Thursday, November 08, 2007

of questioning, of experience

"An image in avant-garde cinema is something irreducible to one conception, it's the exploration of all possible conceptions, which don't pre-exist the exploration itself - for example, the industrial cinema falls within Hegel's formula "art is what decorates our internal and external environments", this 'impoverished' conception of art is precisely what the dominant cinema insists on, that it be a psychic and social ornament, what's called a 'diversion', a conception not reprehensible per se but which is a problem because it is imperialistic... because it occupies the entire field of images... Experimental cinema implies the field, the site, of a critical questioning of the world in general, of experience in the political, ethnological, anthropological and metaphysical senses...

"... I prefer to think that an ouevre doesn't fix any mission for itself, but that it exists, breaks things open, introduces disorder into what was believed to be an ineluctable political and in particular ideological order, art as catastrophe in fact."
- Nicole Brenez, interviewed in Fergus Daly's indispensable and "heroic" (to use critic/filmmaker Maximilian Le Cain's apt description) film-essay, Experimental Conversations (2006), a work that draws compelling associations between French avant-garde cinema culture and the contemporary Irish experimental film/video scene, unfolding in a series of chapters with titles such as 'Every Potentiality of the Medium', 'From Futurism to Rock N'Roll - In Praise of Artisans' and 'The Redemptive Power of Cinema?', their fluid unraveling charged by the juxtaposition of excerpts of several of the works under discussion, and the genuinely stimulating discourse; besides Brenez, there's also Philippe Grandrieux, Raymond Bellour, Jackie Raynal, Vivienne Dick, FJ Ossang, Gerard Byrne, Malcolm Le Grice, Max Le Cain, and several other voices, singular yet magnificently entangled within the movement of the essay.




(Above: Two excerpts from Experimental Conversations, the first featuring commentary by Brenez, and the second featuring Grandrieux and Brenez.)

Friday, November 02, 2007

the domestic interiors of Jean-Claude Rousseau

"La beauté n'est jamais fictive."
- Jean-Claude Rousseau

"But in such a short film which consists of extremely simple images and sounds,we feel Rousseau gives his absolute confidence to space and sounds.-as if each shot answers"yes" when you ask " Is such an image valuable?"."
- Daisuke Akasaka


"The deceptively simple filming technique, too, provides us with many opportunities for surprise, an emotion requiring a transfer of energy: a lightning bolt. Rousseau’s films feed this courant by using different methods of exposure: exposure of light, hazy through the curtains of a room, changing at the whim of the hours, burning the white surfaces, scarring the black interiors with a golden rectangle, veiling the film from time to time like a stained-glass window. Exposure of places, each mapped out by the filmmaker, lighted differently according to their orientation. Exposure of the main musical theme, variations of which the film declines. Exposure of the film strip, revealing the filler and the uninterrupted takes. Exposure, also, of the filmmaker as he enters the scene, sits, glances occasionally at the camera, explores the frame for the length of this shot that he himself, conceived, and disappears. It must be said that one can also undergo “exposure” to pillory and torture. The filmmaker’s process is long and agonizingly lonely; the periods of waiting exacerbate the bitterness of his hypothesis as well as the sensuality of his moments of bedazzlement."
- Erik Bullot


A few scattered thoughts follow on this remarkable release by Dérives from earlier this year: three key Jean-Claude Rousseau short films - Jeune femme à sa fenêtre lisant une lettre (1984), Deux fois le tour du monde (2006), and Faux départ (2006). Here is a chance to discover this filmmaker whom Jean-Marie Straub has called, along with Frans Van de Staak and Peter Nestler, the greatest working in Europe in these times (Rousseau has, in addition, shot and edited Straub-Huillet's Cinétract: Europa 2005 - 27 octobre).

Each of the three shorts included is an absolute wonder, unexpectedly coherent (in the 'mise-en-scene' - a lonely (hotel) room with an open window and the landscape in view just beyond, shifting patterns of light within this enclosed space, and the constant movements of the filmmaker into and out of this frame) and dramatically self-reflexive (we watch as the filmmaker arranges his 'set' or captures a self-portrait in a mirror or, seemingly, does nothing).

These films and videos constitute an intense exploration of composition, geometry, and light in relation to sound, or the absence of it.
Jeune femme à sa fenêtre lisant une lettre (shot on 8mm) approaches this by exposing a breach between image and sound, but the latter videos use direct sound to invite us to discover the image through the sound - in Deux Fois le tour du monde , we see an image of a still landscape first, only to discover its material reality upon hearing the sound it produces as the shot continues. "No music which covers the images, but musical sounds." The human voice, usually Rousseau's, whether in conversation with another on the phone, or reading an existing text (a letter, Racine), announces itself in a similar way as in Straub-Huillet's films and lends a certain potency, a veritable endurance to the images.

Words and silences embedded within a two-dimensional image (supported by 8mm film or video), the flatness invoking Vermeer-esque domestic interiors, as in Jeune femme, which, of course, takes its cue from the Vermeer painting... :

Femme lisant une lettre face à une fenêtre ouverte (Jan Vermeer, 1657)




...or seems to echo the compositional studies in the interiors of Vilhelm Hammershøi:

Dust Motes Dancing in the Sunlight, Interior of the Artist's Home (Hammershøi, 1900)


It is as Alain Cavalier comments to his off-screen wife in his wonderful video diary, La Rencontre: "I wanted to bring you something wonderful but all I've got is a description of a room... It's just occurred to me how striking it is, perhaps because I can film it."

Rousseau's films not just make objects and landscapes visible, or sounds and voices audible, but find different ways of making use of light, creating a spectacle - an event - out of its capturing on film, even if what we are actually seeing is the simplest of acts. Recorded - and appreciated - silently, in a shared temporary solitude.

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