Wednesday, March 21, 2007

straight is the line from the heart to the star

Since the eighties, France-based experimental group, Etant Donnés (composed of two Moroccan-born brothers, Eric and Marc Hurtado) have been creating poetry, accompanying them with their industrial music and extreme vocals, then giving Artaudian live performances of their music, and creating short 8mm films with their music as the soundtrack. Nicole Brenez has rediscovered and introduced them to a whole new audience after she programmed their films in her monumental retrospective, Jeune, dure et pure! : Une histoire du cinéma d'avant-garde et expérimental en France in 2000. Patrick Bossati on ED, as quoted by Henri Chopin:
Be it poetry, cinema, sound, stage, everything the two of them do is done with a kind of rage that leaves you stunned. Their sound, for example, extensive, grave and apocalyptic, mixed from amplified natural elements, make those who listen dumbfounded. Their art is staggering in every respect, in the 16th century sense of the French word 'sidérant', when it meant: 'influenced by the stars'. Their music is a radioscopy of the chaos of the universe and of matter.
The images in their films are eternally in a dense involutionary relationship with each other, forming violently colourful complexes that exist in various states of exaltation. Much like the monochrome superimpositions of Jean Epstein:




(images from The Three-Sided Mirror, L'Autre Rive, The Fall of the House of Usher, Le Soleil...)

A contemporary figure with whom they share their obsession with the use of scattered, intense light energies in their depiction of desire and rapture is Philippe Grandrieux (with whom the brothers worked to create the soundtrack to La Vie nouvelle), who takes these devices of plasticity to vaguely narrative territories:




(images from Sombre and ED's Bleu)

Along with their distinctive use of sound, slow motion effects and colour templates, superimpositions form the most important part of their investigation of textures. Xavier Baert, in his excellent analysis of their films:
Superimposition does not affect image only: within the image-sound connection, it finds a new element. Sound is not used as a dimension independent from or simply parallel to image: it offers a new surface that is superimposed on the pictures, another state, a sonorous state, of transparency. Several dimensions focus in the creation of sound: music, since first and foremost the Hurtado brothers are musicians, the processing of nature's tones (rustling, birds' singing, wasps' buzzing...) and poetry. Thus sound allows the tactility and plasticity of image to be extended: for instance, at the beginning of Bleu, the emergence of the word "soleil", that takes shape through the alternate reading of the repetition of "sol" and of the redtation of its letters (s ;o ;l ; etc), indicates that sound is worth its while at least as much through its rhythms and its plastic values as through the meaning it bears (which is conveyed by the very high sound volume of the films and the work on the strength of murmur, extending the work on sound as a material and sensation). As a result, even when there is only one picture (which is rarely the case in ETANT DONNÉS' films), the connection between image and sound helps indicate that there is already, here, a superimposition, both acoustic and visual.
So, the act of viewing Etant Donnés' films possibly equates with drifting through states of rapture, usually while trapped inside an (onscreen) body that is engulfed by the elements, consumed by light, while being ascended to the heavens (all through the magic of the superimposition). With these immersions into their imagery, the desire to feel constantly (re)emerges in the spectator, and, in their shifting, all-inclusive soundscapes, where their poetry rests first within screams and then whispers, one discovers a transformation of terror into pure sensation, pure love even.

(With thanks to Fergus Daly.)

3 Comments:

Anonymous Anonymous said...

nice entrance, loved the associations you made. Do you have any of ED films? Is it in dvd? Epstein it’s been, with time, a strong influence in my imaginary formal world, the more I (re)discover his movies, the more I recognize him as a major filmmaker. I should investigate deeply those directors from the French avant-garde: Dullac and Gance, also.

José

7:44 PM  
Blogger Mubarak Ali said...

I think most cinephiles have probably seen more Epstein films than I have, but the ones I have seen have found their way into my own "imaginary formal world". His writings too are equally revered by many (I've only read scraps so far). I need to look further into Dulac and Gance too!

(And I got to see ED's films through the generosity of a friend - they're not available on dvd...)

6:54 AM  
Blogger Pacze Moj said...

I haven't seen any Epstein (bad, me, bad!); but, I have seen the films of the Themersons (Stefan and Franciszka). They also seem very interested in the relationship between sound and image -- although, instead of making their own music, they use famous works by other (famous, in their national context) composers. I will look into the work of the Etant Donnés. It's always a pleasure to discover new artists. Thank you.

11:59 PM  

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