June 2019, arsenal cinema

Magical History Tour – Special and Visual Effects

JAWS, 1975

Special or visual effects have long since ceased to be a marginal element of film, with an illusion generator of increasing perfection having emerged from the many early experiments, discoveries and techniques. The numerous innovations made in the SFX field during the analogue era were followed by a digital revolution around 90 years after Méliès’ first “magic” films, opening up cinema to a seemingly limitless domain of computer generated images (CGIs for short). Computers or their “analogue” forebears are not merely capable of generating past or future realms and their inhabitants in the process, but can also create complex visualizations of whole worlds of feeling, perception and thought. The Magical History Tour throws light on the multi-faceted world of special and visual effects.

JAWS (Steven Spielberg, USA 1975, 1. & 9.6.) Countless special effects companies turned down the job: Nobody dared attempt to build a mechanical shark in such a short period of time. Only Bob Mattey, who had built a giant squid for 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea 20 years earlier, rose to the challenge. He made three animatronic monsters that he collectively nicknamed Bruce. But Bruce soon turned out to be a problem shark, which would break down in the saltwater. Its fragile nature is the reason why the white shark only appears in the second half of the film and has relatively little screen time until the end. But it also served to ratchet up the film’s suspense: The killer shark hides deep at sea, striking unexpectedly and terrorizing the inhabitants of an island community.

FAUST – EINE DEUTSCHE VOLKSSAGE (F.W. Murnau, G 1926, with a live piano accompaniment by Eunice Martins, 2. & 25.6.) Pyrotechnics, superimpositions, additional elements copied into the image via double exposure, animated apocalyptic figures on horseback that plague humanity, and not least Faust's ride on Mephisto’s coat through space and time – Murnau's first German adaptation of the Faust story is shot through with a large number of special effects and uses them to create an entirely appropriate visual correspondence for this demonic tragedy about magic, deception, illusion and reality. In order to prevent the ranks of the dead increasing further, alchemist Faust (Gösta Ekman) asks the devil (Emil Jannings) for help. He holds out the prospect of an end to the plague, but demands Faust's soul in return. He declares himself willing and is tied from that moment on to Mephisto, who takes the suddenly rejuvenated Faust with him on his journey and deliver him the most diverse of pleasures.

Z32 (Avi Mograbi, I/F 2008, 1.6.) A young Israeli elite soldier remembers: in dialogue with his girlfriend to begin with, then directly to camera, he gives an account of his involvement in the killing of Palestinian policemen. It's about guilt, responsibility, repression, and forgiveness, but also about the position of the filmmaker and the search for a suitable form of representation. Before this backdrop, Mograbi chooses to digitally mask his protagonist to create a distancing effect – an interventional as effective as it is eerie and disconcerting, which "conceals in order to reveal" (Avi Mussel, Special Effects).

Films by Ken Jacobs (4.6.) The films by American experimental filmmaker Ken Jacobs explore the mechanics of the moving image, the relationship between depth and surface in cinema, and different experiences of looking, perception, and cinema. Many of his early films were created using an optical table, while for several years now he has also embraced the possibilities of digital image processing, in which he also shows snapshots of "things that move in depth and never repeat their movements, but continue them into space; without doubt, a depth without 3-D technology, which anyone can grasp with just one eye." We are showing four of his works from over two decades: OPENING THE NINETEENTH CENTURY: 1896 (USA 1990), THE GEORGETOWN LOOP (USA 1995), CAPITALISM: CHILD LABOR (USA 2006), SEEKING THE MONKEY KING (USA 2011).

ALEKSANDER NEVSKY (Alexander Nevsky, Sergei M. Eisenstein, USSR 1938, 7. & 12.6.) No costs were spared for either the set of the medieval city of Novgorod that was built on a field or for all the special effects employed to reenact a battle on the ice at Lake Peipus. The 20-minute long battle scene is the dramatic core and spectacular highlight of this epic about the eponymous national hero, who repelled the Teutonic Knights in the 13th century. Eisenstein’s first sound film (Prokofiev’s magnificent score is one of the many impressive aspects) disappeared from Soviet cinemas during the period between the signing of German-Soviet Non-Aggression Pact in 1939 and the Wehrmacht’s invasion of the Soviet Union in June 1941.

