Friday, April 29, 2011

This Film Defies Category -- a Good Subject for Us

Over Your Cities Grass Will Grow Movie Review

Over Your Cities Grass Will Grow

Cast & Crew

Director : Sophie Fiennes
Producer : Emilie Blezat, Sophie Fiennes, Kees Kasander
Screenwriter : n/a
Starring : Anselm Kiefer, Klaus Dermutz, Lior Gal, Boualem Moudjaoui, Alain Moittie, Antonio Fernandes, Vincent Adriaens, Philippe Ville
A fascinating, offbeat portrait of a distinctive artist, this film offers very little commentary, merely observing the work as well as the creative process.
It's not a hugely engaging film, but it's an important, beautifully assembled document.

German painter and sculptor Anselm Kiefer has spent the last two decades building elaborate, oversized art at his studio, La Ribaute, in southern France. Previously a silk factory, the derelict buildings are now both a massive studio space and an elaborate network of underground tunnels and chambers. And above the surface there are astonishing tower blocks built from pre-fab concrete slabs. Some of the spaces feel like churches or secret hideouts, others like archaeological digs. Scattered throughout are Kiefer's distinctive sculptures and paintings. And watching him create them is almost like performance art.

Kiefer's work is a genuinely fascinating expression of civilisation, using construction materials in extreme ways that make the environment look like a collage of historical ruins, abject poverty, natural destruction and even futuristic architecture. Built on a huge scale, they are absolutely enthralling, evoking thoughts and feelings in unexpected ways. Combined with the setting, the film feels almost like an exploration of the remnant of some future human civilisation.

Beautifully shot in Cinemascope, Fiennes' camera glides simply through these spaces, capturing the textures and depth, the rough materials and the ways everything interacts with the natural landscape, both above and below ground. After about 15 minutes of observation, we finally get a glimpse of the artist and his assistants at work with metal, glass, ash and a variety of debris he uses to create his large-scale artwork. He also has a casual and very open chat in a library with Dermutz about the inspiration and meaning of his work.

The sound is minimalistic as well, with atonal musical chords and, besides the interview, occasional instructions from Kiefer to his assistants. What makes it watchable is the constant variety of imagery and the continually moving camerawork, which plays with light, colour, reflections and depth of field to make the site itself seem like it's in motion. Essentially this is the kind of film that plays on a loop in an art gallery. And without saying anything overtly, it says rather a lot about the creative process.

Saturday, April 9, 2011

Anselm Keifer Sculpture: Book with Wings

Two quotes read on the same day: April 7, 2011

 From Emil Bock (c 1954):

Owing to the lead he had gained over humanity through his destiny, Paul was a fundamental prophecy become living fact.  The truth he uttered in the present was at this same time an unveiling of the future. Therefore, all genuine Christian experience would be of a prophetic nature from now on.  To be a Christian signified to develop future states of human existence and consciousness ahead of time.  This was why it was Paul’s fervent concern that the prophetic gift by cultivated first and foremost of the special talents blossoming in the congregations under the powerful presence of the Spirit.  This gift contained no vestiges of ancient, ecstatic mediumship; it was of a purely future nature.  It awakened in those persons who enkindled the spark of Damascus, who experienced the indwelling of the Christ-ego in their human ego and were thus transported into a future state of humanity’s evolution.  If they succeeded in awakening in themselves the future condition of humanity they could view the present from the perspectives of the future and were able to decipher “the signs of the times.”  The gift of prophecy, recommended so emphatically by Paul as something to be cultivated, was an apocalyptic talent that proceeded not from a diminution but from an intensification of awakened consciousness.

Emil Bock, Saint Paul:  Life, Epistles and Teaching  (Edinburgh: Floris Books, 1993; translation by Maria St. Goar),  p. 309;  (originally published 1954 in German as Paulus.)

From Andrei Tarkovsky (c 1986) and Alexander Pushkin (1846)

There can be no question of a person‘s remaining passive once he has grasped truths of that order, for they come to him without his willing it, and they overturn all his earlier ideas about how the world is.  In a very real sense he is an instrument, a medium, obliged to live and to act for the sake of other people.

Thus Alexander Pushkin considered that every poet, every true artist (and I have always seen myself as a poet rather than a cinematographer)—regardless of whether he wants to be or not—is a prophet.  Pushkin saw the capacity to look into time and predict the future as a terrible gift, and his allotted role caused him untold torment…..I feel that the pen which wrote these lines in 1846 was not held by Alexander Pushkin alone:

Weary from hunger of spirit
Through the grim waste land I dragged my way,
And a six-winged seraph came to me
At a place where two paths crossed.
With finger-tips as light as sleep
He touched the pupils of my eyes,
And my mantic pupils opened
Like eyes of an eagle scared.
As his fingers touched my ears
They were filled with roar and clang:
And I heard the shuddering of the sky,
And angels’s mountain flight,
And sea beasts moving in the deep,
And growth of valley vine.
And he pressed against my mouth,
And out he plucked my sinful tongue,
And all its guile and empty words,
And taking a wise serpent’s tongue
He thrust it in my frozen mouth
With his incardine right hand.
And with his sword he cleft my breast,
And out he plucked my trembling heart,
And in my gaping breast he placed
A coal alive with flames.
Like a corpse I lay in the waste land,
And I heard God’s voice cry out:
“Arise, prophet, and see and hear,
Be charged with my will—
And go out over seas and lands
To fire men's hearts with the word. “

Andrei Tarkovsky, Sculpting in Time : Reflections on the Cinema  (translated from the Russian by Kitty Hunter-Blair; New York, Knopf, 1987) pp 220-222.