[Silence] [...] [Laughter]

Repression, mania, the female killer, and the laugh of the medusa.

Two films about the psychiatrisation of female killers, by Marleen Gorris and Anita W. Addison. Plus an essay about 'A Question of Silence' by Amelia Groom.

Plus, a focus on Mara Mattuschka's 'Mini Minus' works, with an interview between Mattuschka and Daniella Shreir

This programme is free but distribution, subtitling, writer and translation fees aren't. We receive no funding so please consider donating to us so we can keep this project available to all. We have a Patreon for regular supporters, or you can make a one-off donation here.

SUBTITLED IN ENGLISH SOUS-TITRÉS EN FRANÇAIS SUBTÍTULOS EN ESPAÑOL LEGENDAS EM PORTUGUES SOTTOTITOLI IN ITALIANO 한국어 자막 

日本の字幕 SUBTITEL INDONESIA

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Marleen Gorris' A Question of Silence (De stilte rond Christine M., 1982)

IN DUTCH, WITH ENGLISH SUBTITLES

AVEC DES SOUS-TITRES FRANCAIS DE JULIE DAVIS-DUFAYARD

COM LEGENDAS EM PORTUGUÊS DE MARTHA ELISA

CON SUBTÍTULOS EN ESPAÑOL DE LUCIA DE LA TORRE

CON SOTTOTITOLI IN ITALIANO DI MIRKO CERULLO

최모니카의 한국어 자막으로.

翻訳 ILENIA PORPORA

DENGAN TEKS INDONESIA OLEH ADRIAN JONATHAN

This programme is free but distribution, subtitling, writer and translation fees aren't. We receive no funding so please consider donating to us so we can keep this project available to all. We have a Patreon for regular supporters, or you can make a one-off donation here.

"A Question of Silence is a riveting exposition, combining baroque narrative flourish with forthright confrontation."'

—Barbara Kruger writing in Artforum, Summer 1983

Released in English as A Question of Silence, the film tells the story of three middle-aged white women, strangers to each other, who brutally murder a male shopkeeper. They’re all browsing in a clothing boutique in central Amsterdam, when one of them is caught shoplifting. As she is confronted by the shopkeeper, the others silently join her and assemble around him, with a solemn sense of ritual purpose. Without exchanging any words, the three women begin their assault, beating the man to death with whatever is at hand: mannequin, shopping trolley, coat hanger, shards of a broken glass display unit, stiletto heels. The attack is hyperbolic in its brutality, but the film keeps all the gore out-of-shot: while the man is on the floor, the camera remains at the height of the women who tower over him. 

The murder has already happened when the film begins, and the women are all taken into custody in the opening scenes. They make no attempt to resist the arrest or deny their involvement, but during the trial and in the lead-up to it, they refuse to speak to anyone about the circumstances of the crime. With much of the film being built out of flashbacks, we gradually learn about the lives of these women. —Amelia Groom

One of the Netherlands' best-known filmmakers and an important, often provocative voice in world cinema, writer and director Marleen Gorris is renowned -- and, in some circles, reviled -- for her unapologetically feminist films. Gorris earned particular international recognition for Antonia's Line, a portrait of several generations of Dutch women that won a 1995 Academy Award for Best Foreign Film.

This programme is free but distribution, subtitling, writer and translation fees aren't. We receive no funding so please consider donating to us so we can keep this project available to all. We have a Patreon for regular supporters, or you can make a one-off donation here.

 
 

[2] The film played in various festivals in 1982 and 1983, including the Berlin International Forum of New Cinema, the Toronto International Film Festival, the Chicago International Film Festival, and the New Directors/New Films festival presented by MoMA and the Film Society of Lincoln Center; it won awards at the Taormina International Film Festival, the Créteil International Women’s Film Festival, and the Netherlands Film Festival.

"Eruptions of Silence":

The Unheard, the Unsaid, and the Politics of Laughter in Marleen Gorris’s A Question of Silence

 

 

PART I

"SHE IS CAPABLE OF COMMUNICATION,

BUT NO LONGER SEES THE SENSE OF IT"

 

There are many different threads of silence woven through Marleen Gorris’s De Stilte rond Christine M. (1982), a “feminist thriller” which was the Dutch writer-director’s first film.[1] There’s silent obedience, but there’s also silence as a technique of interruption, and silence as wilful refusal. There’s the silence of complicity within an unjust system, but there’s also the silence that is the condition of listening. There are oppressive and exclusionary silences that are imposed from above, and there are silences of attention, protection, intimacy and solidarity.

 

Released in English as A Question of Silence, the film tells the story of three middle-aged white women, strangers to each other, who brutally murder a male shopkeeper.[2] They’re all browsing in a clothing boutique in central Amsterdam, when one of them is caught shoplifting. As she is confronted by the shopkeeper, the others silently join her and assemble around him, with a solemn sense of ritual purpose. Without exchanging any words, the three women begin their assault, beating the man to death with whatever is at hand: mannequin, shopping trolley, coat hanger, shards of a broken glass display unit, stiletto heels. The attack is hyperbolic in its brutality, but the film keeps all the gore out-of-shot: while the man is on the floor, the camera remains at the height of the women who tower over him. The live soundtrack is also muted under a cheesy ‘thriller music’ score, adding to the deliberate indirectness of the depiction, so the event is planted in a separated, almost allegorical realm.

[1] Gorris had initially approached director Chantal Akerman with the screenplay, but since Akerman was overcommitted with her own projects she apparently suggested that Gorris do it herself, assuring her that “directing isn’t all that difficult.” Later, Gorris’s 1995 film Antonia’s Line would become the first female-directed feature to win an Academy Award (in the category then still known as Best Foreign Language Film).

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"In the beginning, the women are all isolated in their varying conditions of silence – but the silence gradually becomes more collective, and more like an active practice"

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The murder has already happened when the film begins, and the women are all taken into custody in the opening scenes. They make no attempt to resist the arrest or deny their involvement, but during the trial and in the lead-up to it, they refuse to speak to anyone about the circumstances of the crime. With much of the film being built out of flashbacks, we gradually learn about the lives of these women. The shoplifter Christine Molenaar (Edda Barends) – the ‘Christine M.’ of the film’s Dutch title – was a housewife with three noisy children. Sometime before the killing, she had given up speaking. Her husband comments that she “never had much to say”, but also that he thought she should have kept the children quieter, so that he could relax when he got home from work, considering she “didn’t have anything to do all day” anyway. Then there’s Annie Jongman (Nelly Frijda), a divorcee who lived with her cat and served tables in a café in the Jordaan, which was then a working-class suburb of Amsterdam. In contrast with Christine’s silence, Annie is disarmingly boisterous, with laughter never far from the surface. But while Christine’s homelife is depicted as relentlessly loud, Annie’s is uncomfortably quiet, with haunting memories of her former marriage flooding in once she finds herself alone in silence. The third woman involved is Andrea Brouwer (Henriëtte Tol), who worked as an executive secretary in an all-male firm, where her high level of competency only exacerbated the patronising contempt that she was up against. In an office meeting, we witness how her voice immediately produces impatience. Her boss interjects with, “Could you be brief?” as soon as she speaks, but then, predictably enough, when one of the men repeats what she just said, as if it was his own contribution, there are suddenly receptive ears for the idea.[3]


In the beginning, the women are all isolated in their varying conditions of silence – but the silence gradually becomes more collective, and more like an active practice. It spreads from Christine out to Annie and Andrea, who join in a silent recognition, which is also a recognition of silence. Through the fragmentary flashbacks to the scene of the crime, we eventually learn that the silence also reached four other women who happened to be in the shop at the time. These unnamed strangers did not participate in the attack but they witnessed it in attentive silence and none of them reported what they saw. No words were exchanged between any of the women but somehow a silent pact was formed, where silence would also become a means of protection; the ones who committed the crime will say nothing about the ones who saw them do it, and the ones who saw them do it will keep quiet about what they saw.

