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October 2018, arsenal cinema

Magical History Tour – Of Shadows, Sprits, and Supernatural Powers


Film’s ephemeral, eerie, and uncanny nature takes shape in the fleeting form of shadows, ghosts and supernatural powers, coherent and unstable in equal measure. Ghosts of history, cultures, and myths, shadows ranging from those cut out of paper to those created by moonlight, and the dark sides of protagonists often brought to light by the figure of the doppelganger all foretell the uncanny, the strange, and the unknown. In the darkness of the movie theater, we encounter the shudder as the original principle of cinema, which equally plays with time, identity, perception, and disbelief. Perhaps we even sense our own shadowy side at times in the liminal zone between projected, imaginary images. This month’s Magical History Tour invites viewers to attend eleven very different encounters – with magical rites, restless ghosts (including some benign ones or even one in kilts), unperturbed messengers from the other side, and illusionary shadows.

KUMONOSU-JO (The Throne of Blood, Akira Kurosawa, Japan 1957, 3. & 14.10.). “The devil's path will always lead to doom” is the warning that appears both in the prologue and epilogue of the film. It is this very path that is trodden by two successful warriors and one of their wives (Toshiro Mifune, Minoru Chiaki, Isuzu Yamada) with increasing haste, spurred on by prophesies, their individual desires for power, and the ultimately inescapable nature of the circle of violence they find themselves in. Kurosawa finds some fantastic images for his largely faithful version of Shakespeare's drama about the regicidal Macbeth: a mythical world, landscapes wreathed in fog, empty fortress rooms entirely devoid of people, all serving as a stage where the protagonists’ performances follow the Noh tradition, caught as they are in an invisible web of dehumanization.

SCHAMANEN IM BLINDEN LAND (Shamans of the Blind Country, Michael Oppitz, Nepal/West Germany/USA 1980, 5. & 31.10.) Between 1977 and 1979, Michael Oppitz accompanied three expeditions to a remote region of the Himalayas in western Nepal to document the numerous local manifestations of shamanism that used to flourish there. The most well-known result of this field research is SCHAMANEN IM BLINDEN LAND, a classic of visual anthropology in two parts which is dedicated to the shamanic rites (magical healing processes or ritualistic journeys), the mythical tinge of everyday shamanic life, and the transcendental aura of landscape and society. The key focus here is on the all many facets of the Magar’s shamanism: as an activity carried out by local faith hailers who are introduced to their supernatural calling in a long initiation process.

DET SJUNDE INSEGLET (The Seventh Seal, Ingmar Bergman, Schweden 1957, 6. & 13.10.) Ingmar Bergman's study of belief, doubt, and the question of God’s existence is set in a realm somewhere between life and death. In the late Middle Ages, knight Antonius Block (Max von Sydow) returns from the crusades to a Sweden wracked by plague and poverty. He meets Death personified, who demands his life. Not yet ready to die, Block negotiates a period of respite lasting the length of a chess game with Death. He ultimately finds answers to his questions from juggler Jof, his wife Mia, their small child, and their connection to life, which is deeply rooted in the everyday.

VAMPYR (Carl Theodor Dreyer, France/Germany 1932, 7. & 24.10.) is a classic horror movie that largely dispenses with the clichés of the genre. In his first sound film, Dreyer creates an atmosphere of uncertainty due to the lack of narrative continuity with respect to space and time. The film was shot in a dilapidated factory and an empty castle close to Paris and gives the impression of a waking dream; the images, seen as if through gauze, take on a ghostly white appearance. "Horror has nothing to do with the things around us, but rather lurks in our own subconscious mind." (Dreyer)

IL BACIO DI TOSCA (Tosca's Kiss, Daniel Schmid, Switzerland 1984, 8. & 21.10.) At the end of the 19th century, Giuseppe Verdi founded a "Casa di riposo", an old people's home for opera singers, musicians, and dancers whether celebrated or not, who could spend the evening of their lives in calm and dignity even without the corresponding financial means. Here they are surrounded by all sorts of kindly spirits, those of the present and those carrying out practical tasks, as well as those of the past. Suitcases with costumes, musical scores, and photos become horns of plenty from which memory flows forth, with the loving, structuring spotlight that Schmid throws on the aging artists uncovering a space between dreams and real life, between construction and reality.

