Dutch masters~Frans van de Staak's Rooksporen and Johan van der Keuken's Face Value

A) In the room where the sunlight is coming through closed window, which can be seen the office room or the school classroom, several men and women are talking each other. A man and a woman are standing and are located in front, and behind them the other men and women sitting on the folding chair, and as the camera is shaken or moved sideways we find their positions are strictly arranged. The scene looks like a rehearsal for the performance of a play in front of the camera. They wear casual clothes except a man wearing suit, whose colors are neutral or inconspicuous, seem to be chosen for the cream and white wall of the room. They are talking about a woman with long hair in purple clothes. She seems to be interrogated by a man wearing a suit in this room. But although they describe details of the women's actions, they are strangely become abstract and self-explanatory, no-explaining anything about women and no-explaining themselves.The woman are drawing a painting with a crayon in the next room and every time the man asks her "what are you drawing?", different painting appears and the depiction of the detail does not mean anything...

B) A close up shot captures a man's upper bare body and the woman with white shirt. They are looking at the camera. In the sunlight that is not strong, they are lying on the white sofa, behind them the trees are waving in the wind.Sometimes with conscious of the camera, sometimes without consciousness, the couple hug each other and the one's hand touches another's cheeks, and they touch their chest each other... the scene which are consisted of the shots by handheld camera continues with a jump cut editing. The man's off-screen voice appears slowly,like checking his own words, "After the operation and treatment, the power came back to me, I had to work ..." Doubling the off-screen voice, the man suddenly heads to the camera and tells us, "When we are doing this, I remember the men and women at Saint-Germain des Prés of my photo book collection." The face of the woman appears, and we hear her voice. "When Ed got a doctor's sentence, I knew he couldn't live longer ... but, despite suffering, we became happier", her voice continues. The camera keeps the two in a distance, looks up to the green of the background · · ·.

Frans van de Staak and Johan van der Keuken met each other at home of Jean=Marie Straub and Daniele Huillet (we heard very sad news that she died on 6 October 2006)(1). Staak and Keuken both died in 2001. Staak was called by Straub "the only one successor of Dziga Vertov" (Straub says Nicht versöhnt was presented in Amsterdam by Staak in 1966 (2), and Straub=Huillet dedicated Tout Revolution est Coup de des to van de Staak. As for reciting poem of Mallarme, the method of collage of reading text by people is also a reference to Stark' s Uit het werk van Baruch de Spinoza, 1973.) (3) and he left 25 works, but never had gotten international attention. Keuken was first acclaimed as a photographer with "Wij zijn 17" and "Paris Mortel", and as a filmmaker he was acclaimed by Serge Deney who said "We should add JVDK to JLG and JMS"(4), he became a prominent figure of dutch documentarist.

Once they wrote critics each other, on De Onvoltooide Tulp (1980, Staak) and on The Master and The Giant (1980, Keuken),and 10 years later A) Rooksporen (Trace of Smoke, 1990, Staak) and B) Face Value (1990, Keuken) were their masterpieces shot by 16 mm and both of them deal with the common subject of faces and testimonies. Johan van der Keuken selected Rooksporen for the event "15 × 15" screenings of unknown films which were recommended by 15 filmmakers for the European Film Festival in 2001, then Hans Beerkamp already mentioned the relationship between this film and Face Value. However, in comparing these two films more deeply, beyond the totally different approaches of these two films,we can get unexpected freedom by criticizing the obviousness of the combination of "face and words" that generally acts on us.

First, B) Face Value is a portrait collection of European people living in the era of the end of US/USSR - the Gulf War - the collapse of the Berlin Wall. It is composed of interviews about the present of people of all classes in random places such as Amsterdam, Marseille, Berlin, London, Prague and so on, as Keuken himself has said as one of the most challenging works , 85% of the film is occupied by close-ups, the content to be told is diverse, it is a film representing the aspect of Europe in 1990. Ed Van der Elsken, the photographer of Een liefdesgeschiedenis in Saint-Germain-des-Prés (1954), appeared in depicted scene. He is Keuken's friend and Keuken dedicated this film to Elsken.

