959 (101). The Hart of London (1970, Jack Chambers)

screened Thursday March 11 2009 on DVD via fileshare in Weehawken NJ TSPDT rank #511  IMDb Wiki

While the link between experimental and horror filmmaking remains largely under-examined, there's no question that some of the great works of experimental cinema could double as outstanding horror films: Peter Tscherkassky's Outer Space (which commits unspeakable acts on footage from the 80s horror flick The Entity), numerous titles by Stan Brakhage (i.e. The Art of Vision; The Act of Seeing with One's Own Eyes), even Michael Snow's Wavelength exudes an existential nausea in stillness that anticipates Kiyoshi Kurosawa by a few decades. While horror films typically depict violence in cinema, these avant-garde works, especially Jack Chamber's deeply disturbing 1970 film, commit violence on cinema, doing things to the celluloid medium that can leave both the viewer and the art form traumatically transformed. In The Hart of London, the horror erupts from the clash of human civilization and the great unknown that envelops it: an endless, brutal battle waged on multiple fronts: past vs. present, man vs. animal, wilderness vs. domesticity, surfaces vs. essences.

The film kicks off with a beautiful slow-mo shot of a hart deer leaping out of a forest into the town of London, Ontario, where most of the film's footage was shot. It's capture and killing at the hands of the locals sets off a snowstorm of archival photos and film footage, a cinematic blizzard superimposed double exposures, horizontal flips and negative inversions. Chambers' achievement here is in making the most innocuous footage of small town Canada seem foreign and menacing, a frontier past whose contentious relationship with its environs belie the civic aspirations of its archival imagery. This maelstrom is set to a relentless soundtrack of crashing waves whose initial aural violence gradually settles the viewer into its steady rhythm.

The surf sounds eventually give way to the gentler but no less incessant gurgle of tidepools, introducing the film's singularly most disturbing passage, where images of  children alternate with footage of sheep being slaughtered, a stunning juxtaposition of humankind's aspiring mastery over life and death. Chambers orchestrates these dual modes into a flow made possible by the tidepool soundtrack and liquid superimpositions of body parts, vegetation and bodily fluids. A recurring theme of cutting recurs through footage of an infant circumcision, shrubbery being trimmed by giant scissors and a slaughterhouse worker sticking his blade through the necks of sheep, which segues to more brutal, bloody footage of an infant child yanked from a womb. Children frolicking in a too-blue swimming pool interspersed with blood red footage of aborted sheep fetuses (some indiscernible from human counterparts) and a heap of freshly-disemboweled sheep intestines still writhing in digestive activity.

The film's last movement seems satirically vicious with its leering portrayals of domestic life: Canadians engaged in idiotic lawn games like barrel boxing; posing with their gardens or with a trespassing wolf they've killed; pointing at family photos and showing off caged canaries. Despite all the brutality that Chambers has envisioned up to this point, he seems to find these images of safe human home life just as horrifying in their own, somewhat lobotomized way, and in no way reassuring from what lurks beyond their papered walls. The final images of Chambers' own children approaching wild deer at the edge of a park, as their mother repeatedly hisses "You have to be very careful," leaves the viewer hanging in a tense, perpetual stalemate between mankind and the world around him.

THE HART OF LONDON is viewable in its entirety on YouTube

THE HART OF LONDON PART ONE (scroll down for other parts)

WOULD YOU LIKE TO KNOW MORE?

THE HART OF LONDON PART TWO

This rarely screened 1970 film by Jack Chambers is one of the cinema’s strangest masterpieces, mixing poetic and documentary footage to ponder the clash between nature and civilization. With its raw nervous energy, its juxtaposition of color with black and white, and its peculiar array of imagery (the birth of a baby, the slaughter of sheep, the filmmaker mowing his lawn, a field being plowed, dense superimpositions of images that sometimes bleach to near white), The Hart of London recalls an earlier oddball masterpiece, Christopher Maclaine’s The End (1953). Chambers’s film begins with news footage that shows a hart prancing through backyards in London, Ontario, in 1954; its pursuers capture and kill it, and that disturbing scene echoes throughout. In the first half, poetic superimpositions of London create an odd mix of seduction and rebuff, and in the second, Chambers mixes his own footage with news cinematography, suggesting that we’ve reduced both ourselves and nature to images not unlike store-window displays. Chambers, who was diagnosed with leukemia the same year he began the project, once said that the film was about “generation,” and the cycles of life and death are ever present.

- Fred Camper, The Chicago Reader

THE HART OF LONDON PARTS THREE AND FOUR

The Hart of London combines archival newsreels with original footage while adding an undercurrent of simmering violence to the mix. Superimposing found images of a deer being trapped and killed in downtown London with antiquated images of the city in industrial transition (trolleys and automobiles share the street with horse-drawn carriages), Chambers re-creates an urban history that is original, expansive, and severe. As a parallel to the thematic motif of the persecuted deer, Chambers introduces chilling colour footage of lambs being slaughtered (photographed on a return visit to Spain) at the film's midway point. Chambers writes, "In the second part of the film [these slaughterhouse] images become symbolic of the pursuit and death of the deer. This theme is repeated again and again in the real images of everyday life."  These "real images" include several staged, mechanical spectacles (a teenager diving into an icy river, crowds gathering to observe a brush fire), as well as repetitive, banal daily activities (a man trimming his hedges, Chambers cutting his lawn). The consistent tension generated and sustained over the course of its demanding length, without the aid of musical cues or voice-over exposition, demonstrates why The Hart of London is considered Chambers' greatest cinematic achievement. Fred Camper, for instance, identifies The Hart of London as "one of those rare films that succeeds precisely because of its sprawl."  Stan Brakhage, meanwhile, has described The Hart of London as one of "the few GREAT films of all cinema - 'great' in the meaning of the word which suggests the breadth and depth it contains within the length it supports."

Brett KashmereSenses of Cinema Great Directors biography
THE HART OF LONDON PARTS FIVE AND SIX
The Hart of London combines archival newsreels with original footage while adding an undercurrent of simmering violence to the mix. Superimposing found images of a deer being trapped and killed in downtown London with antiquated images of the city in industrial transition (trolleys and automobiles share the street with horse-drawn carriages), Chambers re-creates an urban history that is original, expansive, and severe.
Through the course of the film, man encroaches on nature from every angle. People emerge from underground transport, parachutes fall from the sky and bridges cross water. Even children make sand castles on the beach preparing for the next image of concrete buildings. In the final analysis, nature seems to confront London’s inhabitants as an enigma or threat. At the film’s very end, children (Jack Chamber’s own) approach a hart with food, and their mother whispers warnings; the animal as object, filmed from afar, suffers from a perceptual uncertainty. In the case of a dead wolf, its hunters turn it into their image and have it wave and greet their woman at home, like a man returned from the woods.
While man thrusts himself on the environment, containing it and turning it into his image, Chambers treatment of the filmed image creates a fracture between the filmed and the ‘film’. His jarring superimposition of positive and negative creates particularly interesting deployments of light. In the case of newsreel footage of a horse and cart ploughing the field, he overlays a positive and negative of the same image, and only a small time displacement between the images makes the superimposition readable.Whilst light in cinema creates image and thus life, here Chambers acknowledges this but pushes further asking what it is interpret and recognize, unlike the objective view as propagated by the newsreels he uses and subverts to this end.
THE HART OF LONDON PARTS SEVEN EIGHT AND NINE
Speaking to writer Avis Lang (whose article is reprinted in a 1984 issue of the Capilano Review), Chambers said that The Hart of London is about “generation.” The filmmaker was diagnosed with leukemia in 1969, the year he began work on the film, which might explain its numerous disasters and frequent juxtapositions of life and death. But there are other major threads as well. Like many avant-garde films it explores objective versus subjective perception, and Chambers also suggests that all things are mystically unified by light. His theme that we’re alienated from nature is hardly novel, but it’s intertwined with a brilliant analysis of how news cinematography caters to the viewer’s voyeurism.
Every other major sequence in the film recapitulates the opening’s tension between nature and humanity. About midway through, Chambers juxtaposes two aerial shots: the first shows a few swimmers dispersed across a body of water, the image crisp and high contrast; the second, clearly news footage shot from a passing airplane, records a catastrophic flood, homes surrounded by water in lower-contrast gray. Later in the film, possibly staging a publicity stunt for news cameras, a young man swims across an icy river in winter, until he’s forced out and hustled into a van by police, captured just like the hart. Next Chambers shows victims of some sort of bombing or mine collapse being led from a hole in the ground, the newsman’s lens treating them not as humans but as just another parade for the viewer’s entertainment. In yet another sequence an extremely lush close-up fills the frame with leaves before a focus change reveals a pair of metal clippers trimming the plants; they emerge so gently that one has to wonder if our very conception of nature is shaped by our desire to alter it for display. Near the end of the film Chambers appears trimming his lawn with a power mower, and the rectangular lawns stretching out behind him remind us that we all play a role in carving up nature.
As part of his attempt to deal with the unruly sprawl of life, Chambers embraces contradiction. Perhaps the most dramatic example occurs when he cuts from black-and-white footage of a baby being born to color footage of lambs being slaughtered, the latter shot during a return visit to Spain. The Christian symbolism may seem blatant, yet by juxtaposing color with black and white Chambers startles the viewer, short-circuiting the most obvious interpretation. Writing in Artscanada in October 1969 and December 1972, Chambers described his work as “perceptual realism” and later “perceptualism”; his writings are dense and theoretical, but apparently he wanted to prolong the moment of perception before a person interprets what he sees, placing him in “a state of receptive passivity that somehow releases a higher...sense.” By opening himself up to such “wonder,” a viewer might be able to “perceive the Invisible Body ‘behind’ the world.”
An early script for The Hart of London included images of Christ descending from heaven, yet Chambers’s work also seems related to gnosticism, a connection one might infer from his statement that reality is “an invisible pattern of energy which in its attenuated, material form becomes trees, river, people, sky.” The Hart of London seems to set up a similar dialogue between objects and light: dense superimpositions occasionally bleach almost to white, which contrasts image as the container of a recognizable object with image as pure light. Many of the images are of London, including a man with a rifle (echoing the capture of the hart) and an imposing grid of windows from a downtown building. Trees may “attenuate” reality, but human constructions are even more severe.
Chambers aggressively managed his own medical care and lived until 1978, yet The Hart of London reveals a heightened awareness of human vulnerability in the face of nature—the sequence of Chambers cutting his lawn is followed by an aerial shot of stone ruins. And in the film’s penultimate scene, home-movie-style footage that Chambers shot himself, two deer stand by a fence in the London zoo; they aren’t wild, but Chambers’s two young sons approach cautiously while on the sound track their mother repeatedly whispers, “You have to be very careful.” They succeed in feeding the deer, and afterward Chambers pans from a river up to the sky, ending with a view of pure natural light. While Avis Lang takes these last two scenes as optimistic assertions that “the world is a miracle,” the whisper hints that the deer may be dangerous, and more than once the film’s editing has transformed benign activities into disasters. The world may be “full of wonder,” in Chambers’s phrase, but it also has the potential to kill us.
- Fred Camper, from his feature review for The Chicago Reader.  An even longer review exists on Camper's website.

