Documentary Heresy

Jean-Pierre Rehm
The title of Manon de Boer?s film on Sylvia Kristel seems to be heralding a portrait of an actress in the typical style of a celebrity biography. Fortunately, this does not turn out to be the case. Throughout the narrative of indiscretions of a sentimental education and of lost illusions, the film on two occasions provides a passably instructive version of her life, a repeated autobiography offered by the actress herself. And yet we must be satisfied with merely hearing about it. Known for her nude roles in films which introduced the fashion for soft pornography to a greater public, Sylvia Kristel only offers us a fleeting glimpse of that image here, in a silent introduction. Her face today, in close up, cigarette moving from fingers to mouth, is a modest one, and this view soon gives way to anonymous scenes of Paris. The actresses? nude body which the viewer can attempt to reconstruct in his/her mind ? a body which is supposed to incarnate desire and exhibition as a commodity, a loving and also loved body which is treated in the narrative of her amorous adventures ? this body is shielded from our gaze and placed under the strict protection of the Puritanism appropriate to a tourist-style documentary. In other words, the ?document? which seems to be at the core of this project?the confession of an exhibitionist star?this document undergoes a double twisting. The first: the body exposing her biography is not visible, but hidden behind the sound track. In its place is a completely different body, that of a European capital. A life borrows the forms of a city; in place of a private, eroticised body, an amorphous public space is substituted. Upon the impenetrable, slightly hystericized soft porn body, the open and gloomy space of a city swept by a camera looking for nothing in particular is double exposed. The inquest leading our gaze is abandoned to the descriptive overview of neighbourhoods, of streets. Instead of being asked to concentrate, it wanders. The second tendril: this autobiography is not one. Based on the model of Une Sale Historie by Jean Eustache, Manon de Boer?s film suggests two versions. Mentioned once, then reiterated half way through the film but with some close variations, the film forces the viewer to be alert for details, for intonations which offer no certificate of authenticity. Repetition here does not function as the assurance of a truth which can be endlessly recited. On the contrary, it creates a doubt about the facts themselves but also about the viewer?s memory: did I hear really hear that? In addition, Manon de Boer recorded these two interviews a year apart and at the editing stage decided to place the second one first, as if to suspend the chronology which nonetheless forms the basis of the narration. The result? That which appears in one?s own right ? existence and its vagaries ? is subject in this case to a system of dispossession. The actress who once was the symbol of the body in excess, with visual surplus value, finds herself symbolized by an absent body, scattered randomly amongst urban panoramas. Sylvia Kristel is no longer the icon of a global fantasy, an image gathered around herself, double locked by the game of representation. Instead she becomes just the name of a phantom who is haunting herself, and Paris. Because such a phantom also ends up representing that of which it is both prisoner and ambassador: the body exposed to the cinema, the cinema as exhibition of bodies, the cinematographic cannibal urge itself. What is Manon de Boer suggesting, then? The denial of presence, destruction of the apparent evidence bodies removed from their role as a commodity as much as from their meaning. We never see what we are hearing and even what we hear is open to doubt, the two stories emerging in a kind of stutter. One life equals two lives, but the result of this addition turns out not to be any help to us. On the contrary, it introduces a gap, a hole in its center. This deceptive strategy is doubtless the mark of a mistrust at the spot occupied by a vocabulary led by belief, essential to the documentary genre. Jean-Pierre Rhem Edited by Michael Foerster
 

Thinking out loud

Chlo Martin
Fragments of the text Thinking Out Loud by Chlo Martin published in 1999 for Newsletter 47 of Stedelijk Museum Bureau Amsterdam () who is not surprised by uttering a sentence out loud when thinking? Yet thinking out loud in toto is something completely different. Because a third person must then be present. As Roland Barthes has put it: My body refuses to speak out loud if there is no one there to listen. If I am not certain that another body is listening to me, my voice is paralysed; it cannot possibly come out. If I notice that someone is not listening to me in a conversation, I stop talking []. To speak alone into a tape recorder, when every voice is made to meet the other, seems unbearably frustrating to me: my voice is literally cut off (castrated); there is nothing doing: I cannot be the listener of my own voice () . In short, thinking out loud is speaking to oneself, but with someone else present (only people who talk to themselves can do without this presence). Not only does the artist make this discourse -- not intended for her -- possible, but she manages to leave her mark on it by merely being there. For what emerges from these monologues is undoubtedly, albeit in part, due to the personality of the sound engineer. These snippets of intimacy could have been uttered and set forth in part because of the relation the artist established with her characters. Moreover, the choice of these fragments, the tone and attitude adopted by the speakers undoubtedly correspond to certain implicit expectations on the artists part which underlie all human relations. In this respect, all these works Laurien, March (1996) etc., Shift of Attention (1999) Switch (1998) are concurrently vivid self-portraits of the artist, insofar as her presence leaves its mark on each of these works and they in turn on each other. Memory mirrored in Manons looking glass These recording sessions take a close look at the process of remembrance. They reflect the vacillations and reworking efforts to reconstruct recollection from from what? What material