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Olga Lialina
Parallel Cinematography - Is a Proper Name (1993)

Язык оригинала: английский

Nowadays, when new media are tackled, and the question of ‘’new’’ culture is touched upon, it inevitably slips to Parallel Cinematography. Why is there still any sense in discussing films, shot on antediluvian film-strips and with the help of out-of-date equipment, not to mention the absence of computer and video effects? Probably, because Parallel Cinematography is one of our few traditions of conquering and controlling audio-visual language form.

Introduction

Sometimes it seems strange that in
1988 Gorky film studio makes such
a film as ‘’Little Vera’’, but then
you suddenly recollect that the
year is 1988...
Igor Aleinikov ‘’CinePhantom’’ N 10

Despite a great variety of definitions of Parallel Cinematography, with all its synonymous names: independent, alternative, marginal, it is just cinematography which exists apart from state or corporate film-production and is made from the means of film directors and art patrons. In the 1920s it appeared practically simultaneously in the three big film-powers: France, Germany and the USA as an alternative to the constant flow of comedies and tragedies, the commercial essence of which hindered cinematographic language development. At its new stage at the beginning of the 1960s, it enveloped 5/6th of dry land, and so-to-say fell into various directions: struggling and experimental. It also acquired its cinema houses, distribution firms and journals and began to conduct its festivals.

Subsequently, occupying a stable position in modern art, it approached, in a sense, video and computer technologies.

But what was happening in the Soviet Union during those years? Until the middle of the 1980s, Parallel Cinematography did not exist in this country. Other cinematographic styles were based on Eisenstein’s and Vertov’s experiments, and Tarkovsky, in his turn, who had ignored the traditions of socialist realism even in 1960s. But at that time it was impossible to make a film avoiding the guidance of the Mosfilm studio and such activities were viewed upon as illegal and, more than that, punishable.

The Russian underground was the last to speak the language of cinema, that was only natural. Who could become proficient, if nothing ‘’free and fresh’’ reached the country, to say nothing of ‘’alternative’’. Besides, a film is not a self-published journal, it cannot be heard on the ‘’Voice of America’’. Nevertheless, in 1984 Igor Aleinikov made ‘’Metastases’’, Evgeny Ufit - ‘’Wood-Cutter’’, and Evgeny Kondratiev - ‘’Assa’’. A year later Boris Jukhananov and Petr Pospelov begin to work as well. They got aquainted, arranged joint film-demonstrations, worked for each other as cinematographers, actors and printed a unique self-published journal ‘’Cine Phantom’’ and filled the words Parallel Cinematography with concrete content.
To be precise, it should be noted, that for Russia, Parallel Cinematography is a proper name. It belongs to the above-mentioned people and, to some extent, to those who consider themselves as their followers and disciples. Originating from the name ‘’Parallel Cinematograph’’, the first paralleler is a film director from St. Petersburg, Sergei Selyanov, known for his ‘’The Day of Angel’’, made in 1981. Despite this fact, he does not think of himself as belonging to any kind of an ‘’art circle’’. And, the attempts of the Western cinema historians to mention him in the lists of parallelers are in vain, being under the delusion of abundant quotations from Parallel Cinematography in Sergei Solovyov’s films. And again, Parallel Cinematography cannot be called a kind of definite aesthetic, it is a proper name.

With the beginning of Perestroika, Parallel Cinematography receives a new impulse through ‘’Cine Phantom’’ festivals (one in 1987, the other in 1989 - but this time with the participation of the Union of Cinematography). Numerous film-demonstrations, interviews, travels abroad and lots of articles, raised the same question: “What is Parallel Cinematography?” and a great variety of answers were given; raptureous responses to damaged and scratched film-strips, naked males or socialist art. All these phenomena witnessed a time of change. The end of 1980s reflected the symbolism of the cherished words: “stagnation”, “glasnost”, “prostitution”, “homosexuality”, and “parliament”. Parallel Cinematography found itself in this sphere of social interest, and dwelled there, representing the facts of public life, and adapting itself to a fashionable part of film vocabulary.

Meanwhile, in this situation, characterized by a powerful underground culture, a state monopoly on the means of film-production, and awful film quality, Parallel Cinematography film-directors were occupied with the realization of their aesthetic programmes, what were apparent only within “Cine Phantom” boundaries. Thus Parallel Cinematography was taken prisoner of the restructuring interest. And, the question “What is Parallel Cinematography?” was considered, by its nature, a social phenomenon. At the same time, artists asked vital questions: “What is the Aleinikovs’ Cinematography?” - “What is Ufit’s Necrorealism?” - “What is the mystery of Kondratiev’s films?” Time should have answered them, but failed. Soviet symbolism went out of fashion, Parallel Cinematography began to irritate. There is nothing that can be done about it now. Igor Aleinikov is no more with us, and nobody can replace him. The only thing we can do is to hope for the better and speak about cinematography. I suggest that we should start with the Aleinikov brothers, Evgeny Ufit and Evgeny Kondratiev.

