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Johan van der Keuken


June 18, 2008

The Way South, 1980-81

verslesud.gifThe coronation of Queen Beatrix on the eve of May Day in 1980 provides a salient point of departure for Johan van der Keuken's The Way South, a cultural interrogation into the intertwined sociopolitical landscape of immigration, dislocation, underprivilege, and class division. Continuing on the prevailing theme of economic disparity between the continental north and south (in such essay films as Diary, The White Castle, and the The New Ice Age), van der Keuken encounters his first destination within a short distance from his home in Amsterdam, where a unused office building on Kinker Street has been converted to a communal squat by activists (who see their action as a pragmatic solution to the affordable housing shortage by making use of existing real estate that would otherwise remain unoccupied). Facing an imminent siege by riot police to force their eviction, the squatters discuss the logistics of their staged resistance, from rounding up volunteers for round the clock sentry duty to guard the main entrance, to installing reinforcing screens in order to thwart a surprise intrusion from unsecured windows. Intercutting a shot of the activists protesting in the street with footage of a public rally celebrating the country's liberation in 1945, van der Keuken presents the activists' defiant expression of freedom within the irony of self-imprisonment that reveals their idealistic act of resistance.

Van der Keuken captures a similar image of imposed occupation at a nearby church, where a group of Moroccan migrant workers have assembled to seek refuge while awaiting their deportation, having lost their jobs as a result of stricter guidelines governing immigrant labor (one that also levies the restrictive requirement of having continuous employment under a single employer as a means of providing a loophole to deny access to social services). Spending a final night at the church before their expulsion, the immigrants sleep in communal beds under panels depicting the Stations of the Cross, implicitly linking the sorrow, isolation, and sacrifice that also mark their uncertain plight.

The problem of assimilation is also implied in the profile of Goutte d'or in Paris, the oldest immigrant community in Europe, where the idea of impermanence and transition embodied in the names of boarding houses such as Hotel du Progrés collides with the reality of a fourth and fifth generation ethnic African population continuing to reside within the same community (a social immobility that is also reinforced in the portrait of a construction worker and his wife who, despite having lived in France for over 45 years, are still considered immigrants). Focusing on the everyday routine of Ali, a disabled former car factory worker who has been taking clerical correspondence courses in order to find a new way to make a living after his accident, van der Keuken reveals the intrinsic racism that continues to exist behind the ideal of social inclusion, where a constant police presence can be seen from his apartment window, and he is compelled to carry his disability and residency papers at all times in case of "random" identity checks.

The myth of post-colonial integration revealed by the experiences of Goutte d'or's residents also resurfaces in Rome, where an octogenarian widow, Nonna Rosa - the daughter of an Italian father and Eritrean mother - talks about her transient life between Eritrea, her homeland, and Italy, her country of citizenship. Displaced by fascism, racism, British territorial expulsion, apartheid, decolonization, and finally, Ethiopia's annexation of Eritrea in 1962, Nonna Rosa's life has been marked by perpetual exile, struggling to bridge the two cultures of her identity only to belong to neither.

In the village of Calabria in Locri, a Catholic priest, Father Natale, exposes a different kind of institutionalized oppression, defying the thinly veiled threats of a mafia don who lords over the small town with the silent complicity of the local church. Establishing a clothing factory cooperative to provide jobs for the poor (and stave off the lure of organized crime), Father Natale sees a correlation between the church's increasing inability to attract young men into the priesthood and its perceived culture of corruption. Concluding the chapter with a montage of gravestones from villagers who were killed by the mafia, van der Keuken wryly reinforces the macabre connection between the church and organized crime through the mutual commerce of death, and the tragic dignity of ennobled resistance.