BRIGADOON (Vincente Minnelli, USA 1954, 9. & 28.10.) Two Americans (Gene Kelly und Van Johnson) lose their way in the Scottish Highlands and end up in the village of Brigadoon, who doesn't show up on any map. It is a marvelous place where time has stood still since it received a supernatural privilege way back in the 18th century that permits it to only appear every 100 years for a single day. The magic only endures, however, as long as two fundamental rules are obeyed: no inhabitant may leave the village and a stranger may only stay if he or she falls in love. Minnelli stages this ghost story as a musical whose decors and costumes are rendered in radiant colors.

NOSFERATU – EINE SYMPHONIE DES GRAUENS (F.W. Murnau, Germany 1921, 10. & 16.10.) Horror in color before the introduction of color film: in Murnau’s tinted adaptation of Dracula, the blue scenes represent night or exterior scenes, yellow dominates the interiors, while red symbolizes danger, fire or also love. It was above all Murnau’s (green-based) nature scenes to which Béla Balázs attested “a cold blast from the other side”, the same sensation felt by Ellen (Greta Schröder) when she finds out that her husband Hutter (Gustav von Wangenheim) must go on a business trip to Transylvania in his function as a real estate assistant. Already in the first night after Hutter’s arrival in the Carpathians, it’s not just the contact for the purchase of a house in Hutter’s idyllic small home town that is signed; the true nature of his business partner, Count Orlok (Max Schreck) is also revealed.

TÜZOLTÓ UTCA 25. (25 Fireman's Street, István Szabó, Hungary 1973, 17. & 19.10.) House number 25 on Fireman’s Street in Budapest is to be torn down. The night before the works are to begin becomes a trip into the past for the inhabitants of the aging apartment block, in which personal memories are interwoven with Hungary's historical developments in the 20th century. A stream of word, image, and object associations begins, different worlds and levels of time are connected, and images from dreams, memories, and nightmares suddenly flash forth, together becoming the place where the dead, phantoms, constructions, and fears can be reencountered.

CAVALO DINHEIRO (Horse Money, Pedro Costa, Portugal 2014, 20. & 27.10.) Fontainhas, a poor district on the outskirts of Lisbon since torn down where many immigrants from Angola, Cape Verde and Guinea-Bissau settled, is the backdrop for a series of films by Portuguese filmmaker Pedro Costa and functions as a manifestation of Portuguese colonial history. In his fourth “Fontainhas film”, Ventura, an immigrant from Cape Verde, roams through the endless dark corridors of an institution that could equally be a mental asylum or a prison. Here he is haunted by the traumatic memories of the Portuguese colonial era and the ghosts of the past. This cinematic journey to the end of the night creates a world of shadows in which space and time are indeterminate and where what is memory and what is the present is impossible to determine.

ORPHÉE (Jean Cocteau, France 1950, 23. & 30.10.) Using the basic motifs of the Greek myth of the singer/musician Orpheus who attempts to free his wife Eurydice from the underworld, Cocteau creates a dance that alternates between the poetically woozy and the grotesquely quotidian, revolving around the titular poet Orphée (Jean Marais), a mysterious wanderer of the netherworld named Princess (Maria Casarès) to whom Orphée feels magically drawn, his wife, the unadorned Eurydice (Maria Déa), and the Princess's driver. As so often in Cocteau's work, the mirror is a portal into the realm of the dead, a hopeless ruined landscape that is nonetheless the only place where the love between Orphée and the Princess can take form.

MOI FATIGUÉ DEBOUT, MOI COUCHÉ (I'm Tired of Standing, I Lie Down, Jean Rouch, France 1997, 26.10.) Damouré Zika, Lam Ibrahim Dia, Tallou Mouzourane, and Jean Rouch lie down in the shade of a speaking acacia tree that was struck by lightning and of which it is said: “If one dreams under an acacia albida, felled by lightning but still alive, then dreams will become reality and yesterday's doppelgänger will meet tomorrow's doppelgänger. With the help of the god of thunder Dongo, and the spirit of water, Harakoy Dikko and their accomplice Gaoberi, the talking tree, everything is possible. Time and space no longer exist, only the dream dictates the rule of the game. It is a cruel game of catastrophes, of drought, of flooding, of ghosts. Whoever 'loses will win'. And the originator of this adventure, the lying tree, rises once again.” (Jean Rouch) (mg)