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Obituary on D.S. by Katja Nicodemus
Fantasyland by Amy Taubin
The Ritual of Desire by Barbara Scharres
La Paloma by Gary Indiana
Death Flowers In Twofold Eroticism
The Boundless Freedom Of Imagination

 

Death Flowers In Twofold Eroticism by Stefan Zweifel

Crumpled fragments on folds and other base matters in Daniel Schmid's films

"I want to milk you, you cows on high!" The whey with its "milk-warm wisdom" that Nietzsche drank on a summer's morning in July 1873 on the terrace of the Hotel Segnes in Flims - which Daniel Schmid's grandfather had won in a card game - had clearly been drawn from the cloud-udders scudding fatefully across the mountain slopes. The pictures captured by the handheld camera in Schmid's films breathe slowly and heavily, the is extended into longing expectation, the sound of the silence of repressed wishes hangs between people, and the grubby, damply steaming colours cling to the walls. For a long time afterwards you push around the bits of picture-blocks which only seem like kitschy picture-postcard pictures at first sight. Just let yourself fall like a clump of earth...! And again and again that feeling of being glued to the spot, of not being able to get away from the film and its images. Intractably the lumpy earth sticks to your feet, but despite it you still want to dance in Swan Lake one more time like the 88 year-old Kazuo Ohno who wades up to his ankles in the water of forgetfulness while his arms break against the heaven-high skyline of Osaka; in dreamily lost helplessness his own hands caress his shoulders while the whitely made-up face with its three orifices - mouth and eyes - flutters between them like a linen sheet, like a linen shroud. The body of poetry is beholden to other laws, who knows, maybe it will just tumble up into the heavens in a moment.

Base matter celebrates its stubborn rebellion against the unreasonable demands of the spirit; seen against the sharp architecture of the mighty façades the dancer's hands sketch a fractured line; behind the smooth gleam of the face of Hécate lurk Tosca's wrinkles - life is permeated by the pulse of death. Schmid's gaze turns to that formless residue that is left over in all calculations that involve reason; it turns to the social outcasts who personify repression, it turns to kitsch, banned from high art. The old pianist in the Casa Verdi is already waving to say he has had enough, but then after a short hesitation he starts to play again, and in the shared ecstasy that ensues the ugliness of the singing becomes a hymn to life.

"One should have more respect for the bashfulness with which nature has hidden behind riddles and iridescent uncertainties. Perhaps truth is a woman who has reasons for not letting us see her reasons? Perhaps her name is - to speak Greek - Baubo? ... Oh, those Greeks! They knew how to live. What is required for that is to stop courageously at the surface, the fold, the skin, to adore appearance, to believe in forms, tones, words, in the whole Olympus of appearance. Those Greeks were superficial - out of profundity." (Nietzsche)

The hero in Hécate is destroyed by not finding the courage to stop at Clothilde's beautiful surface, and so he loses his way in the lanes and alleyways of a strange town, searching for her secret; implacably he refuses to believe that love - like film - is simply a projection played out on someone else's face, and gets caught in the labyrinth of his own passion. Like a cliché from an old Hollywood film Clothilde leans against the balustrade; she is "juste une femme qui regarde la nuit", no more than that; but he never emerges again from the night that is approaching behind the curtain of her eye-lashes. His conventional view of life is constrained by strictly geometrical blinds and blinded by jealousy. His outlook drifts in life's current, billowing like drapes in the night winds of the hot desert, fanning itself with the movement of his eyelids - and all the while his throat is progressively constricting. His downfall lies in his attempt to understand her and to understand love, instead of opening up to the unknown - as she already hints in their first conversation: "Pourquoi cherchez-vous toujours à comprendre... pourquoi?" For there is nothing to understand, at best one might enjoy the heights of that particular moment without going on asking questions.

Two shadows on a wall, making love, cast in the bluish light of an aquarium. Twining plants - before they are washed up on the shore and dry out. Only in death will they plunge back into the primeval ocean of endless union, into the continuum of existence. Clothilde knows that in the 'little death' of orgasm we may dip briefly into a sense of that deep union, yet her hands flap with resistance; she wants to make sure her hands can still flutter like butterflies, never allowing the symbiosis with a man to take on a lasting quality nor institutionalising it as a relationship - her lust craves nothing beyond the eternity of the moment. In the background the open window: the curtain invites flight, out into the babble of foreign voices and into the tumult of billowing materials with their intricate folds. Ultimate union would only be possible for her if she could bring her herself to completely become his shadow and the two lovers, like two matching shadows on the wall, were to lie on one top of each other until they finally melted away into the blackness of eternal night.

She withstands the tension between Eros and Death without yielding to the longing for total oneness, she is up to the pain of individuation and discontinuity, she does not want to patch over the gaping chasm in our lives with the putty of clichés and to lend credence to the bourgeois world of beautiful pictures by shrinking into a two-dimensional transfer of herself. She is superficially profound, for she has gazed into the abyss containing all those things that have been banned from the stage - the stage set - of life, into that off-stage obscenity of child-prostitution. On the surface of things, however, with her perfect face she offers him the dream of male omnipotence. But he is impelled to look behind her mask and is engulfed by the chaos of matter which refuses to be contained in his reasonable notions of an ordered life; he would have done better to stay on the Apollonian surface of reasonable appearances - he loses touch with himself in the Dionysian depths of excessive existence.