ABOUT JACK CHAMBERS

Wiki

Jack Chambers is one of Canada’s most famous and greatest living painters. Why then have his films been as neglected as they have been? I feel that it is because his films do not arise as an adjunct to his painting (as is true in the case of most other painter film-makers) but that, rather, Jack Chambers has realized the almost opposed aesthetics of paint and film and has created a body of moving pictures so crucially unique as to fright paint buffery: thus his films have inherited a social position kin to that of the films of Joseph Cornell in this country. The fact is that four films of Jack Chambers have changed the whole history of film, despite their neglect, in a way that isn’t possible within the field of painting. There are no ‘masters’ of film in any significant sense whatsoever. There are only ‘makers’ of film in the original, or at least medieval, sense of the word. Jack Chambers is a true ‘maker’ of films. He needs no stance, or standing, for he dances attendance upon the coming-into-being of something recognizably new: (and as all is new, always, one must question the veracity of all works, whatever medium, which beseem everything but that truth).”

- Stan Brakhage

Jack Chambers is a renowned realist artist, whose notion of perception as a synthetic experience was formally expressed in a distinctive collage style of filmmaking. Through this style, he influenced the development of the diary and landscape film. In 1969, his aesthetic manifesto, Perceptual Realism, affirmed his belief in art as an intuitive but mediated response to the unity underlying all things. It also confirmed his preference for the photograph as a memory-aid as it preserved the original image without distortion.

Chambers, as a painter, was formally trained in traditional art making. From 1954 to 1959 he attended Madrid’s Escuela Central de Bellas Artes de San Fernando where he excelled as a student, winning the state prize for painting and the Paular Scholarship for landscape painting. He chose to study in Europe because he felt constrained by London’s conservative environment and the inadequacies of his local technical school, H.B. Beal. In his 1978 autobiography, he wrote, “I could only go so far with what I was doing... coming to the same deadend again and again.”

Spanish culture exerted a major influence on Chambers, and many aspects of his work reflect this influence: the preoccupation with death and recollection, the surrealist challenge to the normality of surface reality, an appreciation for light’s revelatory power and references to Catholic iconography. Other influences include mysticism, especially the writings of Saint Teresa of Avila; the occult and parapsychology, where notions of an underlying life force or energy binds all things together. All of these ideas contributed to Chambers’ belief in the visionary nature of the artistic experience. For him, the moment of individual self-awareness when “our souls and the souls of things become present to one another” encompassed myriad associations, past and present, which took the form of temporal and spatial disruptions in his artwork.

Chambers might have settled permanently in Spain, but he returned home in 1961 because of a family illness. His encounter with the landscapes of his youth and the memories it engendered had a powerful effect on him: “The memory of such places multiplied the longer I remained so near them, and the images wedded to their presence surfaced in me like the faces of long lost friends.” He realized his representations of Spanish culture would never possess the same resonance, and so he returned to London.

Collage artist Greg Curnoe, Chambers’ closest friend, recalled that Chambers started using a 16mm camera in 1964 to explore the London landscape. In an interview with arts reporter Lenore Crawford in 1969, Chambers remarked on how film was a liberating influence: “After I shot hundreds of feet of film and then edited it to eliminate the non-essentials, I realized what I needed and what I could leave out of a painting.... A painting doesn’t need to tell a story of any kind. It can be appreciated for what’s in it. There doesn’t even have to be relation of objects.” This statement describes his films equally well.

Chambers’ reputation as a film artist is based on the five works he completed between 1966 and 1970: Mosaic (1964–1966), Hybrid (1967), R34 (1967), Circle (1968–1969) and The Hart of London (1968–1970). A mixture of newsreel footage, home movies and photographs, these films reject the notion of linear time, characteristic of popular cinema, because Chambers thought the narrative illusions that resulted misrepresented the true character of human perception.

Using various montage strategies — semantic and formal — his films invest the viewing experience with a sense of “presentness,” so that individuals undergo the same process of self-awareness as Chambers (confrontation of the fragility of domestic happiness, the brutality of human nature, the challenges of artistic ambition, the inevitability of death).

- Kathryn Elder, The Film Reference Library

Elder is the author of The Films of Jack Chambers. Published by Indiana University Press, 2003

The paltry critical recognition afforded Jack Chambers' films in the '60s and '70s by Canada's film intelligentsia is typical of the avant-garde's marginalised status during its formative period. It should not be surprising, therefore, that most of the criticism of Chambers' film work of that time was published in visual art periodicals such as Canadian Art, artscanada and Artmagazine, and usually integrated with commentary on painting. Barry Lord, writing in artscanada, suggests that Chambers' films have "begun to recapitulate the development of his paintings." Gene Youngblood, also in artscanada, states that "Chambers, in my estimation one of the most important painters at work today, manages to invest his films with that special quality of 'cosmic fantasy' that characterizes his paintings." Mario Amaya, in a review of Chambers' paintings published in Art in America, observes that Circle "approximates the analysis of changing light on a particular subject that so obsessed Monet." ) The expansion of Chambers' formal and thematic concerns from painting into filmmaking is also the theoretical underpinning of Bruce Elder's detailed analysis of Circle. His essay "From Painting into Cinema" is the most thorough and convincing example of this approach so far. By expounding on Chambers's period of silver paintings (1966/67) as a key transitional passage in the development of his cinematic interests, Elder cogently traces the artist's preoccupation with light and time as manifested in Circle, and investigates the Romantic character of Chambers' ideas about art, nature and perception, as set out in his artistic manifesto "Perceptual Realism," showing how these ideas, too, find a precise articulation in Circle.

Jack Chambers' position in the Canadian avant-garde cinema of the 1960s can be assessed by reference to the changing contours of Canadian cultural policy around the time of Expo 67 (held in Montreal). Other factors, such as the Canada Council's financial commitment to experimental film beginning in 1967, the emergence of the campus underground as a viable alternative exhibition network, the establishment of Canadian Artists' Representation (CAR), also in 1967, and the development of independent film distribution cooperatives in Toronto, London, Montreal and Vancouver late in the '60s, all helped to determine the practical conditions necessary for a sustainable Canadian avant-garde cinema.

Since the avant-garde cinema was proposing a new kind of film, a new kind of viewing environment was also necessary. The 16mm projection equipment that had been integrated into schools and universities during the 1950s helped to provide an exhibition and distribution network for the Canadian avant-garde in the 1960s: college campuses essentially began to function as a ready-made parallel theatre chain. Chambers' primary motivation for forming the London Film Co-op in 1968 was to get his films distributed. In the 1960s, thanks in part to the New American Cinema's breakthrough success (not to mention Andy Warhol's international celebrity), screenings of avant-garde films on Canadian university campuses became quite common. Through these screenings, Canadian film experimentalists such as Chambers had an opportunity to network with and gain knowledge from their American opposite numbers. Chambers was especially influenced by Stan Brakhage's work; Brakhage's Window Water Baby Moving (1959) has been cited as a primary inspiration for Chambers' first film, Mosaic. Brakhage was also instrumental in getting Chambers' films some distribution in the United States, initiating Chambers' first American screening, held on November 15, 1977 at Pacific Film Archive. However, because Chambers was unable to travel due to his deteriorating health and myriad artistic commitments, his films were, even then, seldom noticed beyond the occasional passing references in film festival or visual art overviews. The contrast between Brakhage's ubiquitous presence and Chambers' near absence (except close to home) on the late '60s university circuit helps explain why Chambers' films were not more widely seen and, therefore, written about.

