Les Invisibles


Birgit Kohler

Nausicaa (Agnès Varda, F 1970, 90 min, couleur) :

Synopsis: Histoire d’amour entre une étudiante française et un intellectuel grec. Rencontre, conversation, première nuit d’amour pour elle, nuit unique pour les deux. Tout le long du récit, des parenthèses sous forme de témoignages, d’interviews, de confidences d’intellectuels et d’artistes résidant à Paris ou de réfugiés politiques récents authentifient la fiction et lui fournissent son contexte historique. (aus: Varda par Agnès)

NAUSICAA figuriert in der Filmografie von Agnès Varda zwar ganz selbstverständlich zwischen LIONS LOVE (1969) und DAGUERRÉOTYPES (1974/75) – doch der Film wurde nie aufgeführt und ist seit 40 Jahren unsichtbar. Nur eine einzige, kurze Szene wurde jüngst veröffentlicht, in LES PLAGES D’AGNÈS (2008) von Varda mit einer bewussten Geste in ihr künstlerisches Lebenswerk integriert: der blutjunge Gérard Depardieu als bärtiger Hippie mit Hut, im Wortgefecht mit einer Studentin, der er einen Kunstband geklaut hat. Ein Ausschnitt, dem die politische Kontroverse um den Film nicht anzusehen ist. Und der Lust auf mehr macht.

NAUSICAA wurde im Jahr 1970 im Auftrag des französischen Fernsehens ORTF gedreht. Das Drehbuch dieser „fiction documentaire“ basiert auf Gesprächen mit in Frankreich lebenden Exil-Griechen, die Musik stammt von Mikis Theodorakis. Aufgrund der Kritik am griechischen Obristen-Regime (unter anderem durch die Aussagen von Folteropfern) intervenierten das französische Außen- und Wirtschaftsministerium zum Wohle der Handelsbeziehungen mit Griechenland und verhinderten die Ausstrahlung des Films. Seitdem ist NAUSICAA eine Leerstelle, die man in Kenntnis des Œuvres von Varda und anhand spärlicher Informationen notdürftig zu füllen sucht. Der Titel verweist auf die griechische Mythologie – doch eine Verbindung von Nausicaa, dem jungen Mädchen, das den schiffsbrüchigen Odysseus nackt am Strand findet, zu Vardas Film ULYSSES (1982) ist wohl eher unwahrscheinlich. Autobiografische Elemente sind hingegen offensichtlich, denn die Hauptperson heißt Agnès, studiert an der École du Louvre und hat einen griechischen Vater. Womöglich pflegt Varda in NAUSICAA ja einen ähnlich selbstironischen und anti-nostalgischen Umgang mit ihrer Herkunft wie in ONCLE YANCO (1967) und in LES PLAGES D’AGNÈS (2008)? Dass der Film sich kritisch mit der Militärdiktatur in Griechenland auseinandersetzt, kann man sich angesichts von Vardas politischer Positionierung in SALUT LES CUBAINS (1963), BLACK PANTHERS (1968) und in ihren feministischen Filmen wie L’UNE CHANTE L’AUTRE PAS (1976) vorstellen. Ein politisches Pamphlet ist aber sicherlich auch NAUSICAA nicht, sondern wie all ihre Filme eine kreative Verbindung von Dokumentarischem und Fiktivem – à la Varda: subjektiv, humorvoll und unerschrocken. Schließlich ist das Untergraben der Polarität von Inszenierung und Wirklichkeit ein grundlegendes Prinzip ihrer Arbeit. Aufgrund des künstlerischen Eigensinns von Agnès Varda wäre es aber auch nicht weiter verwunderlich, wenn NAUSICAA ungeahnte Überraschungen bereithielte. Wenn man sich davon doch bloß überzeugen könnte!

Dialogue with a Woman Departed

Martin Koerber

My personal “invisible film” is DIALOGUE WITH A WOMAN DEPARTED (1980), directed by Leo Hurwitz. When this film came to Germany in 1980, I was deeply moved to see it, and had the luck to be able to discuss it with Leo Hurwitz, who presented the film in person. I didn’t necessarily agree with everything that was said in the film, and thought some of the politics of its author were controversial, or rather he was fighting “yesterday’s battles”, but at the same time I welcomed this film enthusiastically for many reasons. It was a messenger from the “other America” we always have been in love with, but which so rarely had a voice. It was an aesthetic tour de force combining documentary images and sounds from many decades and an abundance of sources, but at the same time telling the life story of it’s maker, and the story of his oeuvre in poetic images taken from nature as well as from New York’s cityscape, while being ostensibly about someone else, Leo’s late wife Peggy Lawson (who was his co-worker on many films), and narrated as if in her words, and – seemingly – even with her voice. The film is, at the same time, a history of the 20th century and its political struggles, and the loving memory of a partnership which was encompassing everything: Work, Life, Love, lived and experienced and remembered not necessarily always in this order.

