“Death is the negation of time. But lust wants eternity.” — from Alexander Kluge’s Artists Under the Big Top: Perplexed
As Wim Wenders and Werner Herzog currently revive their careers and become rediscovered by cinephiles, it’s the perfect moment for Anthology Film Archive’s A Tribute to Alexander Kluge retrospective, starting tomorrow and going until the 21st. But other than being a fellow New German Cinema phenom during the Sixties and Seventies, Kluge has little in common with the aforementioned auteurs. Whereas Wenders and Herzog sought popular acclaim during their heyday by renewing narrative conventions with exotic culture clashing and an international cast of well-known stars, Kluge went a more political (i.e., Marxist), less assimable route. Close to Fassbinder in his preoccupation with Germany’s traumatic past and close to Godard, Straub & Huillet, and Rainer in “essayist,” hetergenous aesthetics, Kluge’s films mix self-contained staged narratives, documentary, photographic stills and illustrations, and archival footage to profound effect. Of the four Kluge films I’ve seen, Artists Under the Big Top: Perplexed and The Patriot stand out for their complex, dialectic considerations of the artist’s and historian’s role, respectively, in actively questioning and challenging prevailing ideologies. Yesterday Girl is an early take on Godard’s Vivre Sa Vie, without the genre send-ups, a melancholic allegory on Germany’s festering post-war wounds. The Power of Emotion is by far the most difficult — I especially want to see this one again to unravel its mysteries — and not for those adverse to Brechtian cinematics. Just don’t get frustrated Kluge’s project seems impenetrable at first. As Michelle Langford writes for Senses of Cinema: “Kluge advocates the adoption of a rather relaxed attitude on the part of the spectator. He has written: ‘Relaxation means that I myself become alive for a moment, allowing my senses to run wild: for once not to be on guard with the police-like intention of letting nothing escape me.'” Take what you can from the images and then let them seep in over time — connections and revelations will be forthcoming.