The Aleinikov brothers

The Aleinikov brothers were born in the town of Grozny, Igor in 1962, Gleb in 1966. In the late 1970s they moved to Moscow, and in the early 1980s got acquainted with Sergei Letov, a composer. They penetrated the underground sphere and played lots of conceptual games in artist’s circles: mailart, bookart, homeart. Meanwhile, Igor graduated from Moscow Engineering-Physics Institute, and Gleb from Moscow Engineering-Construction Institute. In 1985, Igor created the journal “Cine Phantom”, and thus under the name of Parallel Cinematograph he united independent film-directors, and since then he is spoken about as the leader of this movement. Together the brothers shot 18 films. On 23 of March 1994, Igor died in an aeroplane crash.

In 1988, the Aleinikov brothers made “Post-political Cinematograph”, the first part of which could be connected with the first stage of their creative search, the second part with their second one. The beginning of the film abounds in allusions, reflective mise en scenes, conceptual connections of the unconnectable and other similar methods, interpreting the prefix “post” as an auxiliary element, and pointing to generations and time relationship or merely to existence of such relationships. In the second part this prefix acquires the absolutely self-independent meaning “after”, no matter what (after modernism, cinematography’s death) and the film itself turns into the sketch of the brothers’ summer rest. It is impossible to read “in the eyes” their reason for undertaking a rest, you can only realize that they have forgotten about work, about the beginning of the film.

Before “Post-political Cinematography” the Aleinikov brothers shot “Metastases” and the trilogy: “M.E.”, “Tractors”, and “I am cool. So what?” Their short films, brilliantly employed visual and sound representations, and became nearly unique examples for playing meanings and implications. In “Metastases” they made a picture of the end of the world, using awful film-strips found in a rubbish heap. In “M.E.” they constructed “Monstrum Exossi” (a boneless monster or an unstructured sign). In “Tractors” they mystified the symbol of labour and rich harvest so fully that it had to show up in its true appearance of the agricultural machine: caterpillar tracks, levers, a cab.

After shooting the trilogy the Aleinikov brothers wrote: “The authors believe that in the present situation mankind should be ready to face the information crisis in art, when subsequently all the variants of information acquisition are exhausted, and new information and new structural models and high-speed processing are needed for prolonging the era of progress. We are speaking about computer art penetration. But a computer itself is not a panacea; to contact a computer, a great number of entities is needed. It is necessary to split art into such parts, and the smaller the entities the better, for open-work constructions could be built only of delicate entities. Such language exists, the authors do not create it, they use it. Undoubtedly, this kind of language destroys lots of spectator’s illusions concerning art. The authors are dreaming of a day when spectators can also possess it, especially those who consider themselves participants of creative art works.” (“Cine Phantom” N 9).

The Aleinikov brothers explored the structures of formed modern genres and their perceptual stereotypes. They split and split them into entities. But the idea of structure building was found only at the primitive conceptual level. The final song in “Tractors” is fitting here, its rhymes and rhythm fuse in a lively tune, and the vague meanings of its words made you reflect on them:

Our homely Chelyabinsk tractor
Is on the moon orbit
At night near the moon
The best metal in the world
Can be observed.

Initially the Aleinikov’s films emotionally expressed their ideas, which gave the spectator an opportunity of identifying himself with the author, that is why, the simple, nearly raw constructions of the Aleinikov brothers are viewed as a summit of their skill.

During the second stage of “Post-political Cinematograph” it seems that the Aleinikov brothers are not as interested in constructing, but in fact, they implement it through the modes, invisible spectator’s eye - now ideas, emotions and especially the very concept of splitting entities become entities themselves, and the authors get them into their “computer” -“Krasnogorsk”. “Now, every analytically adjusted manoeuvre in their work manifests not a cold geometry of mathematical schemes, but on the contrary, takes a spectator to a space with unpredictable laws.” - Catherine Bobrinskaya.

The Aleinikov brothers shot “Cruel Male Disease”, “Boris and Gleb”, “The End of the Film”, “Laying-Castling”, “Typist”, and “Waiting for de Bil” according to the laws of not only the unpredictable, but dangerous for a spectator. He finds himself in a trap, acting like a person who quickly gets to the unknown apartment building, approaches the doorway, feels the steps under his feet, but fails to discover the absence of landings, walls and apartments. The only door he can hide behind is the exit door of a movie theatre.