[3] “Hepeating” is a word that gained some traction in recent years on social media, to name this still all-to-familiar scenario, which was also parodied in a Punch cartoon where one woman sits in a boardroom meeting with five men, and the caption reads, “That’s an excellent suggestion, Miss Triggs. Perhaps one of the men here would like to make it.” See also: “whitepeating”, when white people take credit for what people of colour said first, or when the words are only heard when repeated by white people.

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While the three killers are awaiting trial, a court-appointed psychiatrist named Dr. Janine van den Bos (Cox Habbema) is tasked with producing psychological reports on them. She tries to conduct interviews, but struggles to make progress. Annie is overly loquacious, going constantly off-topic, while Christine remains inscrutably withdrawn. Andrea, meanwhile, treats language as a site of play, where her words can flow as easily as Annie’s, but be as opaque and disorienting as Christine’s silence. Dr. van den Bos keeps showing up with her tape recorder, but she’s met only with silence, distraction, contradiction and obfuscation. Language isn’t working the way she wants it to; it’s either missing, or it’s misleading.

 

The film initially presents Dr. van den Bos as a comfortably middle-class woman who has ‘made it’ in a man’s world. She’s called upon to give her expert opinion within the judicial system; she speaks and is heard, or so it seems. But through her encounters with these women, she comes to realise that even she only ‘has a voice’ when she says what the men around her want to hear. By the end of the film, when her psychological assessments deviate from the court’s expectations, it becomes very clear that as soon as Dr. van den Bos goes off-script, all the old techniques of patriarchal silencing immediately come back into effect: she’s ignored, dismissed as incapable of objectivity, ridiculed for being concerned with trivialities, spoken over, and shouted down – or she has words put in her mouth, which is another way of ensuring that what she is actually saying goes unheard.

 

The force of collective silence gradually reaches the psychiatrist, as she comes to appreciate just how dysfunctional verbal language can be – and how much can be communicated without it. At one point in the film, she’s up in the middle of the night, remembering her unproductive interviews with the women. A rapid montage builds up, with repeated shots of Dr. van den Bos turning her head away from the camera, interspersed with flashbacks of the other women also turning away, so we see the backs of their heads, one after another. The hallucinatory editing brings their bodies into alignment, via this simple gesture of withdrawal. Far from being a withdrawal into apathy or pure negation, though, turning away will turn out to give rise to a whole new set of relations. The film’s final shot is Dr. van den Bos turning away from her lawyer husband, in order to face the group of women who were the silent bystanders at the scene of the murder. The shot freezes, and the credits roll over her face, which shows a sort of mesmerised silent acknowledgement, where her reorientation has opened up another world of possibility.

"There’s the silence of complicity within an unjust system, but there’s also the silence that is the condition of listening. There are oppressive and exclusionary silences that are imposed from above, and there are silences of attention, protection, intimacy and solidarity."

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"A report on its reception in the UK  relates how a Pizza Hut restaurant next to a cinema where the film was showing ended up full, night after night, of couples in heated arguments about what they had just seen."

[4] Jane Root, “Distributing ‘A Question of Silence’: A Cautionary Tale” in Screen (Volume 26, Issue 6, November-December 1985) pp 58–64. The UK distributor Cinema of Women (COW) ran as a feminist collective from 1979 until 1991, releasing a number of feature films and documentaries by filmmakers including Pat Murphy, Heiny Srour, Lizzie Borden, Lynne Tillman and Sheila McLaughlin, Margarethe von Trotta, Leontine Sagan, Audrey Droisen, and Michelle Citron. See Julia Knight, “Cinema of Women: The Work of a Feminist Distributor” in Doing Women’s Film History: Reframing Cinema Past and Future ed. Christine Gledhill and Julia Knight (University of Illinois Press: Urbana, Chicago and Springfield. 2015). Much of COW’s archives, including their files on Gorris’s A Question of Silence, are available via the Film and Video Distribution Database (FVDD) at http://fv-distribution-database.ac.uk.

A Question of Silence has always been a divisive film. A report on its reception in the UK – by Jane Root from the feminist distributor Cinema of Women – relates how a Pizza Hut restaurant next to a cinema where the film was showing ended up full, night after night, of couples in heated arguments about what they had just seen.[4] As far as the critical reception went, there were some very positive responses, and then there was a lot of male hysteria. Writing for The Observer, Philip French called the film “inherently stupid” and “the unacceptable face of feminism”. Stanley Kauffman for The New Republic: “an atrocity”, “vicious”, “vile” and “entirely loathsome”. Milton Schulman for The Standard: “genocide is a comparatively modest moral device compared to the ultimate logic of this film’s message”. John Coleman for the New Statesman: it “tries to catch my gender in a Catch-22. To hell with it.” [5]

 

According to Marleen Gorris, the film was most deeply misconstrued within the Dutch context. “I was accused of depicting all this horrific violence,” she remembers. “There were these outraged descriptions of blood being splattered everywhere––when in reality there’s not one drop of blood shown in the film! All of that was put there by the viewer, so it was really a testament to the power of suggestion.”[6]

 

Meanwhile, user reviews on IMDb show that the film continues to produce confused vitriol. Among many favourable responses, there are some with titles like Insulting and Annoying and Dangerous propaganda from ill minded feminists. “The movie doesn’t even try to justify itself, or to present the subject from a male’s point of view,” one bemoans. “The film still needs work,” declares another. “You don’t excuse a criminal instantly because they were supposedly oppressed.” Again and again, claims that the murderers would be “proven right” or “instantly excused” are flagged as implausible and morally reprehensible. 

 

What these unhappy viewers consistently miss is the fact the women in the film make absolutely no attempt to defend the violent crime. On the contrary, when the trial comes around, Dr. van den Bos actually refuses to diagnose the mental health of the murderers in a way that would imply any diminished responsibility. The male judge and public prosecutor try to convince her to designate legal insanity to the defendants, and thereby minimise the sentencing, but she is adamant that “the three women are completely sound of mind.” When the judge and prosecutor attempt to turn to Christine’s silence as proof of some mental incapacity, the psychiatrist informs them that the silence is in fact a choice she has made, that “she is capable of communication, but no longer sees the sense of it.”

