Tuesday, 6 May 2008

Jeonju Film Festival I: Alexander Kluge

My first screening at the Jeonju Film Festival was Alexander Kluge's Yesterday Girl (1966), the first feature film of the New German Cinema. Following the film there was a lecture on Kluge's career given by Ulrich Gregor, a contemporary of Kluge who is a former film critic and director of the Berlin Film Festival.

The New German Cinema comes after the French New Wave, and Yesterday Girl does show debt to the New Wave and its stylistics. However, Kluge's film goes further than even Godard's work up to that point in its distanciation techniques, pointing the way to Godard's late 60s work. And even more than the French New Wave, it is difficult to understand Kluge and the New German Cinema outside of the German national context.

This made the lecture by Gregor particularly valuable, since he was immersed in the same context as Kluge (he actually sat on the committee that approved funding for Yesterday Girl). Gregor noted that Kluge's films in particular are concerned with language as a discourse of power, which is difficult for audiences outside of Germany to fully comprehend. The problems encountered by the title character, an East German trying to survive in West German society, revolve around her difficulty with institutions. Another point argued by Gregor is that although Kluge is an intellectual and includes theoretical debate in his work, his films also include a great deal of emotion. On the basis of Yesterday Girl, I would disagree. However interesting the film may be, I found it rigorously alienating. Again, this may be due to the reliance on context, but I think it is also because of Kluge's abandonment of traditional narrative. Unlike Fassbinder in the mid-1970s and after, Kluge would never try to integrate the emotion of traditonal melodrama. As a result, he remains a much more obscure figure today.

Kluge has abandoned cinematic filmmaking since 1987 after negotiating a television deal in Germany (however, apparently Kluge is planning, with director Tom Tykwer, an over seven-hour adaptation of Marx's Das Kapital). His television work consists over interviews with philosophers and other intellectuals. Gregor claims that there is over a thousand hours of these interviews, and Gregor also believes that these are so fascinating that he does not regret the fact that Kluge has abandoned the cinema.

As I mentioned previously, the Kluge retrospective is coming to the Seoul Cinematheque starting next Tuesday, May 13th.


girish said...

Marc, I'm glad to have discovered your blog and have added it to my RSS subscriptions. (I've also read your comments at a_film_by.)

Kluge has an interesting little book out (it was released last year and got a strong review in Artforum) called CINEMA STORIES. It comprises a bunch of blog-like entries, often a mix of fact and fiction, reflecting upon cinema, its history, its nature, etc.

Marc Raymond said...

Thanks for the comments. I heard about the book in the lecture given by Gregor. Apparently Kluge is a very prolific writer of both novels and more theoretical works. I checked out your blog, very impressive, which I had your energy. Great collection of links too.

girish said...

Thanks, Marc. I'll be adding your blog to my links.