Wednesday, April 10, 2019

The Makavejev Magic

I wrote the following text commemorating the great Dušan Makavejev for a recent retrospective and exhibition that took place in Pula, Croatia (March 27th - 29th)

The Makavejev Magic

Dušan Makavejev’s death earlier this year had the unsettling feeling of a presence slipping away that only draws attention to itself through its vanishing. Makavejev had been silent as a filmmaker for over twenty years. In departing, he took with him a significant chapter in the history of one of cinema’s most heroic eras, the cutting edge of ‘60s/’70s European filmmaking which is now fast passing from living memory. Although his name looms large over the expanse of film history he is associated with, his death was a jolting reminder that Makavejev the man had still been here all this time. 

Not that Makavejev was forgotten. Certainly not by Experimental Film Society (EFS), the small community of experimental filmmakers working in Ireland that I belong to. For several of us, Sweet Movie in particular remains a constant reference and a constant goad: its freedom, wild inventiveness and infectious sense of mischief remain seldom matched. If it is a film ‘of its time’, this label is less about packing it away in a box than seeing it as a paragon of the sort of unchained creativity that is so often lacking in today’s cinema. Yet when my EFS colleague Rouzbeh Rashidi wrote a personal response to Makavejev’s death, he chose to meditate on how time can effect even the greatest of artists’ creative work. Posted on Rouzbeh’s blog Cinema Thoughts, where he publishes his reflections on filmmaking, it considered the trajectory of Makavejev’s career in very human terms:     

Over the past few days, I have been watching Dušan Makavejev’s films and revisiting them. The radicalism, alternative approaches and thinking behind his cinema are genuinely unmatched and utterly unique. His movies from 1965 beginning with Man is Not a Bird to 1974 Sweet Movie are absolute masterpieces. Unfortunately, any other films he made beyond Sweet Movie (after a seven-year hiatus) had lost their magic and extremism. At the same time, I wonder, how can you make another personal film after a gigantic groundbreaking product like Sweet Movie? How can one filmmaker deal with such a considerable amount of creative eruption and continue making films after it? This notion also reminded me of Béla Tarr’s The Turin Horse which he has said will be his last film. So far, he hasn’t made a film since, after having a mind-blowing career from 1977 to 2011 and of course never compromised.

How long, under what mental and social conditions and for what motivations can outsider-filmmakers keep on doing work and survive at the same time? When is the right time to stop making, if ever? These questions have always been haunting me, and I still found no answers for them. History of cinema is everything and the most crucial guide for any filmmaker to comprehend (solely for themselves internally) the psychological, practical and existential aspects of filmmaking! (Rouzbeh Rashidi, 27/1/’19)

I would argue that some of the later works, Montenegro and Gorilla Bathes At Noon in particular, retain enough of the Makavejev magic to make me very glad that he did return to filmmaking. Yet Sweet Movie does mark the climax of his career. It is certainly his most extreme movie and remains controversial to this day. Only Makavejev can really know how much mental, physical and emotional energy was demanded to make it and then to deal with the reactions it provoked. When he emerged from the wilderness seven years later, it was as a gentler filmmaker. Yet extremism for its own sake is mostly worthless and there is far more to Sweet Movie than that. 

It must have taken enormous creative stamina to make a film that feels so loose and freewheeling and yet which time and again alights on an image so perfectly conceived in its strangeness and humanity that it emotionally anchors the movie. We could list the various acts of this carnival with all their sensationalist headlines from the golden penis to the seduction of children to the spectacularly scatological regressions of Otto Muehl’s commune to the incorporation of real atrocity footage. But the real wonder of this film is precisely its sense of wonder. Sweet Movie attacks every target in sight, with consumerism and communism getting equally trashed, and the lifestyle experimentation of the commune faring little better. But if we place it next to the cold despairing fury of such comparably extreme and radical films of the time as Godard’s Weekend or Pasolini’s Salo, what is most striking about it is its sense of joy. How can a film that appears so bleak and abject on paper be imbued with such warmth and compassion on screen, and ultimately feel so life affirming? Largely because Makavejev regards his characters with a delighted fascination and good humour rather than with disgust, and even the most repulsive of them is animated by a compelling life force. The animal urges that drive us can lead to destruction, especially when subjected to repression or exploitation, but they are also the only source of freedom and joy.  

More memorable than Sweet Movie’s overtly shocking images are the haunting moments in which characters are granted private and mysterious instants of dignified intimacy either with each other or simply with the camera. Moments of self-realisation like the eye contact between El Macho (Sami Frey) and Miss Canada (Carole Laure) before she symbolically completes their grotesquely interrupted coitus by breaking eggs over her head, or the childlike acceptance of death expressed by the irresistibly graceful Pierre Clementi after being stabbed for the first time. It takes a very particular sensibility to see so much love in so much horror without the intrusion of a single frame of softness or sentimentalism. Surely this is what ‘Makavejev magic’ consists of. 

