Harun Farocki at 70
Presented by White Light Cinema,
The Video Data Bank, and The Nightingale
Curated and Introduced by Kevin B. Lee

Inextinguishable Fire by Harun Farocki (1969)

Inextinguishable Fire by Harun Farocki (1969)


Saturday, February 1st at 7:00 pm, $7-10

White Light Cinema, in cooperation with the Video Data Bank, is pleased to present a program of works by the great German film essayist Harun Farocki, to mark the artist’s 70th birthday (January 9). A prolific artist, Farocki has made nearly 100 documentary and essay films and videos since 1966 and has been a pioneer in shaping and re-shaping these forms for almost fifty years. Tonight’s program includes a selection of his work (distributed by the Video Data Bank) as a mini-overview of his career, and features early, mid, and recent films. The program is curated by Chicago-based critic and video essayist Kevin B. Lee, who cites Farocki as his favorite living filmmaker and an inspiration to his own critical thinking and artistic practice. Lee will be in person to introduce the program, discussing the importance of Farocki to contemporary media making.
“One of Germany’s most interesting independent filmmakers. Farocki combines the freewheeling imagination of Chris Marker with the rigor of Alexander Kluge, and his materialist approach to editing sound and image suggests both Fritz Lang and Robert Bresson.” (Jonathan Rosenbaum, Chicago Reader)

“Farocki’s films are a constant dialogue with images, with image making, and with the institutions that produce and circulate these images. … Central to his work is the insight that with the advent of the cinema, the world has become visible in a radically new way, with far-reaching consequences for all spheres of life…. In this sense, Farocki’s cinema is a meta-cinema, a cinema that sits on top of the cinema ‘as we know it’, and at the same time is underpinned by the cinema ‘as we have known it’.” (Thomas Elsaesser, Senses of Cinema)

Program Details:
INEXTINGUISHABLE FIRE (1969, 25 min, Digital Projection of 16mm original)
“When we show you pictures of napalm victims, you’ll shut your eyes. You’ll close your eyes to the pictures. Then you’ll close them to the memory. And then you’ll close your eyes to the facts.” These words are spoken at the beginning of this agitprop film that can be viewed as a unique and remarkable development. Farocki refrains from making any sort of emotional appeal. His point of departure is the following: “When napalm is burning, it is too late to extinguish it. You have to fight napalm where it is produced: in the factories.”

Resolutely, Farocki names names: the manufacturer is Dow Chemical, based in Midland, Michigan in the United States. Against backdrops suggesting the laboratories and offices of this corporation, the film proceeds to educate us with an austerity reminiscent of Jean Marie Straub. Farocki’s development unfolds: “(1) A major corporation is like a construction set. It can be used to put together the whole world. (2) Because of the growing division of labor, many people no longer recognize the role they play in producing mass destruction. (3) That which is manufactured in the end is the product of the workers, students, and engineers.” This last thesis is illustrated with an alarmingly clear image. The same actor, each time at a washroom sink, introduces himself as a worker, a student, an engineer. As an engineer, carrying a vacuum cleaner in one hand and a machine gun in the other, he says, “I am an engineer and I work for an electrical corporation. The workers think we produce vacuum cleaners. The students think we make machine guns. This vacuum cleaner can be a valuable weapon. This machine gun can be a useful household appliance. What we produce is the product of the workers, students, and engineers.”

INTERFACE (1995, 23 min, Digital Projection)
“Harun Farocki was commissioned by the Lille Museum of Modern Art to produce a video about his work. His creation was an installation for two screens that was presented within the scope of the 1995 exhibition The World of Photography. The film Interface (Schnittstelle) developed out of that installation. Reflecting on Farocki’s own documentary work, it examines the question of what it means to work with existing images rather than producing one’s own, new images. The German title plays on the double meaning of “Schnitt”, referring both to Farocki’s workplace, the editing table, as well as the “human-machine interface”, where a person operates a computer using a keyboard and a mouse.” (3sat television guide, September, 1995)

COUNTER-MUSIC (2004, 23 min, Digital Projection)
“The city today is as rationalised and regulated as a production process. The images which today determine the day of the city are operative images, control images. Representations of traffic regulation, by car, train or metro, representations determining the height at which mobile phone network transmitters are fixed, and where the holes in the networks are. Images from thermo-cameras to discover heat loss from buildings. And digital models of the city, portrayed with fewer shapes of buildings or roofs than were used in the 19th century when planned industrial cities arose, amongst them the Lille agglomeration. Despite their boulevards, promenades, market places, arcades and churches, these cities are already machines for living and working. I too want to “remake” the city films, but with different images. Limited time and means themselves demand concentration on just a few, archetypal chapters. Fragments, or preliminary studies.” (Harun Farocki)

PARALLEL (2012, 17 min, Digital Projection of Digital Video)
“For over one hundred years photography and film were the leading media. From the start on they served not only to inform and entertain but were also media of scientific research and documentation. That’s also why these reproduction techniques were associated with notions of objectivity and contemporaneity – whereas images created by drawing and painting indicated subjectivity and the transrational.

Apparently today computer animation is taking the lead. Our subject is the development and creation of digital animation. If, for example, a forest has to be covered in foliage, the basic genetic growth program will be applied, so that “trees with fresh foliage”, “a forest in which some trees bear 4 week-old foliage, others 6 week-old foliage” can be created. The more generative algorithms are used, the more the image detaches itself from the appearance as found and becomes an ideal-typical.Using the example of trees and bushes, water, fire and clouds we compare the development of surfaces and colourings over the past thirty years in computer animation images. We want to document reality-effects such as reflections, clouds, and smoke in their evolutionary history.” (Harun Farocki)

Plus additional title(s) to be announced.

Harun Farocki was born in Nový Jičín (Neutitschein), in the then German-annexed part of Czechoslovakia, in 1944. He studied at the German Film and Television Academy (DFFB) in West Berlin from 1966 to 1968, and in 1968 he welcomed the birth of daughters Annabel Lee und Larissa Lu. Author and editor of the journal Filmkritik in Munich from 1974 to 1984, he co-authored (with Kaja Silverman) the book Speaking about Godard / Von Godard sprechen (NYU Press, 1998). He was a visiting professor at the University of California, Berkeley from 1993 to 1999. Farocki has directed over one hundred productions for television and the cinema including children’s television, documentary films, film essays, and narrative films. He has participated in numerous group and solo exhibitions in museums and galleries, including the recent video installation Deep Play in documenta 12 in 2007. A guest professor at the Academy of Fine Arts in Vienna since 2004, he was appointed full professor in 2006. (Harvard University)

Kevin B. Lee is a film critic, filmmaker, and leading proponent of video form film criticism, having produced over 100 short video essays on cinema and television over the past five years. He is a video essayist and founding editor of Fandor, and editor of Indiewire’s Press Play blog, labelled by Roger Ebert as “the best source of video essays online.” Lee also serves as VP of Programming and Education for dGenerate Films, the only specialty distributor of Chinese independent cinema in the U.S. Kevin previously served as supervising producer of ’Roger Ebert Presents At the Movies’, and has written on film for Sight & Sound, the Chicago Sun-Times, Time Out and Cineaste. (BFI)

Special Thanks to Video Data Bank.

Filed under: documentary, experimental, film, performance, Uncategorized, video