OnFilm Shorts by Karpo Godina and Davorin Marc

The University of Rochester OnFilm group organized a screening of short films by Karpo Godina and Davorin Marc. I was very pleased to notice that the group was still vibrant despite having a complete (or nearly complete) change of guard.

Anyway, the Dryden's new film programmer, Jurij Meden, did an excellent job giving context to each of the five six films. Meden originates from Yugoslavia along with Godina, and he spent quite a while studying film in Marc's home country of Slovenia.

First up were two films from Karpo Godina. In the early 1970s he was interested in filming motion from a fixed camera position. His films of this era are fast-paced 8mm films. They screened Gratinirani Mozak Pupilije Ferkeverk (The gratinated brains of Pupilija Ferkeverk, Karpo Godina, Yugoslavia, 1970, 15 mins, Color, 35mm) first—a very odd film in which five people dance around abandoned natural salt evaporation ponds (I guess). (As a side note, I was scribbling notes into my Palm Pilot [Samsung Galaxy Player] but I couldn't transcribe fast enough so all I got was "Graduated brains of… P… Browned brains?" Thankfully, an obscure blog post led me to the complete title posted at The Northwest Film Forum; and that obscure blog has the translated title cards and scenes from this film.) Anyway, Meden said—I'm fairly certain this is the gist of his wild anecdote—the filmmaker and theater troupe Pupilije Ferkeverk went there and ingested a lot of drugs, filmed for a week, and had no recollection of the events save for the exposed film. It was produced by then-generous funding from the communist state, but was an indictment of the obedience-centric government, ultimately concluding that the only thing to do is to take LSD.

A year later, Godina produced 14441 kvadrat (About the Art of Love or a Film with 14441 Frames, Karpo Godina, Yugoslavia 1972, 11 min., 16mm). This time funded through the military, it was destined to be a propaganda film to glorify the army and military service. Godina was assigned an artificial rank to command a division of troops, alone, in a remote area. He made a rather humorous film centered on a folk song about having the men and women so close but never actually together. The centerpiece is the beautiful rolling hills with scattered soldiers running about in formations (and notably never using a weapon). Godina's recollection was that it was nothing like what they expected, so they destroyed all but one print which he personally smuggled out. However, Meden met with the army a few years back, and an aging officer told him revealed they kept the negatives—"we knew he was a national treasure!"

Davorin Marc was considerably different. He lives in a small fishing village and created over 200 films in his spare time. According to Meden, every single one is a completely different experimental style. Having little contact with the outside world, he thought what he was doing was entirely new and unique although worldwide, others had used similar techniques much earlier. First up was Ugrizni me. Ze enkrat (Bite Me. Once Already, Davorin Marc, Yugoslavia, 1978/80, 1:35 mins, Silent, Color, Super 8mm). It is a cameraless film where Marc bit the 8mm film stock. His unique biological imprint flutters by on the screen and it's actually quite fascinating.

Next was Ej klanje (Slaughter Ahoy, Davorin Marc, Yugoslavia, 1981, 16 mins @ 18 fps, Silent with separate sound on CD, Color, Super 8mm). In this, he uses several fixed-camera shots to show the slaughter (perhaps) and butchering of an animal (a pig, I surmised) as well as his own soundtrack. We watched the sole original copy which starts showing only the boots of a few people at the legs of a small table—the blood-slicked ground reveals ghostly reflections of people working at the table. A second shot reveals the splitting of the animal's head with a hatchet to retrieve its tongue and brain.

The official final film was Paura in città (1181 dni pozneje ali vonj po podganah) (Fear In The City (1181 Days Later or Smell of Rats), Davorin Marc, Yugoslavia, 1984, 21 mins, Color, Super 8mm transferred to 35mm). (I had managed to transcribe Parada on città? Fear of rats? which was enough to stumble on another Northwest Film Forum post.) It's split into two parts: the first being a sort-of "video diary" and the second a sort of "found footage." Both are filmed with a quick succession between starts and stops (presumably by the remote control you can see Marc holding in some shots) which gives the whole thing a fantastic frenetic pace with its quasi-timelapse technique, enhanced by Marc's staccato soundtrack. And since there was no footage to be found, Marc resorted to filming the television, sometimes adding motion to the quasi-timelapse technique. This was a 35mm restoration from the 8mm originals and it looked fantastic.

The unofficial final film was one Marc gave Meden recently. If I remember correctly, while "Fear In The City" was being restored, they sent samples of the 35mm stock to Marc to review. Marc sliced the film into strips the same width as 8mm film, creating Perf form me for Meden. As he noted, the projector will likely add sprocket holes and the film will be destroyed while playing, perhaps destroying the projector as well. As such, it was screened on a "less valuable" projector and the film just moved slowly through the projector, melting as it went through, and we never did arrive at a scene containing any images.

Interestingly, the American promise was always that filmmakers should leave their communist countries so they could make films without censorship. But as often happened, those who took the offer found there were no public funds like there were under communism so—just as both filmmakers more or less stopped in about 1991 when communism fell—immigrants also could not afford to make such artistic works. The heyday of the 1960s Black Wave political films followed by the Pink Wave of the early 1970s when the government changed were both generously state-funded.

