Contested Grounds: Films by Arthur and Corinne Cantrill

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Over a period of more than 60 years now, Arthur and Corinne Cantrill have created a filmic cosmos that is unrivaled in its polymorphic experimental visual and tonal abundance. Their works range from documentaries to experimental films, from multi-screen installations to performances and sound art. Between 1971 and 2000, they also edited and published Cantrill Filmnotes, an international journal about experimental film, video and the applied arts. Their oeuvre explores artists, social movements and particularly Australia’s landscape. The partly structural approach of their films transcends itself by highlighting the sensory aspect of the cinematic experience and seeking ways of revealing this and making it palpable in their works. The Cantrills’ keen interest in the relationship between landscape and the form of film soon led to a more profound conception of the Australian landscape as a part of Indigenous heritage and environment. The political dimension of the films illuminates their determined appreciation. “We are interested in a continuing dialogue between content and form. We also see this synthesis of landscape and film form as bringing together our attitudes as citizens to the conservation of land, forests and, seashore, and to Indigenous land rights. We have no difficulty in sharing the Indigenous belief that the landscape is the repository of the spiritual life of this continent.” (Arthur and Corinne Cantrill, 1982) Their artistic interest in technological approaches in film, film theory and reflections in film history led them to explore two and three-color separation extensively, resulting in some of the most beautiful works to use the medium of film to create a sensory realm of experience. Their oeuvre breathes a free spirit that is both beguiling and contemplative. Arsenal, which has had Cantrill films in its archive since 1982, acquired further works in 2018. Our retrospective is the most extensive in Europe ever and offers a rare opportunity to discover the Cantrills’ oeuvre.

SEVEN SISTERS (THE PLEIADES) (Australia 1980), (June 3) Introduction: Michelle Carey) The recording of a traditional song telling of a journey by two ancestral women traveling through central Australia, is interwoven with images of the landscape as the filmmakers cross tribal lands. The Cantrills insist that this is not an ethnographic film but the documentation of a personal experience. THE SECOND JOURNEY (TO ULURU) (Australia 1981) As the camera moves gently towards the very heart of the sandstone monolith Uluru, the magic of the holiest site of the Aborigines is revealed in shimmering nuances of light. Shot at different times of day, the close-up and panorama shots of this over 500-million-year-old stone formation combine silence and acoustically altered birdsong to convey a feeling of timelessness into which a sense of loss is also inscribed. The somnambulistic moonrise in the great sky seems almost like an abstract painting; yet it is real. The areas of discoloration in the film material caused by problems in the developing process were deliberately left in the film as a metaphor for the looming threat to this natural environment through bushfires and tourism.

In a filmic symphony of light and colors, AT ULURU (Australia 1977), (June 6) conveys the mythical and spiritual dimension of this monolith to which we are tuned with Corinne Cantrill’s poetic text. Like OCEAN AT POINT LOOKOUT, the film is carried by silence so that the place’s timeless nature is highlighted. Both films are part of the Touching the Earth series. Before the screening, we will show AT ELTHAM – A METAPHOR ON DEATH (Australia 1974). The atmosphere in this experimental landscape film by Corinne Cantrill is restrained and dark. The shots of the landscape are layered,; from time to time the river appears in the depth of the picture. Natural rhythms, in the alternation of day and night, are annulled. A lyrical space of light and shade opens up, accompanied by the song of bellbirds.

EARTH MESSAGE (Australia 1970), (June 6) The beauty of the Australian bush is depicted in a carefully composed camera choreography of different aspects of flora and fauna. Close-up and panorama shots and Aboriginal music meld into a meditative view of the energy and harmony that shape the place.
OCEAN AT POINT LOOKOUT (Australia 1977) The camera focuses deliberately on the sea, not on the beach and the visible environmental destruction caused by sand mines. The concentration on the mood and nature of the sea highlights the desire to respect nature and its power. Different materials are used to film the undulation of the sea, the reflection of light and the horizon, over and over. This is visual poetry whose musical structure rests on silence.

A central aspect of these landscape films (June 8) is the search for experimental forms of expression to record the passing of time and light and alternating colors of the spectrum and nuances of light. BOUDDI (Australia 1970) is a camera calligraphy of the wild coastal landscape of New South Wales, an animated stream of myriad details that celebrate natural growth, summer, the intensity of light. WARRAH (Australia 1980) was made 10 years later, just a few miles away, and used three-color separation imagery to expand the experimental documentation of landscape. Alternating nuances of color conjure up; a formal beauty, which are echoed in birdsong and the buzzing of insects. HEAT SHIMMER (Australia 1978) explores a natural phenomenon that is difficult to convey and grasp using the three-color separation to make light in movement visible with colors of the spectrum and refraction. A flickering color spectrum leads the viewer to observe nature. TWO WOMEN (Australia 1980) is a personal appraisal of a journey through the mythical landscape of the tribal areas of central Australia framed by recordings of women from the Areyonga Aboriginal community singing. The approach is free and sways to the rhythm of the images and the songs. Like a lucid dream, the movements of the water in WATERFALL (Australia 1984) meld into a metaphorical space of constant transformation, which transcends the real and makes palpable the unbridled force of nature. It is one of the Cantrills’ most famous films and offers a unique viewing experience thanks to its brilliant interlacing of form, subject and apparatus.