The emergence of the campus underground, coupled with the establishment of film co-operatives like Canadian Filmmakers Distribution Centre, London Film Co-op, the Intermedia Film Co-op (Vancouver), and the Independent Film Makers Co-op (Montreal), allowed an effective system of distribution to develop; this network of parallel co-ops also helped to establish lines of communication between filmmakers in different parts of the country who would otherwise not have had means of contact. Jack Chambers' pioneering involvement with CAR, a national arts service organisation founded on Chambers belief in "fair exchange: payment for services," assured that filmmakers would eventually be compensated for the exhibition and reproduction of their work. It was within this cultural-historical milieu that Chambers worked to unite the various aspects of what remains Canada's experimental film apparatus.

His most decisive contribution to the development of a sustained, alternative Canadian cinema, however, was in the films he made, expanding on his own artistic strategies and concerns. As an early predecessor of subjective autobiography, Chambers' work anticipates the first-person, diary strain that surfaced in Canadian avant-garde film during the 1960s and '70s, emerging simultaneously in films such as Chambers' Mosaic and Circle, Watersark (Joyce Wieland, 1965), and personal documentaries made by the NFB experimentalist Derek May. (21) The traces of this impressionistic diary mode can be located in a wide range of later films including House Movie (Rick Hancox, 1972), The Art of Worldly Wisdom (Bruce Elder, 1979), The Road Ended at the Beach (Phillip Hoffman, 1983), Was (Mike Hoolboom, 1989), and You Take Care Now (Ann Marie Fleming, 1989). And the integration of quotidian subject matter and amateur tactics into film texts and formal repertoire, by, respectively, Chambers and Wieland, effaced the boundary between avant-garde film and "home movie." Films such as Nursing History (Marian McMahon, 1989), Girl from Mouch (Gariné Torossian, 1993), Zyklon Portrait (Elida Schogt, 1999), and What these ashes wanted (Phillip Hoffman, 2001) testify to the enduring influence of Chambers and Wieland on the fusion of art and life in Canadian first-person cinema.

- Brett Kashmere, Senses of Cinema Great Directors biography

951 (93). Limite (1931, Mario Peixoto)

Screened January 23 2009 at the MoMA Education Center, New York NY TSPDT rank #683 IMDb

The current wave of art cinema in Latin America - featuring the likes of Carlos Reygadas, Lucretia Martel, Lisandro Alsonso et al - boasts as much boldness of vision and cinematic lyricism as the region has ever seen. But even the best of these films can't match the breathtaking audacity of one of the earliest films from Brazil. Limite existed for decades as apocrypha, its only surviving print sequestered during a 20-plus-year restoration process interrupted by confiscation by the nation's military dictatorship. The only film by novelist Mario Peixoto looks like a summation of 1920s silent avant garde techniques that Peixoto absorbed while in Europe, but launches into new dimensions of synthesis that carries the viewer aloft on the feverish velocity of its inspiration. Peixoto practically exhausts the lexicon of silent cinematography with every shot conceivable from the era, but arranges them in a cascading visual pattern of sharp angles, deceptively vast vistas and sumptuous close-ups of worldly surfaces. I can't think of another film that savors its shots as much as this one, taking each one in long enough that even mundane images (train engines, spools of thread, telephone poles, a woman's silk stockinged calves) ooze with sinister energies. It’s a world turned upside down: a woman set atop an endless hilltop view of the Brazillian shoreline swoons, the camera spinning wildly in vertiginous ecstasy; a roomful of cinemagoers laughing at a Charlie Chaplin movie achieves a nightmarish lunacy. Each shot hangs in the air before evaporating into the next; the ghostly traces of each image build a sinuous path resisting the limits of worldly logic with the assured intuition of a dream. I desperately need to see this film again, but upon first glance, comparisons to Sunrise [TSPDT #12] are not unwarranted.

OPENING SEQUENCE:

Want to go deeper?

ANALYSIS OF OPENING SEQUENCE

It was with one single image - the opening image of the film - of the face of a woman seen between cuffed hands, that the dream of Limite began. As Peixoto said in an interview recorded in 1983: 'The idea for Limite came about by chance. I was in Paris, having come over from England where I was studying, and I was passing by a newspaper stand when I saw a magazine with a photograph of a woman on the cover, with arms wrapped around her chest, handcuffed. A man's arms. And the magazine was called Vu (no. 74, 14 August 1929)... I carried on walking and I could not get the image out of my mind. And right after that, I saw this sea of fire and a woman clinging to the remnants of a sinking ship.'

The second image - the detail of the cuffed hands - grew out of the first; the third - the eyes - from the hands;

the sea of flames, from out of the eyes;

the eyes from out of the sea; the face of the woman with her eyes closed, from out of the wide open eyes; and the woman sitting on the edge of the boat, from out of the woman with her eyes closed. All these images are bound together in a series of fusions or visual links, that mirror how the idea for the film evolved in the mind of the director and how the film itself, as it emerges on the screen, must pass through the mind of the spectator. One image transforms into another through this extraordinary process of fusion. The eyes that emerge from the clinging hands sink into the sea of flames and return to the surface only to disappear and close in the face of the woman. Everything is designed to be seen, but seen by eyes that arise from between cuffed hands, and are consumed in a sea of flames. Everything, from the lines of composition to the texture of the image, reminds us that cinema does not open the eyes. On the contrary, it closes, narrows and limits them. Too little light - the murky darkness behind the face and the cuffed hands, focusing the eye on the foreground - and nothing else can be seen. Too much - the fierce sunlight sparkling on the waves - and the viewer is almost blinded and forced to close their eyes. A still shot, the focus is narrowed to one point: a section of measuring tape, cotton reel, scissors, An open shot and there is too much movement: the camera abandonging the woman on the rocks to career from one section of landscape to another, unable to settle on anything. The image conceals more than it reveals...

...In reality, cinema offers us a limited vision of the world. It causes us to see less, and less well. And this is its strength. Cinema, the film suggests, makes the visible invisible. It blurs and obscures. Everything in films begins with a cut, as if the cry 'Cut!' normally used to interrupt filming, here serves to begin the process; and the cry of 'Action!' to end it. The action belongs to the spectator.

- Jose Carlos Avellar, The Cinema of Latin America. Edited by Alberto Elena, Marina Díaz López. Wallflower Press, 2003. Pages 17-18

The following citations were counted towards the placement of Limite among the They Shoot Pictures Don't They? list of the 1000 Greatest Films:

Carlos Alberto De Mattos -Epoca (2000) Nelson Pereira Dos Santos- Balaio (1996) Nicole Brenez - Kevin B. Lee Poll (2008) Paulo Betti - Epoca (2000) Pedro Butcher - Epoca (2000) Rogerio Sganzerla - Epoca (2000) Rubens Ewald Filho - Epoca (2000) Walter Salles - Epoca (2000) Kazakh Cinematheque World Poll - 100 Best Films (2006)

Limite: a hypnotic tale spun by a silent sphinx; the one and only film Mario Peixoto ever made; and one of the greatest expressions of the silent cinema, beyond borders, beyond time.

- Pacze Moj, Critical Culture, who offers an astounding scene by scene illustrated account of the film

Sometimes cited as the greatest of all Brazilian films, this silent experimental feature (1931) by novelist Mario Peixoto, who never completed another film, was seen by Orson Welles and won the admiration of everyone from Sergei Eisenstein to Walter Salles. But its status as a poetic narrative--about a man and two women lost at sea in a rowboat, whose pasts are conveyed in flashbacks--has kept it in the margins of most film histories, where it's been known mainly as a provocative and legendary cult item. The remarkably luscious and mobile cinematography (for which cameraman Edgar Brazil had to build special equipment) alone makes it well worth seeing.

- Jonathan Rosenbaum, The Chicago Reader

The restorer of the film, Sãulo Pereira de Mello, defines the film: "Limite is a cosmic tragedy, a cry of anguish, a piercing meditation on human limitations, a painful and icy acknowledgment of human defeat. It is a tragic film, a glacial tragedy."

More than a mere vehicle for one or three stories, Limite expresses defeat and desolation, and the impotence of the three characters, adrift forever, at outs with the forces of nature. This defeat is shown through the careful editing, paced and rhythmical, replete with dissolving images (such as the wheel of a train which becomes the wheel of a sewing machine) or the alternating close-ups which reshape parts of the body (feet, eyes, neck, mouths, hair) and inanimate objects (the magnificent sequence of the sewing accessories—buttons, cotton reels, scissors). Another example of skillful editing which produces a highly impactful scene takes place in a cinema, during a Chaplin screening. Mario Peixoto rapidly alternates clips from the film with shots of the cackling mouths of the audience, producing a sequence of high drama.