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Movies in February, 2015

  1. The Babadook at the Little, February 4: While it's not my usual style, I was inspired by the positive review by charming (and apparently relatively private—what is this guy's name?) YouTuber Horrible Reviews. It's a film about a woman, Amelia, and her son Samuel—he was born the night his father was killed in a car accident. Clearly this thoroughly disturbed Amelia, and her sudden role as a single mother didn't allow her to take necessary time-off to properly mourn, so those feelings festered within her psyche. As such, she's generally quite unhinged throughout the film and only manages to muster glimmers of normalcy. The Babadook begins in the form of a children's book that horrifies Samuel. The first half of the film is quite tense and terrifying, but the gradual physical and supernatural appearance of the Babadook character tends to seem unbelievable, and as such, tends to spoil the tension. Worst, though, is the incredibly absurd resolution. In the end, the Horrible Reviews' review mirrored my own experience pretty much perfectly—although he favors horror, I was finding the things he liked and disliked about movies seemed agreeable to me, and this first test of that impression appears to confirm that belief.
  2. A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night at the Little, February 20: Jenn was excited to see this film once it was described as a "feminist Iranian vampire Western film". It's about a woman who's a vampire trying to keep some semblance of a code-of-ethics for herself. After a little post-film discussion, I guess I could call it a "feminist Iranian vampire Western film," but only if I must shoe-horn it into categories. But I think a better way to look at it is to take your expectations of a film called "A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night"—with all its cautionary-tale baggage of helpless women—and gender-flip it so you have a powerful and complex female vampire who preys upon weak-willed men until she's surprised to find herself attracted to one of them. To me, her hesitant capitulation to that situation (and her overall resigned demeanor) seemed to show a deep understanding of the likely outcome from a long-line of past experiences that belie her youthful appearance. It's a very-well made film all around—directing, plot, acting, cinematography, sound-design, and music are all excellent. And I guess it's about a group of people who are, for the most part neither saints nor sinners, but who tend to boldly live on the sinner side of the line. And of them all, the vampire almost seems the most saintly. (And one final note: the Little's projection marred the film with terrible judder, so boo to the Little and boo to digital.)
  3. Red Hollywood at the Dryden, February 21: Having heard of Senator Joseph McCarthy's state-sponsored murders in the 1950's, I was curious to hear the "other" side. Basically this is Thom Andersen's essay highlighting the horrors and failures of the push to rid America of members of the Communist Party. It is a dense and thick film, and I was lacking two important pieces of information: what exactly is communism in that era—and in terms of "members of the Communist Party"—and how did the example film clips act as subversive messages. As such, I spent much of the film trying to articulate my questions, and then to answer them. For instance, I thought "helping people when they were out-of-luck" was a genuinely good trait, so to see it framed as communist propaganda was thoroughly puzzling. Nonetheless, I guess it ended up making me pretty sad as—my beliefs aside—it is well-known that the fleecing of the worker for the benefit of the business owner is celebrated dogma in America, and more prevalent than ever.
  4. Wild at the Cinema, February 28: Sneaking a double-feature in before the wire, there were these two films I thought looked interesting. I heard mixed but overall good things about Wild, but I was immediately put off. As soon as it started, I came up with this synopsis: "a moron tries to walk the Pacific Crest Trail." We're introduced to Cheryl (Reese Witherspoon) who shows up to a hotel with a giant backpack and begins to prepare for a 1,100 mile journey. I'm admittedly an extreme planner, so when I see someone attempt something new without so much as asking a single human being for advice, or consulting a book, I'm already not with them. Thankfully, the PCT in the film is the easiest hike in the world. We're told through flashback that despite having the most caring mother in the world (Laura Dern as Bobbi), she was blindsided by some terrible personal events. So this journey is one of personal discovery that, by sheer luck, does not end in the death of the main character. Now to be frank, this is not a terrible movie, it's just that it's, well, mediocre. And since it's supposed to be realistic, the non-realistic moments are glaring. Like how can a Minnesotan not know how to deal with snow?, how are lodges along the way full of people despite an absolutely desolate trail?, or why would a trail guide fail to mention the lack of water up ahead? If you can get into the personal story and don't tend to worry about realism in a realistic movie, then yeah, this would be a very good film for you. I'm betting the book is better.
  5. Cake at the Cinema, February 28: I'm like, "okay, Jennifer Aniston as Claire, a woman in a chronic-pain support group who becomes obsessed with the suicide of a fellow member … yeah, I can get into that". Only again, the non-realisim in the realistic movie gets to me right away. Claire has some unspecified chronic pain, but it's so unspecified that the pain apparently shifts around so she can only lay down when in a car, but can easily sit for in chairs just fine, and she aches and groans in bed, but can get out of bed with only the apparent achiness of an average 45-year-old. And, like Wild, this is a personal journey story, but I will say this and spoil the movie a little: she doesn't go from a quasi-crippled curmudgeon to a happy, healthy hero, so there's that bit of realism. She does grow a bit … I guess … but it's so slow and subtle that I wonder if I wasn't simply mistaken.

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