Only a few people feel the enchanting effect of these cinematographic ways, the overwhelming majority are irritated by them. But nevertheless, these ways justify themselves and bare even positive results, for they reveal the outburst of automatic, instinctive perception taking roots in people during a person-to-screen intercourse. The Aleinikov brothers employ pseudo-heroes and pseudo-metaphors, pseudo-conceptualism and pseudo-structuralisms in their works. Deceivingly, they tell stories called: “Somebody Was Here”, “Aquarium Fish of This World”, and “Nikolay Beryozkin’s Love Story”. Dwelling in the frames of minimalist stylistics, they manage to avoid formal steps and method. It is the first step that costs - and each time they take a new daring move not to be expressive. At the same time, they manage to have fun and to reflect. In general, each time they set an example of free language treatment and the realization of this freedom concerning poetics, expressing itself in the key-words: “deception”, “freedom”; key articles: “Cinematograph Is Mode of Life”, “Mannerism Is Claustrophobia”, and “Post modernism Is Life After Death”.

It is important to outline the character of sound and visual essences that co-exist in aesthetics, their equal value and non coincidental nature in the Aleinikovs’ works; and also the abundance of newsreel and archivist-rubbish stuff, which they use as a literal answer to figurative experiments of Western junk culture. And of course, the poor and antediluvian equipment is an obstacle that the Aleinikovs turn into aesthetics. Awful cameras, absence of synchronous sound and visual representation recording inevitably send the artists back to the conditional characters of mute cinematography: grotesque acting, and plenty of text-subtitles. Film strips undoubtedly dictate conditions: speeded up visual representation, contrasting shadows. All these effects are in a sense, elements of mute cinematography, combined with poetics, and stand out as aesthetic elements of the Aleinikov brothers’ cinematography and become the symbols of its freedom.

I am cool, what’s wrong with it? (a literary film script)

