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MoMA.org | Interactives | Exhibitions | 2001 | Through the Lens Clearly ...

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You Want It Always to Stay This Way

Returning to Formentera for the third time, I see that the small windmill
is almost gone. Some spokes and stakes are left of it. Time and
changing circumstances have been meddling. In Northern Europe,
windmills are progressive, here in Southern Europe environment-friendly
mechanisms fall into disuse.

Face Value. 199091. Directed by Johan van der


Keuken.

I filmed the mill seven years ago--a perfect, dreamily rotating circle with
paddles on a crystal--clear slightly tilted landscape, that I didn't
understand then as well as I do now.
Although, what do I understand about it now? Perhaps that something
slightly tilted can be very uplifting for a Dutchman, once he has lost
some of his passion for mountains and valleys, that overdose of drama.
I can see it better since I often think of Czanne (I would like to do
something about him someday, but I don't know how)--those tiny tilts,
faint angles between planes and the critical difference they make in the
light. On that plane, Giacometti as man: a wire nail, just as minimal, and
the great plasticity born in that wasted form. A man on a plane, another
plane, hardly rolling, hardly rising, just touching. More is not necessary.
That man meets another man. Maybe a third man joins them and
together they go on. A road makes its way in the plane. Who
determines the road's course? Who looks after provisions? How is the
food divided up? "First there is a mountain, then there is no mountain,
then there is," Donovan drowsily sang. For me, it became a motto.
Written down it turns into culture, while it is nothing more than a great,
often somewhat impractical love for "the body of reality." Or just for the
body.
The little windmill, as it was shot on Formentera and used in the film The
White Castle, was followed by the image of a lean, old, despondent
black woman--looking out the window of her American ghetto, a
smoking cigarette dangling on her lip. Through the binding law of
montage, which creates a physical coherence in a simple sequence of
images, that woman looks at that mill. Ultimate longing for what has
been taken away from her, that circle. One of the most touching
moments I encountered via the trickery of editing, and one of those
moments that isnt that conspicuous in the course of the film.
The black woman looking at a very distant windmill creates a political
connection. A mysterious one. Because you don't state, "It's been
taken away from her," the viewer is free to overlook it. When you do
say it, you obligate and antagonize him, "Ah, the theme of loss!" Yet, I
feel that sometimes you have to stand for platitudes and say, "It most
definitely has been taken away from her!" That then happens in other
places, in other films, when you are angry, battling against cohorts of
nonsense and lies, and thereby perhaps adding nonsense to that
nonsense. Sometimes you have to step forth from emotion.
Looking at something that isn't there: a man on a plane and the light on
it, a road, time passing, the dividing of food--that is more or less what
filmmaking is about. There are numerous filmmakers and fine artists,
who rarely speak that represented a break for me towards a freer
form: The medium is the content, the form is the message. or write a
word-- not the worst ones either. For myself, writing was necessary at
times, because something lived inside of me, floated before my eyes,
that I wanted to grasp. With hermetic formulas or intuitive stammering,
speculative ebullitions or harsh prescriptions for the world. Sometimes a
little tough guy takes the floor; he wants to stay on top of the
confusion. It's not always pleasant to read over old texts, and yet I
don't re-edit them, because censorship bars change.
Through years of playing diligently with the visible and audible material
that presents itself within the four sides of the image, the making of
images became my profession. But what should you film all day long? In
order to point my camera at other people I have to conquer certain
disgust, because the image paralyzes life--limitation and falsification set
in immediately. Professionalism is the conquering of that disgust: to
wrestle some life from it in spite of that, to get closer to people, to
bridge the distance. When I write, I hardly hit upon the problem of
disgust. Writing is not my profession; it is an activity to link other
activities.
Texts from the early sixties show that I could formulate certain things
long before I could make them happen in my films. I suspected film for
some time to be a thing in which time and space have fused and
solidified, before I could really make that thing. In the meantime I
needed words to connect my head and my hands.

24/12/2014 12:36

MoMA.org | Interactives | Exhibitions | 2001 | Through the Lens Clearly ...

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http://www.moma.org/interactives/exhibitions/2001/jvdk/essays/essay1...

Shifts are also detectable. Before long I wouldn't be held responsible


anymore for an all encompassing remark like "It should be possible to
translate politics into a teacup or into the Bank of the Netherlands," and
that goes even stronger for my assertions about the "Woman" and
"Western Cul-ture" in the draft for Diary. Shifts exist in my view on the
media. In the heated report on a week of Dutch TV in 1966, television is
seen as a hollow form, a latent presence, a void awaiting a message. A
year later I became entranced by Marshall McLuhan who pointed out in
Understanding Media that the mobile, probing, somewhat blurry way in
which the electronic image is formed has far-reaching consequences for
our perception and our reactions. That unfilled image relates us all
immediately and simultaneously to everything, in a worldwide
alternating current. Through this vision I gained a strong desire to make
The Spirit of the Time, a film that represented a break for me towards a
freer form: The medium is the content, the form is the message.
Meanwhile, in the outline for Beauty (still under the working title Private
Dick), made at that same time, the cool media of the electronic era are
looked upon somewhat more cynically and a few years later all
triumphant expectation is abandoned resolutely. "The masses will have
to change their own destiny--electricity could spread the necessary
knowledge-- but electricity too became an instrument of repression," as
the didactic texts appearing between the images of Diary read. The
media cannot be separated from the economic interests they must
serve. Not the global village, but the global market.
Yet I am still fascinated by the incomplete, blurred information, the
diffuse image around which McLuhan built his fairy-like framework. I am
thinking of the intense emo-tion that came over us upon seeing a
duplicate of a film of a videotape of a television broadcast in which you
could see and hear John Coltrane, Elvin Jones, Jimmy Garrison and
McCoy Tyner going at it, extremely vague, almost completely engulfed
by static. It is the most direct experience of this quartet still available,
and therefore the most direct experience you can imagine. It takes a
myth for that blurryness to work. What was shown here couldn't really
be depicted, it was too grandiose, too intense. Never will we get closer
to it. It's like the top notes of the older Coltrane himself, as if he didn't
really reach them, tearful, reedy, muffled, brokenly played, because they
cannot be played. He was a religious man.
As a tribute to "low-definition," I put in a photograph of Peruvian miners
in an elevator that has just come above the ground. The picture was
reproduced with an impressive loss of quality from the film The New Ice
Age, but I think that if focused, it couldnt be more effective. I also
know the opposite tendency: the filmy silhouette, the detailed surface
of skin with all shades of light. You want it always to stay like this.
Introduction to the book Seeing Watching Filming, July 1979
1999 Johan van der Keuken

24/12/2014 12:36