By Tara Judah
The Rare Event
One mode of transparency is in admitting that temporal and spatial distance meant I didn’t physically attend Images Festival. This relegates my observations of the films I watched deficient, insofar as they are subject to the rarity and the ‘live-ness’ of their intent: I did not experience the atmosphere or energy of curated and presented programmes. Still, in the interests of opacity, I engaged with select content on my own terms and, in so doing, created my own rare event.
In Ken Jacob’s Perfect Film (1986), a man tries to recall his eye-witness account of the assassination of Malcolm X. He is simultaneously interviewed by multiple reporters and admits to not being able to see everything on which they are asking him to comment. Most significantly, he did not actually see who shot Malcolm X.
The second man interviewed states clearly that he was not even in the auditorium at the time. As such, he is asked what he thinks about the events as they are and have been described. In between each of these incomplete yet as-close-to-perfect-as-possible-under-the-circumstances interviews, the screen is briefly black, or white: for all that we do know, there is a void equal to what we do not know. Even as they are presented by Jacobs with some transparency of intent, as he shows us how the interviews are proposals and directed in some way, lacking as much as they offer, the film is a great explicator for opacity.
As one sequence – a cut and edit – gives way to another, so too are time and space able to elide their own eye-witness. It is not just the filmmaker who sees how perfectly these events are staged and incomplete. As a viewer I must also know how much I cannot know about the filmmaker’s own decisions in crafting that which I do (not) see.
The proverbial ‘rare event’ is also the titular provocation of Ben Rivers’ and Ben Russell’s new film – The Rare Event (2018). Tasked with filming writers, artists, critics and academics as they discuss and imagine the bounds of Résistance, a sort of ‘unrealized sequel to Jean-François Lyotard’s 1983 exhibition titled Les Immatériaux’, according to the festival synopsis, Rivers and Russell present a visual earworm that eats its way through its own transparency to magically reveal the promise of opacity.
At the event, a man dressed in a green lycra bodysuit, that allows him to act as a human green screen, wanders around the perimeter of an academic conversation, allowing the appearance of extraneous images and sounds that then act as an interrogation of the terms in discussion, brilliantly illustrating the apex of communication and interruption. This is realised in the form of a strange yet familiar digital landscape from artist Peter Burr. The entire piece is a questioning of filmic modes such as causality, correlation, systemic expression, the presence of absence and, ultimately, Lyotard’s interpretation of the Kantian sublime.
Everything, it is posited, like the Big Bang, comes from the dark: a sparkle, a light or perhaps a poem emerges, we are told. There is no better descriptor for both the magic of science and the magic of the movies.
Mike Hoolboom’s 3 Dreams of Horses (2018) offers us three points of view; an impression of a horse and a carousel; a horse made slave to a human master, calm as it carries sadness along with the humans that broke its back; and, in great sparkling light, bursting into bright orange flames, like one of the biblical horsemen of the apocalypse or, perhaps, it is just of Las Luminarias festival where horses jump through roaring flames at the bidding of their riders. The horses’ perspectives are sometimes assumed in Hoolboom’s short, and yet, even in offering such a positioning to the viewer, it cannot give us transparency.
Each of these poetic pieces, as they emerge from even the darkness of a blank screen here in my home, reveal how human imagination and the magic of the movies are both attempts at explicating the opacity that is intrinsically shifting in individuals’ perceptions.
Directed by: Ken Jacobs
The Rare Event
Directed by: Ben Rivers, Ben Russell
With: Tuomo Tuovinen (Green Man), Etienne Balibar, Federico Campagna, Manthia Diawara, Timothy Morton, Jean-Luc Nancy, Elizabeth Povinelli, Gayatri Spivak, Dorothea Van Hantelman
Director of Photography: Ben Rivers, Ben Russell
Editing:Ben Rivers, Ben Russell
Sound Design: Philippe Ciompi
Producers: Luz Gyalui, Ben Rivers, Ben Russell
Switzerland / France / United Kingdom
3 Dreams of Horses
Director, editor, optical printer, sound: Mike Hoolboom