A young man's only film, in no manner does Limite appear to be the work of a novice. At every level the high standards and confidence of a director who had fully honed the tools of his trade are evident, as are his existentialist convictions. Today, Limite, available in video and shown at several international festivals, is exposed to fresh scrutiny which renews its impact and mystery. But the riddle of its creator, perhaps an unwitting victim of having reached his creative limits with his first film, persists; Mario Peixoto spent the next 60 years of his life as a voluntary castaway from his time, reliving the isolation of the characters of his first and only film.

Susana SchildFilm Reference.com

The theme of Limite is stated in its title--the limits faced by man in the struggle for existence. The narrative concerns three shipwrecked people, two women and a man adrift in a small boat on the open sea. In a series of flashbacks, they reveal to each other their stories and what they were trying to escape when they took flight on the ship. The first woman (Olga Breno) escaped from prison with the help of her jailer but her life remained unhappy in the new town where she was trapped in a monotonous job as a seamstress. The second woman (Taciana Rey) was unhappily married to a drunken silent film pianist (Brutus Pedreira), who is shown accompanying Chaplin’s The Adventurer in the town’s small theatre. The man (Raul Schnoor) was a widower who had a love affair with a married woman. When he visited his wife’s grave, he encountered his lover’s husband (played by Peixoto himself) who told him that she had leprosy. The life boat in which they have taken refuge begins leaking. When they see a cask in the distance that might aid them, the man jumps into the water to go after it but never comes back to the surface as the second woman watches helplessly. There is a storm at sea and when it quiets down, only the first woman remains clinging to the wreckage of the boat before she, too, is engulfed by the ocean.

The technique Peixoto used to develop the narrative is highly inventive and experimental, requiring the kind of concentration one brings to a reading of Joyce or Faulkner to fully elucidate its meaning. Except for three dialogue titles closely spaced together (significantly, they are all spoken by the character enacted by Peixoto), there are no intertitles in the two-hour silent film. Continually, Peixoto focuses on huge close-ups of objects and faces, includes wide shots of landscapes and the sea, and utilizes throughout unusual compositions and camera movements. His approach is often abstract and surrealistic, evident from the second shot in the film recreating the image on the magazine cover of the staring woman and the man’s handcuffed hands. Peixoto’s technique was influenced by the legacy of French avant-garde films like Menilmontant (1926) by Dimitri Kirsanoff and Un Chien Andalou (1928) by Luis Buñuel and Salvador Dali, as well as such classics of French impressionism as Abel Gance’s La Roue and the works of Germaine Dulac and Marcel l’Herbier. German expressionist films with their strong emphasis on fate, along with the major examples of Soviet montage, were also part of the cultural background that foreshadowed Limite. Yet for all these clear technical antecedents, the ultimate source of Peixoto’s film is his own individual genius, shaped, too, by the cultural milieu of his country’s cinema. For while Limite is related to the work of the contemporary European avant-garde, it also has clear ties to other Brazilian silent films with their emphasis on regional production and natural backgrounds. In Cataguases, Humberto Mauro, aided by Peixoto’s cameraman, Edgar Brazil, had become the leading film artist in Brazil through a style that included dramatic photography of landscapes. Earlier, the Recife production company, with filmmakers such as Jota Soares and Gentil Roiz, had made major contributions to the development of Brazilian cinema. Roiz’s 1925 classic, Aitaré da Praia (Aitaré from the Beach), brought to the screen the poetry of the Brazilian seascape, depicting the lives of fishermen. Made entirely on location, Limite was thus heir to the Brazilian tradition of regional production, both in its striking use of beautiful natural settings and the informal, family-like atmosphere in which it was created. But Limite, reflecting the individual imagination of its auteur, broke entirely new ground in its thematics as well as in its elaborate, innovative symbolism and narrative construction. Produced when talkies had rendered the silent cinema an anachronism in the United States and Europe, Peixoto’s film appeared as a visual symphony, a consummation of the possibilities of silent film to realize a new, powerful language of images conveying complex ideas.

- William M. Drew

For a theoretical approach on Limite, one may think of fluidity and continuity as two central terms, not so much in regard to the structural concept which is based on visual and rhythmic variations and not continuation as the main filmic principle, but in regard to the underlying philosophical ambition: the oscillation between a fluid memory stream and solid, concrete objects and episodes, which emerge as fixed points in the continuity of time. This proposal is quite clearly formulated in the article by Peixoto A movie from South America - formerly attributed to Eisenstein - which I understand as one of his few theoretical statements. Here, Peixoto first emphasizes the role of the “camera-brain” and the “instinctive rhythmic film-structure” of Limite, and then defines the film as somewhere between a singular , outstanding work of art and a completely anonymous item, “unidentifiable in the inexpressive crowds” and which’s “poetic evasion is built on a vigorous plan of adaptation to the real” (Mello 2000: 85).

For Peixoto, the experience offered by Limite cannot be adequately captured by language, but was made to be felt. Therefore, the spectator should subjugate himself to the images as to “anguished cords of a synthetic and pure language of cinema” (88). According to the director, his film is “meticulously precise as invisible wheels of a clock”, where long shots are surrounded and linked by shorter ones as in a “planetary system” (88). Peixoto characterizes Limite as a “desperate scream” aiming for resonance instead of comprehension. “The movie does not want to analyze. It shows. It projects itself as a tuning fork, a pitch, a resonance of time itself” (88), capturing the flow between past and present, object details and contingence as if it had always “existed in the living and in the inanimate”, or detaching itself tacitly from them. Since Limiteis more of a state than an analysis, characters and narrative lines emerge, followed by a probing camera exploring angels, details, possibilities of access and fixation, only then to fade out back into the unknown, a visual stream with certain densifications or illustrations within the continues flow of time. According to Peixoto, all these poetic transpositions find “despair and impossibilities”; a “luminous pain” which unfolds in rhythm and coordinates the “images of rare precision and structure” (91). The oscillation between the fluid and the solid, the outstanding and the unidentifiable, the concrete object and the abstraction is a basic principle not only for this film but also for his literary work.

If we follow these outlines, we may see Limite as a film with a clear, elaborate and recognizable concept, maybe difficult to identify at first sight but emerging fuller at each screening one assists. This may explain Peixoto’s dislike for surrealistic movies, specifically those of Buñuel and the rejection of chance as an artistic principle as we find in Man Ray or Dada.

- Michael KorfmannMarioPeixoto.com

"Limite" doesn't exactly belong in the Museum of Modern Art's New Directors/New Films series, because it was first released almost 50 years ago and was directed by a Brazilian, Mario Peixoto, who is now almost 70 years old. However, its inclusion in the series can be explained by its relative obscurity, the praise it received from Sergei Eisenstein and its extraordinarily youthful energies. "Limite" is feverishly beautiful and desperately ambitious, even when it isn't clear.

Mr. Peixoto, who is reportedly at work on something new, anticipated in "Limite" a great many camera movements that have since become commonplace, and the air of discovery is one of the things that keeps "Limite" exciting. His camera zooms in on a subject even if that means zooming out of focus, or executes a dizzyingly precarious 360-degree whirl. He shoots up at his actors from such a low angle that a telephone pole appears to hover over them, or devotes long sections of the film exclusively to the players' feet. His choices are flashy, impetuous and never less than interesting.

However, "Limite" is of more technical than dramatic importance. Beginning with two women and a man adrift in an open boat, and following each of them through more-or-less imaginary adventures on land, the narrative is elusive at best. Despair is evidently meant to be the overriding sentiment, but despair is easily upstaged by the glorious Brazilian scenery. It's hard to share the misery of a woman contemplating suicide when the bay into which she may jump shimmers exquisitely and is bounded by a spectacular mountainside.

Mr. Peixoto appears briefly near the end of the film, sitting mysteriously in a graveyard and announcing something — on one of the few title cards — about leprosy. He is gaunt, intense-looking and faintly diabolical, as befits the author of so solemn and furious a first effort.

Janet Maslin, The New York Times, April 21 1979

HISTORICAL BACKGROUND

In 1929, Peixoto was visiting Paris when he was struck by a powerful illustration he saw on the cover of a French magazine, a woman’s face staring straight ahead with the handcuffed hands of a man in the foreground. This haunting image inspired Peixoto to write a scenario for a projected film in one night. Sometime after his return to Brazil in October 1929, he brought his scenario to the attention of a group of theatrical friends with ties to film circles in Rio de Janeiro. Most of them were uninterested, but one actor, Brutus Pedreira, was very enthusiastic about Peixoto’s scenario for the proposed film, Limite. With Pedreira’s encouragement, Peixoto tried to interest Adhemar Gonzaga and Humberto Mauro in directing the film for their company, Cinédia. However, Gonzaga was preoccupied with the organization of the new studio and Mauro was beginning to film Lábios sem Beijos. As a result, Peixoto decided to direct the film himself, and with Gonzaga’s support, his ambition was realized. Gonzaga recommended Peixoto choose as his cinematographer Edgar Brazil, the cameraman on Mauro’s classics, Braza Dormida and Sangue Mineiro. Gonzaga also obtained on loan the camera Brazil had used to shoot those films. Peixoto purchased a second camera for the production and began assembling his principal players: Raul Schnoor; Taciana Rey, an actress employed at Cinédia; Olga Breno, a recruit from the theatre; and Brutus Pedreira.