 

With ‘madness’ being constructed as a non-insurrectionary category, the authorities want to dismiss the crime as a hysterical outbreak – one that was wholly irrational and essentially meaningless. But Dr. van den Bos has moved towards what could be characterised as an anti-psychiatry position, where the pathologised behaviour of the individual is inseparable from the oppressive structures of their society. Christine’s silence begins from her realisation that, as Annie puts it, “nobody is listening.” In refusing to grant the diagnosis that the court is trying to impose, Dr. van den Bos wants to listen more carefully to the silence; and to acknowledge that the women’s experiences of it have been culturally, politically, and historically determined.

[5] All quotes taken from Jane Root, “Distributing ‘A Question of Silence’” Op Cit. except for Stanley Kaufman, “Jaundice Posing as Justice” in The New Republic, September 3 1984, pp 24-25.

[6] Conversation with the author, 20 September 2019.

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The history of silence under patriarchy is of course long and multifaceted. One brilliant partial account of it can be found in Anne Carson’s essay 'The Gender of Sound', where she reads Ancient Greek sources alongside some more recent anecdotal and literary materials, and traces a continuing attachment in patriarchal cultures to the masculine-designated virtues of self-control and self-containment.[7] Carson argues that women (and whoever else is outside the exclusionary category of ideal masculinity––in the Ancient Greek context, she names “catamites, eunuchs and androgynes”) are associated again and again with disorder and verbal incontinence. Woman is “that creature who puts the inside on the outside,” Carson finds. “By projections and leakages of all kinds––somatic, vocal, emotional, sexual––females expose or expend what should be kept in.” They are like “leaky vessels” who need to be shut up––as per Sophocles’ dictum that “silence is the kosmos [good order] of women.”

 

The imposition of silence has obviously been indispensable in keeping huge portions of humanity away from public life and out of the history books. At the same time, something else that Gorris’s film understands is that if we only associate silence with powerlessness, isolation, inaction and irrelevance, we disregard the many expressive practices that have long subsisted within the absences that run through the historical record. As Adrienne Rich puts it in her poem ‘Cartographies of Silence’ (1975):

 

Silence can be a plan

rigorously executed

 

the blueprint to a life

 

It is a presence

it has a history         a form

 

Do not confuse it

with any kind of absence

 

 

Power doesn’t only impose silence on its subjects; it also imposes discourse – and  Gorris’s film shows that within the state’s psychological-judicial discursive regimes, there can be disruptive agency in silence. In a later essay called 'Variations on the Right to Remain Silent', Anne Carson looks to Joan of Arc, as she is forced to speak, during the inquisitions that led to her death sentence in 1431. Carson finds the voice-hearing, cross-dressing, illiterate peasant girl warrior surrounded by relentlessly prodding and coercive authority figures, all demanding “a conventional narrative that would be susceptible to conventional disproof”. But Joan of Arc responds to their questions with statements like “That does not touch your process”, “I knew that well enough once but I forget”, and “Ask me next Saturday”. Where her words carry silences, they mark a rejection of the demands for total transparency and translatability; and this is what Carson identifies as Joan of Arc’s “rage against cliché” – her refusal to maintain the status quo by regurgitating its inherited grammars.[8]

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[7] Carson, Anne, “The Gender of Sound” in Glass, Irony, and God (New Directions Publishing, 1995), pp 119-142.

[8] Carson, Anne, “Variations on the Right to Remain Silent” in Float (Jonathan Cape, London, 2016) not paginated.

“I was accused of depicting all this horrific violence,” Gorris remembers. “There were these outraged descriptions of blood being splattered everywhere––when in reality there’s not one drop of blood shown in the film! All of that was put there by the viewer, so it was really a testament to the power of suggestion.”

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[11] Accessed https://youtu.be/TYva1Q-u4bk 1 September 2019.

 

PART TWO:

‘SERVING THE UNCONTROLLED NOISE’

 

The most memorable scene in A Question of Silence comes near the end of the film, when the women are on trial. They have been watching the court proceedings in silence, seemingly bored and disengaged, occasionally showing signs of mild amusement. During his exchange with Dr. van den Bos, the obnoxious and increasingly incensed prosecutor insists that the genders of the murderers and their victim are irrelevant – that it would make no difference whatsoever if it had been three men who had killed a female shopkeeper. And then it begins: this dubious call to neutral reversibility suddenly sets off an eruption of laughter, starting with one of the women on trial, before spreading to all the other women in the courtroom, eventually reaching Dr. van den Bos herself. 

 

As the laughter takes hold, things start to get out of hand. Dr. van den Bos tries to explain to the baffled and indignant judge that “it’s really quite funny––”, but she can’t get the words out properly, and in any case the room has become so loud that he can’t hear what she’s saying. The women on trial are eventually led out of the court, in joyous collective mirth, as the other women walk out together voluntarily, leaving the unamused men to continue with the proceedings on their own. “The case will continue in the absence of the defendants,” the judge announces, redundantly.

 

Laughter, here, is not something that exists alongside or in addition to words; it’s something that causes a total breakdown in their fundamental function. And while it begins in this scene in response to what has been said, it soon becomes the sort of laughter that leaves its subject behind, as laughter itself turns out to be the funniest thing. There’s a passage in one of Kafka’s letters that always cracks me up, where he describes a time when he was overcome by laughter while his boss was giving a dreary official speech. At first, Kafka laughs appropriately at the occasional little jokes in the speech, but then he laughs too much at them, and eventually he finds himself laughing “not only at the current jokes, but at those of the past and the future and the whole lot together”. Ha. Laughter arrives as an affront to rationalisation; it disorders chronology, undoes causal relations, and overrides explanation. As Kafka recounts, “I produced innumerable excuses for my behaviour, all of which might have been very convincing had not the renewed outbursts of laughter rendered them completely unintelligible.”[9]

 

In 2014, the Greek artist-activist collective Mavili deployed laughter as a deliberately counter-linguistic tool, in a political intervention they planned at an EU conference in Athens called Financing Creativity.[10] The conference was supposed to address future models for cultural policy, but the role of culture was understood exclusively through the logics of entrepreneurship and economic growth, and no artists were invited as speakers. In response, the Mavili Collective called for artists from different fields to attend the proceedings and participate in a group action where their discontent would be given the form of collectively embodied and infectiously dispersed laughter.

 

In grainy documentation from the conference, which Mavili posted on YouTube, the then Minister of Culture is giving his opening speech on the auditorium stage.[11] As he is pompously emphasising the importance of commercial competition between nations, he is interrupted by an outburst of laughter from audience members. He tries to continue, but disorder is unleashed. With more than a tinge of panic, he launches into an aggressive and highly revealing tirade, calling the laughing members of his audience “syndicalists” and “irresponsible cowards”. “Have the bravery of public speech”, he implores, “take the floor if you dare, face me directly and don’t hide behind the crowd.” But the collectivising and decentralising force of laughter continues. “I do a political act, what you do is uproar,” the man shouts, “you are not artists, you serve the uncontrolled noise!”

