Abendland (Land of Night) - Nikolaus Geyrhalter (Ger 2011)Doc
Viewed Star and Shadow Cinema6th Jan 2012 (Twelfth night);Ticket: £5
A sign of the times
Nikolaus Geyhalter’s (AG) Abendland (A) is a documentary with pretensions that distinguish it from some of the earlier documentaries which make up itsprovenance. Abendland is about state of mind; it is not primarily about: modifying opinions attitudes or giving information about the world
As a film without voice over or interviews, the movie is grounded not through the verbal framing of political or social agendas and concepts but purely through its indexical shots, the object images captured by the camera; and in its editing, the juxtaposed relations suggested between the sequences of images.
A comprises a series of night images shot in 2009 -10in European settings and situations.As A’sEuropean stylistic precursors I would list: Walter Ruttman’s Berlin Symphony of a City, Vertov’s Man with a Movie Camera, Bunuel’s Land without Bread (originally conceived without commentary) and later Franju’s Sang des Betes and Les Invalides (admittedly Sang des Betes has commentary but it is only for the conjunction of images that I remember it) and of course Riefenstahl’s Triumph des Willens (Triumph of the Will) which exploits the pure architectectonic shock of its images to connect and equate the Fuhrer to the destiny of Germany.
The above list is a short one and makes claims to be defendable but not to being definitive. These are simply films that I have seen in which it is the image that opens consciousness to signification.The images in themselves become a signing.
A differs in one critical respect from the films in the above list.It feels like a film that has taken on something of the form of an installation, images designed to be experienced as a 'walk though' gaze of the kind Bill Viola's work elicits. It is very cool.It is not a hot film inviting engagement. It is a film to be watched with a post modernist detachment.In this respect Apoints primarily and first to a state of mind characteristic of some quality of its audience rather than to some affective quality inthe selected images.
NG’s film in this respect then defines its target audience as ‘voyeuristic’.In post-Ford Apple-land, we have become a culture with an overwhelming desire and tendancy to bestow our gaze.The gaze it is that defines our being in the world. Screens both multiply and shrink in size`; our desire to look out on life becomes part of our nature. Many sequences in A are characterised by the omnipresence of the camera and monitor, so that the audience is in the position of gazing upon other people who are themselves gazing upon some presented object image. Abendland addresses the desire of the voyeur taking them into spaces and realms which are normally inaccessible or of difficult access.Abendland is indeed a sign of the times, times in which we promiscuously rabidly and ravenouslyfeed on worlds presented to us as a series of images.
Of course it’s not as if the series of images that Abendland (A) presents to us do not point to certain significant features of contemporary Europe. The images presented point to the nature of the control mechanisms that increasingly define the continent. These images do say something about contemporary Europe; only that I think such meaning is secondary tostates of mind that are structured into film through the manner in which it is shot. States of mind which which are about the preferential engagement of its target audience (commissioning editors?) and the collusion and detachment of their gaze.
The films on my list of A's precursors were all made with passion.A passion that flows from the film maker and their selected images through to the viewer.The images connect with an audience’s emotional switchboard.So Ruttman’s film celebrates Berlin as a complex of social and mechanical engineering, Vertov equates of the mechanicality of his camera as a recording device with the machine of the new socialist society.Riefenstahl’s film, an epic of obscene propaganda; Franju’s work a surreal take on scandalising of the Bourgeoisie.However different,these films all had passion, and an emotional circuitry which engages through the images, as signs without words.
What is interesting about NG’s movie is that it is dispassionate in its gaze.It is a film for the consumer of images, for those strata of society who define themselves by being cool and detached. It is a film for those familiar with the new social relations of management and control. The strata of society who have left passion aside to live in a post modernist state of mind where deconstruction and unpacking are key intellectual approaches.Abendland understands this audience. So when the film covers asylum seekers the scene presented is the detached interview situation, not the enforced repatriation; where the film covers protest, we see the German (austrian?) police politely address the people blocking the line of the nuclear train, before politely removing them; when A looks at faith we see the passively accepted empty shibboleths of the pope addressing priests outside St Peter’s; we gaze on gazers watching cctv and the back spaces of premature baby units and the new potters field which has become an incinerator conveyor belt. The only exception to the de-intensified images presented of Europe by GH are the two sequences dealing with collective leisure in the Biergarten and the end sequence, one shot of the Rave.
NG could have selected appropriately hot emotive footage to include in A. Europe since 2009 has been rife with riots, protests of all sorts and at different levels. Sports events likewise have been source of partisan emotions and individual reactive anger seems almost to be the default emotional state of mind of many Europeans.But perhaps what is interesting about A is that NG is suggesting that these types of reactions no longer define us.A culture that is socially in class and status terms increasingly fractured becomes increasingly inert as a collective except in the pursuit of leisure.A is a film superbly attuned to the needs attributes and prejudices of its post modernist audience.It is a film perfectly calibrated for a generation of You Tube watchers and generic consumers who are now the key Western audiences.