In May 1930, Peixoto and his cast and crew began shooting Limite on location on the Rio coast. During the filming, they stayed in Mangaratiba at the Santa Justina farm owned by Peixoto’s uncle, Victor Breves, whose support was crucial in completing Limite. The director detailed his plans for every take in his screenplay before shooting. Edgar Brazil’s brilliance as a cameraman enabled the 22-year-old director to realize the effects he envisioned. For example, Brazil built the special equipment Peixoto required for his elaborate use of camera movement. In order for the camera to follow the actors as they walked without swaying, it was placed on a kind of litter carried by four porters who synchronized their steps with those of the players. A wooden crane activated by ropes was also devised, enabling the camera to film from a lofty perch the action on the ground below. While Peixoto finished principal photography in October and began editing the film, he returned to the location for some additional takes between October 1930 and January 1931, including a scene in which the great actress, Carmen Santos, has a cameo as a prostitute. Brutus Pedreira, who played the role of a pianist in the film, was a musicologist offscreen as well and, under Peixoto’s supervision, prepared a musical score for the silent film using 78rpm. classical recordings of compositions by Erik Satie, Claude Debussy, Alexander Borodin, Maurice Ravel, Igor Stravinsky, César Franck, and Sergei Prokofiev, carefully selected to match the mood of the scenes. Sponsored by the Chaplin Club, a Brazilian film society, Limite was first shown to the public in Rio de Janeiro on May 17, 1931.

With its avant-garde techniques and narrative approach, the somber majesty of its tragic theme, and its presentation at a time when talkies were all the rage, Limite was far from being a successful commercial venture. Indeed, the film’s premiere showing was coldly received by the mainstream critics, public and distributors alike. It was screened again in Rio in January 1932, but in spite of Adhemar Gonzaga’s best efforts, failed to find a distributor. The film disappeared from public view, but word of its qualities spread in experimental film circles, both in Brazil and Europe, where it developed a legendary reputation.

- William M. Drew

The reception given to Limite has been partially influenced by certain myths surrounding the movie... Due to the lengthy restoration process, it disappeared for almost 20 years, and there was speculation that the film had actually never existed. The fact is that, in 1959, the nitrate film began to deteriorate and two dedicated admirers, Plinio Süssekind and Saulo Pereira de Mello, started a frame-by-frame restoration of the last existing negative. Limite only returned to festivals and screenings in 1978. Even though hardly anybody could see the movie between 1959 and 1978 – as in the case of Sadoul and his unsuccessful trip to Rio de Janeiro in 1960 – it still served as a reference for controversial discussions and statements. In 1963, Glauber Rocha, a leading figure within the “new cinema”, the Cinema Novo, described Peixoto as “far from reality and history” and the unseen movie as “unable to comprehend the contradictions of bourgeois society”, and a “contradiction historically overcome”, only to confirm his judgement of Limite as a product of the intellectually decadent bourgeoisie again in 1978, after finally having seen it. Even though Cinema Novo and Limite do share common grounds with regard to low-cost production, financed partially by the actors, directors and producers involved in the respective project, and similar concepts of camera movements and angles can even be found overall, with regard to the use of a “untied” free-moving handheld camera as an important filmic element, Rocha and his colleagues did not merely have the intention of creating an æsthetic revolution within the national film scene. In his manifesto, “Aesthetics of hunger”, from 1965, he made it clear that the rejection of colonial, exotic and primitive views about Brazil that misinterpreted the social reality and contributed towards its present-day misery was the main objective of his artistic production. Cinema Novo “intended to show the violence of hunger through appropriate aesthetics of violence”, thereby replacing tropical clichés by images of poverty in all its aspects: landscapes, dialogues and lightning, or showing “people eating dirt, people killing to eat, people running away to eat, and dirty ugly filthy characters”.

- Michael Korfmann, "On Brazilian Cinema: From Mario Peixoto's Limite to Walter Salles," Senses of Cinema

Saulo Pereira de Mello, who dedicated his life to the film; who persevered, studied and restored it, and who realised his dream as no other spectator ever has.

To see Limite today is to see the film through Saulo's eyes. Seventy years after the first screening and fifty after Saulo first saw it, it is impossible to separate the film from the myth that has grown up around it; to separate it from the spectator who never tired of repeating that 'no film is more beautiful, intense, pognant and powerful,' and that the experience of seeing it is 'an unforgettable experience... and intense, transcendent pleasure because it is a work of art of enormous stature.'

Saulo's story begins in the early 1950s. A physics student with a vague interest in dating a literature student accepts an invitation from the would-be girlfriend to stay on campus and see a film due to be screened later that evening. Saulo remembers accepting the invitation more out of a desire to spend some time with the girl than because he wanted to watch a silent Brazilian movie. The prospective girlfriend remained exactly that but since that screening, Saulo - seduced by the images projected before him - spurned physics in order to dedicate himself to cinema. More specifically, silent cinema and the film that first aroused his passion for the medium. Not only did he see the film countless times, he kept the only existing nitrate copy at his home until he was able to make another negative. The restoration completed, he threw himself into studying the creative process behind the film.

Saulo has said that all his work on the film has been inspired by 'feelings experienced during its projection.' The session was one of those organized every year by Professor Plinio Sussekind Rocha at the National Faculty of Philosophy. One of the founders of the Chaplin Club, created in June 1928, the professor helped organize the first screening of Limite, in May 1931.

'Do you think there's a chance Limite might be lost? Is there anything you can do with this film? This was asked in 1954 after a screening without the second reel, the nitrate print having deteriorated to the point where it could no longer be passed through a projector. Professor Rocha - at this time the sole guardian of the film - contacted Saulo and pleaded with him to help him save the film. The original negative had long since been lost and Edgar Brazil, the film's cinematographer, who had been responsible for preserving the only existing copy, had recently died. The print was then kept at the National Faculty of Philosophy until 1966 when it was impounded by the order of Federal Police under the military dictatorship, together with Mat (Mother, 1926) by Vsevolod Pudovkin and Segei Eisenstein's Bronienosets Potemkin (Battleship Potemkin, 1926).

Released by the police, the film ended up in the hands of Saulo, who stepped up the fight against decomposition and hardly managed to raise funds for its restoration. At the end of the 1970s, a new negative was taken of the nitrate copy and the restoration was almost complete, but as Saulo writes 'it was no possible to save the section where the First Man helps the Second Woman, and so in the version in circulation today this section has been replaced by a caption.' Saulo then decided that in order to better understand the film, he should photograph 'the only nitrate copy still in existence, made under the supervision of Edgar Brazil.' He erected a special table in his apartment, with spools and a rough back-lit screen. He placed his camera in front of the table and photographed every scene of the film, frame by frame, taking many pictures of each scene to capture the internal movement of the image.

- Jose Carlos Avellar, The Cinema of Latin America. Edited by Alberto Elena, Marina Díaz López. Wallflower Press, 2003. 15-17

ABOUT MARIO PEIXOTO

Wiki

For many, the first genius of Brazilian cinema and its most individual and daring author. Born in 1910 in Rio de Janeiro, he spent part of his youth in London and Paris, where he came into contact with the European vanguard, the Soviet revolutionary cinema and German expressionism. Poet, romantic writer and author of one single film, Limite, Mário Peixoto spent most of his life as a recluse in the region of Angra dos Reis, on the south coast of Rio de Janeiro. Before its restoration in the 70s, Limite had been little seen but much admired, including abroad, where it gained the admiration of the Soviet filmmaker Sergei Eisentein, amongst others. Mysterious, accursed, obscure, sublime - these were the adjectives most used to describe Limite since its début in 1930. Peixoto left two films unfinished in 1931 (Onde a Terra Acaba - Where the Land Ends, and Maré - Tide) and collaborated anonymously on the script of Estrela da Manhã (Morning Star, by Jornal, 1950). In the 50s he was not able to carry on with a project titled A Alma Segundo Salustre (The Soul According to Salustre), whose script had been published in book form in 1953. Peixoto died in 1991.

