Stefanie Schulte Strathaus
Statement Wrap-Up Session
Peggy Gale said at the opening session that instead of discussing the notion “experimental” we should ask how do all these forms and formats of the moving image relate to thinking. And thinking – in the sense that it has been used and referred to in the various panels – does not stand in opposition to such notions as imagination, feelings, and affects.
So we may ask: When do we really start thinking – not about a film – but through the film and with it?
This, I think, may be related to another thesis implicit in the conception of the Congress and the way we thought it is necessary to talk about experimental filmmaking. The need to overcome the predominance of the visual and to have a closer look at the relations of Image-Sound-Text, for example, as we have done in the second panel.
In that panel I took up the term “translation,” claiming it plays a decisive role in the work of Michael Snow. My thesis was that “translation” in his films, most obviously in RAMEAU'S NEPHEW, has to be thought of not only as a topic or an object of the film – besides many others of course – but as a modus operandi: translation as an operational mode of experimental film practice.
By watching the films of Michael Snow, I think, one gets a quite clear idea of what it means to conceive this operational mode not as the translation of a given thought into images and/or sounds, but rather creating the conditions of the possibility that will allow the spectator to think with and through the film.
Thinking is something that needs time – and not only in the sense that it takes time to formulate or articulate it, or to build it up. Thinking is, in a strict sense, made of and out of time, although a time different from its mere chronological and measurable form as we are used to conceiving it, mostly in our every day life. Theoreticians might also think at this point of the intimate connection Gilles Deleuze made between what he called the time-image and thinking.
In experimental cinema we experience the making and unmaking of meaning not as a didactical lesson demonstrating that a given fact can be thought of this way as well as another way, or as a play of mere self-reflexivity saying: Attention! This is only a film you are watching! Rather, the making and unmaking of meaning becomes irreversibly associated with the process of thinking itself. That is to say, as Gertrud Koch put it at the panel entitled Thought Processing, we have a rendez-vous with our own perceptional – and I would add with our own mental – capacities.
What happens when language, words suddenly claim to be an image, or even more, to be a whole film like in Michael Snow's SO IS THIS, and images are presented as images of words only? What happens when animals in a supposed educational film become actors, as we could see in the film LE VAMPYR by Jean Painlevé? One might say that they are fictionalized, which obviously does not mean that they are just used to create pure fiction, but rather that they are no longer mere objects to demonstrate a given thesis. Instead they gain a life in which we, the spectators, begin to discover similarities to our own lives, to our own imagination, to our own feelings and affects.
These images – without ever really loosing their documentary or testimonial aspect – create what I would call an experimental film experience, although the film itself does not fit in the concept of experimental film as a genre. Looking at the world, or looking at animals, or even looking at ourselves, may not be the same after having seen this film.
So, creating the conditions of the possibility to really start thinking with and through a film meets with another notion that came up during the panel about film and theoretical physics. It was said that the spectator might be thought of as a kind of detector being exposed to the stream of images and sounds while viewing a film. If it seems somehow unsatisfactory to deal with experimental filmmaking in terms of genre, it might be useful to apply the term experimental, rather than to the product or its production conditions, to the relation the viewer is put in watching the film.
Experimental, taken this way, would then no longer run the risk of being associated with such terms as “not binding,” or “unreliable,” or “provisory” – you know, what Heinz called “Visual Macramé.”
Experimental, then, refers to the outcome, and this also includes the spectator and his response, the shifting in perception – of the other and of the self – and the ability to really start thinking.