The moral cost of the illusive pursuit of wealth is similarly reflected during the observance of the Feast of Sacrifice in Cairo, where a family's financial ability to provide sacrificial food itself becomes a status symbol. Offering alms to the poor - who are often found living inside family vaults (connected the parallel image of the Kinker Street squatters) - in exchange for prayers for the souls of lost loved ones, van der Keuken illustrates the conflation of economy and spirituality in the meaning of sacrifice. Framed against the television broadcast of an imam preaching against the perils of following "desires" that is ironically being shown simultaneously over multiple televisions at a shop window display, the imam's call for solidarity paradoxically reflects the self-inflicted fragmentation of society as well (a man-made division that is also symbolized by a prefiguring shot of pedestrians cutting through un-reinforced sidewalk barricades in lieu of crossing at street corners). Concluding with an incisive, tongue-in-cheek montage of a manually operated waterwheel (that evokes a recurring image of Sisyphean ritual), peanut farmers (harvesting to the radio broadcast news of the U.S. presidential race between Jimmy Carter and Ronald Reagan), brick loaders (a metaphor for Cairo's economic transformation literally being carried on the backs of workers), and repeated shots of graffiti that alternately read "No Future" and "Carry On", van der Keuken's expressed desire to touch reality also suggests a quixotic quest to transcend the bounds between the figurative north and south, to dismantle the artificial notions of privilege and exclusion, and consequently, find the root of our common humanity.

Posted by acquarello on Jun 18, 2008 | | Filed under 2008, Johan van der Keuken


March 25, 2008

Springtime: Three Portraits, 1976

springtime.gifA muted, yet provocative composition on the changing face of the labor movement - or more appropriately, its immobility - in Western Europe in the 1970s, Johan van der Keuken's Springtime: Three Portraits articulates the struggle of the working class under the protracted climate of an austere, stagnant global economy (stemming in part from the OPEC oil crisis) and industrial recession through first person testimonies and quotidian observations of society's increasingly fragile and economically vulnerable middle class. This sense of work time as stasis is prefigured in the opening shot of an impressive wall clock in the suburban home of unemployed garment factory foreman, Joop Uchtman in Den Helder who, despite his productive working relationship with the factory seamstresses under his supervision, was laid off during company downsizing, as local industries sought to shrink their higher waged domestic workforce in favor of overseas outsourcing as a means of reducing operational costs and retaining global competitiveness. Threading through Uchtman's alternately expressed pride at his work (and implied humiliation at having to become dependent on the state and his wife) and anxiety over the repercussions of his inability to find a new job on his young family, with his all too familiar daily routine of reporting to the labor office in person to confirm that he has not secured a job and is eligible to receive unemployment benefits, and seeking advice from a friend on the merits - and illusion - of enrolling in state-sponsored vocational retraining, the recurring image of the clock becomes, not only a metaphor for the bureaucratic rituals of his vain search to find a job, but also reminder of his expiring state-assisted benefits, the dream of a comfortable middle class life being slowly swept away with the swinging of the pendulum.

In Frankfurt, the intersection between past and present, history and memory is embodied in the establishing shot of social activist and former teacher, Doris Schwert listening to a reel tape recording of her father's wartime testimony as a partisan rebel and political prisoner who fought against the Fascists in Germany and Spain in the 1930s and 40s. Instilled with her father's socialist ideals of solidarity and worker empowerment, Schwert's student radicalism and subsequent political engagement as a young teacher had drawn increasing concern from school administrators and West German officials who saw her ties to the communist party as tantamount to an act of ideological sabotage in the waging of the Cold War. Contrasting the images of protest graffiti demanding the reinstatement of the blacklisted, left-leaning teachers at her former school with recruitment posters tacked near empty classrooms that paradoxically tout equal opportunity to job seekers even with such insidious former affiliations as the Nazi party and wartime service in the SS, van der Keuken presents the idea of work time as historical recursion, where lessons from the past are whitewashed and reinvented to conform to the sociopolitical and economic expediencies of an amnesic present, a sobering reality that is punctuated by the chapter's concluding, intercutting shot of a confectionery store window display that is lined with premium chocolate Easter baskets and archival footage of a postwar Frankfurt street in ruins, the metaphoric resurrection of a national soul, fueled not by moral enlightenment, but exploitation and consumerism.

