Thursday, March 17, 2016

San Domingo, Hans-Jürgen Syberberg, 1970

(Indulging in semantics; once in a while I can't resist...)

An "experimental film" in the full meaning of the phrase, or maybe rather an "experimenting film". That is, not part of a genre called "experimental cinema" (and also not a "filmed experiment"), but a film that performs an experiment. In the sense that the film as a whole constitutes a laboratory setting, a limited number of descrete elements, and a methodology that governs their interaction. (And in the sense that it constitutes nothing but these things). The hypothesis the experiment might or might not be testing remains strictly outside of the film, though, unavailable and even invisible both from the inside and for us. The film almost feels like an experiment without an experimenter.

Of course, orthodox scientific theory positions the experimenter as someone who disappears into metholdology. But cinematic experiments can't leave authorship behind (because at the end of the day they are just metaphors for experiments, not the real thing). In cinema, there are different ways to disappear into methodology, and these different ways are usually much more interesting than the experiments themselve.

From this perspective, Syberberg's film might be seen as the work of a conservative (who in later years moved towards the far right) engaging with leftish / anarchist youth movements. He identifies with the young, violent, gloriously vulgar drifters he films aesthetically, but not politically. An interesting point of reference could be the work of Paul Morrissey - San Domingo even has its own Joe Dalessandro in Michael König (although the way both filmmakers use their main actors points towards crucial differences). Both Syberberg's and Morrissey's films are unsettling because of the perceived neutrality of the filmic gaze - because of the rather strange mode of their maker's disappearance into methodology.

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