media,space, time,trace

In LTI - Lingua Tertii Imperii: Notizbuch eines Philologen, Victor Klemperer says that he was impressed with Nazi's news film much more than Sternberg's"Der Blaue Engel/The Blue Angel" he saw at the same night.Now we know those news film must be very constructed,realized exaggeratedly,filmed and edited carefully as same as a feature film. If German people at that time could analyze the Nazi images with which they had been fascinated and its function,they could be more conscious of being manipulated by them? Bunuel remembers in his autobiography Mon Dernier Soupir that Chaplin laughed himself to death at Leni Riefenstahl's "Triumph des Willens".

Even after the king of mass media moved from cinema to television,we tend to forget analyzing how the images which moves us are constructed.And add to this, as consumers of images, we're more and more losing sense of space and time for the consciousness.When an advertising company of U.S. edited and showed a psuedo-direct-cinema image promoting the Gulf War,which was a close up of the Kuwait Ambassador 's girl crying with a shot of an oily waterfowl,no japanese critic could criticize the girl's image in comparison with a child in De Sica's films or Nuovo Cinema Paradiso (after the war Abbas Kiarostami's critical "Homework" was distributed in Japan). They never had learned from Godard's "Letter to Jane" which compared Jane Fonda's gesture in Vietnam to Henry Fonda's acting.For resisting that television and all other multimedia are going to manipulate viewers by force of audio-visual presence and prompt reaction,we need to refer to the works of directors that propose a critical view to the history of cinema as an ex-mass media.

When Hartmut Bitomsky focuses on history of Volkswagen, Reichsautobahn,B52... and cinema,he is a great director because his works tell that an image as a medium has also its own historical limit.After "Highway 40 west"(1981)-the greatest trans-america-road movie after Antonioni and Monte Hellman, which was filmed before Wenders' "Paris,Texas" and Kramer's "Route one U.S.A."-,"Deutschlandbilder/Pictures of Germany"(1984) is Bitomsky's masterpiece as media criticism.This film shows seqences of daily life and labor from culture films made under Nazi regime cronorogically,and although Bitomsky and co-director Muhrenbrock avoided sensational images, the details expose the grotesqueness and evil of Nazi's message of 'creating a clean and beautiful society'.Image of crest of Nazis vividly scattered in the air,idea of replacing uprising of "Battleship Potemkin" with sports of shipboard, and the steel power makes 'beautiful bullet'...The madness which persists this 'cleanness and beauty' in the defeat and the social collapse is hateful and makes us laugh,and we notice when the extracts of footage of our archives will be shown cronorogically that laugh would happen, too. Because this 'cleanness and beauty' captures the attention of people even now.After projection I heard some older japanese people said they were still impressed with the image.In "B52"(2001), The designer who was interviewed in this film, insists the beauty and perfection of the bomber-aircraft.

Bitomsky's films show what we couldn't seen at that time of filming and make us notice something we're overlooking. Haroun Farocki's films- they have co-directed films -did it,too. Farocki's "Bilder der Welt und Inschrift des Krieges/Images of the World and the Inscription of War", tells an episode of the world war II that nobody could recognize concentration camp by an aerophotograph of United States air force plane that took Auschwitz before end of the war, and points out the absence of glance. this absence of glance developed and we came to the surveillance camera of"I thought I have seen a convicts" and the camera installed in the missile of"War at a distance", and human's expulsion from the system is completed. Seeing and recognition is entrusted to the machine.With two juxtaposed screens inspired by Godard's "Numero Deux" and shifting montage, Farocki's "Eye-Machine"series asked whether we can recover a criticized glance,and historical perspective.

The predessors of Bitomsky and Farocki clarify dominant and the only character of cinema in process of making space and time visible.In Straub=Huillet's "Antigone",each shot is a documentary of the meetings between the actors, various perspective and aspects of the ground of small space of Segesta theater behind them,and sunlight,wind,a lizard..., by level shot or high-angle shot.It's the best criticism of Dreyer's great"La Passion de Jeanne D'Arc",which used close-up and low-angle, eliminated relation between protagonists and background (Cocteau compared Dreyer's camera with telescope).In "Die Nordkalotte",Peter Nestler shows the transition of space in Lapland after Chernobyl nuclear accident while he continues the shots of river and valley from the top of mountains to sea. Deer and other animals in the vast space disappear gradually, and we see them caught to the space with a narrow cage at the end of this film. There're rich information and physical sense which viewers can't recognize on all other media.We should reconsider that Straub says "Operai,Contadini" is a challenge to talk-show on television.Although they're co-productions with television,they support cinema where we support force of stare and concentration in the dark.

