DOCUMENTA KASSEL 16/06-23/09 2007

Second Lives - The documenta 12 film programme

It is doubtful if cinema is sufficient for this; but, if the world has become a bad cinema, in which we no longer believe, surely a true cinema can contribute to giving us back reasons to believe in the world and in vanished bodies.
(Gilles Deleuze)

The location of film at documenta 12 is the movie theatre. This is a very simple answer to the recent debates on how to present moving images appropriately in the context of art. In the course of its existence, the film medium has not only given proof of its capacity to function as art (besides several other capacities) but has also developed a strong presentation format and a strong social space: the cinema. This format and space are based on the physical and technical characteristics of the medium. They allow film to be perceived on a specific level of intensity to which it owes its historical success.

The selection made  the director of the Austrian Film Museum, Alexander Horwath, for the documenta 12 film programme covers the full range of everything cinema has to offer. There are all types and genres: popular entertainment, avant-garde cinema, documentary, arthouse films – in short: “the normal case of cinema”. In this context, ‘normal’ also means: film as an event, as a performance with a specific duration that cannot be influenced (or changed) by the viewer.

During the 100 days of documenta 12 the medium of film will appear 100 times. 50 full-length programmes will be shown, each of them twice. A total of 96 films are being shown in the Gloria Kino in Kassel, a classic movie theatre that opened in 1955, the same year as the first documenta. The film selection takes its cue from here: it spans the ‘second half’ of cinema, the beginning of which roughly coincides with the advent of documenta (as an educational medium). It is a period of aesthetic transitions. Cinema starts to reflect on itself in manifold ways, gaining an awareness of its historicity and temporality in the process. The relationships between screen, viewer and the act of viewing become less and less self-evident.

The earliest works in this series date from the years 1952 to 1955 (they could have been presented at the first documenta), the most recent are from 2007. The selection includes classics such as Roberto Rossellini's Viaggio in Italia or Guru Dutt’s Pyaasa, underground cinema like Ken Jacobs’ Star Spangled to Death or IXE by Lionel Soukaz, experimental films like Maria Menken’s Lights or The Spiral Jetty by Robert Smithson as well as popular films like Land of the Dead by George A. Romero and David Cronenberg’s eXistenZ. There will be three world premieres: A Pitcher of Colored Light by Robert Beavers, Casting a Glance by James Benning and Halcion by Dietmar Brehm. There are numerous connections, echoes or lines of communication linking these films, but they do not result in ‘The History of Film Since 1950’. At the most, it’s a collection of ‘stories’. In the era of “Second Life” (at home on the computer) and an all-encompassing presence of moving images in our culture these stories may remind us that cinema’s promise of a double life is neither a game nor a totalitarian dream. Rather, it is a threshold between the one life we ‘have’ and the glimpse of something else – utmost freedom in community.

Film at documenta 12 is not an object to be taken home or a path to be sauntered along, but a spatially and temporally defined act of contemplation and exchange with the world.