does one use to recount a remembrance? Let us proceed by analogy with the image. Imagine that you want to draw a bicycle. You can manage quite well without having an actual bicycle under your nose. You will proceed in fact from your inner drawing the disegno interno (as Federico Zuccaro called it in 1607). This disegno interno is the inner congener of the percepts of the physical object . It does not correspond to any external image. For example, the rare cases of photographic memory notwithstanding, the imprint your neighbours bicycle has left on your memory is not a perfect replica of that bicycle. It is rather an incomplete representation, consisting undoubtedly of the salient traits that composed your perception of that bicycle. This explains why we sometimes have the impression that we can recognise a friends face in a stranger. The problem is further complicated when recollecting a situation such as that found in the works of Manon de Boer, though it is essentially the same. These monologues are an external mirror of incomplete inner representations the characters have of recollected situations. If these memories were put in writing, they would no longer reflect the characteristic incompleteness of these mental representations. When recounting one of their remembrances, the characters present a particular experience or specific object as a prototype. In the monologue, the individual object is transformed into a type, undoubtedly somewhat like the aforementioned disegno interno of the bicycle. This generalisation is brought about chiefly by the poverty of the description. Screenfaces The links between the constituent elements of the monologues are loose and insignificant. The recollected images are dispersed rather than co-ordinated. The impression of incompleteness is further enhanced by the incompleteness of the recollected images . Now Gombrich has stressed with great precision the importance of the image in the psychological process of interpreting a work of art . Projection replaces perception here. An unfinished painting can fire the spectators imagination and enable him or her to project non-existent forms. Gombrich points out that two conditions are needed to trigger the projection mechanism. The spectator must be familiar with the subject and must have a screen: a surface on which s/he can project the expected image. This in a way is what happens to the spectator of the pensive, profoundly silent faces of Manon de Boer. Just as the artist-spectator has left her mark on the portrait of her character, the spectator of these virtually motionless faces is invited to leave an imprint of his or her personal history on these screens. The projection of his or her own memories on these screenfaces thus completes the unfinished images of the stories of the characters (the plain background, the stillness, the everyday nature and ordinary aspect of the faces foster the analogy with the screen). The spectator can thus turn these faces into his or her own self-portrait. Above all, if the spectator has taken the time to delve deep into the construct of his or her own memory, the work of Manon de Boer beckons the spectator to create his or her own mental rooms from the material constructed during the perception of the work, and to become concurrently aware of the process that brings such memories to life. Reading a face The silence of these ostensibly pensive faces is most telling. We not only understand that these faces listen (Shift of Attention) or look (Laurien, April 1998), but something enables us also to guess whether what is being looked at or listened to is physically present or reproduced by some medium. Above all, we can at times guess whether the filmed character is looking at or listening to him- or herself. In Shift of Attention (1999), this mirror relation is doubled as the character, is aware of the camera watching her listening to herself, as in mirror scenes in films. She is aware that shes being watched in a state of self-consciousness. These signs of a mirror relation between a face and the object perceived is a new invitation to self-portraiture and self-consciousness for the spectator. () The nature of the activities filmed in the 1996 videos is never explicit, only suggested. The spectator can only guess the abstract type of activities carried out; the particular activity as such remains a mystery. For example, many spectators of Robert 1996 saw someone in the process of co-ordinating, of arranging something, whereas the character was actually playing the guitar. In other words, they distilled the general (co-ordination) from the particular (playing the guitar). The Voice Like every face, every voice is unique. Our remembrance of the voice and the face of people is inextricably bound up with them. To be convinced, you need only try to imagine someone having the voice of someone else or the face of a friend moving like that of somebody else rather impossible mental exercises. Our representation of this voice is more abstract, however. For example, when we read someone we know, an incomplete and abstract representation of the authors voice is superposed on the text. What is this remembrance composed of? Undoubtedly of typical elements of that persons prosody, the structural features we use to imitate someones voice. Switch (soundwork) (1998) reflects this representation in even more abstract terms, because it is not even supported by words. For Switch Manon de Boer asked a (woman) singer to work from monologues of characters which she could not understand because she did not know their languages. She relied on the specific prosody of the character and on the music of their language to compose vocal pieces without words. The language of origin of each piece is easy to identify with a little concentration, because the attitudes generally projected on the languages are so clearly translated in them. The characters personality can also be detected. One of them said that in listening to himself, he had the same strange impression as when he looked at his writing in a mirror. Likewise, the spectator of de Boers work has the same impression we get when we see ourselves unexpectedly in a mirror as we walk down the street. The pleasure of recognition and of surprise.
