Defined by Thierry Knauff as a purely cinematic “moment of grace” (during his introductory remarks on the films being presented), Gbanga-Tita was initially shot as footage for his ethnographic film on the Baka pygmy of the Equatorial forest in South-East Cameroon, Baka. The film consists of a single unbroken close-up shot of Lengé, a tribal Ancient and taleteller, as he engages the young people of the village in a solemn chant that recalls the tragic fate of ancient children whose lives were lost to the river in pursuit of a mythical calabash called Gbanga-Tita. At the age of 43, Lengé is the eldest member of the tribe, and the last taleteller among the indigenous people of the region. The film is a poignant glimpse of sacred tradition, ethnic legacy, and cultural extinction.
Anton Webern, 1991
Thierry Knauff’s impressionistic and emotionally lucid film, Anton Webern is a poetic and allusive biography of the early 20th century Austrian polyphonic composer Anton Webern. Entirely devoid of narrative dialogue, Webern’s life is representationally articulated through expressive, isolated shots of Webern’s hands: his early childhood development as a pianist, his tutelage under famed twelve-note composer Arnold Schoenberg, his abbreviated military service in World War I due to poor eyesight, his diversified work as musical conductor and German lieder composer, the loss of his beloved son during a train strafing attack in World War II, his creative persecution and political disfavor under Nazi Germany, and finally, his accidental death in exile at the hands of American occupied forces in Austria. Anton Webern is a challenging, but instinctively cohesive film on creativity, artistic passion, and the tragic consequence of turbulent history.
Wild Blue, Notes for Several Voices, 2000
Thierry Knauff’s unique and evocative filmic language of poetic imagery and sensorial polyphony is further developed in the sublime, dense, and haunting hybrid documentary composition, Wild Blue, Notes for Several Voices. An early image of a combat boot footprint and subsequent image of painted hands against the walls of an African mudhut symbolize Knauff’s theme of the destruction of natural order caused by the imprint of human intervention. By presenting a series of serene and indelible international images of everyday life against harrowing and deeply disturbing testimonies by multicultural female voices describing acts of inhumanity, atrocities, and terrorism, Knauff achieves a sense of visual texture and instinctual cadence that reflects on the dichotomous coexistence of beauty and savagery in contemporary civilization.
With the privilege of participating in a subsequent informal Q&A session with the filmmaker, I had the opportunity to ask Knauff a few related questions on the function of repeating the 35 mm film footage with subsequent, lower resolution (and often magnified) video image in the film. Knauff explained that his intent was not only to achieve compositional texture to the same image, but also to reflect on the delicate interrelation between awareness and a kind of myopia that results from being too close to the subject. As a result, Knauff presents the repeated video images as approaching an impressionistic, contextually ambiguous (the resolution systematically degraded in each image transfer to a different visual medium), and dissociative level of recognition. In illustrating the indefinable balance between spectator and participant, Knauff further poses an important and socially relevant question on the role (or complicity) of media in perpetuating violence through the repetition of the innately disturbing images.
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