A more detailed biography by Michael Korfmann on MarioPeixoto.com

932 (73). Nicht versöhnt oder Es hilft nur Gewalt wo Gewalt herrscht / Not Reconciled or Only Violence Helps Where it Rules (1965, Jean-Marie Straub)

* SPECIAL NOTE: Not Reconciled is playing Sunday 11/23 and Wednesday 11/25 as part of the Manny Farber Tribute at the Film Society of Lincoln Center. Visit filmlinc.com for more info Screened November 14 2008 on 16mm at the MoMA Media Study Center, New York NY

TSPDT rank #612 IMDb

Only 50 minutes long but requiring at least two or three viewings to grasp, the debut feature of cinema's most dynamic husband and wife directing duo is quite possibly the most daunting and demanding work of the 60s New Wave. Adapting a novel by Nobel laureate and post-war German critic Heinrich Boll, Straub and Huillet radically reinvent conventional expository devices such as voiceover narration and scene transitions, transmogrifying D.W. Griffith's innovations with cinematic time (cf. Intolerance) to reflect a frightening state of national and political shell-shock. Upon initial viewings, half the time one doesn't know whether a scene is happening in the contemporary West Germany of the 1960s, the 1930s Third Reich, or the First World War. This disorientation reflects the haunted mental state of a family comprised of three generations of political outsiders, perpetually living under traumas suffered by their nation's history that those around them are eager to repress.  What keeps this film from being dismissed as a pretentious high-brow aesthetic exercise is the sinuous mystery to its rhythms, made clean by a near-merciless precision to the film's Bresson-inspired cutting and framing schemes, and weighted with the emotional accumulation of oblique expressions of rage and cruelty, Teutonic blue notes played with cool ferocity. This is a puzzle film with jigs as sharp as shark's teeth, now as much as ever.

Want to go deeper?

The subtitle of Jean-Marie Straub and Danièle Huillet’s first feature, from 1965, “Only Violence Helps Where Violence Reigns,” suggests the fierce political program evoked by their rigorous aesthetic. The pretext of the film, set in Cologne, is Heinrich Böll’s novel “Billiards at Half Past Nine,” which they strip down to a handful of stark events and film with a confrontational angularity akin to Bartók’s music that adorns the soundtrack. The subtlest of cues accompany the story’s complex flashbacks. The middle-aged Robert Fähmel tells a young hotel bellhop of persecutions under the Third Reich; his elderly father, Heinrich, an architect famed for a local abbey, recalls the militarism of the First World War, when his wife, Johanna, incurred trouble for insulting the Kaiser. A third-generation Fähmel is considering architecture, just as the exiled brother of Robert’s late wife, returns, only to be met by their former torturer, now a West German official taking part in a celebratory parade of war veterans. Straub and Huillet make the layers of history live in the present tense, which they judge severely. The tamped-down acting and the spare, tense visual rhetoric suggest a state of moral crisis as well as the response—as much in style as in substance—that it demands.

- Richard Brody, The New Yorker

The least that can be said to explain why the films of Straub and Huillet are so important is that they embody the most rigorous practice in cinema of playing fair with one's materials: texts, actors, elements, landscapes, buildings. That means: letting the living live, letting what once lived, speak. What once lived: what was once intended, what was once thought within a network of links with its own time and with the more or less distant past (the connections from Brecht to Caesar, from Hölderlin to Empedocles, from Pavese to the ancient gods of Italy, from Schönberg to Moses and Aaron). Letting what once lived, speak and appear, somewhere. People and things may not be in their place, but they are in a place...

In Not Reconciled (1965), it's already clear, this attitude, or discipline, that makes it happen that the filmmakers place themselves in front of people, in the midst of reality, in such a way that people and reality do not give up to the camera. The people are always looking out of the frame, they are always escaping, out of allegiance to this system that Straub-Huillet's Brechtian cinema constructs and displays, whereby the actor remains in his/her own skin even while adopting the garb of another: without claiming, falsely, to be at home in this garb. (No pretended intimacy in their films, no false traffic with the inner life of people; what is discussed is public life, politics, work, genetic life, the activity of peoples and races....) What Straub-Huillet add to Brecht is cinema: the route through the real or the escape of the real through the real, at the moment of being filmed.

- Chris Fujiwara, FIPRESCI Undercurrent

Evoking such intricately interwoven allusive images as religious rigidity, blind faith, false idolatry, and passive complicity, the seemingly perfunctory episode distills the essence of Heinrich Böll's, radical, anti-militarist postwar novel, Billiards at Half-Past Nine, an indicting examination of the collective psyche of the German people that contributed to rise of Nazism and its insidious perpetuation in contemporary society. Unfolding in disorientingly elliptical vignettes that eschew dramatic action in favor of oppressively distended temp morts, autonomic ritual (most notably, in the recurring image of Robert Fähmel (Henning Harmssen) playing a lone game of billiards), and decontextualized, uninflected monologues (that recall the dedramatized, pensive recitation of Robert Bresson's equally spare and austere cinema), the film chronicles three generations of architects and their personal association with - and ancestral legacy through - St. Anthony's Abbey and, in the process, presents an incisive and relevant portrait of a traumatized nation's culturally fostered (but publicly unarticulated) xenophobia, suppressed memory, deliberate inaction, and tacit support for (and therefore, condoned harboring of) war criminals into positions of power, authority, and influence in postwar Germany. Filming in stark black and white, Straub and Huillet also set the somber atmosphere of figurative, unreconciled ghosts of souls (and histories) passed through the opening image of otherworldly forms and shadows cast by a bleak and desolate winter forest. Straub and Huillet further underscore the film's recurring theme of alienation and distance through non-confronting dialogue, incongruous narration, and isolated and occluded character framing. Similarly, the film's asequential structure conflates past and present in order to create a pervasive sentimental inertia - a metaphoric existential vicious circle for a national soul that is still haunted by its own past, even as it continues to steadfastly cling to its self-destructive behaviors - obfuscating moral complicity through delusive self-denial and perverted, hollow rituals. It is this inextricable sense of moribund transcendence that is captured in the Fähmel family's intertwined destinies with the wartime-sabotaged cathedral, the tragic and tortuous course of human history that reveals only a shell of irredeemably lost grandeur and inevitable fall from grace.

- Acquarello, Strictly Film School

If I were asked to name the most difficult great filmmaker(s) in the world, the team of the late Daniele Huillet and Jean-Marie Straub would undoubtedly top my list. (In fact, that might make in interesting exercise, so you can probably expect to see such a list posted here soon.) At the beginning of their shared career, the husband-wife team were making severe, austere black-and-white films with dark, brooding political content. The best of these early films, Not Reconciled or Only Violence Helps Where Violence Rules, boiled down Heinrich Böll’s novel Billiards at Half Past Nine, to a jagged 45 minutes in which the book’s multiple plot lines were jumbled and its chronology obliterated. It is a stunning film that rewards multiple viewings. It is a film that requires multiple viewings.

- George Robinson, Cine-Journal

A "lacunary" film is what Straub called Not Reconciled and what every film by him and Huillet may be called, a film in which the gaps cannot be filled in to make a world, the parts missing cannot be put in place to make a whole. It is not that we are called upon to complete the work ourselves: how can we, if its makers cannot? It is that the gaps, the parts missing, are to become ours as well as the work's: the work of putting the parts together, the parts without a whole, is one in which we must take part...

In Not Reconciled the remnants of the past, of the various pasts, are not clearly placed in those pasts; with disconcerting abruptness the film shifts between diffferent periods, between different actors playing the same characters in different periods, and so the things from the past are not experienced as past but as things with the same claim as anything else to belonging in the present. Precisely the point: the German past is not over and done with, it continues in the present. But in Not Reconciled things do not exist in a world of the present either. They are things without a world, things the German people must make into a world. Easy to make them into a false world, but this the film will not do: it breaks [novelist Heinrich] Boll's narrative into pieces that are purposely difficult to put together."Tell what, boy?" asks Robert Fahmel in the abrupt opening line: tell what about his experience under the Nazis, when he was about as old as the adolescent boy he is addressing? Tell what about the German past, in what connection to the concerns of the present? asks the film tacitly throughout; the question is built into the fragmentary, dislocated arrangement of the largely retrospective narrative. Out of a long story spanning half a century we get a tangled agglomerate of fragments, bits and pieces of the past recounted by the characters or reenacted in flashbacks to Nazi and to Kaiser Germany, with no connections made, no cohesion established among the different pieces that can be readily grasped. Hence the missing pieces carry as much weight as the things included, the weight, the feel, of all in the past that has been forgotten or repressed and yet continues to bear upon the present.

- Gilberto Perez, from "History Lessons," in The Material Ghost, JHU Press, 2000. Pages 324, 325

Straub’s oblique approach to the problem of Germany’s Nazi past resulted in NOT RECONCILED, which was adapted from Heinrich Böll’s novel, Billiards at Half-Past Nine. However, the film’s source is not a particularly helpful place to commence a critical analysis (“pace” Richard Roud) since the best it can do is attempt to unravel a singularly difficult cinematic experience. Straub, indeed, would prefer us to forget the novelistic source:

“I believe one can't make a film of any book—because one films something about a book or with a book, but never of a book—one films always from one’s own experience. A film lives and exists only when it is based on the experiences of the so-called director.”

Straub takes as his starting point the principle that film is “a perceptual present.” There is, in our experience of watching a film, no past tense. He then transfers this idea to the narrative organization, eliding all the connectives that were present in Böll’s novels, thereby formally underling the historical principle that present and past are indivisible. Again we note Straub’s proximity to Marxist theory. Marx noted, “Not only the result, but the road to it also, is a part of the truth.” Straub’s maieutic endeavor in NOT RECONCILED, to objectify the latent tendencies of the German nation, is predicated on this principle. The process of our struggle to come to terms with the film runs parallel with the protagonist Robert Fahmel’s attempt to come to terms with his past.

