For Auld Lang Syne

A few nights ago I watched Eberhard Fechner’s sublime and shattering Nachrede auf Klara Heydebreck (60 minutes, 1969).

I first heard of the film in the context of its monteuse, Brigitte Kirsche. She was one of the interviewees on the double DVD that the Deutsche Filmmuseum has released on the art of editing, Schnitte in Raum und Zeit (2006). Her insights on weaving together still photograph documentation and diverse sources of interview testimony were profound. It seems her long film partnership with Fechner was truly rich.

Fechner’s 1969 TV-commissioned documentary investigates the life of a 72-year-old, single German woman who was born just before the 20th century and took her own life in 1968.

The film sets out to answer the question, “Who was Klara Heydebreck?”, collecting and displaying for us her personal belongings, official records, correspondance and snapshots. These materials are the base support for the memories of the interviewees who knew Heydebreck: her surviving family, from whom she had become estranged, the policemen assigned to her suicide case, the neighbors in her apartment building whom she anxiously avoided, and her closest friend from childhood.

Interspersed with these interviews are the unsentimental and studied findings of Fechner himself. In voiceover, he attempts to reckon together her passion for the arts, her failure to thrive after the death of her mother, her unknown suffering in the aftermath of World War Two and her pauperism, reclusivity and loneliness after middle age.

What traces do we leave on life? Can others see and comprehend the traces it leaves on us? These are the more fundamental questions that Nachrede auf Klara Heydebreck asks without answering. The film leaves us with a resonant sense of how expansive and yet how negligible every human soul can be–or more accurately, how expansively or negligibly it can be treated by its fellow human souls and the socio-economic systems in which all human souls exist.

This is one of the finest, most moving and most sparing documentaries I have ever seen; it is a terrible shame that it isn’t available with foreign language subtitles. Translator friends: a project for the new year? We’ll take a cup of kindness yet… 

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Subversion des images

Here below: the photographs that Paul Nougé took between 1929 and 1930 that were published as a series by Marcel Mariën in 1968. (Click to enlarge.)

These are from a little treasure file of scans I’ve made that I keep for future research inspiration. For some reason I only have 17 images of a supposed set of 19. I’ll have to figure out which ones I missed. “Subversion of images” indeed…!

La jongleuse

La jongleuse

Les profondeurs du sommeil

Les profondeurs du sommeil

La naissance de l'objet

La naissance de l’objet

La vengeance

La vengeance

Femme dans l'escalier

Femme dans l’escalier

...les oiseaux vous poursuivent

…les oiseaux vous poursuivent

Le bras revelateur

Le bras revelateur

Le grenier

Le grenier

Les vendanges du sommeil

Les vendanges du sommeil

Manteau suspendu dans le vide

Manteau suspendu dans le vide

Femme effrayée par une ficelle

Femme effrayée par une ficelle

Table aimantée, tombeau du poete

Table aimantée, tombeau du poete

Cils coupés

Cils coupés

Mur murmure

Mur murmure

Les buveurs

Les buveurs

Linges et cloche

Linges et cloche

Le lecteur

Le lecteur

The set is conventionally interpreted in terms of its photographic self-reflexivity. Frédéric Thomas suggests that what Nougé subverts is documentation, the representative real.

It’s true that the zaniness of these photos lies in missing or irrational objects that are literally being “signed” or “indicated” to viewers. In this sense, the indexicality of analogue photography is repeatedly exposed as all indexing, no “thing itself.”

However, I like the idea that Subversion des images is less medium-specific than it may first appear.

Mariën suggested in 1968 that the series was the starting point for Les images défendues (1943), Nougé’s theory of René Magritte’s paintings. In this sense, Nougé’s interest in subverting images overrides any category of image in particular. He stresses process, instead. His statements that accompany this photographic series explain his intent to make spectators “play at perverting objects” (Nougé 17). In Subversion of Images, making and looking are part of the same subversive “methodical exploration,” which consists of:

Choosing an action performed through an object or on an object and modifying this object while perfectly maintaining the gesture or attitude of the chosen action (Nougé 1968: 19-20)

I find this to be a very rich and very intermedial artistic project. Subversion of Images is like a wrinkle in art historical time, an artwork that arrives at Surrealism by way of Fluxus.

Further reading on Subversion des Images:

Ana Gonzalez Salvador, “Nougé et l’action photographié: la pensée faite corps,” Francofonìa 13 2004, 53-70.

Frédéric Thomas, “Towards a Minor Surrealism: Paul Nougé and The Subversion of Images” Minor Photography: Connecting Deleuze and Guattari to Photography Theory, ed. Mieke Bleyen. Leuven: Universitaire Pers Leuven, 2012, 125-144.

Riverboat Europe

European Cinema

Holiday reading: European Cinema After the Wall: Screening East-West Mobility (Leen Engelen and Kris Van Heuckelom, eds. Lanham: Rowman and Littlefield, 2013).

My essay, “Riverboat Europe: Interim Occupancy and Dediasporization in Goran Rebić’s Donau, Duna, Dunaj, Dunav, Dunarea (2003)” is in this compilation. I received my copy just after Thanksgiving, and look forward to reading the essays by fellow contributors as soon as the late-semester grading crush is over.

An excerpt from my piece:

A film like The Danube highlights the difficulty of extricating oneself completely from one’s national identity, and indeed points to ways in which holding on to national identity in order to leverage it as a gift or peace offering may be advantageous. Nikola fretfully offers to renounce his obsolete Yugoslavian citizenship to atone for his decade-long absence; Mathilda proposes using her citizenship to fulfill Mircea’s dream of immigration. Most importantly, however, The Danube is one of a number of films that demand a nuanced discussion of hybridity and diasporic identity that [Thomas Elsaesser’s] paradigm of double occupancy can’t provide. Elsaesser’s reflections on double occupation as a state addressed by European policy and European cultural products like film and television take the form of an abstract overview. Rebić’s characters might well describe their lives as doubly occupied by their present and their past, their nationality and their post-nationality, but the “other kinds of belonging, relating and being” (Elsaesser 205: 109) in which they are shown to take part require a different adjective. I propose “interim occupancy” as a term to outline the domains through which double occupieds are often in transit, residing impermanently in widely varying degrees of comfort, health and peace…