that people need to help themselves before anything else. According to Konstantatos, “Luton is very close to realism: simply I want to place the characters in their own environment, relate them as objectively as possible.” He later explains, “I want to demonstrate how the environment influences people, how it forms their psychology, if they react towards it and if not, where exactly reaction and resistance exist?”
In almost every scene in the film there’s a repetitive moment of frustration, people’s desires, which some try to get in vain or simply don’t bother to try: like Makis failing to pick up the phone and place an order complaint at his work. “It’s easy to express your feelings but at the same time very difficult and this is an element that guided me to make this film. I believe most problems are created out of incapability to recognise and express ourselves to the outside world” he adds.
The title of the film, we learn from Konstantatos, is a metaphor. For Jimmy, the fact that his mother sends him to Luton University is not a new phenomenon. His mother asks him to have Sunday lunch every week with his granny but neither his granny nor him want to be there. Like with many teenagers from a wealthy background, Jimmy’s future is prescribed by his consumerist bent parents. Essentially Jimmy’s escape to an unknown city like Luton (for most people it is only known as an Easyjet destination) is insignificant.
For Konstantatos, the film works like when you look yourself in the mirror: “By recalling the scenes [from the film] you recall elements of yourself and it’s quite challenging because it’s not the way we’re taught to think in our life. It’s not the rhythm we’re used to. Usually nobody tells you, wait, think and make your choices. Usually you’re asked to harry up and make profits otherwise you loose your job. Therefore I believe many responses to the film will be influenced by this element because we’re not used to take the time to reflect”, he observes.
Despite the current craggy financial landscape in its native country, Luton has secured distribution in Greece by Feelgood: a partner who supported the film from its script stage together with co-producer Christos Konstantakopoulos of Faliro House Production. Last June Greek broadcaster ERT went off air and the closure’s influence on cultural production has been, as predicted, catastrophic. For Luton too the closure of ERT left agreements in the air, even though their support towards the project has been compelling.
“The instability, so much madness and standstill of the market that exists in Greece today naturally create an enormous damage in the psychology of people. Luckily there are people who believe in projects and they are willing to contribute without obvious income. But this has an expiry date when you need to earn your living. If there weren’t young people and producers such as Yorgos Tsourgiannis [from Horsefly production label] who has the momentum and enthusiasm to come in and put his head down to make films and Chris Konstantakopoulos who takes the risk to support non-mainstream cinema, there would be no movies in Greece. Also without the support of the film’s co-producers, the involvement of the Greek Film Centre, Hellenic Broadcasting Corporation, Arctos Broadcast Facilities, Two Thirty Five post production company, Endorphine Production, Costas Varybopiotis and Yiannis Fotou, Luton would not be able to be completed.”
But what can we expect for the future of Greek cinema? “I see that movies do get made” he replies. “Though the thing is that they should be made rightly with people getting paid. When it happens with coordination and clean agreements then it is very nice to be happening. I see there is a number of people who are very talented, directors, producers, directors of photography and I think if we don’t go out of our minds riding the so called Greek Wave, things can progress with the local film production industry. In recent years every movie made by a Greek filmmaker has to ride this Greek Wave label and I believe there is a risk to become like the idea of the stock market in Greece in the 90s, when everybody joined in and finally the bubble bursted. So it needs some attention and everyone should look to work more precisely and responsibly in order to make movies.”
While waiting to get the green light for his new film, Konstantatos has been working on TV series, music videos and theatre productions and he is the co-founder and director of the Blind Spot theatre group based in Athens. His new film has a working title Carbon and is currently developed through the nine-month long residency at the Torino FilmLab Script & Pitch programme.
Georgia Korossi is editor of 11polaroids, writer and producer of film based in London and Athens.
“All great fiction films tend towards documentary, just as all great documentaries tend toward fiction.”
Aside from this admiration, the film has provoked reactions of both shock and awe, effects that can be attributed to a recent lack of public critical engagement and discussion of the documentary form. This article is a minor attempt to create a current overview of the hybrid documentary by outlining some of influences and difficulties of these forms.
