Earth of People (1966), Beginning (1967), We (1969), Inhabitants (1970), Our Century (1983), Life (1993)

Dir: Artavazd Peleshian



This is a review of a collection of Artavazd Peleshian’s works: Earth of People (1966), Beginning (1967), We (1969), Inhabitants (1970), Our Century (1983), Life (1993).

I was directed to this man, who Sergei Parajanov called ‘one of the few authentic geniuses of cinema’, by a friend who knows my tastes and on the basis of my strong affinity for Soviet montage. Now all those people - Eisenstein, Kuleshov, Vertov, etc - by the time sound rolled in were scattered to the four winds by Stalin and the censors. At least this revolution was prematurely brought to a halt, in my estimation the most defining and important in the first half of cinema and possibly to this day. The most experimental work in this field was never really allowed to blossom. What we got in these 10 years was enough to change the way we see.

Now my notion of Soviet montage is simple: a world that is animated in full rigor and solely by the impulse to see. Story in this mode is not our reason to see but rather the tumultuous after-effect of being engaged to do so. It emerges but only as we edit and synthesize continuously shifting glimpses into one.

Enter this guy, who came to the scene a few decades later and was allowed to work unobstructed and in complete anonymity. No doubt he has intimately studied all these past masters, the genius that was Vertov above all. Outwards his movies are composed symphonically, as paeans, with every intersecting set of images - about work, war, nature, or mundane life - annotating overarching destinies.

Now you may be told that Beginning celebrates the Revolution or We the fate and place of the Armenian people, but that goes against the grain and soul of the work. Leave that for commentarians. No, this is specifically designed to be open enough to complete you and some part you lacked the images for. You will know this as about your strife, perhaps internal. Your fate and place in the world at large.

This is important to note: every pull of the cinematic eye in any direction, say suddenly a set of images about conflict or animals being tugged away, is a pull into blank narrative space. You fill from experience. The threads disperse again and intersect.

Now all of these are worth at least one watch for just the consummate craft on display. For just the eloquence of images and the talent to edit, equalled only by a few. I have been playing and re-playing these on and off for about a week now. But if there’s one that you absolutely have to watch before you die, that is Our Century. It is a 2001 but with none of Kubrick’s vaingloriously Roman touch. Scratch that, its film cousin is Solyaris: a vast space odyssey mapping inwards, conflating every tragic, manic, ludicrous, funny, anxious, insane, desperate, poetic contraption of humankind to grow wings and fly into a swirling evocation of the soul’s primal desire to soar. Let it be about your flight, air that supports it.

This is one to keep and this man worth getting to know.


Over Christmas :::

I took a little road trip to Vermont, to my friend Tennessee Watson and her father Bill.
Their beautiful house on the creek, a “hotbed for radical feminism” was once owned by Aunt Lou,
a jailbird Suffragette, who fought for women’s right to vote in Vermont. Here’s her-story.

I’ve been quite busy developing my next project, feature documentary which I am shooting this summer in Cyprus…loosely based on an interview i did with Simon Khan. In thinking about the structure of the film, I’m exploring non traditional documentary forms, others ways of expressing and telling a story and so I have been researching such works.

I picked out a few highlights from experimental filmmaker Trinh T. Minh-ha’s book Woman, Native, Other - to stay on the topic of feminism. Her writing is abstract, involved and provoking, as are her films, here are some of her thoughts :

“In this unwonted spectacle made of reality and fiction, where redoubled images form and reform, neither I nor you come first. No primary core of irradiation can be caught hold of, no hierarchical first, second, or third exists except as mere illusion. All is empty when one is plural. Yet how difficult is it to keep our mirrors clean…Theory oppresses, when it wills or perpetuates existing power relations, when it presents itself as a means to exert authority - the Voice of Knowledge…And theory as a tool of survival needs to be rethought in relation to gender in discursive practice… He who represents his own discourse on myths as a myth is acutely aware of the illusion of all reference to a subject as absolute center. The packaging of myths must somehow bear the form of that which it attempts to enclose, if it wishes to come closest to its subject. One cannot seize without smothering,for the will to freeze (capture) brings about a frozen (emptied) object.”

I also recently read an interesting interview with Armenian filmmaker Artavazd Peleshian in which he talks about his “distance montage” method which “creates a magnetic field around the film…it allows you to defeat time…when you reach the end, you’re also back at the beginning…And the effect is that the film revolves; it is "revolution” in a new sense…Orbits are created. Sound and image cross each other, intersect each other, switch, change territories. The sound enters the territory of the picture and the image enters the territory of the sound. You start to see the sound, and you hear the picture".

He closes his the interview with a thought that deeply resonates with me personally when talking about film and ones work:
“I’ve tried to simplify things to get ideas across. But my films are precisely not about language, about verbal communications. The difficulty is that one cannot express with words what one finds in my films. If it were possible to say it with words, the films would be useless. Words cannot express it. One should not talk about films, one should watch them. This is why I have always been against interviews.”

In terms of films to watch, I also checked out a screening of Yugoslavian Experimental Films this past week at Anthology Archives.

Two that stuck out the most are Zelimir Zilnik’s Inventory and Ivica Matic's Classifieds. They are probably hard to find, but worth noting.


Us (Peleshian)

Visuelt essay som trekker på de fleste sovjetiske montasjetriksene i boka for å levere et portrett av den armenske nasjonen. Filmen er antageligvis ment nasjonalistisk ut fra tittelen og det noe pompøse soundtracket, men patriotismen blir mitigert av Peleshians subversive, ofte voldelige bildebruk. Resultatet er en ambivalent og interessant filmisk portrett, som glatt overstiger sine propagandistke røtter. 

Inhabitants (Peleshian)

Tiltrekkende kortfilm hvor en tur i dyrehagen forvandles til et kakafonisk ekstasehelvete. Det er rytmene som imponerer meg mest her – hvordan repetisjon, looping og bevegelse brukes for å lage et suggerende, nærmest militært bilde av konflikt og flukt. 

End (Peleshian)

En togreise, en mann som har tatt av seg brillene sine, en tunnell, masse bevegelse. Peleshian viser sin storhet ved å nærme seg det transcendentale gjennom konkrete bilder, som aldri abstraheres eller kommer i veien for tingen de viser. Filmen virker enkel, men skjuler samtidig en virtuositet svært få klarer å nærme seg. 

Four Seasons (Peleshian)

Det taktile har alltid vært viktig i filmen. Evnen til å gjengi konkrete sensasjoner gjennom tekstur og lys, til å kommunisere sanseinntrykk gjennom et flatt lerrett, er mye av det som gjør så ulike filmskapere som Tarkovskji, Ozu og Costa store. Det samme gjelder Four Seasons, en ikke-narrativ dokumentar fra den armenske landsbygda, som nesten utelukkende utrykker seg gjennom det taktile. Gjennom grovt svart-hvitt-foto, dynamiske kamerabevegelser og musikalske klipperytmer fanger Peleshian den ene slående sekvensen etter den andre. En rød tråd i filmen er kampen mellom menneske og natur, mellom sivilisasjon og dyreriket, men Peleshian skyr symbolrunkeri for å i stedet presentere bilder som kun symboliserer seg selv, gjennom en klippestil som fremhever hvert enkelt bilde framfor sammenhengen mellom dem. Rett og slett sublimt.