The near wordless Amsterdam closing chapter chronicles a day in the work life of metal worker, Jan Van Haagen, from his early morning suburban commute on his bicycle, to the bellowing of a factory horn that signals the official start of the work day (a sound akin to an air raid signal that also recalls the image of wartime Europe introduced in the Frankfurt chapter), to the union-synchronized meal break, to a passing anecdote of a senior co-worker's health problems that led to an early death after refusing to use an exhaust hood during welding operations (in favor of the company's earlier policy of instituting milk breaks as a means of bolstering employee health after working with hazardous materials), to the closing of the workshop in the afternoon. As in the Den Helder chapter, the clock becomes a recurring motif, marking through the workers' prescribed labor and break schedule with the monotonous ritual of fabrication and assembly. Framed against the image of a constantly turning exhaust vent on the facing wall of the building, the juxtaposition between the factory clock and the exhaust fan illustrates the idea of work time as a cultivated environment for social as well as technological progress, a humanization of industrial production.

Posted by acquarello on Mar 25, 2008 | | Filed under 2008, Johan van der Keuken


July 16, 2006

I ♥ $ / I Love Dollar, 1986

ilovedollar.gifFilmed in 1984-85 in an era of Reaganomics, a spiraling U.S. national debt, an unresolved energy crisis, a politically stabilizing Brazilian recession, and an unprecedented Asian high tech economic boom led by Hong Kong, Johan van der Keuken's I Love Dollar is an ingeniously conceived, cohesively organic, and provocative exposition into the circulation and financial mechanisms of money in modern civilization and its wide ranging social and geopolitical repercussions. Incisively opening to the sound of a jaunty, Tin Pan Alley-styled, synthesized piano melody (that recalls a more somber version of Abba's Money, Money, Money) juxtaposed against the curiously distorted image of a funhouse mirror-like reflection from the entrance of a commercial building, this introductory image of highly polished and transfixing, but visually deceptive urban financial institutions is immediately upended by the incongruous - and seemingly unrelated - shot of a bustling park (perhaps somewhere in South America) as a group of bystanders congregate around a dice-rolling betting table. A subsequent shot of a stock exchange trading room in Amsterdam provides the intrinsic correlation between the disparate images of recreation and work, poverty and privilege, as a commodities broker attempts to explain to a client on the telephone the increased risk and relative volatility of speculative investment associated with the commodities trading of precious metals.

Inasmuch as van der Keuken seeks to collapse the implicit class-based connotative shell game by redefining the underlying idea of stock investment as an act of gambling (a democratization that is subsequently represented by the high society sport of derby horse racing in then-British colony Hong Kong in which both thoroughbred owners and off-track betting agents represent the same potential for financial gain based on a calculated, yet essentially chance-based system), so too is the concept of investment recontextualized, not solely in terms of financial seeding and funneling of capital, but also in terms of personal commitment and dedication to communal projects. Switching locations to the (then) slums of Alphabet City on the Lower East Side of Manhattan (in a jarring contrast in economic conditions that is punctuated by a playfully sinister, otherworldly music that accompanies the shot of a pair of working class young men - the film's interview subjects and first hand witnesses to the urban blight - as they drive past the desolation and ruins of a seemingly alien urban landscape): first, a first-generation Puerto Rican immigrant and business student speaking from the kitchen of his hard-working mother's quaint neighborhood cafeteria as he explains his entrepreneurial goal to expand the reach of his mother's ethnic cooking into the more affluent clientele of Fifth Avenue by studying the mechanism of high finance while continuing to support the community by maintaining their original store as a reminder of their economic and social roots; then subsequently, a pair of working class homesteaders renovating a derelict, burned down building on Avenue C who express their frustrated attempts to petition City Hall to be issued a title grant to their homesteaded property and the constant fear of dispossession that inevitably accompanies the process of gentrification. Culminating with a radio-prompted, impromptu fundraising gathering in front of the cafeteria to raise money for paralyzed children in Puerto Rico, these marginalized communities subvert the notion of abstract consequences created by the short term goals of a manipulated, virtual money flow - a sentiment articulated by a Dutch commodities broker who acknowledges the international repercussions of the industry, but nevertheless, feels disconnected from its collateral effects (a figurative turning of a blind eye that is subsequently reinforced in the interstitial shot of a blind street vendor hawking pencils in the street) - by humanizing the face of personal investment and stakeholder in the building and nurturing of communities.

