Talking Pictures

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Posted by keith1942 on April 20, 2013


This was a tribute at the Bradford International Film Festival to Austrian avant-garde cinema.

The sixpack started as a ‘found-footage’ festival and evolved into a platform for these films, promoting and distributing them to festivals and other forums. The Festival featured a retrospective celebration: sixpackfilmclassics and sixpackcontemporary classics. The latter was a selection of the ‘most significant and popular films distributed for the current decade’ selected by co-founder Brigitta Burger-Utzer.

Vargtimmen – After a scene by Ingmar Bergman, Georg Tiller, 2010, six minutes on HDCam, in black and white.

This was a series of shots of rocks and sea, with one briefly seen jellyfish. The sound was modern music shading into bird songs at one point. There was rapid cutting at times, with jump cuts. The whole sequence certainly conjured up Bergman, and I thought it could relate to several of his films.

Paradise Later – Ascan Breuer, 2011, 13 minutes, 35mm colour.

Here the camera followed a river with increasing amounts of detritus as a voice read out what at first seemed to be a company report. As the camera tracked and panned across the river people appeared, recycling the rubbish. Then we reached a shantytown where humans survived alongside the industrial waste. Meanwhile I realised that I recognised the narration, taken from Joseph Conrad’s Heart of Darkness, Marlow recounting of the words of Kurtz. This gradual revelation added immeasurably to the depiction of these victims of western consumerism and its waste. The film was shot in a location near Jakarta, a Far Eastern parallel to that of Conrad’s earlier Africa. The film vividly recreated the sense of Conrad’s novella far more effectively than Coppola’s overblown adaptation Apocalypse Now.

Sommerurlaub [Vaginale VII], Kurdwin Ayub, 3 minutes, HDCam, colour.

This brief film had a young girl miming in wedding attire to the pop classic ‘Stay With Me Baby’.

Mouse Palace, Paul Horn and Harald Hund, 201, 10 minutes, digital colour.

A lone mouse enters a doll’s house and is gradually joined by several mates. Imprisoned in the house they gradually eat the furniture, fittings and then the structure itself. The film grows darker and a storm erupts outside. Clearly another effective satire on consumerism.

Notes on film 05: Conference, Norbert Pfaffenbichler, 2011, 8 minutes, 35mm, black and white.

A series of characters appear, mainly in mid-shots or close-ups. Then I recognise Hitler, or to be exact a performer impersonating the infamous leader. There were probably over 50, I neglected to count. I did recognise Alec Guinness, John Cleese and Anthony Hopkins. Some were presumably from television; the majority seemed to be from films. An eerie but telling evocation.

Machinations 84, UA 2010, 6 minutes, Beta SP, colour.

This was an abstract film of constantly evolving forms, voluptuous curves and bell shapes. It offered beautiful imagery with electronic music.

Coming Attractions, Peter Tscherkassky, 25 minutes, 35mm, black and white.

Unfortunately the longest film in the programme as it completely failed to engage me. Avant-garde works are frequently very subjective, but this was to the point where I was bemused and then irritated.

zounk!, Billy Roisz 2012, 6 minutes, Digibeta, colour.

This looked great but it had a pronounced flicker effect, which was almost strobe-like, and I found that too much to watch. Shame.

The whole programme was fascinating. My favourite was Paradise Later, which addressed issues in a way that I could relate. The majority of the films were visually engaging. However, as with earlier programmes, I found the constant use of flicker effect difficult to watch. I did wonder why so many avant-garde films use this technique.

I broached that point with Neil Young, one of the Festival Directors, who introduced this programme. He made the point that the avant-garde tends to try and make explicit one of the ‘invisible’ aspects of cinema – the constant change between image and black that has been with us since W. K. L. Dickson perfected the film mechanism. [The digital format replicates this electronically]. Neil did also concede that it had now almost become a tradition among the avant-garde and one could argue that in that way it militated against the subverting of conventions that they aim at.

I could see his point, and the films also play with and illuminate all sorts of conventions in camera work, editing and sound. But there does seem to be an over emphasis on this aspect of the cinematic form. And indeed some of the films on show used the change between image and black screen, but not at the rate where it can create viewing difficulties. There seem to be at least three techniques here: fast chnages of images that create a slight flicker: editing that makes the imperceptible black gaps percpetible: and actually inserting black frames in the film. It also occurred to me that the alternation between image and black is actually a follow-on from an even more fundamental aspect to cinema – that whilst we watch a series of individual still frames, what we ‘see’ is continuous movement. The great poet of late C20th cinema, Chris Marker, addressed this directly in his masterpiece La Jetée [1962}. That film gave a name to a particular form of film, photo-roman. But, in fact, I can only ever remember seeing a very few photo-romans over the years. Perhaps some of the avant-garde could try this format, which I think is less challenging on the eye.

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