still from Glorious, 2009 by Guy Maddin


No longer an upstart after seven consecutive years and scads of films of every conceivable genre, the Berlin International Directors Lounge (DL to the initiated) is still free of formula, corralling batches of like-minded works into presentable groupings but not bowing to predictability. No one knows quite what they are going to see here. That viewers can move freely about, mounting stairs and draping themselves over balcony railings to take in what’s splashed onto the screen may add to the slightly helter-skelter atmosphere. Question-and-answer sessions with selected directors and performers can prove as offbeat as some of the offerings, and left field live performances take it over the top. For free. There is nothing else like this in Berlin, one of the hardest claims you can make in this city. DL, while still arriving, has arrived. Renowned artists such as Michael Nyman have chosen to reveal their newest visions here, and films are being sent for consideration by the hundreds from all over the globe, with their creators and stars often enough making the trip to see how it looks up there, larger than life. Add to that fast-appearing online reviews of films and audience reaction, and you’ve got the makings of a cult carnival waiting to be reborn on a yearly basis, like a child who enjoyed the process enough to want to give it yet another go.
It had to happen that Berlin’s DL and Winnipeg’s enfant bizarre Guy Maddin would come together, and this year marked the time, when the Berlinale jury member brought a handful of his short features to form the backbone of an evening dedicated to his peculiar view of things, as seen through the (filmic) eyes of the influenced, heard via live readings from his enigmatic book From The Atelier Tovar and not least declared by way of the master’s aforementioned shorts themselves. A bit of everything was there. The giddy tomfoolery of Nude Caboose, the frenetic, fetishistic mock-punishment of Sissy Boy Slap Party, the industrial expressionism of The Heart Of The World. The house was full and imagination running at full tilt.
Directors Lounge is, with Mr. Maddin’s blessing, showing these tasty celluloid morsels at C.A.R. in Essen, offering up a peak into many little worlds portrayed in a myriad of ways: playful, distressing, subtle, haunting, head-on. Maddin comes to DL comes to you, and you only need eyes and ears to make it work.

–    Kenton Turk

still from Odilon Redon or The Eye Like a Strange Balloon Mounts Toward Infinity, 1995 by Guy Maddin

Beyond The Atelier Tovard , the collection of shorts by Guy Maddin, will be accompanied by works that are influenced by him, dedicated to him, or otherwise Under The Influence Of The Atelier Maddin.

C.A.R. details here

One not to miss (if you are in NY)

NYMan With A Movie Camera at the MoMa, Sun May 8th

We screened this remarkable shot-for-shot remake of Dziga Vertov’s Man With A Movie Camera as the farewell special of the 7th Berlin International Directors Lounge. Sunday, May 8th, Nyman presents the New York premiere of his shot-for-shot riff on Vertov’s city symphony at the MoMa.

Reason enough for a review of this unique, giddy love letter from one artist to another (Glasgow Film Festival)

NYMan With A Movie Camera respins a classic

by Kenton Turk
Dziga Vertov’s legendary and highly influential 1929 wordless documentary Man With A Camera receives a tribute and update at once with Michael Nyman’s attempt at “a truly international absolute language”, the original’s stated intention. Where Vertov’s camera captured life in Soviet cities only, Nyman is able to take the aim one step further, reflecting our modern world: here, the locales themselves give evidence of today’s accepted international interaction. 26 countries and territories are listed in the credits, and Nyman’s camera moves as freely between continents as it does between social classes, activities and cinematic devices. What appears at times to be haphazard collage shows abundant evidence of clever segues that imply plays-on-words or various views of a single subject.

The title’s tongue-in-cheek take on the original foreshadows the sly playfulness Nyman displays throughout. The film leads with the original’s Russian credits, faithfully translating its aims and veering only when names of original collaborators are to be replaced with those contributing to this work. The opening scene is a filmic tribute to the original, with Vertov’s cameraman atop a seemingly huge camera in split screen with a modern boom-mounted camera regarding a phalanx of press photographers. The latter camera will resurface like a symphonic theme, at times intrusively, at others as a ghostly superimposition. From here, we are treated to his vision without losing sight of the kudos due the original. In a series of further split screen shots scattered about the film displaying Vertov’s work to the left, we are continually reminded of the film’s comparative nature: Vertov’s track sweeper sidles up beside Nyman’s bullring track, someone feeling eggs is seen next to someone feeling fruit, black and white film frames are shown beside a digital photo album, people rushing to cross a street next to an old man struggling to do the same, a telephone switchboard edges up to a Nokia delivery truck, in each instance, the monochromatic contrasting with full colour. The device does not lean on the original, but rather includes it as a part of the sum of what we witness today.