A subsequent pillow shot of the now iconic image of the World Trade Center (that punctuates a personable and motivated young woman's rendition of I'm Always Chasing Rainbows as a sardonic commentary on her demoralizing, catch-22 limbo to better herself: unable to get a job to further her education without work experience, and unable to get work experience without a job) also serves as an incisive symbol for the correlation between artificially created perturbations within the international stock markets of industrialized countries as a means of manipulating domestic growth and the imbalanced economies of developing nations. At the core of the hypothesis is an American analyst's examination of the concept of supply side economics that has become the framework for fiscally conservative governments - and in particular, Ronald Reagan's administration - that favors a less intrusive government in the stimulation of the economy, even as it seeks to implement tax cuts for businesses as a means of generating an eventual "trickle down" benefit to the local economy. Contrasted against the modern-day reality of a mammoth and unprecedented national debt caused by systematic deficit spending (that reached the trillion dollar milestone for the first time during the Reagan administration), the concept not only underlies the common practice of buying stocks on margin, but also encapsulates the inextricable disparity of underdeveloped countries in the arena of world trade (a miasmic, figurative deal with the devil that van der Keuken wryly alludes through the repeating images of revolving glass doors bearing the inopportune address of '666'), as export revenues are diverted towards interest payments to international debt holders and not re-invested into the national economy to foster sustained growth. Moreover, the idea of debt as a socially accepted, virtual generator of money is also presented as an ingrained aspect of American culture, enabled by a massive credit industry that generates income from the interminable payment of interest (while the amount of debt remains unchanged), and behaviorally reinforced by a dysfunctional government seeking to evade the responsibility for - and the catastrophic repercussions of - an inevitable national economic reckoning.

After establishing the interrelation between industrialized economies - and in particular, Western economies - and the stagnation of third world countries, van der Keuken then sets his sights towards Switzerland in order to examine the traditional (and at times, reprehensible) centrality of Swiss financial institutions in the conduct of international economic affairs. Correlating the Protestant Reformation (by way of John Calvin's theological work in Geneva) and the origins of capitalism through the converging ideal of a Puritan work ethic, the country's iconic reputation as the epicenter of international finance provides an archetypal framework for the very concept of virtually created wealth, illustrating the country's economic role as an archaic, but ingrained middleman gateway - in a complex financial network that resembles what van der Keuken describes as a "spider web" - for channeling (or perhaps, laundering) money to be reinvested into other parts of the world. It is interesting note that by invoking Calvin, van der Keuken also opens the door to the specter of colonialism though the settlement of Calvinist Boers in South Africa and, in the process, indirectly evokes its legacy of systematic exploitation of natural and human resources that has also contributed to the continued economic disparity of post-colonial, emerging nations in the world market. Concluding with a shot of a desolate outdoor farmer's market at sunset juxtaposed against the sound of an audio broadcast news of the European currency markets' collective decision to actively adjust the inflated value of the U.S. dollar against their respective currencies, with inaudible - and appropriately indeterminate - consequences for third world nations, the quotidian image of empty vendor stands in the process of disassembly serves as a metaphoric call to arms to dismantle the intrusive, artificially imposed financial structures created under the archaic illusion of a standardized, world trade free market economy that continues to foster a system of inequitable and disproportionate economic barriers, perpetuate marginalization, and engender inhumanity.

