So They Go and Buy

Viewing films on the Steenbeck editing table, TEILWEISE VON MIR, 1973

Thoughts on Chilean and West German Films of the Early 1970s

Viewing films on a Steenbeck editing table at Arsenal, in the midst of the daily business of the institute, in the room where film prints are prepared and checked, then rewound with a loud noise, on top of the roar that rises from the Sony Center plaza to the Berlin Filmhaus's 6th floor – this makes for a particular experience. It is the experience of the materiality of film, not merely as an open cinematic apparatus but as an archive with the place and the context it provides. I look at the small screen of the editing table and I see and hear moving images and sounds in relation to all that's around me – all that classical cinema space is so eager to eliminate. I might stop the film and interrupt it: a single frame freezes. I take notes or write down a quote from the film's dialogue. Eventually I go backwards and roll the scene for a second time. Or while running a 16mm print that has softened over the years, I might hold down the filmstrip on the spinning take-up plate, preventing it from coiling up unevenly. It is a tangible relationship to film that researchers and curators encounter at the Arsenal.

"So They Go and Buy" builds on this viewing experience and working practice. The project deliberately focuses on Chilean and West German films of the early 1970s. This is inspired by the Arsenal's tradition of presenting, distributing, and preserving political films. The Arsenal archive has about 30 feature films and documentaries produced in Chile between 1968 and 1973, some subtitled in German, others in original prints that are quite rare. These films, made under the progressive government of Christian Democrat Eduardo Frei in the late 1960s, then during Salvador Allende's socialist presidency, represent the advent of a politically engaged national film culture. Unique outside of Chile, this collection of films includes many titles as well from the 1980s, when resistance to the Pinochet regime emerged. This testifies to the special relationship of the Arsenal and the International Forum of New Cinema to Chilean cinema, for which West Berlin, besides the festivals in Oberhausen and Leipzig, provided an important point of contact – before and after the military coup of September 11, 1973. For independent films made in West Germany, and particularly in West Berlin during this period, the Arsenal played an essential role. Besides its cinema, festival programmes, distribution, and publication activities, the Arsenal instigated discourses around feminist film practice and films on the social and labour struggles of the early 1970s. Many of the early films produced at the German Film and Television Academy in Berlin (dffb) are in its eclectic collection.

To link Chile and Germany – past and present, in languages and images – resonates with my personal history. Born in 1970, I'm old enough to have experienced the Cold War in Europe. I see the cultural products of old West Germany as part of my political identity. A recent personal connection to Chile has opened up a space of radical differences and striking similarities. These distant places have a history of various relationships – from German immigration to Chile in the 19th century, Chilean exilees living in either of the two Germanies during the Pinochet dictatorship, to present-day billboards along the Chilean Panamericana Highway sprinkled with German brand names.

Against this background I began to study my viewing of films committed to the issue of social and economic change. Looking at the early 1970s, Chile stands out as the first country that democratically elected a socialist government. While Allende tried to implement the utopian vision of redistributing wealth and power, the Western industrial nations, and the USA in particular, were setting the course for a radicalization of capitalism, by introducing flexibility to exchange rates and decoupling the international monetary system from the gold standard. Deregulating capital flows forms an essential part of neoliberal economics alongside reducing public expenditure quotas and privatizing public services. After the military coup in 1973, Pinochet made Chile a prime example of neo-liberalism according to the Chicago School model – an economic policy that was followed by many countries around the world. The effects of this power shift from labour to capital can be seen in the recent crises in the global financial economy and the Eurozone.

The films most important to the project are LA EXPROPIACIÓN by Raúl Ruiz (Chile 1972) and TEILWEISE VON MIR – EIN VOLKSSTÜCK by Hellmuth Costard (West Germany 1973). A unique 16mm blow-up print of the latter is part of the Arsenal archive. My research led to the transfer of the Super 8 original to Berlin. This makes possible the digitalisation of the film in the framework of a collaboration between Arsenal and Stiftung Deutsche Kinemathek.

Relating single Chilean and West German films and film prints, the contexts in which they were made and their “life stories” both to one another and the present before the backdrop of a history of social and economic change is the goal and experiment being carried out by "So They Go and By". The constructed relationships—some are obvious, others far-fetched—take the form of curated programs, a film-based lecture performance and a publication as part of the Living Archive project KEYwording – Notes on Enculturation of Words and Word Practice within the Image Archive by Madhusree Dutta and Ines Schaber. All these elements stem from a reflection on the aliveness of the film archive in general and the Arsenal collection in particular. Films are products and producers of a history which is never complete or concluded. History is never only one history, but rather something refreshed in the present moment of appropriating or subjective interpretation, in watching, listening and reading that history's cinematic artefacts.

Biography of Florian Wüst