CITIZEN KANE (Orson Welles, USA 1941, 8. & 16.6.) "The meaning of the film is not in its resolution, but rather in the manner of its representation." Welles' suggestion can be read – even more so in the context of the Magical History Tour – as an appeal to take a closer look at the visual design of his puzzling film debut, which stands very much under the banner of depth of field. The piercing sharpness in all areas of his compositions, which repeatedly jut out from the depths, was largely created using an optical printer, that is, during post-production via a combination of matte paintings and real footage. The psychogram of press tsar Charles Foster Kane (Orson Welles) is boldly narrated with a combination of intricacy, multiple perspectives and fragmentation, and is just as bold in its large-scale use of special effects.

DER SCHWEIGENDE STERN (Kurt Maetzig, GDR/Poland 1959, 13. & 28.6.) This was not only the first DEFA sci-fi film, but also the last special effects work by Ernst Kunstmann, who was already one of the most famous cameramen for animated films and a specialist for shots of mirrors and models in German cinema in the 1920s. Based on "The Astronauts", a novel by the Polish author Stanislaw Lem, it tells the story of a spaceship on its way to Venus in 1970. When it arrives, the crew discovers a massive apparatus for destruction that releases atomic radiation and poses a huge danger - not every crew member will return to earth.

INCEPTION (Christopher Nolan, USA 2010, 15. & 22.6.) Streets that fold in on themselves, real and computer-generated explosions and implosions, dissolving landscapes, hallways that rotate in sync and cars that flip over themselves - Nolan’s dream worlds are as varied as are the means used to create them. For this film, he not only built elaborate analogue sets but also used in-camera effects and recognizable computer animation. The film does not yield to the vast technical possibilities, but creates a brilliant and complex adventure playground where dreams and desires, manipulation and reality cross.

THE TREE OF LIFE (Terrence Malick, USA 2011, 10. & 18.6.) Leaving room for the unplanned, the unexpected, and the mysterious was the starting point of this collaboration between special effects pioneer Douglas Trumbull and directorial maverick Terrence Malick. The two of them found the desired freedom in a sort of alchemy laboratory, where experiments were carried out a wide range of different substances and liquids and chemical and physical processes were recorded in extremely fast motion. The result was what Trumball appropriately dubbed "organic" effects. They form the basis of the 22-minute "big bang" sequence, which functions as a reference point for the plot of the film. Malick sketches out the tensions within the family of young Jack, who grows up in provincial Texas in the 1950s, torn between a tender, benevolent mother (Jessica Chastain) and a strict father (Brad Pitt). The family structure is thrown off kilter when Jack’s brother dies in the Vietnam War.

WATER AND POWER (Pat O’Neill, USA 1989, 22.6.) O'Neill's portrait of Los Angeles and the powers that move the city was made over a period of several years without a script based around the random coming together of places, people and situations, continually processed on an optical printer and framed by animations, computer graphics, and found footage. Key shots show the city traffic, the desert area that surrounds the city, and the huge pipelines that make clear how the right to water and political power are intertwined. A film about water in all its aggregate states and movement cycles: those of the planets, the tides, the camera around its own axis, and the repeating actions of the actors.

CHELOVEK S KINO-APPARATOM (The Man with a Movie Camera, Dziga Vertov, USSR 1929, 19. & 27.6., on piano: Eunice Martins) Featuring fast-paced montage and using all the special effects available at the time, this is a symphony of a city and of filmmaking, a reflection about reality and perception. The screening will be preceded by VORMITTAGSSPUK (Hans Richter, G 1928).

arsenal cinema: Magical History Tour – Special and Visual Effects

07:30 pm Cinema 2


Opening the 19th Centrury: 1896

The Georgetown Loop

Capitalism: Child Labor

Seeking the Monkey King

Films by Ken Jacobs:
*Opening the 19th Centrury: 1896 USA 1990
16 mm without dialogue 10 min
*The Georgetown Loop USA 1995
35 mm without dialogue 10 min
*Capitalism: Child Labor USA 2006
Digital file without dialogue 14 min
*Seeking the Monkey King USA 2011
Blu-ray 39 min

arsenal cinema: Contested Grounds: Films by Shinsuke Ogawa and Ogawa Pro

08:00 pm Cinema 1


Sanrizuka – Heta Buraku

Sanrizuka – Heta Buraku Sanrizuka – Heta Village
Shinsuke Ogawa Japan 1973
16 mm OV/EnS 146 min
Print from the Japan Foundation

Opening
Introduced by Ricardo Matos Cabo