Layers and Lattices: the Super 8 films of Helga Fanderl
By Nicky Hamlyn

Here you can read the beginning of Nicky Hamlyn’s text on Helga Falderl. You can read the complete text here.

Helga Fanderl is one of a very small number of filmmakers making serious formal innovations with Super 8(1). She came to filmmaking after studying European literature, having wanted to be a poet, but found writing a difficult and uncongenial medium. She was introduced to film in the mid 1980s through a Super 8 workshop in Frankfurt, organised by Urs Breitenstein, a former pupil of Peter Kubelka. She went on to study with Kubelka, informally at first, then formally at the Frankfurt Städelschule. She subsequently studied at Cooper Union in New York with Robert Breer. Since the mid 1980s she has completed over six hundred short films. Most of them consist of a single roll of Super 8, lasting around three minutes, but many are shorter, and some but a single shot of a few seconds duration. In Fanderl’s work a number of contrasting elements; formal, spatial, colouristic, graphic and performative, co-exist in productive tension with each other, often pulling one’s attention in opposing directions. Equally, Fanderl will change the conceptual register within a single film by a shift of strategy. This is achieved by, for example, foregrounding graphic connections over representational stability, or reducing information to allow the kinetic to override illusory space. The films thereby create a self-consciously active spectator, for what, at first glance, appear to be straightforwardly observational films. In an important sense they are, of course, observational, since each one strongly conveys the genius loci in which it is made, but the demands the films make are untypical of those made (or not made) by conventional documentaries. Humans and animals are very important for the way in which they inform the formal strategies and eventual structures of these scenarios. The films may be grouped according to some recurring themes and approaches; those that explore reflections, usually in water; black and white films; and a third grouping that have grids, or lattices, in common. The films in this last group often involve a strong performative element, such that the familiar characterisations of grids as predetermining, rectilinear, fixed forms are reconceived. The earliest films were constructed in a more conventionally edited manner, but Fanderl soon found this way of working difficult and constraining. The difficulties were partly technical-practical, in that the tiny size of Super 8 makes editing shots, especially the short shots she wanted to work with, cumbersome. The cuts are also highly visible which makes it difficult to control the effects of montage. In a positive sense, in-camera construction allowed Fanderl to: “concentrate and dip into the flow of time, filming so to say time and events that happen in time, searching for the “gesture” that could integrate the complexity of everything that happens in the “here and now” when I film and for the expression of the reciprocity between what is happening in me and outside of me”

Hence, almost all her films are edited in-camera, so there is no post-production: mistakes are accepted, although in this context they are no longer mistakes, since everything that is made, as it is made, becomes part of the work: When mistakes are judged to be fatal, the entire film is jettisoned. The momentary temporal pauses between shots become motifs, both in the articulation of rhythm and in the play and disturbance of light and movement, continuity and discontinuity. All the films are silent. The films are characterised by their brevity and a dance-like motility and lightness of touch, combined with an improvisatory, yet exploratory purpose. Indeed, in the former respect many of them may be compared to small-group, free musical improvisation, in which a successful interplay of instrumental voices depends on the musicians’ ability both to play and listen at the same time, so that they may modify their playing in response to their fellow group members. As Fanderl herself puts it in relation to her filmic procedures “learning to pay attention to the pace, to the correspondence between the subject matter, my interest and feeling and the timing”. She has honed her ability to look and structure simultaneously –to anticipate- resulting in a structuring process, rather than structure in the sense of predetermined forms, although there are degrees of this in some of the films, for example Zelte am Kanal (Tents on a Canal: 3’, 2006), where a static subject allows for a more pre-meditated approach. At the opposite extreme, in a film like Große Voliere (Big Aviary, 2000), the camera moves rapidly and repeatedly to catch the frenetic to-ing and fro-ing of birds, filmed against the curving grid of glazing bars in an Art Nouveau aviary. It should be born in mind that the real core of Fanderl’s work, its effects, its energies, are what remains after any analysis has taken place.

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