After a wave of non-negotiable fact presenting documentary films in the early 21st century, more recent filmmaking tendencies are offering plural directions for interpreting reality. The forms emerging are layered, offering a deconstructed point of view suspended within strategies for finding multiple truths.
These films have been loosely and conveniently referred to as ‘hybrid documentary’: A quick means of grouping factual based films that conceptually address the relationship between form and content in an attempt to pervert traditional factual production methodologies with new truth games. The more recognisable films that prompt this discussion present quite a broad spectrum of filmmaking: The Arbor, The Act of Killing, The Ambassador and Bombay Beach. Their differences motivate further discussion of what defines the ‘hybrid’ documentary and how its offerings might reposition future practices.
The notion of cinema ‘blurring the boundaries’ has created much buzz in the documentary world but little digestive reflection. An initial point of query is: ‘Hybrid between what and what?’ One general assumption is that these works emerge from the interstice of documentary and fiction – but what other boundaries do they operate between? Observation and instigation, life and art, the actual and possible, translation and interpretation, presence and performance, construction and deconstruction, evidence and heresay, authorship and plagiarism, meaning and abstraction.
Not all of these transcending devices work towards positive representation and some walk altogether different, more ethically challenging boundaries: from revealing to exploitative, from dissection to disgust, responsible to irresponsible, experimenting with to experimenting upon, dignity to deviation, orchestration to dictation, subjective to subjecting. Despite the hype generated by these films, their ambiguous genre means that many still have a hard time finding a home with funds, distributors, festivals and critics. These industry bodies still tend to operate on strict categories of fiction vs. documentary or alternately permit willful ignorance of their fraught distinctions.
Recognition of new waves and emergent trends tend to overlook the specific ideas and patterns of filmmaking. The ‘hybrid documentary’ is not a subgenre, it is a mode of tactical filmmaking. To come to terms with these modus operandi, rather than looking upon them as a singular movement, there’s a need to trace each trajectory of complex, rich methodology.
The origins of these documentary forms find some roots in other creative and academic fields: artists taking a novel approach to historiography and archival interpretation, Performance Theory, metafiction, the reflexive turn in the social sciences, ethical playgrounds of Dogme cinema, reality television formats, ‘making of’ films, online confessional ‘selfies’, the artistic tradition of ‘The Grotesque’, Verbatim Theater, video conferencing and further creative methodologies that make transparent their modes of production and modes of producing evidence. Only now are we seeing their influence on more mainstream, widely distributed documentary cinema.
The enlightened position of the viewer in relation to film production has further permitted the possibility of deconstructed narratives and transparent mise en scene. In the 21st century, developments in hardware and software have supported a combined rise in media literacy and an incessant practice of self-editing.
Human relations and knowledge transfers are increasingly rendered, retouched, dubbed, compressed, formatted and uploaded before being experienced – this occurs in both familiar (friends, work colleagues) and remote environments (Arab uprising). The objective documentary facts in these images are reduced to metadata of time, place, camera model.
It is thus difficult to separate the boundaries of drama and documentary when the reality many filmmakers experience and record is already hybridised. The social self is the telepresent self, premediated, auto-fictionalised, auto-caricatured an imitator of the fictions we weave. The documentary filmmaker remains wary of addressing these technologies of the self – taking caution to eliminate or edit out schizophrenic ‘acting up’ and performed presence in film. This fear has in the past promoted the use of authoritative fact-distributing characters in documentary cinema: a series of talking heads able to recite truths and nurture belief of the viewer, perhaps as a means of distancing the films from other purely fictional forms of cinema narrative. Clarity in form creates acceptance and trust in content.