 

This “uncontrolled noise” is, of course, precisely the point. As with the affectively contagious eruption of laughter at the end of A Question of Silence, the assertion of laughter at the conference affirms that when language operates in a closed system that only reproduces its own terms, the political value of an expression can lie not in its semantic content, but in its capacity to interrupt the system’s conditions of exchange. Judith Butler argued as much in a recent lecture, where they posited that laughter’s critical potential lies precisely in its existence “beyond the spheres of communication and control”. As an involuntary bodily expression whose aim is not to impart a pre-determined idea, laughter, Butler suggested, can function as a mode of “extra-parliamentary political eruption and disruption”, where the loss of control has “expressive value and meaning that is quite separate from what the deliberate ‘I’ has to say.”[12]

[9] Kafka, Franz, “Letter From January 8 to 9, 1912 [1913]” in Letters to Felice, eds. Erich Heller and Jürgen Born, trans. James Stern and Elisabeth Duckworth (Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group, 2013) pp.145-148.

[10] Mavili Collective was formed in 2010 with an expressly stated commitment to “produce nomadic, autonomous collective cultural zones that appear and disappear beyond the logics of the market”. See https://mavilicollective.wordpress.com/ (last accessed 1 September 2019).

[12] Accessed https://vimeo.com/352083590 10 January 2020.

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Mavili Collective:

https://youtu.be/TYva1Q-u4bk

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Writing about A Question of Silence for Artforum in 1983, the artist Barbara Kruger described the laughter at the end as “a flood of ticklish escapes from the sombre rigor of ‘reason’,” noting that at each screening of the film that she attended in New York, “this infectious rupture spread to the theatre audience, producing a moment of stunning solidarity.”[13] From positions of domination based on operations of containment and control, the arrival of this kind of laughter is obviously deeply worrying. In her essay 'The Value of Laughter' (1905), a 24-year-old Virginia Woolf observed that all the pompous conventions of masculine authority “dread nothing so much as the flash of laughter which, like lightning, shrivels them up and leaves the bones bare.”[14] This dread understands the way that laughter can cut through pretensions, leaving their absurdities and fragilities exposed. It also understands that laughter can be a contaminating force, and that part of its subversive potential lies in its capacity to produce spontaneous collectivities.

 

It makes sense, then, that the cackle has been such an indispensable characteristic of the witch as she is popularly feared; as a figure of transgression and scary excess, her capacity for flight and her proclivity for laughter are both signs of her non-containment. Another feminist writer of laughter is Hélène Cixous, whose witchy essay 'The Laugh of the Medusa' (1975) is bursting with the vocabularies of volcanic eruption. As the long-excised ‘feminine writing’ breaks through, Cixous tells us, “it brings about an upheaval of the old proper crust, carrier of masculine investments.”[15] In her reading, the powers that have driven women out from history, and from writing, have also worked to separate them from each other, and from their own bodies. The entry of l’écriture féminine would thus establish completely new languages, and new embodiments, through collectivising somatic forces like laughter – or what Cixous terms “the rhythm that laughs you.”

 

When Cixous promises that this explosion onto the scene of language will “blow up the law to break up the ‘truth’ with laughter,” she could be describing the courtroom chaos that ensues with the outbreak of laughter in A Question of Silence. Throughout the essay, though, Cixous opposes the explosive force of laughter to the condition of silence, which she characterises only as “the snare” that women “should break out of”, so that they can finally arrive into a shared language. This is quite different from Gorris’s richly nuanced treatment of silence, where it can signal subjugation, but it can also be a space of rage, refuge, and intimacy. If we imagine her film’s depictions of silence and laughter with a Venn diagram, the area of overlap is the juiciest bit. The silence and the laughter are both gorgeously defiant, and inscrutable. Both interrupt the flow of words, causing the presiding uses of language to break down. Both radiate outwards, as contagious energies that forge communal bonds, and bring about unreasonably collective modes of embodiment.

 

– end –

 

 

Amelia Groom is a Berlin-based writer and art historian who is currently working on a collection of essays about silence.

An earlier version of this text was presented at the SOUND :: GENDER :: FEMINISM :: ACTIVISM conference organised by the Graduate School of Global Arts (Tokyo University of the Arts) and Creative Research into Sound Arts Practice (University of the Arts London), at Chinretsukan Gallery in Tokyo in October 2019. A subsequent version was presented as part of the public lecture program for Elena Vogman’s theory seminar at the Weissensee School of Art in Berlin, in January 2020. The author wishes to thank the organisers of those events, and the attendees who offered feedback.

 

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[13] Kruger, Barbara, “A Question of Silence” in Artforum (Summer 1983, Vol. 21, No. 10).

[14] Woolf, Virginia, “The Value of Laughter” (1905) in The Essays of Virginia Woolf : vol. 1: 1904–1912, McNeillie, Andrew (ed.) pp.58-60.

[15] Cixous, Hélène, “The Laugh of the Medusa” (trans. Keith Cohen and Paula Cohen) in Signs, Vol. 1, No. 4 (Summer, 1976), pp. 875-893.

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Anita W. Addison's

Eva's Man (1976)

IN ENGLISH, WITH SUBTITLES

AVEC DES SOUS-TITRES FRANCAIS DE JULIE DAVIS-DUFAYARD

COM LEGENDAS EM PORTUGUÊS DE MARTHA ELISA

CON SUBTÍTULOS EN ESPAÑOL DE LUCIA DE LA TORRE

CON SOTTOTITOLI IN ITALIANO DI MIRKO CERULLO

字幕翻訳:西山敦子

최모니카의 한국어 자막으로.

DENGAN TEKS INDONESIA OLEH ADRIAN JONATHAN

This programme is free but distribution, subtitling, writer and translation fees aren't. We receive no funding so please consider donating to us so we can keep this project available to all. We have a Patreon for regular supporters, or you can make a one-off donation here.

Eva has killed a man. After enduring misogynistic violence and financial precarity for decades, a frustrated white male psychologist asks her, “Why?” He gives her a tape recorder and her first-person account carries the film back into a series of sequences that foreground the quotidian commingling of sex and violence leading up to the murder.

The programmer would like to thank David Byrd for his help in obtaining a digital version of the film, whose original print is badly damaged.

 

Extract from a roundtable discussing the L.A. Rebellion.

From L.A. Rebellion: Creating a New Black Cinema Author(s): Allyson Field, Jan-Christopher Horak, Jacqueline Najuma Stewart Publisher: University of California Press Year: 2015, pp. 332

Barbara McCullough: Things at UCLA at that time were really very, very political, you know? I mean, you had Jamaa [Fanaka] on one hand, back in the classroom yelling at the instructor, you got Haile [Gerima] in the hallways being the professor that he actually became and, basically, they were saying some stuff that was probably really true and things that needed to be said, but it was a highly politically charged environment, you know?