Godard said that "Van der Keuken organizes the image like a symphony or a concerto" (Jean=Luc Godard, 21 may 2001 Le Monde), and Keuken himself also said:

"The visual track and the auditory track often evolve independently of each other, and sometimes merge. They both obey their own compositional laws, a dynamic of the particular movement, but they will constantly be led to maintain a relationship of tension. (...) A voice orchestration. The text must both bear a meaning and constitute a kind of music. The combination of image and text also must be musical. As far as technique is concerned, sound and images will often be recorded separately, sometimes even in different conversations that do not necessarily relate to the recording situation. They can also be collected during meetings more or less randomly. As for the sound, it is always fragments of very variable length which are chained to one another. However, the picture and sound will not always be recorded separately. In very significant moments, they will be synchronized, the split between the two being momentarily suppressed. (À propos de «Face Value» écrit par Johan Van der Keuken en Mars 1988)

The separation of images and sounds in the scenes described here probably can be gone backward to the origin to the relationship between photos and texts by Keuken himself, and to the photo story of Elsken's. His early short Moment's Silence (1964) is a film which is consists of just images of Amsterdam city and people in 1960-63 without any explanation, but the movement of silence and rhythm without a story already tells the difference between photograph and cinema. In another film Lucebert-Time and Farewell, which is a documentary of Luchibert, the poet and painter and was a member of COBRA, particularly in the part which was shot in 1962, that makes us remember Clouzot's Le Mystere Picasso, when Lucebert read his poem and his works appear one after another in fast montage with black and white images, featuring John Coltrane's Chasing the Train, the relationship between music and images seems to form a counterpoint of moving and stationary. We can find the same thing in the face of Lucebert against the movement of brush, the creation of the paintings. And we can find it in the movement of the atelier at the top scene and the fix shots of his sculptures near the last scene. Serge Daney says about Keuken's films, "He shoots like jazz musicians playing, like Charlie Parker and Bud Powell... He makes all frames quickly. His panning is like the theme, his decadrage is like riff , his recadrage is like chorus · · · "(4)

In Face Value, the separation of images and sounds makes it possible to organize each element more freely, although Keuken's camera concentrates on people's faces and his framing is limited to their surroundings. Randomly chosen fragments constitute counterpoints in literary and semantic contexts and sometimes beyond them. In first scene Keuken himself appears after the children wearing costumes and playing, and he says "I can not see without lenses (glasses) ..." the white makeup and dazzling lighting of a female dancer who starts dancing in the cabaret, and immigrant worker 's dark skin and shadow continues, a happy couple of weddings appears after an old man who is disappointed with disease, and the bustle of right wing in Marseilles was followed by lines of people who silently contribute to the Polish Jewish cemetery. Farewell and meeting, death and birth, singing and tweeting, light and shadow...it is because the wave light shimmering in the shadow of the deep ocean is even impressive by the musicality of such counterpoint. Perhaps because the disease of Keuken himself, it became hard for him to carry the camera for a long time and to fix the shots and framing constantly stable, and stacking of short cuts makes you feel the tension of capturing the subject. Body and skin coming up through fighting sports like Indian martial arts appearing in Het Oog Boven de Put/The Eye Above the Well (1988) and like Thai boxing in Amsterdam Global Village (1996), ( which is ubiquitous element to the Dutch films in general, even in Paul Verhoeven's Showgirls (1995) and Hollow Man (2000) that were made in Holywood we can find the character), is strongly exposed through the anonymity of the person caused by separating image and sound, and because of the formal limitation as capturing faces (in this case the risk will be further increased) , Furthermore, the attitude to leave the uncertainty of the truth to imagination of the audience. In Face Value, beyond the meaning, the strong sensuality of hug of the couple and of the mother holding her child in her arms comes from the freedom supported by the musicality.