Utilizing his own 2002 BFI-commissioned soundtrack to the original throughout, Nyman proceeds to lead us through a world of personal imagery, showing a predilection for recurring signposts. Most notably, dolls appear throughout, in all forms and in various frames of reference, from baby dolls wrapped in plastic following bridal portraits to Barbie dolls dressed for airline service preceding a still of a stewardess’s legs behind a “Safety on board” warning. Industrial processes and workspaces, sport disciplines and means of transport, particularly trams, also abound.

Tragic scenes married to less tragic ones, such as a car bombing and its victims juxtaposed against examinations of a collection of miniature emergency vehicles only to jump back to actual crises, imply an ability to reference a situation from varying perspectives as well as a certain dark humour. The straightforward variety is also employed. We note with amusement when subjects are unsure of being watched, and are allowed guiltless voyeurism as we spy on a man picking his nose. The unnoticed is sometimes revisited for comic effect: a full shot of plastic- covered automobiles is later re-examined in close-up, with the protuberance of a car mirror so wrapped bearing stark resemblance to a condom-sheathed bulge.

Nyman’s best sequences are those showing wit in making connections. Here he demonstrates awareness of the rapid associations our brains make. An electronic billboard with the name of Mexican soccer star “Israel Castro” is followed by a picture of an imam and an Iranian sport team. A shot of a man plugging his ears precedes various scenes of “playing”: first piano, then backgammon, then a toy xylophone followed by a full-sized one. A scene of a barber at work leads to a drawing of bald heads, then a bald androgynous couple, razors and scissors being sharpened, photo session preparation, and finally hedge clippers and a little girl observing the hedge-trimming while fondling her own tresses. In one of the best, scenes filmed at Ground Zero in New York are followed by barbed wire barriers and (in perhaps the film’s best visual association) a bird apparently flying “into” Berlin’s Fernsehturm in a shot that is eerily reminiscent of “9/11” footage.

A concerted effort is made throughout to include Vertov’s many cinematic innovations and employed techniques, culminating in the final scenes, the film’s most frenetic. In a Koyaanisqatsi-style escalation, we are taken through many of these in dizzyingly fast succession, all paraded out for a last look: simultaneously focused and unfocused frames, multiple images, time lapse photography, split screen, Dutch (or tilted) angles, superimposition, extreme close-ups, diagonally split images, jump cuts and more, the various techniques concentrated on performers and performing spaces, cameras and spectators. In the final shot, the red carpet press photographers of the opening are inserted into a camera’s lens, turning the tables, as it were. Observers become the observed.

Nyman references not only Vertov’s, but also his own forays into film. The shadowed drapery of his Witness I makes an early appearance, to be followed later in the film by the same film’s haunting faces. Sequences from other Nyman offerings will also later vie for attention: the inept but unperturbed passenger of Tieman can be seen; the “Wanted” poster of Searching For Bacon briefly appears. Nyman himself, not to be forgotten, shows up Hitchcock-like in a few scenes. Vertov’s shot of a Russian-language “Gorky” banner spanning a street shares the screen with a “Nyman” banner doing the same; later, electronic ribbon text announces his appearance at the Toronto International Film Festival. We see him from behind early on, later as a reflection, a man with a camera. About halfway through the film, we spy a poster with the slogan “Your sight is precious”; over it is Nyman’s own reflection in glass while he brings the shot in with a slow zoom. An appropriate way to sum up the film, one thinks.

Can’t make this event?

This screening will also occur on:

via artresort


shown as part of Cine Opera

Insouciant goldfish slowed to supineness swim vacuously toward us and float languidly back out of the frame in this Nyman offering, at first reminiscent of countless relaxation videos. Underpinning the enchanting and warmly colourful scene, rich in tangerine and cyan, is placid piano and low string tones. A parakeet training record runs in the background, the stroking sounds of sofly murmured repetition, echoic phrases that our feathered companions will learn to in turn amuse and soothe us. “Pretty boy” is followed by “Clever little boy”, “Good morning”, “Mama’s little treasure” and a host of others. The gently swimming goldfish presented provide the counterpoint, and we are subtly made conscious of the role of these animals in our lives: the aural pleasure of the birds’ well-learned phrases counter-balances the visual pleasure provided by the fish. As the title suggests, we are presented with two enticements, the “pretty” and the “talk”. The viewer is left to bathe in sensual pleasures or perhaps resist the enticement to an all too pervasive (ab)use of pets. All comes to an increasingly disconcerting end as the melifluous female warblings are replaced by harsher, more insistent tones. The agreeable gradually gives way to the abrasive, and we are cordially escorted out of the scene…. Seductive and yet thought-provoking.