Posted by acquarello on Jul 16, 2006 | | Comments (3) | Filed under 2006, Johan van der Keuken


June 3, 2006

Brass Unbound, 1993

brass.gifJohan van der Keuken's sublime and exhilarating riff on the city symphony and musical documentary, Brass Unbound is a thoughtful, infectiously engaging, and complexly resonant exposition on the transformative evolution of the ceremonial brass band throughout post-colonial societies from tools of enslavement and imperialism, to instruments of cultural celebration and personal expression. The film ingeniously opens to a long shot of a Nepalese man briskly traversing the hills of a rural village with a sewing machine curiously slung across his back on his way to a cottage factory where a handful of other tailors have already taken their respective corners on the dirt floor and are busily toiling at their monotonous craft, the monotonic cadence of the rattle and hum of sewing machines increasingly masked by the rhythmic sound of a tinny folk music emanating overhead. A seamless vertical tracking shot places the camera in seeming levitation towards the second floor where an ensemble of brass and woodwind musicians rehearses. A second cutaway to the city visually connects the second floor folk musicians with a second brass band as a musician practices in a cramped, underlit room above an opened family home, where an overhanging billboard advertises the services of the Hansilo modern light music brass band. This metaphoric, introductory image of ascension - if not transcendence - through music would subsequently be articulated by an unnamed Nepalese musician (and unofficial band manager) as he traces the evolutionary history of the ceremonial brass band in his native country, where the first Rana, Jung Bahadur, having journeyed to Europe to forge an alliance with the British Empire in order to secure his family's dynastic, regional autonomy after the conquest of India during the nineteenth century, sought to elevate his national stature by returning home in 1850 with several modern brass and woodwind instruments in order to integrate the sound of their impressive, bright harmonies into the pomp and circumstance of his official ceremonies. Born to a lower caste often relegated to an ancestral vocation as tailors, the musician perceives the Rana's introduction of the novel instruments to Nepal, not as a means of currying favor from neighboring foreign colonists, but rather, as a transformative blessing that indirectly elevated the very social position of his entire caste, as the responsibility for musicianship of the new, western instruments - and therefore, the entrance and visibility into the Rana's court and privileged society - fell within the scope of traditionally accepted professions associated with his caste.

The notion of the brass band as accompanists through all the existential and spiritual ceremonies - providing the musical refrain to the familiar rites of passage of an eternal natural cycle - carries through to the interconnected image of social rituals, as a brass band hired to provide entertainment for a wedding ceremony and subsequently, devotional accompaniment for a Hindu pilgrimage in Nepal is paralleled to the sound of an elegiac prelude to a chorus during a Surinamese funeral service, a retired musician recalling the unfamiliar customs of the Dutch-introduced formal soirées of his youth in Minahassa, Indonesia, and in Ghana, to a ceremonial seafaring initiation at a coastal village. At each juncture, the idea of a metaphoric, transcendental journey is traced back to the historical context of the physical voyage rooted in colonialism, a theme that is reinforced in the narrator's statement as the camera surveys the landscape of post-colonial Suriname: "In the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, ten million people were carried over the ocean in wooden ships. They were taken as slaves from the west coast of Africa to work in the plantations of colonies in the New World. The churches brought them God's Word, and, somewhat later, God's instruments."

A more explicit manifestation of the European wind instruments as a means of colonialist subjugation is directly correlated to the continued popularity of the "spirits" musicians in modern-day Suriname, even as roughly half of the indigenous population have converted to Christianity. Originating from the performance of the Winti ceremony in order to drive away the evil spirits from possessed bodies, the ritual became a common practice on colonial plantations as a means of exerting control over the hearts and minds (and souls) of rebellious, willful, troublesome slaves. It is through this recurring theme of brass band music as an integrated living soundtrack for the human condition that the idiosyncratic image of a bobbing, bellowing tuba drifting sinuously through the diverse architecture that line the city streets of Suriname - in all the splendor of colonial privilege and dilapidation of exploited, abject poverty - can be seen as a metaphor for the wind instruments' integration (and finally, assimilation) into the native traditions of colonized peoples, transformed from insidious artifacts of cultural imperialism to integral - and empowering - instruments of a cross-pollinated, yet distinctly indigenous living culture.

