Junkopia (1981)
Chris Marker, John Chapman, Frank Simeone
France
7 Min.

 

In Junkopia, Chris Marker’s filmography, which is more than a simple collection of travelogues that it appears to be, extends itself to a territory that one is tempted to call entirely alien. The short begins with a shot of a bunch of strange mechanical “beings” floating on what appears to be water. Marker and co. confirm our suspicion, that this might indeed be earth, by giving us the geographical coordinates of the place we are looking at – 37º45’ North. A slew of close ups of these “creatures”, powered by an eerie electronic soundtrack, places them on the same dais as the very many interesting people from across the world that Marker has introduced to us through the years. You almost sense them staring at you. The illusion of this post-apocalyptic, other-worldliness is once again shattered as the directors reveal the relative position (in contrast to the meaningless absoluteness of latitudes and longitudes) of this “community” as being just next to a speedy highway located in our own world, in our own time. The soundtrack becomes even more dense as excerpts from radio, satellite communication, TV programs and popular songs arrive in bits and pieces, trying to overpower each other. A shot of vehicles moving on a distant bridge like objects on a conveyor belt. The terror is registered on multiple levels. Is this how we treat things, ideas and people that we deem to be “less important” and “less beautiful”, while unanimously moving towards a pointless destination? Or is this what our entire civilization, the beauty of our arts, our present culture going to be reduced to? Haunting stuff that is perhaps only paralleled by Tsai Ming-Liang’s Fish, Underground (2001)

Unsere Afrikareise (1966) (aka Our Trip To Africa)
Peter Kubelka
Austria
13 Min.
 

Rare is the film where the idea of a director is revealed rather than expressed. Of course, the moment the camera chooses a position and an angle, the director has made a moral choice. But not often do wee see these images speaking about themselves. Our Trip to Africa (1966) is such a film where the how and what of its images tell us more about the “maker” than his ideologies. Overloaded with visuals from the “protagonist’s” safari in the African continent, the film could, at first glance, simply be called a badly shot tourist video. But soon, certain images repeat themselves at regular intervals and concoct a theme of sorts to establish that there is more to the film than meets the eye. We see shots of the natives, especially of their bare torsos, and of wild animals being killed for game. The photographer seems to be enjoying this thoroughly. Then, in complete contrast, there are also shots of other white people, presumably the photographer’s family, having a sunbath on their boat and who, too, seem to be happy to bask in the exotic wild that is now under their control. Our Trip to Africa could be easily panned for its decidedly imperialist (and, to an extent, racist) tone, if not for one simple fact – that it is a film within a film. That the function of Our Trip to Africa is not to act as a tourist video, but to show us one. That there’s a world’s difference between the outlook of the man behind the camera – the protagonist of the film – and of “the man behind the man behind the camera” – Peter Kubelka, the director.

(GRAPHIC CONTENT WARNING!)

[Part 1/2]

[Part 2/2]

Mothlight (1963)
Stan Brakhage
USA
4 Min.
 

Stan Brakhage – the man without a movie camera – has adorned his filmography with some of the most bizarre films ever made, but Mothlight (1963), thankfully, remains one of the more accessible movies – visually and conceptually – among those. The quintessential garage work, Mothlight is an array of images made by gluing together pieces of dead insects and dry leaves on a film strip and projecting the product using a light source. The result is a fascinating viewing experience marked by a mixture of ambiguity and revelation. Like the work of a curious child, which oozes with innocence and imagination, Brakhage’s film (especially when seen with the hum of a projector) is one of the few films that truly capture the “magic of cinema”. Mothlight is a unique film in the sense that a digital copy (or any other recorded source) of it undermines its power because of the very intention of the film. If Andre Bazin traced the need for cinema, and all plastic arts, to the ancient Egyptian craft of mummification, Brakhage carries out precisely the reverse process – employing cinema to revive and preserve the dead for eternity. Mothlight could be seen just as a POV shot of a light bulb on which an army of moths has unleashed itself, only to get killed. But it is also the opposite. The artist’s desire to resurrect the dead and to eternalize the living in order to achieve an immortality of sorts is one of the very many motivations for art. Brakhage’s “actors”, although dead and dismantled, have now achieved life once more, thanks to the singular property of cinema to capture reality, in all its four dimensions.

 

[In this section, I’ll be posting brief write-ups about some impressive/interesting/frustrating/bizarre/whatever short films. And if possible the video too.]