The film has disappeared from distribution, and I have no knowledge whether it is preserved in an archive, where the negatives might have ended up, etc. All available prints from the first release should probably have disappeared after long years of use – or if still physically existing, in all likelihood they are banged up and have turned pink. Shot in 16 mm, this film is especially vulnerable as this is now pretty much an “obsolete format” in most venues still projecting film. I would love to see it again, and I would love to hear the film is safe, original negatives and mix stored away in good conditions, reasonable prints available for rental, or even a good HD digitization existing… who knows.

Tom Hurwitz, Leo’s son, who is a filmmaker himself and supposedly lives in New York City, may know more. Perhaps he can be found.

If at all possible, please let us not only have a section in the catalogue, but also PLEASE program as many as possible of these invisible films – or else they would remain invisible, perhaps forever!

The Sweet Smell of Sex

Andrew Lampert curator Anthology Film Archives

As an Archivist I spend much time hunting through cans, unearthing reels lost in the annals of Anthology Film Archives. I also somehow tend to get contacted when wide-eyed folks discover films and don’t know what to do with them. Time and again I am reminded that there are innumerable milestones and mysteries yet to be discovered, cans still sitting in closets, warehouses and flea markets. And somewhere out there in the sea of lost films is the feature THE SWEET SMELL OF SEX (1965, 72 minutes) directed by Robert Downey Sr. who, by the way, does not particularly care about the fate of this odd exploitation quickie. It was an assignment he picked up to pay the hospital bills for the birth of his son, Iron Man. Downey already had a name for himself in the burgeoning New York independent film scene thanks to an early short, BALLS BLUFF, and the featurette BABO 73 featuring soon-to-be Warhol superstar Taylor Mead.

All that said, underground film notoriety didn’t exactly pay the bills, and Downey desperately needed a gig. Luckily (or not) writer/producer Barnard L Sackett appeared with a script about Bebe, a “bumptious girl from back home in Indiana” who comes to seedy, sordid New York City only to find herself molested by a long line of local perverts. Ad copy and press notes discovered in the Downey file at Anthology claim that the film “takes you one step beyond reality” and “provokes torture in the chamber of the mind”.

Further paperwork and correspondence reveals that the film played at The Film-makers’ Cinematheque, a screening organization directed by Jonas Mekas. A few years ago I had the great pleasure to preserve BABO 73 and Downey’s other 1960s comedies CHAFED ELBOWS and NO MORE EXCUSES, so I suppose my interest in finding this particular film is more about being a completist than anything else.

Do I think that the movie, disavowed by its maker, will be any good?  To that I ask can an over-the-top no-budget low-brow drama about “people who claw their way to the bottom” be disappointing?

If we never locate this film than my second wish would be to dig up the second reel of Downey’s other lost (potential) masterpiece TWO TONS OF TURQUOISE TO TAOS TONIGHT. While this film was later cut down, re-titled and sort of seen as MOMENT TO MOMENT, the hilariously demented, wonderfully disjointed first reel that was recently recovered shows a lot of promise for the earlier edit.

The Young Fighter

Tom Hurwitz director of photography

If I were to choose one of my father’s films as an ‘invisible film,’ I would choose “The Young Fighter,” 1953. Although it was seen on television in the US in 1953 as part of the Omnibus program, it is hardly ever acknowledged as the seminal work that it was. It was the first film to use portable sync sound equipment to film real life, documentary dialogue scenes. As such, it was the first ‘cinéma vérité’ film, and a very good short film at that. Several years later, it was influential in persuading the Robert Drew Unit at Time-Life Films that uniquely powerful films could be made with that technique, and to fund the engineering work of Leacock and Pennebaker in creating the first light-weight, “silent.” sync-sound cameras. It took years for directors and editors to learn to edit ‘direct cinema’ material with the skill and continuity that Leo attained in “The Young Fighter.”

First contact

Bob Connolly filmmaker

My lost film story begins 80 years ago in the unexplored central highlands of New Guinea. Searching for gold in the 1930s, the Australian prospector Michael Leahy stumbles upon a million people previously unknown to the outside world. With an instinctive  nose for history and carrying a movie camera, Leahy documents the final significant confrontation in human history between one culture and the exploring representatives of another. But nobody recognizes the film’s  true significance at the time. Leahy grows embittered, and this archival masterpiece gathers dust in an attic for 50 years.

Come forward to 1980. Tracking rumours of “first contact” footage, my colleague Robin Anderson visits the late Michael’s son Richard in New Guinea and pops the question. Richard emerges from his attic with a battered suitcase and opens it. 11 small cans of 16mm film, each can containing a shotlist yellow with age. Reading those shotlists, Robin has to stop herself from grabbing everything and bolting.

Shrivelled and brittle, the film is unviewable. Promising restoration/ preservation, Robin departs with the footage and Richard’s blessing, and for 2 weeks those cans never leave her side. Landing back in Sydney she hails a cab, piles in her luggage, and heaves a sigh. Halfway home she looks for the battered suitcase. Not there! Left behind in an airport shop! Heart failure!

The suitcase is recovered, the cans deposited at the National Film Archive for restoration. After a 6 week wait we lace up our preservation copy on the editing machine and sit there, “silent on a peak in Darien”  as Michael Leahy’s wondrous scenes unspool for the first time in 50 years.

“First Contact” is born. Hopefully, the gruff old prospector looks down beaming.