This dictum resonates in drama documentary or fiction film rooted in real events. No dramatic eyebrow is raised when fiction films claim to be ‘based on a true story’, the most simple tactic of narrative credibility. Documentaries simply deploying dramatic reconstruction within a factual narrative framework are easily consumed, as the line between the ‘documentary’ and ‘drama’ sections are more clearly demarcated through formal devices: The Imposter, Man on Wire, Dreams of a Life and Who is Dayani Cristal. This practice perhaps opens up new audiences for the documentary genre by offering a more familiar method of storytelling: drama, but puts forward little progress for the form. The habit is not new, constructed realities have been present in documentary since their inception, Nanook of the North is essentially a series of staged sequences using real people in real places.
Each move forward in the documentary form revitalises earlier avant garde filmmaking with new subject and appropriate meetings of form/content. Without attempting to seed some neologisms, here are some simple groupings and genealogies of each methodological trajectory.
Performing the Archive:
A means of addressing historic acts, records or media through creative reenactment, interpretation or improvisation
The Literate Layer:
An amalgamation of documentary footage or archive with a layer of poetic interepretation through voice over or subtitles
A performative form in which the director assumes a character to instigate and reveal through provocative investigative journeys
A method of dramatising the self to achieve representational clarity or reveal the fantastic ‘magical’ self
Reflexive Acting / Casting Couch:
A useful state of the nation device, ask the leyman to perform their ideal self or fantasies and we recognise not only the individual character but the character of society
Past reference: Mohsen Makhmalbaf, Salaam Cinema, 1995
One shared intention of these films is their tendency to not confirm information agendas or state facts but to question, confuse and experiment, they are open forms of filmmaking. Audiences are increasingly prepared for this experience due to a correlating general rise in media literacy and decrease in trust of traditional media narratives. Perhaps these films respond to the need to re-engage trust of audiences with indirect truth finding exercises: journalism that does not feel like journalism, science that does not feel like science.
The hybrid documentary contributes to the possibility of film opening an ongoing dialogue between subject and audience. This offering can be uneasy, it lacks the closure of a defined call to action, polemic debate or carefully scripted essay film. The audience is left with a lingering feeling like frustration, bewilderment and even annoyance – it’s a space without answers, a space that positively provokes more questions, rather than closing a chapter of history. If the audience is not prepared to take the journey then the result can be one of simple rejection.
How do we assess the ethical and aesthetic merits of a film that does not attempt to be more factual than fictional? On a spectrum of honesty-manipulation? Form-function? Responsible-irresponsible? How are the filmmakers assessing their own codes of operation? Paradoxically, the audience awareness of fact production and manipulation allows the filmmaker to negotiate a new level of trust through shared transparency: “This is how I shall produce the story, come with me on this journey.”
The increase of audience trust permits a shift in ethical contracts between filmmaker and subject, a shared ground of risk and experiment. For these games of presentation and representation, acting and reenacting to produce mutual dialogue the subject and audience must also be taken on this journey to a new code of conduct. Documentary cinema does not permit irresponsibility. One can provoke with ethically contentious statements and remain responsible for those actions and outcomes. Ultimately responsibility of the filmmaker grants the movement into new forms of documentary cinema experience and with this move the burden and stakes for the filmmaker increase. But what are the consequences if one of the tricks goes wrong? What creative risks can filmmakers take when consequences affect real lives? Artistic exploration is not immunity, copycats may suffer making difficult lives from difficult films.
In cases sited: Enjoy Poverty, The Act of Killing, The Ambassador, and the films of Chris Marker and Jean Rouch, the ethical experiment is safer to play out elsewhere, an irregular place without regulation. If the game turns sour, are we prepared for the fallout of failed Ambassadors of the future? Who is implicated in the game? Who is safe from it’s story? In most cases the filmmakers can walk away and wipe their hands, a seemingly necessary premise for such ethically fraught filmmaking strategies. Would their actions be more tamed if conducted on home turf, under the scrutiny of Western media and apparent tradition of journalistic discipline?
Upholding a singular code of ethics for documentary filmmakers similar to that of journalism would seriously limit documentary as an artform. Not only would the creative spectrum be reduced but also the ability to question ethical constructs within that set ethical framework.
