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.
Jacques Spohr is a French filmmaker now based in Athens. Here is a sampling of his recent shorts.
Les Coups du Soleil, a collaboration with Maria Kanellou from 2015, is a seven minute experimental music video, set to an ecstatic aria from Wagner’s Tristan und Isolde, a historical recording from Nazi Germany. Tristan’s woozy, disoriented love song is accompanied by swooning shots of a forest, where a handheld camera swings wildly among the trees, but the footage is slowed down, creating a kind of suspended chaos. The grainy footage is reduced to just a few greenish gray colors, giving the feeling of a colorized postcard. As the singer reaches the climax of his infatuation, we see increasingly focused shots of an orange sun: overlapping shots which blink and clash together, not to create mere sunburn, but an actual climax of visual pain and pleasure.
I don’t normally react strongly to purely visual films, and I also don’t usually care for Wagner, so I was strongly impressed with the synergistic effect of the combination. The visual imagery seemed to gain power and expressivity from the music, and the emotion of the music became more accessible through the association with the film’s colors. Together, they created cinematic magic.
Live Fire Exercise (2015) documents a political ritual. Men and women gather on a hillside outside Athens. The scrubby brush, covered with wildflowers and goats, is contrasted with the modern city, which is seen in the distance. The assembled group builds a bonfire, burning a pile of European newspapers. These literally blazing headlines scream about both the refugee crisis and Greece’s economic crisis and ongoing conflict with the European Union. The flames rise, accompanied by a cacophony of electronic and orchestral music, mixed with machine gun fire. Is this a ritual to banish the irrational politics of our conflicted times, or do the flames merely embody the rise of hysteria and hate? Greece, often referred to as the “cradle of civilization,” might also seem like the site of civilization’s demise, situated as it is at the crossroads of so many catastrophes.
Sea,Sex, Sun & Syriza, a five minute mashup video, is assembled from vintage Greek soft core porn films, often of rape scenes. These are combined with audio from Greek Prime Minister Tsipras, trying to justify his compromises with the European Union and the economic austerity measures. The footage isn’t of real rape; it is footage that attempts to sell rape as something sexy, and the political point is powerful if unsubtle. The larger point, that the language of political speeches is like pornographic language, rings especially true for me as an American in the Trump era. Trump’s language is so bizarre that, often, no one understands what the literal meaning is, and it can only be well-understood as a kind of pornography, an attempt to get us off with emotional buzzwords, regardless of the meaning, like the nonsense words that lovers whisper in bed, trying to excite one another. This quality is not specific to the language of either Trump or Tsipras, but seems typical of our times.
A Maze, a seven minute short from 2017, amazed me. A man and woman are seen calmly taking a walk together throughout the film. Composited around them is a startling cacophony of images, a mixture of video games, clocks, grids and stripes, and countless others textures, fleetingly glimpsed. These images are colorized, rotated, subjected to rapid flashing and alternation, and otherwise distorted. Marios Tsagkaris’ electronic score, equally volatile, veers from suspended tones and chimes to explosions, spaceship sounds, and crashes.
This calm, quiet walk through chaos can be read several ways. In our world, there is constant catastrophe and terror, on the news if not locally. Does modern life mean being calm and imperturbable in a crazed environment? Is this a couple walking on another planet? Or a couple on some really powerful drugs? Or does this image simply suggest that any walk, even through the most pastoral landscape, will be full of amazing wonders, if you really pay attention?
No definitive answer is needed, because the high artistic quality of the visual and sound collage means that the experience of watching the video is thrilling and entrancing on its own, without explanation. The puzzle of the piece becomes a part of the pleasure of watching it.