 

Reduction | Acceleration | Dissolution:

Notes on the cinematic works of Siegfried A. Fruhauf by Gerald Weber
A group of factory workers moves between boilers and pipes, nearing the camera; a second group crosses the picture in the background. The grinding, monotone noise of a machine dominates the accompanying soundtrack. The first group appears again, the scene begins anew, again and again. The repetitive structure is immediately recognizable. But only gradually do we perceive that the short scene accelerates each time, at first almost imperceptibly, later rapidly. With each repetition, Fruhauf shortens the loop based on a strict mathematical principle. As a result, the end of this increasingly furious Ballets mchaniques leads to an absolute standstill: the frozen single picture, in which no further movement is possible. Fruhauf already began to negotiate with the mechanisms of the cinema in his first film LA SORTIE (1998), made when he was 22-years old. Here, he works with the mechanics of film movement, based fundamentally on the deception of the human eye, which is subject to the illusion of perceiving movement when a certain speed of succession of single pictures is attained. The smallest building block of every film is, after all, the single frame. Fruhauf leads us back to this in LA SORTIE. It is no coincidence that the title and subject of the film refer to cinema history?s first film, the scant, one-minute recording by the Lumire brothers entitled: LA SORTIE DES OUVRIERS DE L?USINE from 1896. Cinema, with its mechanics, has always been a product of the industrial age. Yet when Fruhauf takes on the cinema pioneers, he does so without nostalgia or sentimentality: his interest is in the aesthetic principle ?film.? Fruhauf, born in Grieskirchen, Upper Austria, in 1976, first trained to be an industrial salesman before beginning his studies at the Universitt fr experimentelle visuelle Gestaltung (University for experimental visual design) in Linz in 1995. Among his teachers was Peter Tscherkassky. The confrontation with the cinematic apparatus is a constant feature in Fruhauf?s artistic work. He thereby follows in the tradition of the (not only Austrian) film avant-garde, although his work methods unite various currents. For one, he often follows a strict metric principle of montage and ecstatic acceleration and is thus part of the tradition of structural film. His films are subsequently always created on the basis of a concept that he has long developed and carefully worked out. On the other hand, he also pursues his interest in the materiality of film and the fragility of the photographic image. As a series, the two videos STRUCTURAL FILMWASTE. DISSOLUTION 1 + 2 (2003) combine, as it were, these two aspects: film?s structure and its material. In DISSOLUTION 1, film trash is mounted together in two picture halves based on a strict, serial cadre plan revealing the edges of the pictures, the glued spots, the perforation holes, and picture streaks. Yet the analogue picture storm is increasingly layered over by pure video images and the film image dissolves in digital black-and-white noise. Part 2, as a consequence, is absolutely void of concrete, real images, but instead reads like a digital remake of Peter Kubelka?s classic abstract film ARNULF RAINER (1960). Back then, Kubelka reduced the essence of film to its building blocks: white (= light), black (= not light), silence, and noise. In Fruhauf?s work, turbulent abstract geometric painting grows from the hypnotic roar of the horizontal and vertical half-tone video images. The films of this young Austrian filmmaker often transport a fine, ironic commentary. While in LA SORTIE, accelerated industrial progress ends in standstill, in HHENRAUSCH/MOUNTAIN TRIP (1999), something similar takes place. Set to the torturous music of a feedback-generating accordion, in a rapid virtual pan, Fruhauf deconstructs the postcard clich of the idyllic Austrian mountain landscape. The landscape of the two postcard series, which ?mirror? one another horizontally, is increasingly sucked into the ?in between,? in the blue of the strip of sky. The pan across the mountains ends in a ?perception? frenzy. Even though Fruhauf?s works tend to strive towards abstraction, the