PERFORMING THE UNSPEAKABLE: BEYOND FICTION AND DOCUMENTARY

This entry was posted on April 24th, 2018

By Claudia Siefen

“Obviously, the emergence of a new visual language by the commercialism of cinematography will have the same effect as experimentalism. As they have already influenced each other, they sometimes overlap, indirectly or ironically, or directly visit each other’s topics. But while the previous one more adheres to its own conventions, the latter approaches the limitations and aspects of the language. The “experimental film“, in particular its constructiveness, its analytical and didactic aspirations, is about filling the linguistic role, something similar to the work done by poets and philosophers at the time of the historical language renewal: Two major masters want the language, the philosopher and the poet. So the derivation of the language is divided into two parts: philosophers and poets.”

(BÓDY Gábor in “Filmvilág Journal“; 1982/03; 11-13. p.)

Amerikai anzix / American Torso by Bódy Gábor shows us the fate of a group of exiled Hungarian revolutionaries in 1848 and follows them into the American Civil War. The main character is a surveyor, a freedom fighter, a true war technician. The observation of the landscape is combined here with the observation by the film camera. The film thus sees and registers the ongoing war from the point of view of the surveyor. Will the camera’s point of view be that of the audience? Because an audience will also give it in multiple views, the one sitting in the here and now in front of the screen, and the other while filming. Both are a technician’s view, methodically crafted and taken from close range. The material in the here and now is already a bit damaged, the individual frames’ freeze, forming delicate cracks and dented frames, dashed and nervous. So the missing map of the surveyor mutates to the future screen. Some dirt on the camera lens or a single hair here and there will be inevitable. And at irregular intervals, we get exposed to a wild flickering; oval masks with soft edges were quite popular in the 19th century and were just as enthusiastically used in photography. Is this a historical film? There is not much to see here, because we are locked up, almost caught in the eye of the surveyor: a look at the battlefield turns into a patient camera movement over a military hospital. And it turns into the never ending question of time, friendship and war.

“I graduated in 1975, but I also made my diploma film American Anzix in BBS. The college initially did not want to accept it, and only accepted it after its successful presentation at Pécs Film Week. After the film won the Grand Prize of the Mannheim International Film Festival in 1976, international interest has apparently circled the world. So I was able to pick up impressions of global states randomly. they helped me to measure the position of myself and our film culture. At the Mannequin Festival, I met Udo Kier, the German actor with whom I worked on several films.”

(BÓDY Gábor in “Filmkultúra” ; XXII Vol. No. 2, 1986)

Bódy is known for his reflective representation of the relationship between film and reality as the feature of the European modernist cinema. But he’s also known for the use of archival footage or filmmaking in an archival footage manner, a certain film language experiment within the creative workshop of the “Béla Balázs Studio” (BBS). Bódy reflected the attraction of Hungarian films towards historical themes, also providing a possibility for filmmakers to formulate their critical attitude towards contemporary society. With American Anzix,  Bódy chose to represent a drama of a historical role that becomes anachronistic: culturally, linguistically, and also medially. American Anzix allows the audience to view it neither as documentary nor as fiction, since the conventions of feature film sporadically present the alleged documentary and undermine the pact of found footage. In this way, the sense of both “the real” and the “the cinematic” would be compromised, and so the film extends the situation of liminality to the spectator position as well. Bódy’s analytical filmmaking and also his film-theoretical writing turned towards found footage as a suitable means of which the very “nature” of the moving image can be analysed: the audience’s gaze.

The physical material burns here and there, black scratched lines run through this landscape and so right through the canvas. Fear and hate, they have to exist before every revolution. Who helds this camera? And who was held by this camera?  The off-music is not far away after an hour, while the waitress is just glancing at the very right edge of the picture: “I just want to forgive you.” But love is still not here. The joyful guitars are laid aside impatiently. The screaming seagull sounds out of place while the surveyor is still at work. And the killing shots whip the grass, but finally, a full picture, a flicker and sunshine! The rider is after them. The piano tinkles while the others still talk and stir up dust, in and with their disappearance. “Where to go, Major?” Remember: when measuring everything, there must also be losses. “I think they want to hang somebody.” – But you are not a good business man, are you?

How long shall I take counsel in my soul,
Having sorrow in my heart all the day?
How long will my enemy be exalted over me?
(David’s Psalm, Psalm 13, “Lamentations of an Individual”)

Bódy manipulated the black-and-white recordings (in post-production), using such methods as light editing, masking, scratching and deteriorating the images, also slowing down the footage, including the sound, and using self-made filters. The impression of erstwhile recordings was created. In his writing Bódy himself called that procedure “light editing” or “light cutting” (fényvágás), also burning the image instead of cutting during editing, significantly contributing to the creation of a certain visual archaism: the so beloved effect of “found footage.” Making films and watching films – what does that mean? What exactly happens when we create and view artifacts from the moving image? Like all essential questions, this can still not be answered conclusively, depending on the point in space-time continuum on which it is posed:

“There is also a lot of novelty in the use of medium and language: we have developed special colour semi-filters, we consistently use time-accelerating effects in landscapes that have only been experimental films so far. Anatomical details are enriched by macro images, brain and blood appear in the film, and in a cosmic space shoot, sperms swim in the stars of the gravitational space. Perhaps all of this is a big hit for you, but do not forget that I’ve been working for more than two years. It does not even have to make sense that these solutions would be forced, but like all the new things, some of this would certainly be rejected. It is not a unique trick, but a consistent new narrative that has already tried and proven to work as a solution in experimental films so far.”

(BÓDY Gábor in „Experimental Cinema – A fifty year evolution”; Studio Vista; London 1971)

At night, few frogs croak and the crickets seem too loud for this landscape. And the wounded man looks into the night sky as he looks at the moon and describes the vulnerability of other people. To interpret the moon, no, he dares not here. The rape of the woman just minutes before appears casual, but the moon is still there. And the walk through the forest will not explain that torture or even explain anything. That’s the way it is, during the war and during the survey. We are on our way to new land! Thank God, someone had the camera with him! An oversized swing, mounted in the woods. Soldier Harper and soldier Kowalski have mounted it there, the audience is pleased with the back and forth. The sky is shaking, and the earth is scraping past him, on his boots. The roar of horses pervading his ears. An emotional and acoustic up and down. The heavy wood under his feet. The bewitching speed can kill you, too. Does that swing tells who you are? In war? The footage corroding here in a fraction of a second. But the long way has not ended yet.