Shirikiana Aina: Toni Cade Bambara says for example, “The role of an artist”—I’ll say artist, I think she said writer—“is to make revolution irresistible.” And the artists of that period took on that challenge. Whether they called it revolution—whatever they called it, they were striking out at something. They were trying to carve something. And when you carve something, you’re destroying something at the same time that you are creating something new. It wasn’t just hitting a rock and destroying it. But destroying that rock by turning it into something that is useful to us, that will be there for your children, that will inspire the next generation. So, I think that’s what happened with this initial group of people, blacks, and Latinos, and other people of color that went to UCLA in the ’60s and ’70s. Whether or not they knew it, they were angry, and how do you address that anger? You take a tool that you are becoming familiar with and make it something that helps you to address that anger. That’s—that moment in time influenced me a great deal.

Julie Dash: Alile Sharon Larkin, Carroll Blue, Billy Woodberry was my TA, teaching assistant, Barbara McCullough was there. Larry was just leaving. Charles was leaving. And Haile was leaving at the time, the year I came in. And so there was a lot of activity and it was like being in heaven. Because people are sleeping on the editing-room floors and just working around the clock. Everyone’s complaining, miserable. It was great.

Charles Burnett: It was just a fun place to be, it was a great place to be. You know we stayed there almost twenty-four hours . . . And what was really rough was at the end of the quarter we tried to mix a film, and you could stay up for days. I’d sleep on the couch and stuff like that.

Bernard Nicolas: It was just kind of understood that you supported each other, because you would run into people at three o’clock in the morning in the upstairs part of Melnitz, and there was an intimacy about it without having to be conscious about it. It was like we are all family. But then the Third World students, and the Black students in particular, we ended up having meetings together, we were trying to form organizations and then we worked on each other’s films.

Barbara McCullough: So it wound up being a very interesting experi- ence because Alile Sharon Larkin was already here, O.Funmilayo was already here . . . Gay Abel-Bey and Anita Addison and then Stormé Bright, and a couple other people, Jackie Frazier and Vel Frances Young, so it was interesting because there was this influx of women with this exodus of men, of African American men. And that was so interesting, because I’m like, hmmm . . . double minority. Double minority, that’s what we were.

Anita W. Addison (1952–2004) was an American television and film director and producer. Born in Greensboro, North Carolina, Addison began working as a journalist before embarking on a career in directing and producing. In the late 1980s, she worked as a senior VP of drama development at Lorimar. From 1995 to 1998, Addison was VP of drama development at CBS In 1989, she earned an Academy Award nomination for her short film, 'Savannah'.

After leaving CBS, she worked on numerous television series including Family Law and EZ Streets with director and writer Paul Haggis. In 1999, she directed the television movie Deep in My Heart. Addison died on January 24, 2004 in New York City. Haggis dedicated his Oscar-winning film Crash to Addison. Addison was heavily involved in the L.A Rebellion, an African-American film movement that took place at the University of California, Los Angeles.

This programme is free but distribution, subtitling, writer and translation fees aren't. We receive no funding so please consider donating to us so we can keep this project available to all. We have a Patreon for regular supporters, or you can make a one-off donation here.

 

Eva's Man 

by Gayl Jones (1976)

A few of the passages that inspired Anita W. Addison's film adaptation of the book, made the same year as its publication.

"Eva Medina Canada sits in her psychiatric ward, silent and unremorseful. She has murdered her lover and they want to know why. Her memories weave back and forth over encounters with the men in her life – the schoolboy who played doctors and nurses with a dirty popsicle stick; her mother’s boyfriend; her cousin; her husband; a stranger on the bus. She’s been propositioned and abused for as long as she can remember."

You can, and should, buy the book via Beacon (USA) or Virago (UK)
"

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"A hundred times you lose your treasures":

Focus on Mara Mattuschka

Mattuschka was born in 1959 in to musical parents in Sofia, Bulgaria. She recalls being surrounded by old opera divas throughout her childhood, whom she admired. As a young teenager, Mattuschka pursued painting and mathematics, the latter of which was encouraged in Communist Bulgaria. At the age of 15, her family moved to Vienna with her where she attended English school, then enrolled at university to study and ethnology. Through a coincidence, did ended up dropping out and getting a place in Maria Lassnig’s masterclass at the Academy of Fine Arts. Mara Mattuschka's first "painted" films were made as part of Lassnig’s animation studio.

From the 1980s on, Mattuschka shot numerous solo works: concise, poetic, political, playful. In order to act in front of the camera, she created her own persona: Mimi Minus. Inspired by everyday, small and minimal gestures, Mara Mattuschka practices a range of cheerful and anarchic hyperbolic behaviours. Since the mid 1990s, Mattuschka has worked with actors, and is now writing her fifth feature film. Her practice also includes painting, theatre, cinematography and stage design.

Additional, contextualising information provided by Mara Mattuschka (ed. Florian Widegger), Edition Film Geschichte Österreich,  2019

Daniella Shreir: How did you first get into filmmaking?

Mara Mattuschka: I never went to film school. Before coming to Austria as a teenager, I wrote a lot in Bulgarian but when I came to Vienna there was no need for this writing. I had started painting before I came here, and I took photographs. I went to the university in Vienna to study something that no longer exists – now it would be called cultural anthropology but then it was called ethnology. Alongside this course, we were able to take an option to learn how to use a Bolex. They were trying to train up anthropologists to travel the world and make films of native societies. That was the first time I ever had a camera in my hands and I knew it was what I wanted to do.

 

I dropped out of university when I was accepted into Maria Lassnig’s class for painting at the Academy. She had started organising this studio for animation, and so I started making animation films: you know, like drawings with my face or with objects. And at the same time we were doing a lot of theatre and performance: wild, guerrilla stuff, which wasn’t encouraged by the university. We would just appear here and there and do some crazy stuff and so all of these things were connected. On the one hand I was painting and on the other I was full of stories.

 

DS: Did you choose this course because of her?

 

MM: Yes, absolutely. I hadn’t heard anything about her at that time. Maybe I wasn’t well informed, but she was of a different generation and she had just spent years in the US. But somebody showed me pictures of her and told me she was coming to Vienna and I knew immediately I had to try for this class. The exam was three days long and I remember we got a picture by Manet and we had to interpret it in a new way. I was in a trance; I barely remember those three days.

 

DS: And you recently helped restore her unfinished works.

 

MM: Yes, that took up the last four years. It was a lot of work. I had her face as the desktop background on my computer for the whole time and whenever I would look at one of my paintings, which you can see behind me here in my studio, I would see her face looking at me. It took so many hours to restore her films and of course we had to try and carry out the process according to her mind. I was occupied by her psyche the whole time. I was almost haunted by her.

 

DS: The tone of your work is so different, but you’re both occupied with distortion, atypical angles and then I also feel there’s a grotesque or baroque comedy that you both share. What kind of discussions were happening in that class?

 

MM: She was a difficult woman. She didn’t tolerate people who didn’t work and although I’m a hard worker, it was a lot. We would have an academic lesson, life drawing, but instead of drawing it was painting, every day of the week. So some of the class started to make performances and throw parties with improv and singing, perhaps as a way of balancing out all the academic painting. We needed some other outlets through which to express ourselves.