Kenton Turk

Pretty Talk screened in cooperation with Myriam Blundell Projects

HAIRS, Milos Tomic, Czech Republic, video to music performed by Ridina Ahmetova

The proliferation of patterned birds on fabric held in pre-ordained proximity to one another seen in erratic motion in his film Clay Pigeon return here in the form of patterned blue roses on porcelain. Tomic’s works have a distinctive stamp to them. In Hairs, accompanied by a layered female voice soundtrack, he cuts and rearranges hair, in tresses and individually, with camera trickery to form shapes reminiscent of the patterns he shows on teacup saucers, with the distinction that the hair has an unsettling quality: alive, but dead. In bundles, we see them as attractive and stylish; individually, they seem nasty and repulsive, like strange creatures coiling themselves up in this arrangement and that out of some sense of instinct. Occasionally, they play with images on the crockery, encircling painted-on heads of innocuous-looking birds, taking on actual intelligence. Lending them heretofore unexpected qualities is like taking Hitchcock’s The Birds to the next level, where other omnipresent but largely ignored “creatures” reveal unsuspected and individual behaviour; this time, it is inanimate “beings” that answer a call to “life”. What works best here is the uncomfortable appeal that pulls in two directions: are the hairs beautiful (as when seen together) or rather off-putting (as when seen separately, playing on surfaces meant for eating)? The influence of fellow Czech Jan Svankmajer is strong; as well, something here shares a quality with Dali’s more erotic paintings. A concisely-executed visual treat.

Kenton Turk

DROMOSPHÄRE, Thorsten Fleisch, Germany, 10 min 02s, HD, 2010

shown in German Premiere

A visual study of speed. The ephemeral phenomenon becomes palpable as a speed sculpture begins its relativity dance along space-time avenues lined with uncertainty trees.

It could be that the “Bravo!” calls that were heard from the audience as the title shots of the film came up were based on anticipation of seeing something by a filmmaker whose work has included the visually and conceptually astounding Gestalt (2003) or the slightly less riveting but nonetheless interesting Energie! (2007). Dromosphäre, however, doesn’t live up to the promise the maker of these two films invites. At the start, a black screen is marred only by beams of coloured light like an incomplete prismatic breakdown in a small portion to the right of the picture. The lightplay takes shape slowly before our eyes to the sound of an electronic beat, which scales a crescendo as the image claims more and more of the screen. The dominant colours are blood-orange and white, and seem to resemble a car, which the evolving form in fact turns out to be: a model of a white-paneled sports job circa 1960’s. The problem is, once the identification is confirmed, the film seems overlong in its exploration. Unlike the aforementioned films, this one seems to have a goal of sorts, i.e. the slow revelation of a recognizable form, which also gives it a finite quality that has to be observed. Considering the anticipation shown, the applause afterward also seemed less than wildly enthusiastic. Surely Fleisch has more to offer in the future. If this had been a debut or early work, he would have nothing or little to live up to. As it is, one expects progress or at least the maintenance of a certain level of inspiration.

Kenton Turk

NATURE MORTE, Juha van Ingen, Finland, 2007, 4min 30sec 2007

This short film is a series of beautiful, black and white images mirrored from a central line of division, like a simpler version of a kaleidoscope. Mostly, we see portions of zebra skin, the stripes forming and reforming themselves according to the camera’s position. Later, a full head, doubled as in the earlier shots, appears, as does that of a gazelle. While the film is greatly pleasurable on an aesthetic level, it loses what it might have built upon through the extremely repetitive soundtrack, a few bars of (albeit fittingly dream-inducing) melody that are looped rather than developed. Oddly less than the sum of its parts.

Kenton Turk

GOOD MORNING AMERICA, Director: Dikran Janus Kadagian US Poet: Carl Sandburg 6min 43s 2007

