Wednesday, June 25, 2008

song of the earth

Words and sounds from the sixth and final movement - 'Der Abschied' - of Gustav Mahler's Das Lied von der Erde (1908), the last few verses of which appear, accompanied by a black screen, in Jean-Marie Straub's Le Genou d'Artémide (2008). This version is conducted by Otto Klemperer with vocal work by Elsa Cavelti; accompanying text translated by Lionel Salter:

The Farewell

The sun is setting behind the mountains.
In every valley, evening is falling
with its shadows, full of coolness.

Look! The moon is floating upwards,
like a silver ship, on the blue lake of heaven.
I sense a soft breeze stirring
behind the dark pines.

The stream sings melodiously through the darkness,
the flowers turn pale in the twilight.

The earth breaths deeply in rest and sleep.
All longings now turn to dreaming;
weary mortals plod homeward

to find again in sleep
forgotten joys and youth.

The birds roost silently in the branches;
the world is falling asleep.

In blows cool in the shadow of my pines.
I stand here, waiting for my friend,
waiting to bid him a last farewell.

My friend, I long to savour the beauty
of this evening at your side.
Where are you lingering? You have left me alone so long!

I wander to and fro with my lute
on paths swelling with soft grass.
O beauty! O world eternally intoxicated with love and life!

He dismounted from his horse and handed him
the stirrup-cup. He asked him
where he was going, and also why it had to be.

He spoke, and his voice was veiled:
O my friend,
fortune did not smile on me in this world!
Where am I going? I shall wander in the mountains,
seeking peace for my lonely heart.

I shall journey to my native land, to my home,
I shall never stray abroad.
My heart is still and awaits its hour!

Everywhere the dear earth blossoms forth
in spring and grows green again!
Everywhere and forever, distant horizons gleam blue:

forever... forever...

*** *** ***

Endymion, the mortal shepherd granted immortality in his sleep, recounts his nocturnal encounter with Artemis, the virgin goddess of forests and hills, to a stranger in Cesare Pavese's 'La Belva'/'Lady of the Beasts' from Dialogues with Leucò (1947, trans. William Arrowsmith) :

(...) I had fallen asleep one evening on Latmos, propped against a tree. It was dark - I'd been wandering late. The moon was shining when I woke. In my dream I felt a shiver of dread at the thought of being there, in the clearing, in the moonlight.
Then I saw her. I saw her looking at me, looking at me with that sidelong glance of hers. But her eyes were steady, clear, with great deeps in them. I didn't know it then, nor even the next day, but I was already hers, utterly hers, caught within the circle of her eyes, in the space she filled, the clearing, and the hill. She smiled at me, timidly. "Lady," I said to her, and she frowned, like a girl, like a shy, wild thing, as though she understood that I was amazed, somehow dismayed, to find myself calling her Lady. The dismay I felt then was always between us.

Then she spoke my name and stood beside me - her tunic barely reached her knees - and stretched out her hand and touched my hair. There was something hesitant in the way she touched me, and she smiled, an incredible, mortal smile. I thought of all the names men call her by, and I would have fallen to my knees but she held me up, as one holds up a child, by putting her hand under my chin. Look at me, I'm a grown man. And she was just a wild thing, a slight awkward girl. Except for her eyes, those eyes of hers. I felt like a small boy. "You must never wake again," she said. "Don't try to follow. I'll come to you again." And she went off through the clearing.

I walked all over Latmos that night, until dawn. I followed the moon everywhere, through the gorges and the scrub, up to the peaks. I listened, listened, and all I could hear was her voice, like the sound of sea water, a hoarse voice, cold and maternal. Every rustle, every shadow stopped me. I caught glimpses of wild animals, running. When the light came - a livid, veiled light - I looked down on the plain, on this road where we're walking now, and I knew that my home was no longer among men. I was no longer one of them. I was waiting for the night. (...)

*** *** ***

Danièle Huillet: Take the example of Pavese. Ultimately, about Pavese himself we couldn't care less by the end of the film. What interests us are the good people who say Pavese's texts, what they do in life, how they say these texts, the problems they have saying what they say – which makes what they say all of sudden no longer belong to Pavese but to the good people who say it – who at the outset had never heard of Pavese. The only interest that the text or what you call the culture has is that the person who wrote it did a certain work, he produced something which touched us and which subsequently has resisted – from which one can judge that he did his work well.

Is the world still habitable? Deeply felt absences (both in front of, and behind, the camera) haunt, descend upon Straub's Le Genou d'Artémide in the form of a sighing forest, but the human voices remain absolute and the forests still breathe: living testaments to the alliance of the mysterious and the realist image that Huillet championed. This mystery, this wind in the trees, however, is something closer to, say, D.W. Griffith's One is Business, the Other Crime (1912) - the final image of which has already been called out to by the final image of Straub/Huillet's Quei loro incontri (2006) - than to, say, M. Night Shyamalan's The Happening, which seems to answer the question above, with its own awkward melancholies, in the negative.

Engaged in this dialogue of insomnia, of the fear of desired divine energies afloat in the night, are two men, at least one of whom is mortal (and perhaps it's not too difficult to tell them apart even without prior knowledge). The discovery of a 'human image' within a documentary on landscape as "a place of inscription of struggles, empty theatre of operations", what stands above it and what lies within: we are shown after a series of breathtaking pans, a path amidst the trees that leads to a mysterious grave, but not before we are conveyed, through the Stranger, the sensation of touch, as his hands come to rest upon the moss-covered tree, while Endymion talks of Artemis' untouched knee.

Emphases on the intonation and rhythm of the actors' delivery (and both Andrea Bacci and Dario Marconcini have performed in previous Pavese adaptations of Straub/Huillet), on the 'thereness' of living human bodies, their audible breaths mingling with the wind - creating that classic S/H intensification of the text to which nearly everything else seems to respond - capture and preserve a certain form of authenticity (what Barton Byg calls their "romanticism" in their German films). The rapidly drifting clouds above Buti that alter the light patterns in this forest so extraordinarily come across as accomplices and not mere witnesses. And I'm moved, again, by Straub's use of the diagonal composition here, as if the 'characters' had nowhere else to go but end up as spatial expressions of their irreconciliations (permanent insomnia from a state of heightened emotion!), surrounded by further verticals and diagonals of the surrounding trees.

But, in the end, let's not forget what Serge Daney has said of their films (I paraphrase): "If one considers that a filmmaker is important insofar as he looks, in film, a certain state of the human body, the films of Straub will remain as documentaries on two or three body positions: to be seated, bending to read, to walk. This is already a lot."

Tuesday, June 17, 2008


Niko Pirosmani, Peasant Woman With Children Goes to Fetch Water (c. 1908)

Wednesday, June 04, 2008

a convergence

Dynamics of a Molecule in a Cage: CH4 in NaA Zeolite (Alexis Martinet)

Transition de phase dans les cristaux liquides (Jean Painlevé, 1978)

Ironically however, the imagery which science produces, without any intention of being so, is surely the art of our time, and it is this imagery which inadvertently provokes us into contemplating death, even as we rush to avoid it. (This is perhaps why the imagery of science is so little seen outside specialist magazines and the laboratories in which it is used - precisely because its shadings are the stuff of art itself.) In the last decades much - even overwhelmingly most of this imagery, and is accompanying artifacts - has been digitally based...

- Jon Jost blogs.

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