What more can I say? Maria was a strange woman. I still carry a lot of things in me; I have to say that part of her life is part of me too… But working on art is like becoming a tunnel, it’s like channelling. It’s not a conscious process. Of course, there are phases which are conscious: you have to plan and reflect on what you’ve done but while doing it you’re channelling. It’s almost like you’re the one doing the thing, you’re completely out of your mind and just doing kind of trance-like impulsive work. Then, of course, there’s a moment you step back and look at it and see that it has to be done differently. But first of all you surrender to the picture, which is telling you what to do. It’s some kind of channelling.

 

DS: With painting you have to make an initial mark, you have to put something down on the canvas, whereas with film I guess so much of it is in the editing that you can do all these sort of circular experiments and then bring them together afterwards. I want to ask about the difference between your paint and film work in terms of channelling.

 

MM: Film is also channelling. The writing of a script is channelling. I mean there are conscious phases, but when I start writing I don’t care about the language, it’s something  more like automatic writing, and there is a moment when the character starts to talk in my head. I can hear this person talking in their language with their accent and their way of expressing things, so I just have to sit and write it down. Again it’s the feeling I’m not doing anything but hearing voices in my head. Then you have to get rid of half of it but something always stays. But I’m not a constructor of plots or ideas.
 

DS: How does that channelling process work when you’re working with actors? When you were playing a version of yourself via Mini Minus, was it easier to channel due to the lack of an intermediary process in which you have to explain what you’re receiving to someone else?

 

MM: There’s a process of creating an atmosphere on set. I call it a field. We create a field with a magnet at its centre: the magnet is the thing that is happening and in this field things become possible. I’m not the magnet. I’m also drawn to the magnet. I hope this isn’t too esoteric, but I have this feeling that everyone is in this atmosphere for a short time during the filming and then we talk, have a coffee, and then we go back into this kind of field.

NO DIALOGUE

In NavelFable Mara Mattuschka subjects herself to a second birth through endless pairs of tights. Her body struggles so hard and in such a deformed manner from out of the layers of nylon that the sheer struggle for survival becomes visible. (Peter Tscherkassky)

This programme is free but distribution, subtitling, writer and translation fees aren't. We receive no funding so please consider donating to us so we can keep this project available to all. We have a Patreon for regular supporters, or you can make a one-off donation here.

NavelFable

(4', 1984)

DS: How do you envision the channelling process in terms of editing film?

 

MM: Because you already have something, editing is trial and error. Even though I cut the films during the shoot, I always have an idea of what comes first, what comes next: the filmmaking is oriented towards the montage. But during filming a lot of things come about, or they don’t want to happen, so you have to be spontaneous and very much aware of the moment so that you can change things later. The more you know, the more flexible you can be. You change and play with it.

 

I was always full of stories, and although experimental film is less concerned with stories and more concerned with processes, something is still always going on, developing, metamorphosing. I soon dropped my animation films and starting making films either within theatrical contexts or in which I appeared as a performer. When I was making short films on celluloid, I was more prolific. I would usually make two films a year: one of them sad, the other kind of comic.

 

DS: In terms of one sad film and one comic one, and all the different things you were working on at the same time, do you feel as though your practice is based on the necessity of holding many things in balance simultaneously? It’s not about the achievement of that equilibrium, is it?

 

MM: Balancing, absolutely! I was always balancing and if you see the old films they were all about the unification of the opposites, as if I’ve always working with a scale in my hands. Like Minerva.

 

DS: What’s your sign, Mara?

MM: I’m the first day of twins.

 

DS: Oh, Gemini. Just like Varda and Akerman! A good sign for women filmmakers. I was asking in case you were a Libra.

MM: My ascendant is in Libra! I’ve got a lot of Mercurian and Venesian influences.

 

DS: In terms of the balancing, I don’t want to psychoanalyse you – we’ve only just met! – but do you think there’s something about duality in terms of being a Bulgarian transplant to Austria and moving from a Communist to a Capitalism system? Is that too easy a reading?

 

MM: No, absolutely, absolutely. I don’t know quite how to answer but you are asking the right question. I think it’s a matter of point of view. I never wanted to have a fixed point of view. I always wanted to look at the same thing from different angles, so if you look at human existence from one angle it might look tragic because we all get all get old and sick and die, but from another angle there is something funny and heroic about being human. We all try to do things, to think of things: we’re always communicating. There is something glorious – and comic, even – about the human being in their weakness compared to the big kosmos and our planet which is, after all, just a fire ball. But we’re all trying to do something with this; we all have feelings.

 

You could call almost everything I’ve made existential. It’s about human existence, it’s about being human and it is ambivalent on one hand and maybe a bit claustrophobic or full of anxiety and has a tragic component. But at the same time it’s very comic. On the whole, I’m an optimist.

 

Maybe it does have something to do with the dualism of Communism and the fact I’m now in this catholic country. Bulgaria is crazy, too. On one hand it’s Communist, on the other it’s a Southern Balkan country and there are many different notions contained within its borders. One of the things I’m actively conscious of having taken from my upbringing there is the fact money doesn’t matter to me. When I don’t have it, it doesn’t bother me; if I have it, I spend it. In Bulgaria, even if you had money, you could buy nothing with it – it was worthless.

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IN GERMAN, WITH ENGLISH SUBTITLES

AVEC DES SOUS-TITRES FRANCAIS DE ZOE BARNES

COM LEGENDAS EM PORTUGUÊS DE MARTHA ELISA

CON SUBTÍTULOS EN ESPAÑOL DE LUCIA DE LA TORRE

CON SOTTOTITOLI IN ITALIANO DI MIRKO CERULLO

최모니카의 한국어 자막으로.

翻訳 ILENIA PORPORA

DENGAN TEKS INDONESIA OLEH ADRIAN JONATHAN

In this 1 1/2 minute satire on TV commercials, the star, Mimi Minus, has been invited to introduce the sale of a new product: a sticky black, brain-washing soap, which M.M. first applies to her reflection, in order to wash one of her brain hemispheres clean, then to her body, then to numb her senses . In the end, the slightly devastated and freshly-cleansed housewife puts on a wig and looks directly into the camera/mirror. 

(Christa Blüminger, "Die Gesichter der Mara Mattuschka," in: (eds.) Alexander Horwath, Lisl Ponger, Gottfried Schlemmer, Avantgardefilm. Österreich. 1950 bis heute, Vienna 1995)

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This programme is free but distribution, subtitling, writer and translation fees aren't. We receive no funding so please consider donating to us so we can keep this project available to all. We have a Patreon for regular supporters, or you can make a one-off donation here.

Cerolax II

(3', 1985)

DS: The way you describe your practice is so intuitive and embodied but at the same time your references are vast and academic… Do you read… I don’t know what you’d call it… science fiction, theories about the cosmos, philosophy, psychoanalysis? Are there things you read while you make work?

 

MM: Yes, I’m always reading. About psychology or literature, across different periods. There was a period I spent reading poetry – a form which I consider to be almost extinct at the moment. I read novels. But not when I’m writing. When I’m deeply into a process I don’t read. It’s too much information; I wouldn’t be able to sleep. There’s already so much going on and I’m connecting it all in my mind, or dreaming about it, or thinking about it as soon as I wake up, and so I read no other books and watch almost no other films at that time, though that might only be for a month.

