Monday Editor’s Pick: An Evening with Harun Farocki

by on September 26, 2011Posted in: Editor's Pick

Playing Mon Oct 3 at 7:00 at Museum of Modern Art [Program & Tix]


MoMA hosts An Evening with Harun Farocki in conjunction with the video-essayist’s recent show there, Harun Farocki: Images of War (at a Distance). Anthology surveys his work from Oct 4-10, with Farocki in-person at all Oct 4 shows.


Introducing the MoMA show earlier this year,  Ken Johnson in The New York Times:

Harun Farocki’s film and video work is almost too interesting to be art. The fascinating subject matter of “Serious Games I-IV,” the main attraction in “Harun Farocki: Images of War (at a Distance)” at the Museum of Modern Art, would warrant a straightforward documentary. It deals with video-game technology used to train soldiers in practices of high-tech modern warfare.


But transparency is not Mr. Farocki’s thing. Mixing his own films with footage uncovered in industrial and military archives and laconic texts, he offers a self-reflexive, cinematic Cubism in which the medium itself, as a vehicle of truth, is subject to radical doubt.


Farocki himself in one of his most famous early films:


And, more recently, on the subject of materiality:

R.C. Baker, on the same show, in The Village Voice:

[V]ideo artist Harun Farocki has a European’s appreciation for the conundrums of history. On the left side of his two-channel video Watson Is Down (2010), naturalistic avatars of U.S. military trainees haul ass across a desert in armored vehicles. On the right-hand screen, a real-life training officer clicks on hazards—explosives concealed inside “Dead Dog” or “Coke Can”—before the camera cuts to the actual recruits sitting at laptops as their pixilated vehicles are attacked by insurgents. The young men are chatting, sometimes grinning, until the American machine-gunner on the screen is shot dead. The trainee playing that role looks stupefied, and his companions sag dejectedly as they absorb this possible foreshadowing of their deployment.


Thomas Elsaesser, giving an overview of Farocki’s work in Sense of Cinema:

The vagaries of his often meagre means of production – forcing him to shunt between commissioned work for television, quick one-off programmes or short TV-features for late-night cultural magazines, and projects he has had to nurse for half a decade before scraping together the finance – stand in stark contrast to the richness of his output and its consistently interesting critical focus. It makes it also difficult to give Farocki a proper place in film culture, or indeed in the film history of his country. Even though the neat categories of feature film, documentary, European avant-garde cinema, film movements like the French nouvelle vague or New German Cinema – are today beginning to blend and crossover even for the mainstream film historian, one still hesitates where to put Farocki. On the one hand, it is perfectly possible to inscribe his work into all of these histories, and some more, like the history of television, or of the children’s film (he directed several episodes for the German version of Sesame Street and made a film with his twin daughters when they were 11 years old). He could also take his place in the long line of European auteurs. It is easy to see how Farocki has been ‘influenced’ by Carl Theodore Dreyer, by Robert Bresson, by Jean-Luc Godard, by Jean Marie Straub, but also by writers like Bert Brecht, Walter Benjamin, Alfred Sohn-Rethel and Günther Anders. One could demonstrate how Farocki’s films belong to the avant-garde montage cinema around Sergei Eisenstein and Dziga Vertov, or where he situates himself in the New German Cinema between Alexander Kluge, Jean-Marie Straub, Edgar Reitz, Helmuth Costard, Klaus Wildenhahn or Wim Wenders. But these are mere labels, signposts on road maps for film studies intro-classes.



Jesse P. Finnegan in The L:

Since 1966, the German filmmaker/media artist/theorist has cataloged a seemingly inexhaustible output of films, writing, and installation pieces, comprising a body of work as voluminous as it is singularly spellbound. His angle of approach may vary but Farocki’s aim always remains true: a ceaselessly searching immersion in the nebulous fabric of images and the tangled valences of their formation.


Jonathan Rosenbaum in The Chicago Reader:

The filmography of Harun Farocki — a German independent filmmaker, the son of an Islamic Indian doctor   — spans 16 titles and 21 years. To the best of my knowledge, only one of his films (Between Two Wars) has ever shown in North America before now. A traveling group of 11 films put together by the Goethe-Institut began showing in Boston last November and this April will reach Houston, the last of the tour’s ten cities. Nine of the 11 films are currently showing at Chicago Filmmakers and I presume that the other two, both in 35-millimeter, aren’t showing because no 35-millimeter venue is available or willing to put them on. The larger question, however, is why it has taken so long for most of Farocki’s films to be seen on this side of the Atlantic. I would venture that this is because they belong to an intellectual and artistic tradition in Europe that has never taken hold on these shores — an approach to filmmaking that regards formal and political concerns as intimately intertwined and interdependent.


Farocki speaking to Ed Halter, in ArtForum:

As early as my first film, Inextinguishable Fire, 1969, I worked with repetition and variations, probably influenced by reading books, including Brecht and Beckett, and listening to classical music. Because I love to work with few elements, I have to combine them in various ways. A language with a large vocabulary, like English, can make do with a simple grammar, but a language with fewer words has to find more ways to combine them. Even from watching narrative films, one can learn how important repetition and variation are: Most locations appear at least twice. This occurs for economic reasons, but it also structures the film, and makes you compare scene A with A¹.


– Compiled by Tom McCormack

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