We are on the continent of Robert Kramer’s essay-films. What country is this, what year, what time? There are no establishing shots, no introductions to ease us in. Everything is in medias res. Kramer never gives us a superimposed title telling us we are watching ‘Vietnam’ or ‘Paris’ or ‘USA’; he never includes the identifying names of people, typewritten on screen, the first time we see them (and indeed, if we ever do learn this, it is often indirectly, by accident); he rarely introduces a radically different piece of footage into the montage with a reassuring title saying ‘ten years ago’, or a voice-off saying ‘I remember …’.
The challenge thrown out to the spectator is: orient yourself. Just in the same way that Kramer, the man with the movie camera, is forced to orient himself: he looks around, gets his bearings, follows something interesting down the street (a face, a bicycle, a line of tombstones in the cemetery) …
‘Whenever I start something, I always feel like I’m at a point of departure.’ (4) But Kramer is always starting his essay-films, over and over, re-starting them at every new scene, each new plateau, so there is no single starting place (his English title for Point de départ, 1994). When it comes to the ‘problem’ or topic addressed by each Kramer film, there are a hundred places or points to start from; but there is no single origin to that problem. It is like what Barthes wrote: it is a question of ‘pursuing’ the problem, chasing it in flight, and thus ‘”uncoating” it of the finality in which it locks up its point of departure.’
And, just as there is no single origin, there is no single destination, either: Kramer’s essay-films map, all at once, a hundred directions, thoughts and associations that cluster around a central idea. But is there one, central idea – and can we tell what it is? It is impossible, for example, to cleanly segment the montage of his essay-films in the way that one can slice up the scenes of a conventional, narrative film. Where does one path start, and where does it end?
A breathtaking section of Point de départ – hardly two minutes long, but with dozens of quick cuts and wildly varied images – begins from the mention of the sandals (preserved in a Vietnamese museum tribute) worn by Ho Chi Minh. Kramer, with a rare, spoken ‘I remember …’ on the soundtrack, suddenly cuts all ambient, Vietnamese noise, and we go to a pair of sandals that Kramer (as he tells us) took with him to California, and still had in 1994, dating from his first visit to Vietnam in 1969 for The People’s War. Then another association: the fact that he and his wife Erika named their daughter ‘Keja Ho’ – after Ho Chi Minh. The silence now dominates the soundtrack, as we see obscure but beautiful footage (16mm, Super 8?), by People’s War (1969) co-director John Douglas, of Keja’s home birth, with friends around, like a sacred 1960s ritual. (There is another account of this event in the film Keja has made with Stephen Dwoskin, I’ll Be Your Eyes, You’ll Be Mine .) Then five shots of Keja, mostly her passport photos, quickly tracing her growth into young adulthood. Now the ambient sound of Vietnam returns, and we pass to many representational images of Ho Chi Minh: photos, statues, a monument-building which carries his name in stone. In these images, we now notice one thing above all: the sandals. Sandals everywhere, like an icon, or a talisman. There is a shot of a cloud – like a beautiful pillow shot for reflection amidst all this ‘speed of thought’ – and then we are watching (in ever-closer detail) the labour of a shoemaker producing a sandal. We pass to a woman (unidentified, of course) sitting serenely by a bridge – she is wearing sandals – and then to the lattice work of the bridge, the feet upon it, the train that passes … and already we are deep into a new network of visual, sonic and conceptual associations.
Robert Kramer – one of cinema’s greatest essayists, alongside Chris Marker, Joris Ivens, Johan van der Keuken, Jean-Pierre Gorin ..
732MB | 1h 24mn | 704×480 | avi
Language:French, English, Vietnamese