As he had earlier done with MACHORKA-MUFF, Straub attacked his subject from an oblique angle:

“The fact which interested me was to make a film about Nazism without mentioning the word Hitler or concentration camps and such things that a middle class family did not suspect or want to suspect.”

In its individual elements, the film is congruent with the characteristic constituents of Straub’s style: the documentary mode, the flat monotony of the actors’ dialogue, an ascetic camera style. Eliding Böll’s transitional statements reinforces the generalized image of the nation, rather than the intimacies of family relations. Everything in the film pushes beyond the boundaries of the personal to the national. One might even say that impersonality is a central motif. Like Machorka-Muff’s solitariness (eating alone, walking alone) the characters in NOT RECONCILED are alone, set in a hostilely impersonal environment. One shot that clinches this mood of pessimism is a 360-degree panning shot around a suburban desert. It culminates on a young man standing at a door; a child informs him that the person he seeks has never been there. Straub consistently uses empty spaces—often to create a sense that it is a space that has been vacated by those that don't “fit in”—like Robert’s mother, who has been committed to an insane asylum because she called the Kaiser a “fool.” Straub seems to suggest that the barren nature of the environment is perhaps due to the fact that Nazism’s eliminative principles have rendered it spiritually sterile.

- Martin Walsh, "Jean-Marie Straub," published in Jump Cut no. 4, 1974

"Many of [Straub-Huillet's] films address themselves to the problem of the text and its performance, to the fact that in general text and performance are fused within a film. Nearly all the Straub-Huillet films are in some way concerned with establishing a distance between the cinematic presentation of a text and that text, and this is the source of much of their success and interest. In films like Machorka Muff and Nicht Versohnt this is already the case, though less explicitly than later. Not Reconciled is an extremely difficult film to cope with as a film in the sense of the standard cinema, because it does not have in itself the power to substitute for and therefore abolish the text of which it is an adaptation. You cannot understand the story of Not Reconciled in the ordinary way you understand the story of a film, unless you know the novel on which it is based, with the result that there is a tension with the film between the Heinrich Boll novel which is being adapted and the particular filmic presentation. Of course the same thing is much more explicit in films such as Othon and History Lessons, where a text is recited or presented in a relation which completely contradicts any possibility of that text assuming its simple fictional place. This is one way to reestablish that separation between a text and a film performance which is a presentation of that text, which Brecht insisted was so important a part of the epic theater.

- Ron Burnett, from Explorations in Film Theory, Published by Indiana University Press, 1991. Page 198.

The placement of the fictional narrative of the novel within a context of documentary elements and the freedom created by the filmmakers' formal decisions are important aspects of Not Reconciled as well as of the films to be examined in following chapters. For Straub/Huillet, documentary is fundamental to all film art.[38] Even the fictional drama contained In Not Reconciled is documentary on one level: a documentary of its (re)enactment, its quotation from the novel. Just as the words of the novel do not openly express emotion, neither does the style with which Straub/Huillet present them. The texts are offered as documents, facts—placed in a context but not interpreted.

Composition, editing, camera movement, and motion within the shots all have an effect on the narrative and the emotions it can stimulate. Critics have often noted Straub/Huillet's preference for diagonals, for instance, but have underestimated the aesthetic and thematic significance of the contrast with more symmetrical composition. Scenes in Not Reconciled involving the characters' inability to reconcile past and present are most often shot in diagonals. In addition to making a simple set "vibrate with life,"[40] Straub/Huillet's diagonal shots keep the viewer from relaxing at the point of a perspective triangle in relation to the screen. In this way they are able to vary the sense of narrative space inherent in all three-dimensional pictorial representations. Not only is the viewer not at rest as the subject for whom the composition is created but the composition itself, devoid of a vanishing point or balanced perspective focus, contains lines of visual interest that come back into the frame rather than seek to escape to another triangular point opposite the viewer on the other side. The restlessness thus created makes it possible for the viewer to feel a new sensation when, for a good thematic reason, balanced perspective returns...

- Barton Byg, Landscapes of Resistance: The German Films of Daniele Huillet and Jean-Marie Straub. University of California Press. Pages 113, 115.

For Thomas Elsaesser, Not Reconciled can be identified even as a "terrorist film" because it offers a violent "solution" to the failures of effective de-Nazification: the female protagonist of Not Reconciled attempts to shoot one of the official politicians, a former Nazi who is now the Minister for Rearmament... Not Reconciled... seems to anticipate the later forms of terrorism aimed at radically protesting the reconstruction and remilitarization of the German nation-state after the war.

- Robert Stam, Alessandra Raengo, Literature and Film: A Guide to the Theory and Practice of Film Adaptation. Published by Blackwell Publishing, 2005. Page 150.

About Jean-Marie Strab and Danielle Huillet

IMDb Wiki

There are more important things to write about than films. This alone is a good reason for writing about films by Jean-Marie Straub and Danièle Huillet. In their art they have taken to heart Kafka's advice: "In the battle between yourself and the world, second the world." In films that are simple in their visual construction, restrained in their camera movement, and precise in their editing, there are always brief points at which the reality of the world outside the film explodes with a violent, utopian force. In Not Reconciled , for instance, a tragic love affair is summed up in a single two-second shot of a young woman turning her head as she says, "They're going to kill you." An old woman shoots a Nazi sympathizer at the end of the same film, and another avenging woman shoots a gangster at the end of The Bridegroom, the Comedienne, and the Pimp , yet in each case the camera looks away. The "action" is always elsewhere, spilling out of the film. And in most Straub/Huillet films, sound separates itself from the image for the first time at the end of the final reel, impelling us out of the dream of the cinema and into the world again: Bach's organ music, the air horn of an Amtrak train, the thunder of an approaching storm, the Carabinieri's helicopter.

When one begins to think about a Straub/Huillet film, one inevitably confronts subjects outside the film itself—questions of reality and history, of the "look of the world" that has become so vulnerable. since the political changes in Europe in the 1990s raise issues of the role of Germany as a world power and the future of a leftist cultural critique, the films of Straub/Huillet become all the more pertinent. Although most of their films are "German," Huillet and Straub are not. They moved to Germany from France at the end of the 1950s, then to Rome, where they have lived since 1969. Their vantage point as outsiders has allowed them to engage with German culture with a combination of critical distance and affection inaccessible to most German artists.

- Barton Byg, Landscapes of Resistance: The German Films of Daniele Huillet and Jean-Marie Straub. University of California Press. Pages 1-2.

The films of Jean-Marie Straub and Daniele Huillet (Straub-Huillet) draw on post-structuralist, political modernist and Brechtian repudiations of illusionism and emotional identification in order to depict an often alienated and corrupt political context. Films such as [Not Reconciled and Chronical of Anna Magdalena Bach] also employ the Brechtian technique of affording the elements of sound, image, language and acting a degree of autonomy from each other. However, the films of Straub-Huillet differ from the plays of Brecht in the extent to which they eliminate unessential elements from the diegesis. The result is an austere and ascetic style of film-making, from which all expressive emotion is purged. This kind of 'materialist' cinema is indebted to Althusserian post-structuralism, and predates the Althusserian inspired cinema and film theory which developed in France after 1968.

Straub-Huillet adopted this minimalist style of film-making out of a determination to create a form of cinematic practice which would be radically different from both the emotion-saturated cinema of the national socialist period, and the normative manouevres of the classical Hollywood film. Consequently, and in accordance with the political modernist tenets that the language of dominant cinema reinforces bourgeois ideology, and that early film language proferred a more authentic articulation of popular and working-class experience, Straub-Huillet sought to echo the greater narrative and visual simplicity of early cinema. In addition to this quest for a more authentic simplicity of style, Straub-Huillet also attempted to emulate the ability of early cinema to express symbolic meaning. This concern for the poetic, symbolic power of the image tempers the austere minimalism in the films of Straub-Huillet, and gives them what could be described as an almost transcendent quality.

- Ian Aitken, from European Film Theory and Cinema, Published by Indiana University Press, 2001. Pages 143-144.

“We want people to lose themselves in our films”, the Straubs told me. “All this talk about 'distanciation' is bullshit.”

- Tag Gallagher, from "Lacrimae Rerum Materialized" his amazing, thoroughly illustrated appreciation of Straub-Huillet's filmmaking. Particularly good is the passage that discusses framing and movement in The Chronicle of Anna Magdalena Bach. Published in Senses of Cinema.

For more than 30 years, Danielle Huillet, who has died aged 70, and her husband, Jean Marie Straub, worked as an indivisible entity, directing, writing and editing some of the most personal, rigorous, challenging and ultimately rewarding films in cinema history. Their films resembled no others. Now, with Huillet's death, we will probably not see anything like them again.

Straub and Huillet were faithful to each other, to their audiences and to their art, never compromising. Together they reinvented cinema, not only in style - the voiceovers, the unartificial performances, the treatment of texts, the use of extremely long takes, either with a fixed camera or in complex tracking shots - but in the way they made thought visible. As Marxist dialecticians, they created severe cinematic critiques of capitalism in a manner that paralleled the works of Bertolt Brecht in the theatre.

