April 2013, arsenal cinema

How film writes history differently Frieda Grafe – 30 Films


In 1995, the film critic and author Frieda Grafe (1934–2002) compiled a list of her favorite 30 films for the magazine steadycam. It included works made between 1926 and 1986. Some, such as films by Mizoguchi, Godard and Mankiewicz, were to be expected, whereas others were more surprising, such as works by Pagnol, Barnet, Capra, or Langdon's silent movie "The Strong Man" and Roger Corman's "Little Shop of Horrors" that was shot in one and a half days. No female director was included in the list and certain directors were not necessarily represented by their main works. Grafe chose Billy Wilder's AVANTI! for instance, Fritz Lang's HOUSE BY THE RIVER and "Akibiyori" by Yasujiro Ozu. She played with the canon, approaching it, leaving it and even mocking it in the end. Frieda Grafe's work was shaped by a language that was inspired and moved by films and an attitude more akin to a translator's than a critic's. She lived and formulated the bourgeois and anti-bourgeois like nobody else. Her practice was against collecting and amassing and more about connecting not only the old arts and media but also the cinema to create a network. Grafe's 30 chosen films have been divided into three series of 10 that can be seen in April, July and October. The films find new contexts here; sometimes they were made in the same year and can be seen as double bills, maybe shedding new light on a particular time or decade. This reflects Frieda Grafe's attitude to the material relationship between film and history, which she described in the early 1990s as follows: "The new historians are different from the old ones, who were storytellers, because they have an expanded view of history that perhaps already has film in it since sounds and images cling to it, and thus a less intentional culture settles and succumbs to what is general, unplanned and dubious." A magazine-like publication on each of the three series will be issued by Brinkmann & Bose that has already published Grafe's complete written works in 12 volumes. For each edition of "Frieda Grafe - 30 Films", academics, filmmakers, historians and cultural theorists will write a new text about each film. Some know the work of Frieda Grafe but many have the problem that her texts have barely been translated. This is exactly the crux of the matter: to put Frieda Grafe's views and writings in an international, contemporary context and, against this backdrop, to see the films with new eyes. The authors will introduce and present the films in the cinema.

IHRE MAJESTÄT, DIE LIEBE (Joe May, D 1931, 24.4., Introduction: Max Annas) A very early talkie that makes up for the clear lack of routine in the elaboration of dialogues and their presentation with the comic skills acquired in the silent era. Joe May's film is not a musical because the musical episodes are not emphasized enough; instead, it is more of a comedy, a rom-com, about money and immorality. The heir to a wealthy industrialist family falls for a barmaid but then withdraws his love before realizing the mistake he has made. Hardly anyone on the cast worked in German cinema after 1933.

CANYON PASSAGE (Jacques Tourneur, USA 1946, 24.4., Introduction: Werner Dütsch) A slow and moderately bright Technicolor western that only just meets the genre's conventions. Perhaps it would be better described as a ménage-à-quatre set in small-town Oregon in the 1850s. Dana Andrews is an upright businessman who harbors the attractive illusion that the two can be reconciled. Werner Dütsch wrote: "Canyon Passage harbors no illusions" meaning after all that it is like a real western all about land-grabbing, gold and war waged against the indigenous population.

U SAMOGO SINEGO MORYA(By the Bluest of Seas, Boris Barnet, USSR 1936, 25.4., Introduction: Gary Minkley & Helena Pohlandt-McCormick) Revolution can be romantic. And deliciously immoral. Frieda Grafe wrote: "Everybody knows the Russian films of the Revolution but what came after. The 1930s? What for example Tarkovsky refers to. In this talkie, all the freedoms of silent cinema are at work. It is carefree like a musical with regard to realistic narrative conventions. The characters are enchantingly light and so realistic on this island in the Caspian Sea which emerges from the waves to become the stage of events."