With Makavejev’s passing we lost his very particular perspective on humanity, one which we need more than ever today. Even if the last two decades slipped by without being illuminated by a new Makavejev film, there was an existential comfort to be taken from knowing that this chaos of a world we live in was still being regarded by the eyes behind Sweet Movie and considered with the same mind. 

Tuesday, April 09, 2019

Residency @ Tyrone Guthrie Centre

Vicky Langan and I are on residency at the wonderful Tyrone Guthrie Centre at Annaghmakerrig in Co. Monaghan thanks to a bursary from Cork County Council. We're working on several joint and solo projects while here. Yesterday we were shooting tigers for a still under-wraps Experimental Film Society movie. Watch this space!

Sunday, March 31, 2019

FILMJAM - Upcoming Course @ The Guesthouse, Cork

A four week course in artists and experimental filmmaking taught by Maximilian Le Cain + Aoife Desmond

The Guesthouse Project Space, 10 Chapel Lane, Shandon, Cork. Mondays 7pm - 9pm, May 6th - 27th

Materialist Film / Fictional Documentary / Performance / Expanded Cinema

Price €120 ( early bird €100 before April 15th). Booking is essential as places are limited. Contact to book.

These four sessions exploring artists and experimental filmmaking are designed to immerse and inspire both experienced artists/filmmakers and beginners alike. Established practitioners Le Cain and Desmond will present contrasting perspectives and insights on each theme to stimulate a discursive mood of creative investigation. Students/peers/participants are expected to be actively engaged through sharing examples of their own work and research. This sharing will build towards the final session where everyone participates in a kaleidoscopic improvised expanded cinema style 'Filmjam'. This short and intense course is designed to both challenge and excite with a combination of critical investigation and playfulness.

MATERIALIST FILM: What is film without subject, without image? How does the structure of a film become the content? How is meaning constructed without narrative? These are some of the questions explored in this introductory session.

FICTIONAL DOCUMENTARY: Crossovers between the real and unreal, the fictional and documentary - in these in-between spaces, facts, truth and the imaginary blur and collide to create new meanings and insights.

PERFORMANCE AND FILM CROSSOVERS: An exploration of body and performance in film between live art, dance, theatre, ritual and cinema. The filmmaker as performer and/or as director. The film acting as documentation and/or as construct.

FILMJAM/EXPANDED CINEMA: The group will create a live experience of film, sound and performance using found and fabricated material. Ideas and examples from expanded cinema will be introduced as precedent and provocation.

Maximilian Le Cain is a Cork-based experimental filmmaker and writer. He often makes films with Vicky Langan and is affiliated with Experimental Film Society.

Aoife Desmond is an interdisciplinary artist who works with film, performance and other media. She also writes, lectures, curates and works collaboratively.

Monday, March 11, 2019

The Other Side of the Underneath @ Phantoscope

Jane Arden's The Other Side of the Underneath (1972) is the next film to be presented by Phantoscope, Triskel Christchurch Cinema's quarterly experimental film screening event which I programme. Almost unbelievably, it is the only British feature of the '70s to have a sole female directing credit, and what a film it is! This nightmarishly hallucinatory trip is a searing representation of Arden’s radical feminist and anti-psychiatric beliefs. A compelling, even overwhelming movie, it treads an uncomfortable line between performance and psychodrama while combining visual extravagance with punishing emotional intensity.

Sean Kaye-Smith in VERTIGO magazine discusses its reception:

Based on her own play Holocaust, which was also the name of a feminist theatre group she had formed earlier, the film caused a stir at film festivals, including the London Film Festival, around that time. Its powerful and violent imagery, which explores the mind of a ‘schizophrenic’ woman, led surrealism expert George Melly to call it ‘a most illuminating season in hell’. Arden’s film, not surprisingly, challenges the label ‘schizophrenia’ and suggests that the real issues are in society’s taboos and repressions. David Will, on BBC Radio – quoted in the 1972 London Film Festival programme – was under no doubt as to the film’s importance; he states “Jane Arden’s film The Otherside of Underneath represents a major breakthrough for the British cinema.” He goes on to show his understanding of Arden’s need for a radical aesthetic: “It is certainly not inconceivable that the ideological struggles of women’s liberation will be reflected aesthetically in a rejection of the traditional modes of cinematic expression”. Will found the film “a shattering’ experience”. 

It will screen at 6.15 on Friday, March 29th at Triskel Cinema in Cork. Screening details and tickets available here.   

The trailer New York's Spectacle Theater put together for their screening of it can be seen here.

If you want to find out more about the extraordinary film and theatre career of Jane Arden, this Quietus article by Anthony Nield is a good place to start.

Thursday, March 07, 2019

EFS @ VERTIGO, Tbilisi

Langan/Le Cain's Brine Twice Daily will feature as part of a programme of Experimental Film Society films will screening at VERTIGO arts organisation Tbilisi, Georgia on 12th of April 2019.

