Flash (Energy Transformation in Modern Cinematography)

By Alexander Horwath

Film Ist., 1996-2002

Only one Film Ist. (Film Is.) from Gustav Deutsch. But now the others belong to him as well.

1. FILM IST. consists, almost exclusively, of sequences from existing scientific films. These films are about the acrobatic flights of pigeons, the intelligence testing of apes; about 'reversed worlds' and stereoscopic vision; hurricanes and impact waves in the air. They depict paper projectiles penetrating bubbles of air and bullets passing through ostrich eggs. They concern the dynamics of the diaphragm as one breathes, sings or makes music. Thery show how glass breaks, children walk and how a Mercedes Benz crashes into a stone wall in slow motion. As with all images which issue from the area of the natural sciences, scientific films almost always follow a special educational line – they address the viewer as a beneficiary of their discoveries and thus, in a wider sense, as a patient. They attempt to create the ideal, insightful, patient. In order to be comprehensible and convincing outside of their specialist sphere they do not present the arguments in scientific language (mathematics), but detour into the world of aesthetics. Here they encounter other conventions – visual, narrative and poetic. The collective 'aesthetic knowledge' stored in these conventions lends form to the scientific knowledge. And thus a kind of 'ideography' is created which almost everyone has learned to read during their school days or from school television. But I think this process contributes more to cinematographic education than to the scientific. The contempt with which scientific films are received is not directed against the content, but rather against their conventional, unimaginative, ridiculous and commentary-contaminated appearance. Similarly, the fascination with some teaching films, which is certainly less common, can be attributed almost exclusively to the power of their images – images which one has never seen, even in the cinema.

2. FILM IST. brings an abundance of these images together. One can feel not only the politics, but also the singular poetry of scientific film, which often makes use of 'experimental' techniques – extreme slow motion, extreme time lapse, telescopic or microscopic camera work, solarising, x-ray film. Right at the beginning in "X-ray sound film of language," a skull says, "Nowadays we can shoot 24 pictures per second. So the value to science has been noticeably improved." But what one sees are the vastly improved possibilities for cinematographic expression. New, wild and self-reflective movie images. With the aid of these films which are, at best, shown in the framework of cult compilations or for the amusement of students, Gustav Deutsch takes a single genre, the 'useless', dirty step-child relegated to the edges of cinema history, and can talk about the entire domain of film. And it is in this corner of the unconscious of cinematographic history that one can also demonstrate that the developments of visual style does not stop at the borders of feature film. The teaching film Warning in the Dark (1954), for instance, operates as a typical film noir.

Film Ist.
, 1996-2002

3. FILM IST. is a poetic film in itself. Just how the various pieces find their own place and rhythm reminds one of modern poetry or the photo work of the American artist John Baldessari. Pictures which, from their origins, have nothing to do with each other, which don't 'belong together', are compared, tied together, fused with each other. Often superficial correspondences, structural similarities or hidden connections determine the montage. And it is only then, as in dreams or a rebus, that a third (or sixth) sense is discernible – the activity of a psychoanalyst, a poet or someone with a tendency to irony. A beautiful example, are the Night Verses in block 2.2. Accompanied by a barking dog, shadows cast by hands, the moon behind scurrying clouds, the beam from a headlight glides over the houses of a storm buffeted village, a moon fills the frame, moths in the light, space and infinite distances, an eclipse of the moon, a human eye with the pupil reacting to light and dark, a collection of bacteria form of a circle according to light – 'strategic photoactive behaviour'.

4. FILM IST., the title of the film, refers to the multiplicity of definitions which have been ascribed to the medium during its history. It appears as if FILM could mean almost everything, a metaphor for the whole world. A metaphor for what happened in Plato's cave and equally for the birth of the universe in the creation myths of the Bushmen. The question WHAT IS FILM? generally assumes contraction as a consequence – a journey into the core in search of film's essence. In contrast, the answer suggested here is that FILM IS MORE THAN FILM. (Which is the title of a one minute film by Deutsch which was the starting point, overture, or warm-up for the present work).

What is required of the psychoanalyst, who has exactly this 'more than...' in mind, is that he pay particular attention to both what he is looking for and to what he finds. In the small, apparently random discoveries/pieces of film he is able to recognise the larger structure. The neurotic cinematographic compulsion to the narrative, for example, is articulated by a short, dirty piece of film which Deutsch found on a Brazilian flea market. A test strip, containing two frames from every scene in a soap opera and eaten up by cleaning material. Floors have been scrubbed with this piece of film.

The analyst, as well as the scientific film maker, visualises logical connections, a code, a formula. Deutsch comes closest to this principle when he refers to Konrad Zuse's punched film strips which served as the tear resistant control system for the first calculating computers. The first thing one sees is Zuse's formula on punched black stock, then a picture of a woman appears (the circular white holes are once again reminiscent of Baldessari), and the film slows down in discrete steps – from 24 frames per second, to 8, 4 and then 2. This slowing down process follows a mathematical formula which Deutsch had stamped out of the film material – a punch code. Thus what we see is an irritating double picture, a (slowed down) film and simultaneously the (punch code) logic of ist movement. The visual trace of its time structure.

Film Ist., 1996-2002

5. FILM IST. is also a kind of archive, and a part of Gustav Deutsch's ironic cartography of images of movement. From projects such as Adria (1990) or Taschenkino (Pocket Cinema,1995) we are already familiar with his collections of various types of image and movement which are structured with the aid of a 'scientific' system (1.1,1.2,1.2.1 etc.). Deutsch respects the scientific method, while at the same time making a parody of it. The work is aimed not so much at authority fixated figures (the 'ideal' doctor/teacher or 'ideal' patient/pupil), as at those who feel that cinema offers an opportunity to read dogma and authority against the grain. In fact, the physical characteristics of the medium tend strongly in this direction. For Deutsch, cinematographic thinking means that "as a spectator one sees something other than what is being shown". The stroboscopic effect of film, for example, results in the real movement of wheel spokes and fans being reversed. On the other hand, block 5.2 shows what one sees with closed eyes. The wonderful phrase 'photo-active behaviour' refers to the reaction which occurs in cells (and thus in plants, animals and humans), under particular optical or light conditions. In the movie theatre reactions are varied – from disorientation, mirroring and identification to satisfying laughter. The final segment of the film, block 6.4 is dedicated to this fundamental situation – an actor who talks to a screen, the beam of light from a projector, a woman spectator, an actor who looks straight into the camera/the public. The spectator laughs.

Previously segment 3 (FILM IS AN INSTRUMENT) showed a man in bondage – he is subject to measurement, his work bound to time and herded towards efficiency. Film, as an instrument for measuring movement in space is contemporaneous with modern methods of industrial organisation and serves also as an instrument of control. The (economic) purpose of these film images and their (iconic) form are welded together forming a powerful social complex. Their presentation in FILM IST., outside the context in which they were created and further emphasised by ironic montage of picture and sound, creates an opportunity to attain insight into that whole complex. Something other than what one is shown – a 'more than...'.

From studies of Byzantine culture and theology we learn that "the word 'economy' means a form of control and at the same time a form of interpretation of religious pictures and also an ingenious theory of the relationship between the visible and the invisible" (Bruno Latour). It may be that today, more than ever, certain forms of iconoclasm may have 'econclastic' consequences.

6. FILM IST. contains but a single sequence which Gustav Deutsch shot himself – a bolt of lightning at night. But these short moments are also a metaphor for the whole – for the kind of impact that FILM IST. has in the cinema and the way in which it casts light on the premonition that no other knowledge generating process is so alive, so open and capable of thought as film.

Republished with kind permission from Sixpackfilm