WAGA KOI WA MOENU (Flame of My Love, Kenji Mizoguchi, Japan 1949, 25.4., Introduction: Rike Felka) "A version of Eros + Massacre. A highly topical film about politicians/men and educators/women" wrote Frieda Grafe about Mizoguchi's work that was almost unknown internationally. In the 1880s, two women make their way from the country to the city. One has to acknowledge that progressive politics does not necessarily comprise women's rights. The other one decides to respond to a rape with fire.

HOUSE BY THE RIVER (Fritz Lang, USA 1950, 26.4., Introduction: Christian Petzold) The river is the protagonist of this small gothic film. The author is no better at fishing than he is at writing, and Fritz Lang is more interested in what's happening on the sidelines than in directing his actors. Frieda Grafe: "The feeling of fatality in Lang's films is created by these obsessive objects which are the inductors of crises and catastrophes and circulate in the plots with a perverse insistence. Their mechanical interlocking is the brazen course of fate. A small flashing arrow in Man Hunt, a cigar cutter in The Woman in the Window, a jumping fish in House by the River."

MAINE-OCEAN (Jacques Rozier, F 1986, 26.4., Introduction: Marie-Hélène Gutberlet). "Fiction rests on documentary, mise-en-scene upon reportage," wrote Frieda Grafe about this film. "Jacques Rozier combines that old cinematographic trope - the train that has brought rhythm to so many films - with original sounds based on Poitevin dialect. The technical single-mindedness of the train, which carries the story at a fast pace to begin with, comes to an end at the sea and it becomes necessary to move on to other means of transport and communication. This gives the course of history unexpected impetus.

D.O.A.(Rudolph Maté, USA 1950, 27. 4., Introduction: Ackbar Abbas) "I want to report a murder." – "Where was this murder committed?" – "San Francisco, last night." – "Who was murdered?" – "I was." Rudolph Maté's best film tips its hat to the fears triggered by the night and to people who don't have anything but the night. Frieda Grafe: "A 1950 film about bodies poisoned by light would not be imaginable without the trauma of the bomb and the images of Hiroshima that showed what light can do to bodies. The diffusely experienced threat of annihilation, the fear of a cosmic catastrophe are the affective cement that keeps together the disparate elements of the film."

RISO AMARO (Bitter Rice, Giuseppe De Santis, Italy 1949, 27.4., Introduction: Katha Schulte) A film about small-time criminals, jealousy and the hard work of the rice harvest. It was one of the biggest box-office successes of post-war history. "Anyone who wants to study the eroticism of the post-war era has the purest source here, in the gestures of Silvana Mangano, in the short pullovers and the loose, cheap cotton clothes not to mention the petticoats, the hallmarks of Italian cinema at the time. The men in this film, in their supervisory roles, all strangely come across as pimps," wrote Frieda Grafe.

LA REGION CENTRALE(Michael Snow, Canada 1971, 28.4., Introduction: Ulrich Gregor) Michael Snow once said that his aim had been to make a film that looked as if aliens had landed on planet earth and had to send pictures home. The three hours of Snow's film are the essence of 24 hours of material that a camera on a robotic arm in Quebec produced, with no movement being repeated once.

AVANTI! (Billy Wilder, USA 1972, 28.4., Introduction: Jonathan Rosenbaum) is Billy Wilder's universally unpopular late work. A US citizen with a difficult (national) character travels to Ischia to claim the body of his father who has died in a car accident. He discovers that he was not alone but with his mistress of many years. He falls in love with her daughter. Frieda Graf wrote: "The big problem in films today, says Wilder, is that audiences have become so fast and smart. And much more intelligent that the director and the producer together. (Before Hollywood used to know what the audiences wanted) For people who like old chestnuts and only really laugh at rotten jokes when they've heard them umpteen times." (Max Annas, Annett Busch, Henriette Gunkel)

"How film writes history differently / / Frieda Grafe – 30 films" is a Max Annas, Annett Busch and Henriette Gunkel project supported by the Capital Cultural Fund in Berlin in cooperation with Brinkmann & Bose and Arsenal - Institute for Film and Video Art.