On the other hand, for Frans van de Staak, the relationship between this body and the frame is more rigorous and basic elements. His short film Sepio (1996) which could be screened at new century new cinema vol.1 in 2003 is an amazing film because Staak inherited the extreme self-detention by the formalization of Robert Bresson and tries to exceed Bresson's achievement by making it more open by "meeting the world". In late films of Bresson, in the moment he completes each shot as a painting, its completion is indeed collapsed and the moving of the world emerges.For example in Une femme douce (1968), when a man who suddenly noticed love on a bridge, he comes back home and clings Dominique Sanda, we feel enormous and strong sensuality of backside of her knees. Or a subtle overlapping rear appearance of the husband and wife across the iron grid in L'argent (1983). On the other hand, Staak uses a girl (Carina Ellemers) to shoot everyday gestures such as washing, painting and cooking, while rejecting the privatization of the face by framing as well as Bresson, he records the sensual moments that framed bodies, hands and feet encounter uncontrolled nature and time. The one shot until the melting of the chocolate in the pan is full of amazing suspense time encountered by controlled hand movement and melting of the form.

And in A) Rooksporen, actors (some famous actors are such as Johan Reysen who appeared in Jean=luc Godard's Je vous salue Marie, but many are amateurs) appear in the room one by one in front of the camera, talk about the impression about the woman, leave the room and walk away. The camera moves and follows him/her for a while, and finally will see him/her off. On the other hand, there is a man and a woman at the desk of a room next to a large room. The woman is being questioned by the man wearing a suit, but the reason is not disclosed. This inspector can be seen by detectives, judges and psychiatrists, but his identity is not clear. And 26 men and women who testify about this woman can not reveal what each person is. They are all wearing clothing which has only characteristic as "everyday clothes", the body type has no features, and we can't identify their occupation. And their testimonies about the woman never make a solid image. On the other hand, the women draw painting with crayons. that is such a kind of painting that even members of COBRA draws, does not lead to a certain image, and it looks like a different painting every time the camera captures it. When she is asked "what she draws" by the complaints, she answers like "heart of water" or "cry of help" etc. And one witness speaks, "What are we waiting for after all?"

Rooksporen is a film based on Lydi van Marissing 's play which never have been presented, but it is completely free from appearance like a so-called "court-film". This film looks even like a film of theater=rehearsal of the stage performances at first sight. Indeed, the testimonies of people towards camera are shot in various sizes, from close-up to large shot. They often deviate from the depiction of a woman's impression and even become like a one-person play caught in a hallucination. But is this just a relay of plays? In response to the question, you have no choice but to answer no. The rhythm that the people testify and go out of the room, the repetition of the sound released from airtightness whenever a shot is connected from the room to the outdoor, and as the woman who answers the question across the desk, her monologue is gradually accelerating and closer to a tweet. However, unlike Bergman, with this film whose setting can not be totally understood by dialogs, the audience can't feel sympathy with and can't identify with any character. In addition we can't have a sense of "at least people talked about love" like Jacques Doillon's films (although Doillon's films in the 1980s should be discussed again as a contemporary films based on the "theater-cinema"=documentary of theatral representation+time and space ~ from last epoc of John Ford and Carl Dreyer to Straub=Huillet, Rivette, Oliveira... ). We do not know what they are talking about, and furthermore, there is no excessive beautiful composition or lighting on the screen. In this way everything is ambiguous and unstable, people feel only the eerie rhythm played by the film. Gestures and lines, and silence.

Staak said, "In the absence of biographical detail and verifiable anecdote, the question of who or what they are is left undecided; they exist in virtue of their palpable presence and/or the mysteriousness of their speech." However, as it is a moment when a questioner walking away suddenly disappears with a jump cut editing, its present is not obvious. There, even though any irrelevant image is terribly abstract and even ghostly, on the one hand it captures and sees something that is lively and powerful. The faces and words of those people were recorded as well as the face and words of anonymous people in Face Value, by the camera and microphone without doubt. However, in "Rooksporen", the musicality is what the audience should truly reach through the continuity of the body and space of anonymous players. On a daily basis, people are supposed to be most influenced by it, but because they can not be seen, they replace it with things and information that are easy to get current and have been satisfied by talking about it? It can be said that France van de Staak had secretly made a certain of genre film that nobody had known about by self-made production, nearly the minimum budget and the number of people. I'm dreamng about screening of all the work of this amazing director, but is it possible for us to 'discover' his films in such era when people are easily manipulated by what they are and what their name are?

(6 November 2006, thanks to Manuel Asin)




(4) Liberation, 2 mars 1982


©Akasaka Daisuke