Thursday, May 23, 2013 at 7:30pm
Two Films by Charles Dekeukeleire
155 Freeman Street, Brooklyn
Impatience, Charles Dekeukeleire, 16mm, 1928, 27 mins
Histoire de détective, Charles Dekeukeleire, 16mm, 1929, 37 mins
An unjustly overlooked figure of the European avant-garde, Belgian filmmaker Charles Dekeukeleire made only four experimental works in the 1920s. Two of them—Impatience and Histoire de détective—are nothing less than hidden masterpieces of the era, though they reportedly baffled audiences in their own day. In this pair of films, Dekeukeleire proposes an enigmatic disassembling of silent cinema’s constitutive logics, presaging the concerns of structural film by many decades and dramatically upending conventions of narrative form.
Impatience is built around what Dekeukeleire called the four “characters” of the film, introduced in a title card as The Mountain, The Motorcycle, The Woman, and Abstract Blocks. Each element appears in a succession of discrete, repeated shots, their relationship suggested exclusively via montage, yet never granting the viewer the climactic payoff of fiction they at first appear to promise. The evocation of speed and a vertiginous cinematography seem in tune with the loopier elements of the 20s avant-garde, but ultimately Impatience feels less allied to contemporaneous experiments such as Ballet mécanique and more like a forgotten ancestor to the internal-combustion erotics of Kustom Kar Kommandos.
If Impatience suggests a foray into pure cinema by stressing the primacy of phenomenological experience, Histoire de détective overturns this very project through its deployment of a film-within-a-film that constitutes a failure of optical investigation. The story concerns Mme. Jonathan, who hires T, a detective, to trail her neurasthenic husband around Belgium and Luxembourg. T uses a motion-picture camera to follow M. Jonathan, and most of Histoire is taken up with T’s shaky, idiosyncratic footage of street scenes and local architecture. Providing few clues of their own, T’s digressive shots are interrupted by elaborately designed intertitles that bear almost all of the narrative information of the film. This distended structure plays with the tropes of the crime serial, but almost sadistically denies the viewer any of the genre’s expected visual pleasures in favor of less obvious effects. “My greatest concern,” Dekeukeleire once noted, “is to make the camera’s lens live like the eye, like a glance...conditioned by the inner life.”
Impatience and Histoire de détective will be screened on unsubtitled 16mm prints courtesy of the Royal Film Archive of Belgium. For tonight’s event, the intertitles will be translated live by Luc Sante.
Tickets - $7, available at door.
Please note: seating is limited. First-come, first-served. Box office opens at 7pm.