Although it is almost impossible to indicate which one of the couple did what on any of their films, it is likely that Huillet did most of the editing. As seen in the 2003 television documentary by Pedro Costa, Huillet is trying to cut Sicilia (1998), based on Elio Vittorini's 1939 novel, while Straub keeps pacing up and down in the corridor, smoking cigars, and occasionally interrupting his wife to make a comment, only to disappear again. She was the calmer of the two, Straub's rock to cling to. She was also much the more practical, handling any money matters and dealing with distributors and festival directors.

She was born on May Day in Paris, and met Straub (pronounced Strobe), who came from Alsace, in 1954 at the Lycée Voltaire in Paris during preparatory courses for a competition to enter Idhec (Institut des Hautes Études Cinématographiques). Huillet immediately showed her independent spirit when she refused to analyse Yves Allégret's Manéges for the entrance exam because she felt the film unworthy.

In the early 1960s, Straub, in order to escape having to serve in Algeria, went with Huillet to live in Munich. There they made Not Reconciled (1965), their first feature. Taking an episode from Heinrich Böll's radical, anti-militarist postwar novel, Billiards at Half-Past Nine, it is an elliptical examination, in stark black and white, of the collective psyche of the German people that led to the rise of Nazism and its insidious existence in contemporary Germany. It not only launched Straub-Huillet (as they became to be known), but was a landmark film of the decade...

People who dealt with the Straubs often spoke of how they were the most stimulating couple, but also the most exasperating. This was probably due to their refusal to compromise on any issue. For example, when their meditative documentary, Une Visite au Louvre (2004), was shown at the London Film Festival, they not only insisted that there should be no English subtitles nor earphone commentary, but that there should not be any synopsis of the film given in the catalogue or flyers.

They courted controversy right until the end, when their latest film, Ces Rencontres avec Eux (These Encounters of Theirs), based on Pavese, was shown in competition at this year's Venice film festival. Explaining their non-attendance at the festival, they sent a message that said they would be "unable to be festive at a festival where there are so many public and private police looking for a terrorist ... but so long as there's American imperialistic capitalism, there'll never be enough terrorists in the world." Nevertheless, the jury gave them a special prize "for invention of cinematic language in the ensemble of their work". They replied that it was "too late for their lives, but too early for their deaths".

- Obituary of Daniele Huillet for The Guardian, October 12 2006

Another obituary by Dave Kehr for the New York Times

The films of Jean-Marie Straub and Danièle Huillet are best understood in the context of contemporary developments in radical, materialist cinema. They offer what many people see as a genuine alternative to both dominant narrative cinema and conventional art movies. Their work is formally austere and demands attentive, intellectual participation from audiences. However, it must be acknowledged that many people find their films nearly impenetrable and absolutely boring. This is explained in part by the fact that the films do not rely on standard narrative construction or conventional characters. While the films of Straub and Huillet are by no means "abstract" it is nearly impossible to (re)construct a unified, imaginary, referential "world" through them.

In a sense their work might be explained in terms of strategies of displeasure, a wilful refusal to captivate audiences with a coherent fictional world. Instead they promote a distanced, intellectual interaction between viewer and film. Because of this insistence on critical distance, audiences must work with the film in a dialectical process of meaning construction. (In fact, Straub is notoriously critical of "lazy" viewers who are unwilling to engage in this activity.)

Straub and Huillet's films directly address the nature of cinematic signification and its political implications. This includes breaking away from conventional assumptions and practices of dominant narrative cinema. Their films exploit all channels of the medium—music, sounds, words, and images—as equivalent carriers of meaning, rather than privileging the "visual" or relegating music and sound effects to the task of support material. Thus, there are times when extremely long, static shots accompany lengthy, complex verbal passages (a singularly "uncinematic" practice according to conventional canons of film aesthetics). Sequences may be developed along the lines of montage construction, juxtaposing graphic material, verbal material, and moving images.

Straub and Huillet will probably never be as well known to cineastes as fellow New German filmmakers Rainer Werner Fassbinder, Volker Schlondorff, Werner Herzog, or Wim Wenders. But their minimalist films remain important contributions to the New German cinema, and they have been a meaningful voice for the art crowd in Germany. As with all gifted and dedicated film artists whose works are unconventionally structured, their cinematic output remains worthy of study by serious film students and equally worthy of viewing by discerning audiences.

—M.B. White, updated by Rob Edelman, Film Reference.com

On the set, [Danièle Huillet] will have been, not exclusively, but more than Straub, the one who directed with sound — he assuming more what we will call for convenience the direction of actors. The sound of voices, that of the wind if there is wind, that of cars if there are any, in that place and at that moment which are those of the filming, are the firmest imprint of the real world as it is, there where cinema is made. Near to and far from this labor of sound: the work, this time entirely assumed by Danièle Huillet, of the dialogues in their diverse languages. The Straubs filmed in German, in French, in Italian: Danièle Huillet knew all the nuances and requirements of these three languages. She will also have, well beyond "translation for subtitles," worked to approach as well as possible the presence of words of another language inscribed at the bottom of images in which a certain language is spoken. And who else, in the history of world cinema, has done such a work, which is first respect for the languages that humans speak, respect for the voices of actors, for the meanings of words, and for the identify of spectators? The answer is simple: no one. A clear line links this relation to words, to their arrangement and their enunciation, to the "operational" role played by Danièle Huillet at the editing table. Its process is known, at least as Pedro Costa recorded it in Where Does Your Hidden Smile Lie? (2001), on the editing of Sicilia! (1998) — neither she nor he ever made it known that what was seen of it was different from their practice before or after. Straub, his voice ample, his body heavy, digresses widely, even reduced to an editing room; immobile at the table, Danièle H. cuts, measures, specifies. And argues there, holding her own. Of course the result is theirs, the division of labor also is theirs, and in the service of no one, it's not economic or even intellectual; it's a matter of sensibility. For at the end of what it will have been possible to say, with prudence, of what la Huillet did in the cinema Straub-Huillet, it's necessary to return, and with what sadness, to the ineffable unity of what, on the screens, was born from this companionship…. What could be seen of the Straubs' life — the films, the affirmed choices of existence, in the Roman suburbs or in the 18th arrondissement in Paris — will have been its translation, uncompromising. Let's add one more adjective: generous, immensely generous. With her time, with her work, with her energy, with her listening, with her knowledge. What Jean-Luc Godard called one day an art of living, and that made films.

– Editors, Cahiers du cinema, cited at Redcat

For what makes Straub an inherently political filmmaker is not his choice of subject matter, but his approach to that subject matter, his respect for the integrity of his materials. The search for truth is at the root of all his films. This truth can only rise out of documentarism, a documentarism that reflects on the degree of its truth: this for Straub is the root of political thinking:

“The revolution is like God’s grace, it has to be made anew each day, it becomes new every day, a revolution is not made once and for all. And it’s exactly like that in daily life. There is no division between politics and life, art and politics. I think one has no other choice, if one is making films that can stand on their own feet, they must become documentary, or in any case they must have documentary roots. Everything must be correct, and only from then on can one rise above, reach higher.”

- Martin Walsh, "Jean-Marie Straub," published in Jump Cut no. 4, 1974

Joel Rogers interviews Straub and Huillet upon the release of Moses and Aaron, Jump Cut, 1976

About Heinrich Boll

Straub and Huillet were not the only filmmakers who turned to the work of Heinrich Boll... and it is certainly not a coincidence that writer and essayist Boll became such a decisive public figure in the intellectual life of Germany's culture after 1945. Born in 1917 in Cologne, Boll lived through the Second World War as a common soldier who could assume the role of moral consciousness in postwar Germany. Unlike other writers of his generation, such as Martin Walser or Siegfried Lenz, Boll never bracketed the fascist past from his own writing, but established a clear connection between German guilt and German literature. The authenticity of Boll's novels, in other words, were derived from their direct engagement with issues otherwise glossed over in the material blooming of the economic miracle. After all, postwar German society granted affluence for everybody on the basis of letting the past be the past. But even though Boll identified with the common German soldier as just another victim of Nazism, he displayed the utmost honesty and self-criticism in negotiating his historical guilt. As such, Boll was recognized not only as a "decent man" but also as the "most important witness of his time" (Marcel Reich-Ranicky). His literature is commonly characterized as simple, black and white, and rather didactic, depicting a polarized, not very complicated world through moral exempla. Throughout his life he was deeply devoted to Catholicism, but at the same time he relentlessly pointed to the shortcomings of the Catholic Church which he left in protest in 1976. When Boll died in 1985, his books had sold 31 million copies and had been translated into 45 languages. Although he incarnated the image of the "good German" outside his own country, his patriotic "public relations" work did not always meet with gratitude.

- Robert Stam, Alessandra Raengo, Literature and Film: A Guide to the Theory and Practice of Film Adaptation. Published by Blackwell Publishing, 2005. Page 150.

Video Essay for 922 (63). The Draughtsman's Contract (1982, Peter Greenaway) with Karina Longworth

Karina Longworth is the editor of SpoutBlog. Her writing has also appeared in FILMMAKER Magazine, The Huffington Post, Netscape, NewTeeVee, The Raw Story and TV Squad.