Bitomsky's attitude to material is more closer to the predessors than Farocki's attitude to absence of glance.In "Der VW Komplex" (1990), when a large amount of door parts of cars are hung and slips in a quiet space, and the camera chases the conveyer, then the machine sound in the factory of Volkswagen appears. It's a wonderful moment. We can perceive space and time of labor by observing material that is processed, transformed, constructed, and abandoned.In "Imaginare Architechtur"(1995), people or the director himself walk around the buildings Hans Scharoun designed, and the structure of spaces emerges with the movement. And Bitomsky seems to attach much importance to the product abandoned in the space especially, because an expression and a history of the material come into view only to scrap and trace. The trace of highway that was blasted because of retreat of the German army in WW II and is rotting away in "Reichsautobahn"(1986),scrapped cars in "Der VW Komplex",and bomber-aircrafts scrapped in desert in "B52".The sequence of conversation with an artist who is an ex-pilot and whose works are made with scraps of B52 is a very funny sequence.The scraps of bomber-aircraft seems to be affirmative existence for the human race for the first time, through the artist who talks about B52 with pleasure.The subject of aspect of the material can be also said as for the fragment of footage in "Playback"(1995) and the image of the photos in his 'cinema anthology' series.

"Das Kino und der Tod/Cinema and Death"(1988), is one of his 'Cinema Anthology' ,which was made by extraordinary Bitomsky's voice and movement of his hands that turn over photos of murder in films.It's 'a film noir as a film essay which analyzes film noir'. When he analyzes classic films like Hitchkock's "Torn Curtain",Lang's "Hangmen also die", Siegel's "The Killers",Aldrich's "Kiss me deadly",etc, each viewer tries to remake the images that always becomes uncertain in the memory,with the movement of Bitomsky's hands and voice as a detective showing photos of evidence of murders. There is an astonishing moment of new discovery of the image which we remember as a movement of the film. "Das Kino und der Wind und die Photographie/Cinema and Wind and Photographie" (1991),another one of 'anthology', consists of monitors that show documentary films from Lumiere to Robert Frank,Bitomsky and his stuff who is analyzing and making this film.The director's reading texts about these films and the movement of stuffs,camera movement are choreographed precisely.Bitomsky shows himself on monitor and stops it,revises it,and he reads the text again in front of the monitor to shows how he revised. It's a brechtian,and it's a representation of our situation surrounded by images.I want to call it a new fiction about realization of documentary.

"Playback" is a documentary of workshop in Amsterdam, for studying films which was made in 1910`20s.It's important that this film is also a documentary of people studying 'media literacy'.For example there is a sequence that people discuss with each other while they watch fragments of silent films called 'beauty contest'.One says 'They're called 'beauty contest' but they're all beautiful',one says,'No,they might have been forced to face the camera like Pasolini's "Salo",and they look sad.',and another one says,'But there is a part that a boy stands close to a girl as if he protect her'...Probably "Playback" is influenced by the sequence of Rouch's "Chronique d'ete" that people who were filmed comment after projection of the film,but it is a great documentary of the meeting between people and images that separates the time of 80 years,and of inventing an idea and discourse from there. And we can imagine someone makes a documentary of people who discuss while they're watching "Playback" in future.It's a rare documentary opening to the future.

Bitomsky says the collapse of the direct relation between image and reality because of digital image's appearance and disappearance of images in war, are challenges to documentary.It may lead falling down of truth of image,and our judgment under presence and consumerism is submit itself to 'official announcement'?Will it become impossible for us to persuade a trace in an image?If we could be liberated from prompt reaction and secure the space and time to think,we can have something that was potential surface to view. He says "the task of the future documentary will be to create doubt. You could say, the more sophisticated literacy that could read not only images but also the method of working images." Cinema is the only place because it lost position of the mass media. The circulation of preservation, criticism, and creation of image can offer us how to defend ourselves.


"Nine Minutes in the Yard:A conversation with Harun Farocki" by Rembert Huser,

"The complex of images" Hartmut Bitomsky talks to Rainer Knepperges,Filmdienst,Mai 1993/ Viennale2000

"Reality would have to begin"Harun Farocki,

"Eine Metapher Fur die globale US=Prasenz"

(written for Hartmut Bitomsky retrospective in 2002,first publishing by Athene Francais Curtural Center,Tokyo;add words in 2006)

©Akasaka Daisuke