January 2015, arsenal cinema

Susan Sontag Revisited

REGARDING SUSAN SONTAG, 2014

Susan Sontag (1933–2004) was an essayist and writer, activist and theorist, as well as a pop culture icon. She combined intellect, glamour and dissent effortlessly. Her texts on photography and reporting war, on cancer and AIDS, as well as of course film and cinema have become legendary. Her formulation in her 1964 essay "Against Interpretation" about cinema being "the most alive, the most exciting, the most important of all art forms right now," has been quoted innumerable times. She was firmly convinced that because of the perception of reality that films create, they had an exceptional educational function, not only in an aesthetic sense but because they can enlarge the capacity to feel. Although she made half a dozen films between 1969 and 1993, Susan Sontag’s activity as a filmmaker remained largely unknown. In a 1969 interview with the New York Times about filmmaking, she "confessed" that before making her first film DUET FOR CANNIBALS she had harbored an unfulfilled ambition to direct for years. "I would have taken any offer just to show I could do it," she said. "I would have gone to Afghanistan." "As it turned out, she only had to go to Sweden," quipped journalist Mel Gussow with palpable smugness. To direct seemed to Susan Sonntag a logical continuation of her career - others, European writers that she admired, such as Jean Cocteau, Marguerite Duras, Alain Robbe-Grillet and Pier Paolo Pasolini, had made the transition from writing to filmmaking - but perhaps it was Pasolini whom she saw as a direct role model, he with his self-declared fingers in many pies. For the first time in over two decades, Arsenal is showing the films that Susan Sontag directed or co-directed in a season curated by Ralph Eue. These will be complemented by works that provide an insight into her universe.

At the beginning of the 1990s, Susan Sontag was a guest of the DAAD in Berlin and she "worked" with us. In a program that she curated in November 1990 she described Arsenal - still in Welserstraße at the time - "as the cinema that I love best on the whole planet."

DUETT FÖR KANNIBALER (Duet For Cannibals, Sweden 1969, 23.1., Introduction: Kristina Jaspers & 26.1.) In Susan Sontag's debut film, a German leftist intellectual and his Italian wife pretend to be cannibals, precipitating a young couple into a maelstrom of emotional chaos. Partners are exchanged, wigs tried out, beards stuck on and faces wrapped in gauze bandages. It all appears to be a game, but it's about existential questions, about life and death. Andy Warhol's SCREEN TEST (USA 1964) with Susan Sontag playing herself will be shown before the main feature.

BRÖDER KARL (Sweden 1971, 20. & 28.1., Introduction: Ralph Eue) Sontag's next film was also made in Sweden. It features two couples: First Karen and Peter, whose relationship is characterized by cold and rejection. Their six-year-old daughter is schizophrenic and refuses to talk. The second couple are Lena and Martin, who have been divorced for five years. Lena is an actress, Martin is a burnt-out theater director. He has withdrawn to an island where he looks after the former ballet star Carl for whose nervous breakdown he somewhat feels responsible. Lena travels to the island with Karen in the hope of getting her husband back. Something unsayable hangs above them all like a curse; there is a strange atmosphere - between unrest and lethargy, always just short of an outburst of violence. Susan Sontag saw the film as "a winter's tale shot in late summer - far north". Shot in black-and-white, the "present time" of the film does not seem to be the result of a past story but the prequel itself of events still to come. Another SCREEN TEST (Andy Warhol, 1964) with Susan Sontag will be shown before the main feature.

PROMISED LANDS/LA DÉCHIRURE(F 1974, 21. & 1.2.) Susan Sontag's cinematic works often corresponded to biographical or geographical happenstance, as well as to the opportunities for determined intervention. This project, shot in Israel right after the end of the Yom Kippur War, was an integral component of the "furious reporter episodes" of her life and work. Sontag resisted the attempt to call the film a documentary, saying it was certainly a film of non-fiction but that it was more of an essay. She once wrote: "I write and talk in order to find out what I think." In "As Consciousness Is Harnessed to Flesh: Diaries 1964-1980" she describes her approach to the development of this film about Israel.

