Film Scratches focuses on the world of experimental and avant-garde film, especially as practiced by individual artists. It features a mixture of reviews, interviews, and essays.
A Review by David Finkelstein.
Index, the DVD label that specializes in collections of experimental work by Austrian artists, has assembled this 97 minute selection from Praxis, the massive work which Dietmar Brehm has been making for 10 years. Brehm made his first film in 1974, and Praxis consists of an enormous collection of short pieces (none over 6 minutes) which use digital tools to remix and distill images and sounds from his own earlier work, mostly shot on film. The interval between the creation of the source films and the remixed Praxis version can vary from one year to over 30 years.
This project can be compared to other massive works in which an artist uses raw material from his own earlier work as a source to create a new giant opus. The goal is to remove the original context of the works and atomize them, revealing the discrete aesthetic moments which were the building blocks of the films. Two examples are the 80 hour Eniaios by Gregory Markopoulos and the incredible 720 hour Ambiencé by Anders Weberg. Those two works are marked by the artists’ impulse to destroy his older work while making the new one, an impulse that Brehm thankfully doesn’t share.
Brehm is an archivist by nature, with an immense collection of images and sounds, and Praxis is clearly a continuation of his career-long practice of using clips from his collection as the raw material to make new stuff. Although the work is a digital examination of works made on film, Brehm doesn’t especially emphasize the material differences between video and celluloid. His concerns are largely textural. Each short video in Praxis is a steady-state, self-contained work, without much development. Each one evokes a particular energy or feeling state, a specific combination of sounds, colors, forms, and rhythm which produces a distinct mood. It might not be possible to label most of these textures with a word or a phrase, but Brehm has a highly refined skill at composing these works so that each one takes us to a specific and clear place.
1000 Blitz combines the sound of thunder with blood red flashes of lightning, a sort of melding of the sensation of bloodshot eyes with a sense of impending drama.
Paris starts with the sound of an orchestra tuning up, followed by a blue-tinted loop with grainy footage of a naked couple kissing, accompanied by the sound of strong wind. The woman leaves the room, and the footage turns red, leaving the man in a state of arousal, to the sound of flames and a ringing phone. You could think of it is a compressed, wordless poem about a love affair.
Personal, a longer work at almost 6 minutes, is accompanied by the sound of light summer rain and the buzz of mosquitos. The blue-tinted, grainy footage shows close-ups of people’s hands, faces, torsos, many of them erotic. These are mixed with shots of chairs, flowers, and other smaller scale artifacts from daily life. It is a meditation on the sensation of closeness.
Express has a sound which could be rain on a tin roof or rattling machines. The yellow-tinted footage shows a man’s face in the window of a train, obscured by rapidly flashing reflections on the glass. The rhythm of the rattling sound combines with the flashing light and yellow color to create a moment of heightened awareness.
Vollmond is a mini black and white drama, with Foley sounds of footsteps running up a staircase, and someone urgently knocking on a door. We see the exterior of a house, and then the inside, where there are a pair of phones which ring with a rather silly musical ringtone. We hear footsteps again and we cut back to the exterior shot. There is no shot of the moon, but in a very abstract way, the film distills the essence of a story.
The disc serves as a good introduction to Brehm’s later work, for those who are unfamiliar with him. As a very long series of discrete textural moments, it might not be satisfying to sit and watch the entire DVD in one sitting, nor did the artist necessarily intend these pieces to be viewed that way. But the disc could serve as a satisfying video art installation in your home, a refreshing bath of aesthetic illumination to which you could return at odd moments throughout the day, when a short immersion in a few states of heightened awareness would be just the thing to wake you up and bring you back into your senses and into your body.