primary reference point is always the real film image. At times they also follow the path backward, for example in BLOW-UP (2000). Here, the base material comprises two found frames from an antiquated instructional film about mouth-to-mouth resuscitation. Fruhauf transfers this content to the film material itself. The filmmaker visibly and audibly reanimates the film strip, which, initially reduced to a small strip, once again grows to full-screen size. He also operates with found material in the two trailers (FRONTALE 2002, PHANTOMRIDE 2004), which were commissioned for the Diagonale ? Festival des sterreichischen Films and Crossing Europe Film Festival Linz. Even in these short works, Fruhauf is able to cinematically condense essential thoughts about film: in FRONTALE, sex and crime, passion and catastrophe as the impulse of the cinema, and in PHANTOMRIDE, spatial perspective as the premise of movement into depth. Along with the mechanics of the apparatus and the materiality of film, Fruhauf is interested in yet another constituent element of cinema: the construction of the controlling gaze, that of the camera and thereby of the viewer. In his most recent work, MIRROR MECHANICS (2005), which celebrated its international premiere in Cannes in the Semaine de la Critique, one sees a young woman washing off the surface of a mirror with her hand to give a view of her face, her mirror image. This scene is simultaneously mirrored in the image, giving rise to a type of double projection. The mirror has always been a favorite subject in experimental film. Ultimately, the basic ideas of film are found again in the imagination and disembodiment of the mirror: illusion, identification, and projection. In MIRROR MECHANICS, Fruhauf is concerned with a reflection of ?seeing? in film, and the gaze that glides across the screen, clinging to details. Issues concerning identity and difference are also raised in the play of variations and layering in the reflection of the image. The film EXPOSED from 2001 can be seen in Vila do Conde as an installation. This film, too, is about seeing. The view of a voyeur scene is, itself, only divulged as though through a keyhole. Small, rectangular fields flit across the screen, revealing excerpts of the image: a man watching a dancing woman through a keyhole. Fruhauf doubles the shown situation and leads the viewer into the position of voyeur, so to speak. It is clear that Fruhauf has established the film viewer?s role as elemental as soon one realizes that the fields, which direct the gaze, are the film strip?s perforation holes. Put in another way: here, it is that part of the shot that is normally not visible ? because outside the picture window ? that first allows us to see. Translated literally, ?expose? means ?lay free? or ?divulge.? In EXPOSED, however, the image?s secret is not aired through the steadily growing number of viewing windows. Precisely the opposite occurs; the picture gradually dissolves into white, into pure light. And a further aspect is that everything that is film can ultimately and essentially be traced back to two basic factors: light and movement. The cinema is the corresponding apparatus with which, within certain mechanical and optical parameters, an almost perfect illusion of movement is produced by means of a strip of celluloid, which itself is first subjected to certain photochemical processes. Movement in cinema is, in turn, subject to time and space. In REALTIME (2002), Fruhauf brings these aspects of light and movement onto the screen in the simplest conceivable way. The light of the sun is the only light that illuminates the screen in REALTIME. Its path is the only perceivable movement. The viewer experiences none other than the rising of the sun in real-time. The grandiose soundtrack by Jrgen Gruber can be read as though a reference to Stanley Kubrik?s 2001: A SPACE ODYSSEY. And it wouldn?t be Fruhauf if there were no hidden, pointed turn even in this clearly minimal concept. In REALTIME, the Austrian film critic Robert Buchschwenter sees cinematic potential?s return to its point of origin ? and a shrewd intimation of the possibilities that can again be newly conceived (infinitely) beginning from this point.

© 2019 Curtas Vila do Conde