It seems that hybrid forms will allow a move away from didactic, moralistic documentary toward methodologies that address the complexity of contemporary screen cultures where immediate truth is mediated truth: an age of filmmaking that embraces cover versions, reenactments, quoting, facebook walls, ambient cameras, chat roulette, the cloud self, film glitch, historiography, media archaeology, data hackers, skyping, dubbing and archive remixing. Filmmakers are beginning to weave against the weave, to unpick the mediated presence of everyday life and become tangled in remaining individual threads of truth, telling the story of omnipresent storytelling.
To close it is useful to identify some shared and unique, outstanding characteristics of these films. Hopefully to correlate with the increasing complexity of documentary cinema there will be an rise in critical engagement that acknowledges difficult images and questions the responsibility of the filmmaker.
Traits of hybrid documentary:
Martin Putz’s collaboration with Austrian film director Virgil Widrich and Luxembourgian artist Bady Minck, as well as other significant figures from the Austrian experimental world, like Martin Arnold and Edgar Honetschläger, produced a range of films that caught my attention at an experimental film programme during the 51st Thessaloniki International Film Festival in 2010.
His modular use of a wide variety of tools (analogue vs. digital) includes him in a workflow that leads to the areas of visual arts and experimental film. Since 2001 he has always been working with new and digital media, which he finds precious towards the making of an involving visual experience.
Born in 1967 in Vienna, Putz has been working as a freelance cameraman since 1993 and his career has involved primarily documentary, experimental and animation films. Back then when digital technology was not an option, he experimented with photo cameras and this has proved an impact in his later work. He currently runs the production company 2K film in Vienna and formulated the term ‘pocket films’, a filmic form based on a colour spectrum among a wide variety of existing footage in his telephone’s library that becomes a system of order for colours created through editing.
In March 2011 we saw the incredible montage of clips in London featuring time and watches, Christian Marclay’s The Clock. This one-off 24-hour screening inside the Queen Elizabeth Hall’s Purcell Room accompanied the British Art Show 7 and captured highly acclaimed reviews. Working as an actual timepiece, it is a moving image collage of several thousand films, quite striking for its ability to sweep the countless possibilities of archive production.
Collage, as a technique in film editing that situates a sequence of two images to create an additional meaning, flourished during the 1960s with the new international avant-garde works of artists including Kenneth Anger and Gregory Markopoulos. Though the idea of context altered through editing had been explored much earlier, by the pioneers of silent cinema who mastered montage techniques (Eisenstein, Man Ray and Dziga Vertov), collage had a radical return and recognition in the late 1960s with the screening of Bruce Conner’s A Movie (1959) at the Robert Fraser Gallery in London and Don Levy’s Five Short Film Poems (1967) among others.
Nearly a decade before Marclay screened The Clock in 2011, Putz worked on the visuals of the short Fast Film (Virgil Widrich, 2003): an intelligent work for its use of footage from famous films. It’s been since recognized again that the production playground for moving image-makers using archive footage, a terrain also used by the YBA group like Douglas Gordon in the 1990s, has countless potentials. Archive film never again was seen as a plain addition to documentary filmmaking to narrate a historical moment or a fictional fact. It’s an indication that more films will come to join the inventions of the already recognized works by Harun Farocki, Christian Marclay, Patrick Keiller, John Akomfrah and Andrei Ujica for the use of archive film.
Putz’s input to Virgil Widrich’s Fast Film, which also meant a combination of skills and collaboration with origami artists and animators, captures the classic abduction/chase scenario created from photocopied film frames and placed on to paper that was then filmed on camera. This superb film contains what Hollywood would acclaim for a perfect movie in its golden years with the stars played by the likes of Humphrey Bogart and Marilyn Monroe, a failed human experiment such as Frankenstein or the antihero Dracula and a love story sealed with a kiss after a long chase battle between the good and the evil. But what is striking in this work is the visual experience of multilayered image sequences, film footage morphing and speed throughout its 13 min length that poses illusionary depth.