Posted by acquarello on Jun 03, 2006 | | Comments (3) | Filed under 2006, Johan van der Keuken


May 13, 2006

The Mask, 1989

mask.gifSet against the bicentennial commemoration of the French Revolution and the drafting of the Declaration of the Rights of Man, Johan van der Keuken's The Mask is a relevant, provocative, and bracing exposition on the contemporary social representation of the ideals of the 1789 revolution - liberty, equality, and fraternity - at a particularly transformative time in globalism and international politics when Eastern Europe was gradually emerging from the crumbling economy of a disintegrating Soviet bloc, and thus liberating itself from a state of "equality without freedom", and the nascent steps towards the formation of a European economic union were being vigorously debated through the media by political leaders (most notably, right-wing ultranationalist Jean-Marie Le Pen's racially inflammatory comments) seeking to sway public sentiment towards their cause on such confrontational issues as immigration and national identity, financial independence and common market leverage. The film opens to an image of understated, but trenchant irony as a pair of street musicians from Madagascar attempts to engage the captive (and largely disinterested) commuters into their guitar and saxophone performance by equating the sentiment expressed in their native folk song with the hopeful ideals of the revolution. The estranged image of these marginalized, panhandling immigrants searching for a receptive audience as they vainly chase their illusory dreams of a better life in the transitory platforms of an adoptive promised land is brought closer to the consciousness of the common man - in this case, the native Frenchman - through an equally incisive isolated shot of van der Keuken's seemingly atypical subject, a genial and unassuming 23 year old part-time waiter named Philippe, traveling in the opposite direction of a crowd on a set of escalators at a train station.

Comely, free from substance abuse, articulate, and presentably dressed in a dark, neutral colored suit, Philippe defies the stereotype of a vagrant. Uprooted from a fairly stable home life by the untimely death of his long ailing mother, as well as an unfortunate series of self-admitted youthful indiscretions (which included such rash, but seemingly innocuous decisions as resigning from a job without immediate prospects for a new one on hand), Philippe now walks aimlessly throughout the city to pass the long, empty hours on an all-too familiar routine (an evicted immigrant couple at a social services office similarly articulate this round the clock ambulatory ritual as a means of passing time) that includes stowing away in the waiting areas of train stations while dodging patrol officers making their rounds on the nights when he is unable to secure a bed space at the overfilled Salvation Army. His ambition, he muses, is to have a wardrobe of finely tailored suits with which he could present himself during job interviews and professional meetings that would serve as a mask of trustworthiness and dependability and conceal his instability.

As celebrations for the bicentennial reach a crescendo, Philippe, too, gets caught up in the politics of the moment, spending time with a pair of homeless, alcoholic military veterans who bristle at François Mitterand's public gesture of extolling the virtues of a national open immigration policy (arguing instead that such liberal immigration embraced by Mitterand robs the native French citizens from opportunities and social services), even as they equate Le Pen's heavy-handedness with the brutality of World War II death squads. However, van der Keuken preempts their alcohol-fueled specious argument (a generalization subsequently echoed by Philippe) with earlier scenes of struggling musicians and evicted immigrant families to create a pervasive atmosphere, not of the insidious nature of racism, but of the intrinsic psychology of disenfranchisement and marginalization, where fears of personal failure and human frailty are perverted into scapegoat absolutions of xenophobia and sense of unmerited, entitled privilege that inevitably lead to inertia and complacency. It is within these underlying paradoxes of homelessness and freedom, social status and equality, racism and fraternity that van der Keuken presents, not only an incisive portrait of the untenability of revolutionary ideals, but also a pensive, everyman cautionary tale on the alienating, self-defeating cycle of poverty, dependence, and social entrapment.