In despair he hauls her out of the bathtub: "Tu n'es plus une femme... Mais qui es-tu?" He throws her to and fro while her hair lies on the tiles of the bathroom floor like algae and her head smiles blissfully like the head of some sea-creature, for Dionysian rapture includes rapture at one's own destruction; her gaze is focused in the flickering distance, his slips off the smooth surface of her face, insecure, unable to catch hold of it. He unfolds her legs, opening them like the pages of a book as he reads what is killing him; he looks into the crevice, into the gaping wound of individuation. However perfectly Clothilde's face has been smoothed into an immaculate mask the resistance of matter cannot be overcome, in amongst the folds of skin inescapable death slumbers. The dialectic of Eros and Thanatos cannot be overcome, like her unshaven armpit in our first sight of her, now this fold opens up an intermediate zone, a twofold force-field where human beings come to an awareness of their own powerlessness - humans live in this twofold realm.

In the beginning human beings were round, all-round cheery spheres, who were so contented in their smooth, smooth skins that the gods on Olympus grew jealous of the happiness these double-beings enjoyed - split them in two, drew the skin together over the wounds on the semi-spheres and made a fold in the middle of the stomach. Then they turned the humans' heads round on their necks so that as long as they lived they would be faced with the sight of their own navels, which would remind them of being divided and torn apart, of the painful wound and of birth, that is to say they would be reminded of their own transience and death in one: the navel. This is how Aristophanes tells it in Plato's Symposium, well aware that of all those lovingly longing to find their other half, only the exceptions will be so fortunate as to find their long lost partner and to be completely happy once again. And even then the folds around their navel and their skin growing old will remind them that they will never completely regain their erstwhile happiness - for we are tattooed by birthmarks and by death alike.

And all the time both happiness and life lie in those folds: the very first cell division sets in motion an adventure of continuous unfolding, of blossoming until things begin to fold back in on themselves again and, with death, a person sinks back down into that abyss between those same folds that they had once come from. When that wrinkly member turns smooth, uncurls and unfolds, when the folds of the foreskin draw back to reveal that slit in the glans with a lust-filled tear of Eros, with a drop full of spermatic life-spirits, all so that the phallus can lose itself in the folds of the vagina, so that man and woman (or man and man) can become enfolded and entwined in each other (or two women may rub their folds against each other); then for one fleeting moment we have that original feeling of spherical bliss, and yet at the same time - as the French say - in every orgasm we also suffer la petite mort.

If he had not gone on asking, digging ever deeper, Clothilde would just have enfolded him in pleasure. Like Pentheus he is not equal to the mysteries of Dionysus and is torn apart by what he experiences. His shirt hangs loosely on his body, while she - familiar with the secrets of all that folds - can softly and snugly slip into her clothes. True life is not a made-to-measure suit but a fraying seam opening up to eternity and not be tamed in some rational system. In this sense Gilles Deleuze sees Schmid's films as part of a sequence that touches Italy in 48, France in 58 and Germany in 68 and which leads to the crisis of "image action" and turns its entire attention to the splits and folds, the chasms and cracks between the "images affections". It is impossible to make sense of the interior architecture in Violanta and to reconstruct it as a self-contained house, again and again the central narrative perspective becomes lost in the dreaming spaces between the mirrors. Or else the action is drawn out and slowed down to such an extent (Heute Nacht oder nie) that the figures almost seem to come to a halt next to themselves, as though they had two faces like Dionysus, a twofold version of themselves.

A fold is never single, it is always already doubled; and that in itself puts paid to the smug self-satisfaction of the western subject and his/her identity as an indivisible individual. Torn from its Dionysian ecstasy, the body withdraws from the concentrically closed circles of systematic thought, resists the upwards-striving lines of success and succumbs to the Baroque, uncontrollable proliferation of folds of all kinds. No longer is a discreet veil drawn over the disintegration of the human form as death approaches, and the folds and wrinkles of skin growing old unfold like those Japanese paper-flowers when they are thrown into water - or better still into the sap of our minds where, lost in dreams, they bring forth the "blossom-laden splendour" of Shanghai; bemused by the heavy scent of decadent orchids the world of the imagination expands chaosmically.

In The Written Face we see the made-up mask of the Kabuki actor in the space between the hand-mirror and the wall-mirror. Schmid manages not to attempt to decode the unfamiliar text on the Japanese faces, he does not reveal its secret nor does he explain it by means of a story. Heterogenous elements (documentary, fiction) set themselves against the pressure to develop a homogenous system of totalitarian western reasoning, yet without elevating the "realm of signs" into some exotic solution. The portrayer of women observes women's actions from outside without trying to get inside them, he is perfectly content with the beautiful appearance of "Garbo and Dietrich", which also shimmers on the face of Lauren Hutton's Clothilde in Hécate.

But it is more than coincidence that Marlene Dietrich with her smooth, eternally youthful features flirted with Alberto Giacometti in his studio where human forms became elongated and wrinkled, for Dietrich suspected the truth that was escaping her: Clothilde meets Tosca. The grinding, twitching jaws of the ageing singer distort Tosca's ethereal, aesthetic kiss into a kiss of death: "Questo é il bacio di Tosca!". A person's dreams turn to dust in the attic, figures become entangled in the spider's web of life already lived - until they rigidify, mummified in grief, only to be reawakened by the film, when their folds and wrinkles are not viewed as blemishes and inadequacies but as variety and diversity.

And lastly the male-female face of the Japanese actor is mirrored in the weathered face and history of the hundred year old geisha, who sings of plum blossoms and the pangs of love, as eerily beautiful as the sound of sandpaper rubbed against a lute: her experiences well up in the semi-circular shadows under her eyes; it is as though someone had thrown the coloured pebbles gleaming at the edge of our consciousness into her pupils, sending out ripples across her face in ever enlarging circles that seem to hint at sea-monsters and miraculous paper-flowers unfolding deep below. The apparently scarred skin, the wrinkles beneath her eyes tell the story of the wounds which destroyed the hero of Hécate because he was not profound enough to stay on the surface, nor to withstand beauty of appearance, nor yet to rely on love to carry him through his encounter with base matter and fatal injury and inquiry.