Friday, June 3, 2011

Over Your Cities Grass Will Grow

OVER YOUR CITIES GRASS WILL GROW – DigiBeta video         B                     
Great Britain  Holland  France  (105 mi)  2010  ‘Scope  d:  Sophie Fiennes

In the sweat of thy face shalt thou eat bread, till thou return unto the ground; for out of it wast thou taken: for dust thou art, and unto dust shalt thou return.                             
—Genesis 3:19

Sometimes you wonder how certain artists get their funding, as there is certainly an unequal distribution of the wealth, especially considering the massive size of some of their works, something that would require a substantial piece of Fort Knox.  Others create art from next to nothing, from discarded trash, odd pieces of junk, or everyday ordinary objects.  This film is about a large scale conceptual artist, German Anselm Kiefer, who studied under controversial artist Joseph Beuys in Düsseldorf, a member of the Nazi youth that participated in book burnings, who joined the German Luftwaffe during the war.  Kiefer purchased just under 100 acres of land near Barjac in the south of France ten years ago, a former industrial and manufacturing district, the site of a deteriorating silk factory.  Using bulldozers and construction material, he has spent the last decade building an immense installation known as a Gesamtkunstwerk, an industrial landscape based on his conception of the end of the world, where only the demolished ruins of a former civilization remain standing, much of which resembles the destroyed rubble from an earthquake, broken glass lying all around, concrete cinder blocks uprooted with the wires sticking out, crumbled to the earth surrounded by rocks and gravel and dust, but all around it wild grass grows, leaving the effect of “over your cities grass will grow.”

The film is divided into three sections, where the first and last are completely wordless, where the director uses slow moving pans in and around the artist’s work, which also includes the dug out excavation of the world below the buildings, much of which resembles a cave.  In fact, viewers of Herzog’s CAVE OF FORGOTTEN DREAMS (2010) will be reminded of this slowly moving exploratory style, one which brilliantly contrasts darkness and light, but rather than focus on actual prehistoric cave art that is some 35,000 years old, this film projects some futuristic apocalyptic design where man’s imprint has been left behind, still standing like a piece of petrified wood, where the hauntingly quiet emptiness of the partially demolished structures resemble the grown over remains of a WW II German concentration camp, where the gently swaying grasses in the wind betray the violent, tortuous atrocities that took place on these grounds.  Accompanied by the surreal and otherworldly music of Jewish composer György Ligeti, familiar for his use in Kubrick’s 2001: A SPACE ODYSSEY (1968), notably the composer used during the Monolith sequences, this film takes us on another journey, one also distinguished by the arduous length and endurance of Homer’s Odyssey, a mythical journey that reflects upon mankind's heroic strength and bravery, where he had to use great wisdom and cunning to survive.

In the middle section, we see Kiefer at work with several helpers in a giant indoor industrial art studio, where thematically he makes great use of fire, preferring to use the burnt remains of various sized books, many of which are gigantic, hovering above or beside wall-sized paintings that resemble decay and destruction, like portraits of trees standing in dark forests that have been covered in ashes before blowing the ashes away like dried leaves, leaving behind a composition that reflects permanent decay and decomposition, a work that will continue to decompose over time.  Kiefer is interviewed by German journalist Klaus Dermutz in a local library, discussing the origins of his work and his sources of inspiration.  He describes childhood as a period in one’s life filled with moments of boredom, describing a philosophical principle from Heidegger that suggests only when humans have idle time filled with boredom do they begin to reflect upon their lives and their existence in the universe.  As if on cue, after about a 20-minute in depth interview of utter seriousness without an ounce of humor, what appears to be his son tip-toes behind him, as if he’s been severely reprimanded in the past not to disturb his father.  But, of course, as he’s still a kid, he causes a noticeable disruption that hilariously makes his father lose his concentration. 

When assembling the various large scale objects that require the use of a crane, Kiefer tyrannically barks out instructions to his team to try this or do that, where he is incessantly ordering other people around while he visually observes the creative process, trying to duplicate in reality what he’s only seen in his imagination.  His method of producing massive sized artworks that reflect a world in chaos has a precise order to it during the construction stage.  While the entire area becomes part of his canvas, including the trees and the natural grounds between the constructed art objects, one never sees any viewers walking the grounds, as it’s all in the construction stage.  A few viewers in the audience afterwards were impressed enough by the film that they suggested a desire to go to visit the site of Barjac, but the intention of the film, like Herzog’s cave footage, is to immerse the audience in the entirety of the work, to give them the hypnotic feeling of being there, where the people onscreen go away and leave the viewers alone as the camera slowly inspects each artwork with a perceptual eye, akin to Tarkovsky’s shift of focus to a close examination of a painting at the end of ANDREI RUBLEV (1966).  This ponderous, quietly reflective cinematic method adds a layer of depth and introspection that wouldn’t otherwise be there.  Kiefer claims The Bible is filled with multiple references about the destruction of the world, suggesting his reproduced apocalyptic landscape is meant to reflect both the origins and the end of the world, where all that’s left is viewed in the haunting and solemn silence of the end of the human race.  The film adds a respectful and funereal tone, mournful and elegiac, where all thoughts about what constitutes the essence of the human soul are notable by their absence. 

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