 

DS: Where does your interest in Greek mythology come from?

 

MM: Maybe from my Bulgarian roots. You know, in Bulgaria we didn’t study Latin but Greek, and Greek mythology was always interesting to me as something that has a very rich imagery. It’s full of archetypes that are still very valid.

 

DS: So it’s more the imagery than the linguistic component you’re interested in…

 

MM: Yes. But in terms of language, it differs from one film to another. Some have no language at all; others have distorted language like SOS Extra Terrestrial. My older black-and-white films in which I perform are often claustrophobic; most of them take place in small, enclosed spaces, like pictures of the self whose surroundings are part of the person. The outer world comes in the form of language, through a radio or some device like that, and it’s usually a male voice too. In many of my films there are passages where people talk but it doesn’t mean anything. You could change the words and say something different and it would have exactly the same effect. It’s more the action of talking, a human being opening and closing their mouth to produce sounds. It’s something like small talk. It doesn’t mean anything at all, it’s just part of the body.

 

DS: Was the creation of the persona of Mini Minus in your earlier films a way of gaining distance or proximity to the work?

 

MM: In the first films I regarded myself as an object. When I was making Trickfilm [animation] with objects, my head was the first object. And then in Cerolax II, I kind of realised that I was acting, but not acting in the sense of doing something false. And then I found out that I was embodying. There’s a difference between acting and embodying something. When embodying, I’m not supposed to be God almighty who knows how the film is going to end. So in order to get round that I split myself as a figure, with Mara Mattuschka on one side and Mini Minus on the other. I wanted to keep Mini Minus away from the script. She was not supposed to know what the story was about and I think of her as a woman out of context, as if you’ve taken her and dropped her into the film and she has no idea what’s going to happen to her.

 

I had a very strong feeling that I had to split myself in two because otherwise Mini Minus would know what was going to happen. If you know what’s going to happen tomorrow you will act completely differently today.

 

DS: Going back to narrative again and the telos of your films, how do you know how and when to end them?

 

MM: I never know how to end! Except if something goes wrong or the light goes. Lots of my films are cyclical. KugelKopf, for example, is like a little globe or a bubble. With these films, they start somewhere, and they develop, and they end somewhere near where they began.

NO DIALOGUE

Kugelkopf

(6', 1985)

For Mattuschka writing always also implies image, in other words drawing or a typographic process and therefore the trace of a physical gesture. In the short film the artist describes as an "ode to IBM," the body is turned into a machine, the head a matrix. A spectacular event takes place early on: In a jerky live-action animation sequence in high-contrast black-and-white, Mattuschka shaves her head with a razor blade, which cuts the skin, producing cola bloody-red matter. (Christa Blümlinger) 

NO DIALOGUE

This programme is free but distribution, subtitling, writer and translation fees aren't. We receive no funding so please consider donating to us so we can keep this project available to all. We have a Patreon for regular supporters, or you can make a one-off donation here.

DS: I guess it’s funny that perhaps the most ‘narrative’ film we’re showing of yours is Es hat mich sehr gefreut. I mean it’s translated as I have been very pleased but I preferred the translation It’s been a great pleasure because obviously pleasure is the exercise…

 

MM: I like that. You know that’s a quotation, it’s a Viennese story – everyone here knows it. Kaiser Franz Joseph [I of Austria] wasn’t pleased by the new opera building and he said something bad about it and the architect killed himself. So from that moment on the Kaiser would say “I’m very pleased”… “thank you, thank you, it’s been a pleasure.” You know, like, “Please don’t kill yourself, I’m pleased!”

 

DS: I guess I find this film so fascinating because when I think about narrative satisfaction in traditional, male-directed narrative films, I often think of there being a very orgasmic, patriarchal drive about them, in terms of their pushing towards an end-point and the three act structure: foreplay, intercourse, the postcoital. In I have been very pleased you’ve got the foreplay and then the orgasm and that’s a narrative line satisfied in the space of under two minutes. So I did want to ask about how this film came about and maybe how it was perceived at the time, not that it really matters…

 

MM: Once I was attacked by a couple in the cinema but I don’t think it was because of this film. The woman came up to me and looked like she was going to hit me. I’ve never experienced that before or since. But most of my films are well received, and in Germany especially. I mean my films are anarchic, and I think there’s an audience who likes that. I don’t want to describe it myself.

 

In terms of this film, me and some friends from the Akademie were travelling with a camera in North Italy just across the Austrian border and it was such a nice landscape that I said I’d be happy to die there, and so we made this film.

 

DS: Sex and death. Are you sure you’re not a Scorpio?!  Do you still feel like you can make films about sexual pleasure as freely as you could in the ‘80s? I feel like the depiction of sex has become so knotty and contentious in the past few years, following necessary but industry-based discussions after #metoo, about safety on set, etc… I feel as though there’s always a drive to deliver a message and we end up forgetting that sexual pleasure is a politics too.

 

MM: I have a different impression because I’ve experienced a new movement in the realm of porn film festivals. One year ago I was invited to the porn film festival in Berlin with my film Phaedros, and I also had a retrospective in the porn film festival last year in Vienna. These porn festivals are very sex-positive and show real, explicit sex in an art context. In the 1980s it was much freer, but then AIDS came up and it all became difficult. Now with these porn film festivals there is new movement. There was a big audience in a big cinema, a lot of interest.

 

DS: Is there a push in Austria at the moment, as there is in the Anglophone film world, for issue-based filmmaking? For films to deliver a didactic political message?

 

MM: For me the depressing thing isn’t that films have to have a message, but that young filmmakers adapt to this and construct stories which are not their own. They use the opportunity, maybe even innocently, and make something with some kind of social truth but it’s not true because it’s not their truth, it’s constructed.

 

DS: Absolutely and I think it’s not that every film has to be personal but it’s more that every film should have a soul which I guess comes from personal impulse.  I guess when you were talking about channelling it seems like young filmmakers you’re talking about there’s no channelling but received…

 

MM: Received ideas! An idea of how things have to be. I mean I think if someone is really socially moved by something it looks different. Not as constructed. Here in Vienna at the Film Akademie a lot of young filmmakers are constructing films that conform with what’s expected.

 

DS: I wanted to ask about laughter, which is part of the framing for this Another Screen programme. The laugh in I have been very pleased is one of pleasure but also a sort of witchy cackle that mocks the idea that sex requires a penis… I hate the sort of question that asks what were you “trying to do”, but I guess, what were you trying to “channel” about female pleasure?

 

MM: It’s all in the sunglasses. You know, when you masturbate or do something very intimate you tend to put up barriers. You don’t want people to see you. But she takes her sunglasses off, she opens herself up for the world to see. That was the idea.