Posted by acquarello on May 13, 2006 | | Filed under 2006, Johan van der Keuken


April 26, 2006

The Eye Above the Well, 1988

eye_well.gifOn the surface, photographer turned filmmaker Johan van der Keuken's selection of an ancient Indian folktale narration that opens and concludes The Eye Above the Well is a curious one. Recounting the tale of a man suspended precariously from a tree branch above a snake-infested dried-up well who, in moments before an inescapable, horrific death, nevertheless reaches to taste a drop of honey on the tip of a blade of grass near the well, the tale seems ideally suited to a facile interpretation of third world allegory for capturing moments of grace and humble beauty in the face of poverty, hardship, and inevitable death. However, perhaps what is intrinsically significant about the inclusion of the folktale is not found in the content of the parable, but rather, in its context - in the seeming incongruity of its existential orality within a visual and representational ethnographic cultural survey. Indeed, inasmuch as van der Keuken captures the travails and quotidian rituals of life within the rural and urban communities of Kerala near the end of the twentieth century without the overt intrusion of narrated (first world) perspective, he also chronicles the process of passage, continuity, commutation, and transference - creating a snapshot, not only of a captured moment, but also the reinforcing fragments of a future memory in an interrelated stream of collective consciousness.

Acutely aware that each superseding film frame is a figurative erasure of the previous one, van der Keuken's gaze transcends that of passive observation or ubiquitous surveillance and instead, becomes a chronicle of the ephemeral - a theme that is reinforced in the establishing shots of the village through the veil of diaphanous smoke that suffuses the landscape. It is, therefore, perhaps not surprising that van der Keuken's sublime, extended traveling shot through the rural village as a moneylender embarks on his daily collection route visually prefigures the pervasive sense of displacement and migration of Chantal Akerman's D'Est and rootlessness of Peter Mettler's Gambling, Gods and LSD, where the organic happenstance nature of the passing images serve as a metaphor for existential transience. In contrast to fluidity of camera movement implemented in the rural sequences, the city is depicted through a quick cut montage that reflects the chaos of urban life (in a sequence that also prefigures the baroque visual strategy of Mark Lapore's collage film, Kolkata). In his photography of the disparate landscapes, van der Keuken's gaze lies, not in the details of the captured image, but in the intrinsic, subconscious destruction of that image within the sequentiality (and manipulation) of the film itself - the transformation from the physical (object) to the cognitive (memory).

In an early sequence, the image of a martial arts instructor overseeing his students' flexibility exercises and kata-like drills illustrates the social process of imparting knowledge between elder and protégé, a passing of legacy that is reinforced in a subsequent shot of the middle-aged instructor and his student formally posed in the foreground of a wall bearing the portrait of the instructor as a young man and his own teacher. A series of subsequent encounters - a village schoolteacher, a spiritual cantor, and a Kathakali instructor - evoke the presaging image of the complex choreography of martial arts exercises to illustrate the repetition innate in the process of enlightened ritual. In another sequence, a moneylender traveling from village to village to collect weekly installment payments on outstanding loans represents the most immediately identifiable form of transference - financial transaction - as money changes hands through a succession of craftsmen, teachers, and shop owners, and is used to finance a loan for another local merchant. It is interesting to note that this commodification of social interaction is subsequently connected to the shot of a bicycle messenger transporting film cans to the local movie house when the moneylender visits the projectionist to collect payment on his debt. It is through this seeming chance encounter that van der Keuken illustrates the sublimative process of enlightenment and transference - the intersection between the physical (ritual) and the ephemeral (idea) through the intrinsic duality of film as both a material object and fictional, intangible, projected image.

Posted by acquarello on Apr 26, 2006 | | Comments (6) | Filed under 2006, Johan van der Keuken