The films in this program will be completely unfamiliar to almost all viewers. While they are among the most creative & magical works in cinema, they fall within the shadow cast by contemporary American entertainment combines. Grown in the wilderlands of unloosed imagination, anyone with an avidity for the works of the Brothers Quay, or Jan Svankmajer, or Guy Maddin, will recognise a similar delicate charm and wonder at play here. Ultimately, these films are as unalike to Hollywood cinemanure as is the elusive octopus to a fecal-obsessive orangutan.
Between 1960 and 1975, Pierre Schaeffer, the famous French inventor of 'musique concrete', presided over the Research Service of French TV & Radio (ORTF). Under his direction, this Service de la recherché produced countless experimental films and videos; largely animations & abstract works, but also documentaries and live-action films. How many exactly is difficult to say - the scholarship is threadbare, even in French.
Schaeffer had already led the GRM (Group de Recherché Musical) to preeminence as a centre for creative electronic music; it was the composers working in those studios who were to score all the works produced by the Research Service of the ORTF. The result was a unique experiment in public broadcasting, which arguably reached its apogee with the popular prime-time cartoon series, Les Shadoks - outlandish adventures of avian extraterrestrials, set to the most remarkable contemporary music on planet Earth.
Several Directors who made their early works upon Schaeffer's commission would become darlings of the European art cinema - Chris Marker, Jan Lenica, & Walerian Borowczyk among them. Many others remain unaccountably ignored, and are still awaiting the recognition their extraordinary works should have long ago mandated them. This screening is only the beginning of a cultural archeology that revisionist film scholarship is yet to fully embark upon.
Walerian Borowczyk is the subject of a considerable international cult, but that audience has a much closer familiarity to his later live-action features - an artful blend of sex, shocks & surrealism, in best Eurotrash tradition - than it does to the animations which won him his first international acclaim. The Grand Prize of the international experimental film competition of the 1958 Brussels World Fair, for his film Dom (Home, co-Directed with Jan Lenica), cleared Borowczyk a path from his native Poland to a more tolerant France. He made several more absurdist shorts in his adopted home, before stunning audiences with what would become one of the most famous works of the Service de la recherché.
Game of Angels is an elliptical time-and-motion study of civilised savagery - the timetabled, sanitised horrors of concentration camp and gulag. Its beautifully abstracted cattle-cars and serial decapitations heighten that ambivalence; Borowczyk has applied the full force of his draftsmanship. This grotesquely stylised realism is echoed in the score by Bernard Parmegiani - a rigorous effecting and blend of abstracted environmental sounds. Sound and image alike are discreet and delicately rendered - the better to confront the unsuspecting viewer with the secret dividends of polite society. Almost 4 decades later, its impossible to imagine how much this film must have disturbed audiences to its broadcast premiere.
Borowczyk and Parmegiani
have renewed their occasional collaboration in the years since; the fruits
of that partnership include another animation for the Service de la recherché,
Joachim's Dictionary; the animation Scherzo Infernal (1987); and the 1981
feature monsterpiece, Blood of Dr Jekyll. Borowczyk also contributed footage
to a work of Parmegiani's own Direction - an experiment in synaesthesia,
scored by one of Parmegiani's most evocative compositions, The Eye Hears.
Jean-Pierre Jeunet was a 17 year old postal worker in the small French town of Vosges, when a television broadcast of Piotr Kamler's Cours de Secours (Heart of Refuge, 1973) provided the catalyst for Jeunet's own cinematic vocation. 3 decades later, when invited to select a film for screening in the 10th Anniversary L'Etrange Festival (Paris, 2002), Marc Caro, Jeunet's regular collaborator, chose Kamler's feature opus Chronopolis (1982). But while Kamler's films enjoy the admiration of eminent peers in his adopted country of France, his work has remained sadly neglected elsewhere.