A PRIMER FOR PINA (Jolyon Wimhurst, Susan Sontag, GB 1984, 22.1., with an introduction & 5.2.) Susan Sontag developed an explicit interest in dance and ballet in the 1980s. This mid-length film about the work of Pina Bausch is a "televised lecture" from a time that was perhaps a golden age for conveying cultural topics via the screen. Perhaps it was also a blueprint for what Alexander Kluge attempted just a short time later in Germany when he launched his dctp programs.

WAITING FOR GODOT … IN SARAJEVO (Nicole Stéphane, Susan Sontag, F 1993, 22.1.) In April 1993 Susan Sontag travelled to Sarajevo for the first time to visit her son David Rieff who was living in the besieged city and working as a correspondent for US magazines. She returned in mid-July of the same year to stage Samuel Becketts play at the "Pozoriste Mladih" (Youth Theater). This film documents the process. Although Sontag worked on the concept and production, she left the directing credits to her former lover Nicole Stéphane, whom she had dedicated her 1977 book "On Photography" to and who had produced PROMISED LANDS. WAITING FOR GODOT IN SARAJEVO will be screened with A PRIMER FOR PINA.

VERHÄNGNIS (Fate, Fred Kelemen, G 1994, 25.1., Guest: Fred Kelemen) Susan Sontag  was often described as a "trans-Atlantic mediator" and talked of herself as an American with European interests. She was also a sensitive observer and keen connoisseur of German film. She had clear preferences (and aversions). In her essay "A Hundred Years of Cinema" (1995) she numbered Fate among the best cinematic works of the 1990s. The paths of people from different countries cross in the course of one night. They speak different languages but they are ominously linked in their lonely search for happiness. They plunge deeper with every movement that should free them. The desperate dance of their life becomes the passionate dance of their death.

REGARDING SUSAN SONTAG (Nancy Kates, USA 2014, 24.1., Introduction: Ralph Eue & 30.1.) This portrait of Susan Sontag looks at her life through the lens of archive material, experimental images and comments by friends, family members and colleagues, as well as her own, which are read by the actress Patricia Clarkson.

TOWN BLOODY HALL (D.A. Pennebaker, USA 1979, 24.1., Introduction: Ralph Eue & 30.1.), is a rarity of Direct Cinema which observes a public debate in New York's town hall between different prominent feminists and Norman Mailer after the publication of his novel "The Prisoner Of Sex". Susan Sontag was there but somewhat on the fence. (re)

An international symposium taking place on the 29th and 30th January at ICI Kulturlabor Berlin will discuss the continuing relevance of Susan Sontag's work. Thanks to the generous support of the Capital Cultural Fund and the Villa Aurora.

arsenal cinema: Filmmakers’ Choice: Maman: Mother-daughter relationships revisited

07:00 pm Cinema 2


Conny Bathing 8th Month Pregnant

Geschichten vom Kübelkind

My Name Is Oona

The Ties That Bind

Ein halbes Leben

Familiengruft – Ein Liebesgedicht an meine Mutter

*Conny Bathing 8th Month Pregnant
Anja Czioska Germany 1998 16 mm silent 3 min
*Geschichten vom Kübelkind Ula Stöckl, Edgar Reitz
FRG 1970 Episode 2 & 4 DCP 11 min
*My Name Is Oona Gunvor Nelson
USA 1969 16 mm OV 10 min
*Geschichten vom Kübelkind Ula Stöckl, Edgar Reitz
FRG 1970 Episode 13 DCP 3 min
*The Ties That Bind Su Friedrich
USA 1984 16 mm OV 55 min
*Ein halbes Leben Christine Noll Brinckmann
FRG 1983 16 mm 5 min
*Familiengruft – Ein Liebesgedicht an meine Mutter
Maria Lang FRG 1981 16 mm 10 min

Presented by Eva Heldmann and Katja Wiederspahn
arsenal cinema: 49th Forum

07:30 pm Cinema 1


49. Forum – Wiederholung

49. Forum – Repeat screening

arsenal cinema: 49th Forum

09:00 pm Cinema 1


49. Forum – Wiederholung

49. Forum – Repeat screening