Correspondent: How did you decide to shoot “M.E.”?
Director: Many people ask me, how I have come to “M.E.”,what is its origin. Once, while shooting a film, I was walking in the direction of the factory smokestacks, and on my way I ran into a dump. Maybe, it was my fate. The thing is that I easily could have chosen another path. Many of them led to these smokestacks, but I chose that particular one. It must have been artistic intuition: to deny one thing for the sake of something else.(A pause). A stream of feelings of incredible intensity overwhelmed me, piles of plastic monsters of different colors struck my imagination. My Parallel Cinematography - Is a Proper Name God, how pleasantly sad I felt. And a name for them - Monstrum Ecsosse - immediately appeared in my consciousness. I repeated it loudly. At this time a fellow in a dirty worker’s uniform appeared on the top of the hill. He turned over a hand-cart and new samples of M.E. fell down the hill. Bands of children thronged to pick them up. One sample fell at my feet. It was Monstrum Falsus. Two boys came up to me, “Mister”, they told me, “give it back to us, please.We miss this thing for our locomotive.” “Boys”, I answered, ”the whole of our art is missing it”. (A pause). I have been wandering around the dump for a long time and was amazed by the crowds of people who were picking up M.E. I spoke to many of them and was surprised to learn that people had come there from such far-away cities as Vladivostok, Alma-Ata, and even from the mountain villages of Caucases. Everybody told me that they need M.E. as much as bread. I learned fantastic ideas aboutusing M.E. in the interests of individuals and the state. Many have been already realized. And I thought: what a pity it is, that there is only one dump of M.E. over here, though it is plentiful. I was sorry for the people who had to go so faraway, when there was a possibility to supply everybody on-site. When I understood how important the subject was, I decided to shoot the film. What was the result? You are well aware of it.
Correspondent: Please, tell us how you have come to cinema.
Director: Walking decisively, ceremonially. (Laughing).Ha-ha-ha! (A pause). When I was a child I had an aquarium. I used to sit near it for hours watching the fish floating. Andthat is cinema: you watch somewhat floating somewhere. Once I was presented with a camera. I tried to shoot,and I shot the aquarium. And I liked it. You press a button and then watch it floating. (A pause). I faced a problem. I didn’t know what to do: to breed fish or shoot films. In both cases there sult is the same: you watch it floating. But making films needs only pressing the button (emphasise) if you want to. And with fish it is necessary to feed them (emphasise) everyday (emphasise), clean the aquarium regularly, change water,catch the sick and dead ones and do many other things. I can tell you frankly that it is much easier to shoot films than to breed fish. (A pause). But till now I doubt if it was right to choose the easiest way. (Laughs).
Correspondent: (Laughing). As a spectator I can confirm: you were right. (A pause). What is the usual way you shoot films? What kind of films do you prefer to shoot?
Director: Art is plasma, a concentration of life energy. I sink into this spiritual magma. All the vibrations of my soul are transferred to the space around me, to the actors, to the pedestrians, and I’m in a hurry to shoot this process before the life-giving fire of inspiration is extinguished. Life goes through my camera like through a polyhedral mirror prism, and the gold of truth forms silver sediment on the film. (A pause). It is necessary to shoot films on different subjects. To shoot problem films: about children-alcoholics, about people, destroying ancient monuments, prostitutes, about the irresponsibility of some officials, about the upset of ecological balance. But, undoubtedly the central problem of cinema, its destructive force, is its fight for peace and for the prevention of nuclear madness. We must fight for peace with a camera in our hands. I am eager to shoot a film about the foreigners who come to our country and disturb the stable situation. Also it is necessary to shoot another kind of film: about country life, veterans, nature, and crazy love. It’s vitally interesting and beyond all question follows folk traditions. For example, it would be interesting to shoot a film about old village women singing. We forget our folk traditions without reason. And the thing is that a man without traditions is like a tree without roots. And without roots we won’t be able to acquire those life-giving liquids our native land is rich with. To tell you sincerely I love to wonder in the silver birch forests. And one can make screen versions of well-known books. Like everybody, I would like to film “War andPeace”, “Boris Godunov”, “Carman”, “Cherry Orchard” and some other works.
(A languid woman’s sigh).
Correspondent: Oh, please, don’t... Please, take away your hand...
(Crash). (He made her fall down on the floor, the recording equipment fell down together with them).
Correspondent: You have no right... Your high position does not give you any right... You... ( A woman’s moan).
( A crunch of the floor boards). (A pause). (A crunch of the floor boards).
(Man’s and woman’s sighs. A music chord).
(The end of the first part).
Correspondent: This is very interesting. What did you say? A film without film?
Director: Yes, all the time I return to this idea. Is it possible to make a film without film? One shall think that it will break the whole evolution of cinema. And really, what is the main thing of semantic and aesthetic importance in cinema? For example, the round track. Cinema existed and has been developed without it, that’s why we have a right not toconsider the sound track. Now let’s think about the picture.Of course, it’s possible to divide it endlessly into symbols and codes of different significance. One can reveal subject, structure and mythological background, in other words literary related attributes. Then, it is possible to reveal the language of montage, mimic ability of actors, the language of film color and texture etc. And what can one see? All these languages are well developed, nobody can do anything new in this field, I mean anything worthy. One can object that though each of these cinema micro-languages is developed, the structural relationship between separate parts of each language and relationship between different languages as parts of some more complicated language is of the most importance. But even here the number of combinations islimited. What is left then? New languages, new relationshipsamong them, some meta language, meta-meta language, super-meta language, etc. should be developed. However, any information coming from the external world could be run through the sign systems of cinema. This insures the immortality of cinema. But I would like to go even further. If cinema reflects reality, then why shoot films? Reality exists already.
Correspondent (irritated): You mean that there is noreason to shoot because it is something secondary with respectto reality?
Director: No. For me, cinema is reality. But it has cometo reality gradually, step by step. It turned into reality.And now there is no difference - to shoot or not to shoot.It’s just the same.
Correspondent: So you suggest not to shoot?
Director: No, I can’t help shooting. But at the same timeI can’t make film, invent something. Cinema is reality forme, why should I deceive myself by making a kind of reality substitute? But cinema is reality only if it exists. If thereis no cinema - there is no reality. It means that we should shoot, but not make films. But I don’t know how.
Correspondent: (maliciously) May be shoot on blankfilm and then play it back?
Director: Then why to shoot if you know that you are not shooting? And to playback a blank film that was not shot isnothing but a deception. I think that we must shoot without film.
Correspondent: (shouting irritated) What is there to playbackthen? There is nothing to playback.
Director: I don’t know... (Pause)... May be... (He stoodup and walked to the window. His unattractive face expressednothing but it was easy to imagine what he felt. (Pause). Hetook an old-fashioned revolver out of the desk and shot - firstthe correspondent and then himself). (Pause).
Correspondent: Are you satisfied with the technical aspectsof your shooting?
Director: As far as the film and camera quality is concerned, I can say that we don’t need anything better for our films. Quality is formalism. The only problem we have is withsynchronisation. For example, I’m speaking about one thing, butthe spectator at that very moment watches me speaking aboutsomething else, if speaking at all. (His voice acquires anote of mysticism and diffidence). But I still don’t loseoptimism. We can manage without synchronisation, without soundand even without film.
(Both are laughing). (Pause). Pronounced very sexually. 30-second long pause. (Both are laughing again). Black silent screen.

THE END

CINE FANTOM. 1987.
Gleb and Igor Aleinikovs

In Russian: Параллельное кино - имя собственное

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