“VERTIGO is an arts organization in Tbilisi, Georgia focused on education and cultural activities. Since 2017, the organization has implemented the experimental educational project VERTIGO school. In 2019, VERTIGO school initiated the “un-prefix” program – educational program combining both the fields of experimental film technique and music production for film. “Un-prefix” is implemented through the support of the Georgian Ministry of Education and Culture.” More info HERE / Zakaria Kurdiani st 19, Tbilisi, Georgia, 0102

1_Raquel Times Ten By Chris O’Neill (2017) / 10mins / Ireland

This portrait of actress Raquel Nave is at once a structuralist formal exercise and an emotionally engaging meditation on memory and decay. The deterioration of a VHS image as it is copied and recopied evokes distance and a breakdown of intimacy.

2_ Homo Sapiens Project (161-170) (2013) By Rouzbeh Rashidi / 8mins / Ireland

Rashidi’s Homo Sapiens Project (HSP) is an ongoing series of personal film experiments that range from cryptic film diaries and oneiric sketches to fully polished features. Installments 161-170 link a formally aggressive repurposing of Hollywood reels with an idiosyncratic appreciation of the wonder of science fiction.

3_Olive (2019) By Michael Higgins / 11mins / Greece – Ireland

Although clearly filmed in our time, Olive uses the scratchy beauty of hand-processed celluloid to help evoke a mood of ancient ritual. A group of people gathered in the remote countryside are absorbed into frames that often resemble the hand tinted colours and decaying textures of unrestored early cinema. Cinema is made to haunt the present like a ghostly vision from the past.

4_Brine Twice Daily (2015) By Vicky Langan / Maximilian Le Cain / 20mins / Ireland

Blind Twice Daily is a film that came from the sea, from the depths, and it never truly escapes its salt-encrusted origins. A bizarre romance that is at once an absurd comedy, a horror/adventure B-movie, a cryptic home video and a fading seaside postcard stuffed into

a bottle and cast adrift on the ocean, Brine Twice Daily marks a new departure in the Langan/Le Cain filmmaking partnership.

5_The Underworld (2019) By Jann Clavadetscher / 17mins / Ireland

This hallucinatory trip through the psychedelic recesses of science fiction begins in the flickering bowels of the earth. An explorer played by Cillian Roche undergoes a bizarre mutation in which cinema itself might possibly play a part. Clavadetcsher’s gorgeous 16mm colours and dazzlingly intense editing are underscored by a characteristic lightness of touch.

6_Antler (2018) By Atoosa Pour Hosseini / 15mins / Ireland

Pour Hosseini’s work with Super-8 conjures a mysterious territory that exists between memory, subjective perception and the objective materiality of the filmed image. Antler pushes deeper into this realm, seamlessly combining archival footage of animals and reptiles in their habitats with newly filmed material of the artist and an assistant at work in a botanical garden.

Total running time: 81mins

Tuesday, February 26, 2019


In partnership with aemi and Critical Forum Dublin, Critical Forum Cork is a new initiative for 2019. It is a discussion group for artists, critics and curators who have an investment in the future of the moving image. It is a space for criticality and debate in a mutually supportive environment and in dialogue Critical Forum groups in Dublin and across the UK.

The forum will take place once every two months at the Glucksman Gallery in Cork and is supported by LUX and aemi, a platform that supports & exhibits artist and experimental moving image in Ireland. Michael Holly and I are the current moderators.

This Friday, March 1st we will have our inaugural meeting. Aoife Desmond and I will be giving the first presentations:

Aoife Desmond is a Cork based artist who works with film, performance and other media. She also writes, lectures, curates and works collaboratively.

Aoife will present a performative interaction/investigation into the work of Maya Deren, Maya Deren is well known for her experimental film works such as 'Meshes of the Afternoon' which explore a fusion of dance and film ‘choreocinema’ and continue a Surrealist interest in fragmentations of identity and the unconscious. This interaction will focus particularly on her film ’Divine Horsemen’ an atypical work edited and screened after her death that acts as a record of her immersion and ethnographic study into Voodoo dance rituals on the island of Haiti. 

Maximilian Le Cain is a Cork-based experimental filmmaker and writer. He often makes films with Vicky Langan and is affiliated with Experimental Film Society.

Max will present an introduction to the ‘cinematic parenthesis’ of Italian theatre maker and provocateur Carmelo Bene. Although hailed by Gillles Deleuze and other influential writers as a major contribution to modern cinema, Bene’s radically experimental film work remains underappreciated. This presentation will argue for the uniqueness of these films and explain how they remain an unexploded timebomb in film aesthetics even a half-century after they were made.  

Sunday, February 17, 2019

Vicky Langan and I are looking forward to the first of a series of interactions with the students at Limerick School of Art & Design this year.

Langan/Le Cain lecture, screenings and Q&A 
at Limerick School of Art and Design

Wed 20.02.19    From 9.30am    
(All students are welcome to attend)