Borowczyk and Kamler
might both be placed within a tradition of East European émigré
animators that began with the passage West of Starewycz, Bartosch and
Alexieff, 3 generations earlier (indeed, these precedents become explicit
in one of the finest films in this program, Kamler's Le Labyrinthe (1970),
partially realised using Alexieff's famous pin-board). Like these other
illustrious émigrés, Kamler's cinematic sensibility is acutely
visual - the product both of a rigorous fine-art training, and an East
European vogue for modernist aesthetics.
Kamler's cinema is among the most unlikely bodies of work in contemporary film. Beginning with his debut, Conte (Tale, of 1960), Kamler produced a dazzling series of 15 abstract films and animations, all of which were paired to electronic soundtracks by the premier composers of the GRM: Francois Bayle, Ivo Malec, Robert Cohen-Solal and Parmegiani. Among the works Parmegiani scored, but absent from this program: Danse (Dance, 1961), with Parmegiani's serial exploration of timbre and rhythm; and 1967's L'araignelephant (The Spiderelephant, 1967) - a comic work with a cast of bizarre hybrid animals.
Kamler's animated cinema suggests a singular variety of science fiction; it was he who provided the original idea for the Shadoks TV series. Completely unalike to more conventionally linear and text-based narratives, Kamler's film instead explore a series of dynamic visual motifs. Typically, the conclusion of these films is less suggestive of resolution, than it is of recurring episode. What is most striking in all his films is the variety of visual invention that Kamler brings to each work - he is as assured working with clay (as in his feature, Chronopolis) as he is with ink and paper, or even animating digitally on computer (in the most recent work in this program, Une mission ephemere). These visual flourishes embellish some of the most amazing animated films ever made - an achievement which won his Le Pas the Grand Prix of the 1975 Annecy Animation Festival.
Kamler's work expands on the possibilities of Borowczyk's before it: in its turn, it provides the precedent for the work of the Brothers Quay. Indeed, it wouldn't be hard to describe an alternative mode of cinematic narrative style that begins with Segundo de Chomon's El Spectro Vermello (1907), is dramatically reiterated by Bunuel & Dali's Un Chien Andalou (1928 - tho' for our purposes, perhaps best heard in company of Maurizio Kagel's 1978 soundtrack), elaborated by the films produced by the Service de la recherché, and finds one recent culmination in the Brothers Quay's devastating In Absentia (2001) with its memorably haunting score by Karlheinz Stockhausen. This cinema might be the Continental counterpart to the kind of poetic film championed across the Atlantic lake by Maya Deren and her successors; dedicated individuals pushing at precisely those visual and sonic possibilities of story-telling that are specific to the cinema. Their work is enriched by its debt to High Arts precedents for its style and intent, but within the field of cinema, more broadly, their films seem completely, confoundingly, anomalous.
What is common to each of the works in this program is the soundtrack composer's credit - and we are genuinely honoured to be able to welcome the esteemed French Composer Bernard Parmegiani to our shores to introduce and attend this program. There's a small irony in the fact that Parmegiani is probably better known than many of the filmmakers he's scored for - an inversion of the more usual circumstance - but his fame is the mandate of a Promethean body of work; the dedicated investigation of creative sound, and the corresponding psychological states produced in the listener. Working at first with reel-to-reel tape machines and analogue effects units, more recently on digital platforms, Parmegiani's work describes a pataphysical solution to the possibility of creating new music. Rarely has any composer exploring electronic idioms achieved such masterful - and consistently so - results. This screening is a first opportunity to gauge some measure of his contribution to creative cinema.
Introduction: by the soundtrack Composer, Bernard Parmegiani
Jeux des anges (Game
Le Dictionnaire de
Joachim (Joachim's Dictionary)
L'Oeil ecoute (The
Eye Hears) - AUSTRALIAN PREMIERE
Le Labyrinthe (Labyrinth)
(The Transparent Screen) - AUSTRALIAN PREMIERE
Le Pas (The Step)
Une Mission Ephemere
(An Ephemeral Mission) - AUSTRALIAN PREMIERE
screening: 1 hour 30 mins duration
Jim Knox, Curator.