November 2017, arsenal cinema

Magical History Tour
 – Painting in Motion

SAYAT NOVA, 1968

Paintings, sketches, etchings, drawings and the people that create them have always been a point of reference for filmmakers, cinematographers, scriptwriters, and not least production designers. Using film to breathe movement into motionless pictorial art provides the visual worlds of the original artworks with new contexts and paves the way for a whole range of different semantic and perceptional shifts. Grappling with aspects of the lives and creative processes of artists and stylistic movements in cinematic terms opens up new perspectives on art history as an echo chamber for the production of film images. This month's Magical History Tour is showing examples of the productive relationship between painting and film that span eight decades.

UNE PARTIE DE CAMPAGNE (Jean Renoir, France 1936, 1. & 9.11.) 60 years separate the impressionist paintings of Auguste Renoir and this film by his son Jean, who sets the swing, the river, the rower and the walker in his father’s paintings in motion. Renoir Jr. injects a sense of melancholy into the airy, liberated atmosphere of the original paintings, as a summer outing en famille becomes a memorial to a lost love. The film will be preceded by LA PETITE MARCHANDE D'ALLUMETTES (Jean Renoir, France 1928).

Four short films by Jürgen Böttcher (2. & 7.11.): VENUS NACH GIORGIONE (East Germany 1981), DIE FRAU AM KLAVICHORD (East Germany 1981), POTTERS STIER (East Germany 1981), and KURZER BESUCH BEI HERMANN GLÖCKNER(East Germany 1985) Under the working title "Transformation", Böttcher used three different art postcards as a canvas for new paintings at the start of the 80s, with the camera looking on in each case. It was the works of respected masters that were transformed in this way: Paulus Potter (1625–54), Giorgione (around 1477–1510) and Emanuel de Witte (around 1617–92). Böttcher superimposes his own creative process onto the pictures, playing with forms, alienation techniques, accentuations and associations, thus letting past and present flow together. Böttcher's cinematic tribute to Hermann Glöckner, one of the most important people active in the visual arts in East Germany, is equally the document of a creative process.

DIE STRASSE(Karl Grune, Germany 1923, 10. & 22.11., with a live piano accompaniment by Eunice Martins) The unadorned film title doesn't just refer to the plot and starting point of this petty bourgeois drama about a man from the provinces who becomes hopelessly entangled in the undergrowth of the big city streets and their criminality and prostitution. The title also references a source of inspiration from the world of painting: Kirchner's famous expressionistic series of street scenes whose motifs, composition and depictions were drawn on both by director Grune as well as set designers Görge and Meidner when creating the urban canyons and interiors.

SAYAT NOVA(The Color of Pomegranate, Sergei Parajanov, USSR 1968, 11. & 14.11.) In a series of sometimes surrealist, sometimes lovingly ironic, but always opulently excessive tableaux vivants, visual virtuoso Parajanov shows the different stations in the life of Armenian poet, composer, and singer Sayat-Nova, who initially lived at the court of the king in the 18th century, went on to move across the realm as a travelling singer, and was finally murdered and became a martyr. The focus is less on the poet’s biography than on the universe of his poems, which Parajanov translates into magical moving still lives, careful compositions of clothing, carpets, books, flowers, animals, and people.

AN AMERICAN IN PARIS (Vincente Minnelli, USA 1951, 12. & 16.11.) Minnelli’s Paris musical is an exuberant treasure trove of art historical references (production design: Cedric Gibbons and Preston Ames), which form suitable surroundings for the film’s protagonist, an American ex-GI (Gene Kelly), who settles in Paris as a painter following the Second World War and falls in love with a young French woman (Leslie Caron). The highpoint of the film is a 16-minute dance scene in which the two of them dance through a series of reproduced pictures.

UTAMARO O MEGURU GONIN NO ONNA (Utamaro and His Five Women, Kenji Mizoguchi, Japan 1946, 15. & 18.11.) Visual compositions of striking clarity and impressive beauty akin to still lives pervade the oeuvre of Mizoguchi, who worked as a designer for kimono fabrics before the start of his directorial career and also studied at art school. His images and shots are as precise as his criticism of the repression of the woman in Japanese society, both in his historical dramas as well as his contemporary films. Five women – courtesans and geishas – are at the heart of this post-war film and thus in the life of color wood carving master Utamaro, one of the most important artists of the 18th century.

PAINTERS PAINTING(Emile de Antonio, USA 1972, 15. & 20.11.) No “Marxist analysis of market mechanisms” but rather “an enthusiastic film about American artists”: footage of and conversations with Willem de Kooning, Jasper Johns, Jackson Pollock, Andy Warhol, Robert Rauschenberg, Helen Frankenthaler, Frank Stella and others, all of whom close friends of de Antonio. The film was shot by night at the legendary “New York Painting and Sculpture: 1940–1970” exhibition at the Metropolitan Museum of Art as well as in the studios of the individual artists.

MY DARLING CLEMENTINE(John Ford, USA 1946, 17. & 25.11.) Frederic Remington is one of the most well-known American painters of Wild West subjects. His riding scenes, military formations, campfire settings, or landscape panoramas left their mark on the image of the Wild West at the start of the 20th Century and are also to be found in the films of John Ford. Such as in MY DARLING CLEMENTINE, Ford's great mythic-poetical Western in which cattle rancher Wyatt Earp (Henry Fonda) takes on the job of the sheriff in the desert town of Tombstone to avenge his brother's murder.

GOYA (Konrad Wolf, East Germany 1971, 19. & 26.11.) Based on the novel by Lion Feuchtwanger, Konrad Wolf shows the Spanish painter as a man of contradiction, an artist torn between different demands, oscillating between loyalty to the king and his own career on the one hand and criticism of church and state on the other. Aside from the literary adaptation, Wolf's opulent historical drama also creates another achievement in translation and integration: Wolf interweaves nearly 80 paintings, pictures, and drawings by Goya into his colorful artist’s biography, that progressively moves away from the superlative production design to concentrate more and more on the figure of the lonely, despairing Goya. 

CARAVAGGIO (Derek Jarman, United Kingdom 1986, 21. & 28.11.) A dual homage to both Caravaggio (1571–1610) as well as the technique of chiaroscuro he mastered, the deliberate accentuation of light and dark to generate dramatic effects. Jarman draws on this stylistic device again and again to depict the baroque painter's inner turmoil, only ever illuminating certain portions of the scenery. In this way, Caravaggio's love triangle with a thief and a prostitute as well as his life in the world of his rich patrons are brought into the light.

MUSEUM HOURS(Jem Cohen, Austria/USA 2012, 23. & 30.11.) The museum as a refuge: the Kunsthistorische Museum in Vienna offers a home to both former tour manager and museum guard Johann as well as Canadian tourist Anne, who is stranded in the city to look after her sick cousin. The way in which the two carefully approach one another is conducted according to and reflected within a world of paintings. A film about looking, about wandering, about art historical, emotional and urban explorations, which come together to form a fine, musically minded, deeply cinematographic whole.   

DER AMERIKANISCHE FREUND(Wim Wenders, West Germany/France 1977, 24. & 29.11.) "A weighty American art volume was for a long time my standard point of reference when it came to Edward Hopper. The book suffered under my many different moves, but above all during the shoot for DER AMERIKANISCHE FREUND, when my cameraman Robby Müller and I were so mad about Hopper that we always had his pictures with us and used them as pre-images for many of the shots in the film.” (WW) Wenders’ reverent take on Hopper revolves around art forger Tom Ripley (Dennis Hopper) persuading a terminally ill frame-maker (Bruno Ganz) to commit two contract killings.  (mg)