IN GERMAN, WITH ENGLISH SUBTITLES

AVEC DES SOUS-TITRES FRANCAIS DE ZOE BARNES

COM LEGENDAS EM PORTUGUÊS DE MARTHA ELISA

CON SUBTÍTULOS EN ESPAÑOL DE LUCIA DE LA TORRE

CON SOTTOTITOLI IN ITALIANO DI MIRKO CERULLO

최모니카의 한국어 자막으로.

翻訳 ILENIA PORPORA

DENGAN TEKS INDONESIA OLEH ADRIAN JONATHAN

It's been a

pleasure (2', 1987)

Almost all of Mattuschka's films deal with writing and language, and for her this means attacking the system of signs that make up this system. This is often done cryptically, or is at least not necessarily as obvious as the manner in which Mattuschka is accustomed to involving the human body, i.e., her own body as the character Mimi Minus, whose sensuality is the ultimate antitheses to the abstract nature of language. Only a few shots in her films do not include her, and there, the images used often reference physicality itself. Es hat mich sehr gefreut consists of fourteen scenes. Against the background of an indistinct landscape, Mimi Minus, in close-up, spreads out a large towel, lies down, licks her finger, spreads her legs, moves her hand to her pubic hair and begins to masturbate. In seven rapid sequences, the camera moves away. Mimi Minus shrinks to the size of a dot, then finally disappears in the harsh contrast of the film, while the cry of her orgasm echoes across an electronic soundtrack. In the final sequence, her head comes back into view; she looks exhausted, and her make-up is smudged. A voice says, off-screen, "Thank you. It was a pleasure." These words are shown in a text insert, and the individual letters then trickle away. (Peter Tscherkassky, In: Austrian Avantgarde Cinema, 1955-1993, Wien 1994) 

This programme is free but distribution, subtitling, writer and translation fees aren't. We receive no funding so please consider donating to us so we can keep this project available to all. We have a Patreon for regular supporters, or you can make a one-off donation here.

DS: There’s also the witchy element of Der Schöne, die Biest (Beauty and the Beast). The only bit where there’s dialogue…

 

MM: It’s about a prophecy, but it doesn’t mean much except: do your life, be brave, everything is possible. It’s open.

 

DS: I do want to ask about comedy in your films because in the monograph I was reading about your work, there’s a lot of talk about the grotesque, the carnivalesque, Bakhtin and Bergson. Someone wrote about how your comedic performances don’t require an audience or even an interlocutor for the joke, right? So I guess that goes again to do with telos and end-point, it’s like a free flowing circular kind of comedy…

 

MM: Could be!

 

DS: Maybe I should instead ask, what place does laughter occupy for you in life?

 

MM: Laughter, always… always. I laugh even if I’m alone.

 

DS: Ah, me too! It’s been a year of laughing by myself.

 

MM: You know what laughter is! I think there’s another thing which is that if you’re anthropophobic, or if you’re too moralistic, you don’t have much to laugh about. I laugh because I wonder. If a guy passes me in the street with his skateboard or something I look after him and think, what’s going on in his head? I’m always wondering about people and that makes me laugh. All this human stuff is funny, it’s too funny. What’s this guy carrying? What’s this woman thinking? What’s happening here? What are all these people? What is she or he doing?

 

I love looking at children. It’s so funny what they can tell you, what they think about life, about themselves. I feel the same about old people. I don’t have this kind of distance with people so that makes me laugh or smile because I wonder at them and I wonder at myself.

 

DS: I completely understand that. Laughter as a form of intimacy. And laughing at someone as a form of intimate knowledge because everyone is so weird in very different ways… To laugh in appreciation at someone is to acknowledge that...

 

MM: Everyone’s weird! There’s no normality. If you have a closer look at everyone, everyone has these little secrets.

 

DS: Are you drawn to macabre Austrian humour? Do you like Thomas Bernhard?

 

MM: You know when I read Bernhard for the first time a long time ago when he was appearing I was thinking, what is he doing? He’s so negative! Then some years ago I took a book of his again and I had to laugh from beginning to end, from my heart. Something has changed in me also, it seems.

 

DS: But there is something so funny and perverse in this overt pessimism, and really it’s a form of optimism because what he has something he wants to see, it’s just that it’s lacking.

 

I know it’s never simple to talk about influence, but you think Viennese Actionism opened some doors in terms of your artistic formation in Austria?

 

MM: I’m sure it did have some impact but actually it’s a very strange thing because it’s not just Viennese but also very Catholic. Various types of Actionism are a big thing in many Catholic countries, like Spain and Latin America, because there’s this baroque element where you’re throwing eggs or something, this kind of orgy, but there’s also this asceticism, pain and martyrdom. I think Actionism is very connected to Catholic ideas, and to the aesthetics of the church with all its martyrs and gold.

 

DS: I did want to return to sexuality for a moment. I know you weren’t involved in any formal political groups but I wanted to ask whether you were giving a name to feminism in the ‘80s or whether it was more of intuitive belief system for you?

 

MM: Difficult to say. On the one hand it’s this first-person experience, but then on the other I’m very ambivalent, like in my films. I have two children but had lesbian relationships for years, so maybe I’m really bisexual. Although the whole time I was hanging out with feminists, definite notions of feminism came later, but now I think I feel it more strongly than I did before.

 

When I was younger and making work with Ashley Hans Scheirl and Ursula Pürrer, we were making the whole Austrian region feel very insecure with our acts, but one of the most important things for us all I think was self-expression. We were each anarchist artists, but we always had solidarity with one another on these topics.

IN GERMAN, WITH ENGLISH SUBTITLES

AVEC DES SOUS-TITRES FRANCAIS DE ZOE BARNES

COM LEGENDAS EM PORTUGUÊS DE MARTHA ELISA

CON SUBTÍTULOS EN ESPAÑOL DE LUCIA DE LA TORRE

CON SOTTOTITOLI IN ITALIANO DI MIRKO CERULLO

최모니카의 한국어 자막으로.

翻訳 ILENIA PORPORA

DENGAN TEKS INDONESIA OLEH ADRIAN JONATHAN

Beauty and 

the Beast

(10', 1993)

"... autobiographical notes about bringing up a child. A birth, the tearing of the umbilical cord, a baby lying between sheets of music. Mimi fiddles educationally on a stringless violin, offers her breast and tries to keep the little king happy with an improvised hysterical performance. She suddenly starts with dadaistic oracles, before carrying the child out into big wide world."

(Stefan Grissemann)

This programme is free but distribution, subtitling, writer and translation fees aren't. We receive no funding so please consider donating to us so we can keep this project available to all. We have a Patreon for regular supporters, or you can make a one-off donation here.

This programme is free but distribution, subtitling, writer and translation fees aren't. We receive no funding so please consider donating to us so we can keep this project available to all. We have a Patreon for regular supporters, or you can make a one-off donation here

 
 
 
 
 
 

Programmed by Daniella Shreir.

Thank you to Missouri Williams for her help with editing.

Thanks to Léna Lewis-King for her help with subtitle files.

Thanks to Mara Mattuschka for her generosity in according me a lovely, animated interview.

Thanks for John Byrd, EYE, Amsterdam and Sixpack, Vienna, for their help in obtaining the films

Website design: Daniella Shreir

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