Another program (June 10) focuses on the potential of experimental filmmaking. In 4000 FRAMES – AN EYE OPENER FILM (Australia 1970) single images combine to a constant stream. In VIDEO SELF-PORTRAIT (Australia 1971), abstract spiral shapes are formed by the use of filters, coloring techniques and double exposure. PRINTER LIGHT PLAY (Australia 1978) is a study of the technical requirements of color in film, which demystifies the process in film laboratories. EXPERIMENTS IN THREE-COLOUR SEPARATION (Australia 1980) analyses in detail the theories and principles of color separation in film and photography. NOTES ON THE PASSAGE OF TIME (Australia 1979), a study of three-color separation made in Pearl Beach, interlaces three time segments - the intervals of color separation, the change of seasons and the passing of a day. As the same scene is reproduced ephemerally, the mobile elements give rise to an impression of transience, while those that are immobile convey a sense of durability. The passing of time is thus made visible and palpable.

IN THIS LIFE’S BODY (Australia 1984), (June 14), which is arguably one of the most idiosyncratic autobiographical films, the photographic image and thoughts about the presence of death in life become the driving force behind the narrative itself, thus transcending the individual. The film is composed entirely of photographs that provide a glimpse of Corinne Cantrill’s life from her birth to 1984. They are of different genres, ranging from studio portraits to family photos, photos taken on the street, images from films and self-portraits. The story unfolds on the basis of the existence and survival of single pictures, thus pointing to the gaps that are also part of everyone’s life. As we listen to Corinne Cantrill’s memories while she looks at the pictures, which, with irresistible intensity, capture the essence of memory and the moment of transience inherent to life and photography, we follow - fascinated - the eventful life of a strong-willed woman, and the deeper layers of perception return us to ourselves. An impressive work that is touching in its minimalistic form.

HARRY HOOTON (Australia 1970), (June 15), Introduction: Michelle Carey) is a tribute to the poet and anarchist Harry Hooton, a key figure of the left-wing intellectual movement Sydney Push. It is a visually wild essay film, which only has the character of a documentary because of its soundtrack that features recordings of Hooton himself reciting his poetry and expounding on his social theories as he lay dying in 1961. By interlacing the documentary soundtrack with dynamic and often abstract montage sequences, the filmmakers tried to embody Harry Hooton’s philosophical ideas and his notions of anarcho-technology on film, conceived as a high energy field of light and colour, movements, editing and sound. The film acquired cult status in Australia. Before the screening, we will show EIKON (Australia, 1969), an interplay of natural elements, blended in a triptych of the actress Sharman Mellick, the central contemplative figur, accompanied by a looped soprano note and violins.

SKIN OF YOUR EYE (Australia 1973), (June 23) In a chronological flow of time shot between 1971 and 1973, a lively picture of Melbourne and its counter-culture emerges in a series of film essays. The film is structured almost entirely according to the order of the shots and thus reveals the evolution of film, from the early bright and colorful sequences to a sparser, more monochromatic visual language towards the end. Single figures stand out from the crowds of people. There is a play of contrasts which is put into question by the constant passing of time.

A further program explores the way a subject’s inherent energy penetrates and is reinforced by decidedly experimental sound collages. (June 26). In ROBERT KLIPPEL – JUNK SCULPTURE #3 (Australia 1964) a visual orbiting around light and music (Larry Sitsky) allows for an immersion into Robert Klippel’s sculpture.
DREAM (Australia 1966) is based on a series of drypoint prints by the Australian artist Charles Lloyd exploring the subject of aggression in society. The sound composition by Arthur Cantrill is a mix of percussion, altered piano and sound effects. In an animated torrent of images, BLAST (Australia 1971) gives a palpable insight into the historical context of the manifesto of Vorticism, an early 20th-century British art movement. MOVING STATICS (Australia 1969) attempts to communicate the abstract kinetic art of the Dutch mime Will Spoor. In NOTES ON BERLIN, THE DIVIDED CITY (Australia 1986) music, sounds and radio excerpts from both parts of the divided city illustrate the layered temporal spaces and ideologies.

Another program looks at the riot of color that conjures up a sublime realm of memory in its interaction with light and shade and experimental sounds (June 30). GARDEN OF CHROMATIC DISTURBANCE (Australia 1998), CITY OF CHROMATIC DISSOLUTION (Australia 1999) and THE ROOM OF CHROMATIC MYSTERY (Australia 2006) are among the last of the three-color separation studies made by the Cantrills in which, mainly because of Arthur Cantrill’s experimental soundtrack of distorted sounds of nature, electronic carpets of sound and concrete music, any impression of a naturalist depiction is removed. At the same time, what has passed is evoked and what is actually invisible becomes the picture.
In RAINBOW DIARY (Australia 1984) and MYSELF WHEN FOURTEEN (Australia 1989) that were made in collaboration with the Cantrills’ autistic painter son Ivor the colors begin to dance to Chris Knowles’ music. In MYSELF WHEN FOURTEEN, a hypnotic effect is generated by rotoscoped animated drawings. THE ROOM OF CHROMATIC MYSTERY (2006) was the Cantrills’ last film. Shot in their house in Brunswick, not only are plants and the reflection and refraction of light revealed in all their beauty, but so are the traces of an environment full of voices, sounds and discussions, which echo quietly in the atmospheric space. The passing of time and the beauty of the moment overlap and become an echo of memory. (ara)

THE SECOND JOURNEY (TO ULURU) and other examples of the Cantrills’ experiments with three-color separation will be screened in the Betonhalle of Silent Green from 30th May to 3rd June, and brought into relation with three works by Mareike Bernien and Kerstin Schroedinger, who are interested in the ideological implications of color. A Film Feld Forschung project in the context of “Archive außer sich”.

Thank you to ACMI, Melbourne, und DFF – Deutsches Filminstitut & Filmmuseum, Frankfurt/Main.

https://www.arsenal-berlin.de/en/arsenal-cinema/current-program/single/a...

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