The sight of American children reciting the Pledge of Allegiance always has the feel of a strange rite of induction into a society that demands obedience from very early on, before one has the chance to sort out for oneself how close to the national flag one wishes to stand. The film opens with late 50’s or early 60’s shots of this ritual in close-up shots of individual children’s faces, all with eyes that seem devoid of any expression, as though brain-washed, and moves to a classroom shot of the same children singing “My Country ‘Tis Of Thee” to the ominous sound of extended bassoon tones and a gentle music-box melody. Rural scenes at dusk follow, and we are reminded that “In God We Trust” in stamped into every U.S. silver dollar over shots of helmeted soldiers preparing their tents in the warm glow of a sunset. From the poem we hear that “we” is “you and me and all of us in the United States of America” while we see diverse scenes of disparate people in varying situations: a baby in a park, newlyweds leaving a church, a “man of the cloth” walking on a congested urban street. The sped-up vintage shots of crowds making their way through traffic are a forerunner of Koyaanisqatsi (as are later scenes of industrialization). “Trusting God means we give ourselves, all of ourselves, the whole United States of America, to God, the Great One,” we hear, followed by, “Yes, perhaps… is that so?”, upon which the title “Good Morning America” appears, and is seen by the viewer not as a greeting, but as a wake-up call. The film moves to scenes of automated mass production, seeming no less alienating or alienated than the children’s faces seen earlier, while the poem continues: “Speed, speed, we are the makers of speed.” Both man and machine hold a strange fascination here, for, whatever the intent, the repetitive nature of both recitation and mass production are hypnotic. Intermittently, we see the products in their finished and ready-to-display form, as if being reminded what all the industrialization is for. The unconscious connection is that the children seen earlier are similarly “processed”, made into shiny, normed products that serve a selected purpose. Speed was also involved in reaching children before it was too late; it came from “us” the reader emphasizes over and over again in a forceful reading of the poem. “Put the blame on us”. The foreboding tones offset by a sweet, aimless melody continue as we see the final shot, sheets of dollar bills being removed from presses for quick inspection. Speed meets value meets values. A good recitation and a well put together short film.

Kenton Turk

ON DEATH, Director:  Anastassios Langis GR Poet: George V. Markis 6min 24s 2007

Here we are witness to (apparently the ghost of) a boy of about ten who recites a 1943 poem by George V. Markris. His delivery is strangely impassioned and dispassionate, something like the style adopted by Juan Perón and others in addressing the masses. The underlying hollow hum is an unsettling element in the proceedings. Standing alternately before a horse, Greek flags waved in a street demonstration, and other incongruous scenes for the pontificating youth’s presence, he tells us more of his “infinite deaths” (including one in Paris, of syphilis), but fails to truly connect. One can’t help feeling the child used is so wholly unaware of the meaning of what he is saying that he might as well be reciting the ingredients in a recipe. Still, the juxtaposition is an interesting idea, but might have been served better with a child more given to flights of fantasy, possibly a younger child with a more intense sense of drama often accompanying “play-acting”.

Kenton Turk

NIGHT SCHOOL, Erkka Nissinen Finland, 2007, 12min 50sec

What goes on during those long Finnish nights? One film, shown in the “Unnatural Resources” section of films, all from Finland, might provide an answer. Night School certainly earns the title “offbeat”, and then some. This excursion into disconnected imagery had the audience sitting forward in their seats again with their eyes wide open. It begins with cold interior shots reminiscent of Kubrick’s 2001, with a young man standing before a Star Trek-like octagonal portal. We are soon on the soft shoulder of a out-of-town stretch of road and see a scantily clad young woman who appears to be hitchhiking and then dragged lifeless from the scene by a man. The mood has gone from alienating to disturbing, but quickly switches to bewildering when an animated toy-like panda shows up in the same shot. An animated panda? Why? Before the now highly attuned audience can figure this out, a stumbling chef appears in the same night scene, emerging from behind a bush. What to make of it? Then we are back to the cold interior with its machine-like hum in the background, and the initial figure intones “Hello to me, hello to you,” and further words centring around talk of an “institution” strung together in a bizarre half-speech, half-melody accompanied by sign language. Then the chef, (animated) panda and the girl from the highway scene appear side by side in the space behind the aforementioned portal, moving in stiff unison. Where can you go from here? Well, of course to a completely white living room, where the young man from the first scene, devoid of emotion, tells the panda, sitting next to it on a couch, “I think you are really hot” and “I have these feelings for you” and more, to the squeaky-voiced protests of the panda, who nonetheless turns up with the young man in a bedroom, obviously contemplating whether to have intercourse or not. This scene has the feel of another Kubrick work, the uncomfortable bedroom scenes of Eyes Wide Shut. The panda says, “I’m leaving you” and soon the same young man (who is in fact the filmmaker) is shown as the girl (or transvestite) from earlier being urinated on by two chefs, talking all the while. Soon, she is under a table and performing fellatio on one of three chefs, all of whom have been speaking robotically in unison, the word “ping-pong” coming up most often. In the end, the “girl” is standing up and smoking a cigarette, trying to speak with semen dripping out of her mouth in copious amounts. Is there a message here anywhere? “Exercises for assimilation into a total institution,” according to the filmmaker. The question might be, does there need to be? What Erkka Nissinen achieves here is the disjointed logic of dreams, coupled with a highly unusual sense of humour which won’t likely be forgotten too quickly by any viewer. Only a cartoon oddity called Sealab Uh-Oh ever left me with such an odd aftertaste. The surprise submission certainly turned out to be “that film” of the evening, whatever the intention might have been. Worth a watch, certainly. You’ll never see pandas in the same light again.

Kenton Turk