Putz used a similar technique for Widrich’s Oscar nominated Copy Shop (2001): a Kafkaesque silent film distinguished for its poetic narrative. Playing with a surrealist twist on the object/subject duality and the degree of aberration on the projected mirror image by the optical lens, the Copy Shop’s grammar is primarily a work on paper: the film is consisted of circa 18,000 photocopied digital camera frames, which were later animated and filmed on 35mm. The story is about a copy shop worker who wakes up one morning to get to work where he accidentally photocopies his hand. This is just the beginning of what ends up to become a world filled with his images. Copy Shop is a brilliant commentary on technology and contemporary social media that highlights the importance of identification in narrative cinema and great editing skills.
In the same year Fast Film was made, another collaboration with artist Bady Minck for the making of In the Beginning was the Eye (Bady Minck 2003) distinguished Putz’s depth of his talent as cinematographer. First sequence and Putz’s camera is the eye glimpsing into someone’s house surrounded by shelves packed with books. We hear whispers as we follow a man who is looking for a book until he finds it. It’s a big red blank volume but after the turn of its pages the book itself yields the letters and 3-dimensional mountains.
So the story begins from The Ore Mountain and takes us around the Erzberg and Salzburg province via a rich collection of postcard images, an attempt that recalls French photographer Raymond Depardon’s Cities project. Author Hans Schifferle has described Minck’s film In the Beginning was the Eye, “Imagine a portrait of Austria created by Jan Svankmajer and David Lynch and inspired by The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari.” Jean-Luc Godard’s latest work Film Socialisme (2010) rendered the idea of the travelogue through smart phones technology and imagery inside the material wealth of a cruise holiday. In the Beginning was the Eye takes a step back when the postcard was still the core communication between travelers and friends back home. The camera technique and use of countless of postcards take us in the depths of our childhood experience with a 3D Viewmaster.
Putz’s admiration of Jan Svankmajer’s work is perhaps more transparent in The Beauty is the Beast (Bady Minck, 2005). The graphic images of this 2.06 min film echo the Czech filmmaker’s Dimensions of Dialogue (1982). Putz’s deeply surreal eye and his extreme close ups of a woman (Anja Salomonowitz), her hair and her furred tongue, operate the wild nature of civilization. He used a Canon-D60 claiming it was a brilliant camera, for its huge digital zoom working brilliantly in the daylight. The Beauty is the Beast is a parable of cultivation, a fable of civilization and its wilderness with no dialogue but quotes the words from Kafka’s novella The Metamorphosis.
Putz has so far worked as cinematographer on almost twenty films, he also directs his own and has recently completed Dariusz Kowalski’s Towards Nowa Huta (working title). His attraction to analogue film has been central for it takes cinema to its original form but he admits the potential of great new technology available is extensive. He is now shooting on RED Epic, a new very small camera system used for feature films.
Though he is a great admirer of Depardon’s photography, Putz’s practice is not just about photographing. Inspired by cinematographers such as Christopher Doyle (That Day, on the Beach, Edward Yang 1983) and Roger Deakins (The Man Who Wasn’t There, Joel and Ethan Coen, 2001), his work has always been connected to digital postproduction and influenced by the possibilities that exist in visual imaging. He has recently embarked on a new documentary titled Heartbreakers for director Anja Salomonowitz.
Due to austerity cuts the Experimental film strand of the Thessaloniki International Film Festival stopped running in 2011.
Photos by: 11polaroids (all rights reserved)
Part of the London’s South Bank Centre, known as the under-croft, has been used by the skateboard community since the early 70s. Originally an architectual dead-spot, thankfully it became the home of British skateboarding and one of the most vibrant spots in London to hang out. The under-croft has been threatened in recent years to be turned into shops, which really nobody needs.
The team behind WE ARE SOUTHBANK UNDERCROFT have created a wonderful blog where people can post their opinion. Follow these guys for more news and support skateboarding!