Karpo Godina, the Yugoslavian Black Wave cinematographer, editor and director, was on hand this week at BAM to present a program of his short films, including the collaborative film I Miss Sonja Henie. Three of his I Miss Sonja Henie collaborators were on hand as well: Buck Henry, Paul Morrissey, and Milosz Forman. I will write soon on I Miss Sonja Henie, as well as Godina's making-of film. First, some brief notes on the other films shown at the screening.
"We were standing in the water during the day, and a lot of things happened also during the night." - Karpo Godina
The Gratinated Brains of Pupilija Ferkeverk (1970) struck the most nuanced and rebellious notes of the three shorts that began the program. The camera maintains one position, though there are lots of edits; due to composition and movement in and out of frame these rarely register as "jump cuts" beyond the changing character of the light. The film begins with a shot of a body of water, with houses in the distance, as a topless young woman swings on a swing on the right side of the frame. When she reaches the forward part of her swing she is in frame; when she swings backward she is out of frame. In numerous versions of the same shot - at different times of day - she is the only person in the frame. Eventually she is joined in the frame by 5 men, who only rarely interact with her. They face the camera - sometimes as far back as she, sometimes in extreme closeup. They stand still, they frolic, they are covered in mud or clean. Intertitles with various graphic design elements - including Serbo-Croatian (or Slovenian?) text describing various phases of life: "life," "death," "dictatorship," "swallow LSD" - sometimes flash between shots. The LSD taken at the end of the film - introduced by the only title card that appears twice in the film - was real LSD.
The film is in color, but here's an idea of the mise-en-scène:
The use of a single camera position accentuates the visual and temporal changes bridged by each edit. It also emphasizes time in a broader way; the moments captured on film are somewhat disconnected, so watching becomes in part a process of situating events in a time before the "next" time comes (not edited sequentially, "next" might just as often refer to "previous"). The film's successful avoidance of the "jump cut" (as an emotional phenomenon rather than a technical one) is a triumph of blocking and editing, and shows a deep understanding of the ways that mise-en-scène affects our understanding of an image. While all of Godina's work shares a core playfulness, Pupilija Ferkeverk does this most effectively because Godina's playfulness extends to his onscreen collaborators. Inside the limits of his frame, he seems to have created a zone of liberation in which young people can explore themselves outside the pressures of imposed power (hence: film was banned for showing the decay of moral values).
The symbolic representation of frustrated sexual expression of
The Gratinated Brains of Pupilija Ferkeverk turns to literalism in On Love Skills or A Film with 14,441 Frames (1972). This film was commissioned by the Yugoslavian Army after Karpo was transferred to the Army's film department. He was authorized to make an offical military film about the problems of a military barracks and the nearby village of women with whom they never crossed paths. Instead, he made a pacifist film - "make love not war." The army approved - and even actively loved the original script, which was different than the film that was produced, though Karpo did not make it seem that his script had been a ploy to finance a pacifist film. In any case, the finished product led to his prosecution by a military court, a near-brush with a 7-year prison term, and the destruction of the film by the military with an ax (!). One print was saved, however, and that's what we saw.
The film relies on a basic opposition between the women of the town - workers at a women's factory, or girls at a school - and the young military men who do not interact with them. Godina emphasizes the sheer numbers of both groups in wide shots containing multitudes. The women stand together as one of them speaks, but it isn't immediately obvious which, presenting the illusion that they all speak, that the one voice speaks for all. The men, on the other hand, are shown in military exercises or simply standing in uniform. Some of choreography of the exercises makes them look silly. Funnier still are the few scenes where military men and throngs of women exist in the same frame: shots near the end of the film when a single soldier holds the slate before a group of assembled women. In each case, he appears timid, frightened, unsteady, as if all his practice with his gun and his time spent in the barracks has left him unsure of his masculinity. Karpo explained after the film that 20 tanks and 60 airplanes were left at his disposal for use in the film (he shot them but they didn't make it into his final cut). For me, the overtly ironic juxtapositions of On Love Skills or A Film with 14,441 Frames were a disappointment after the more elusive meanings of
The Gratinated Brains of Pupilija Ferkeverk, but it is a fine example of montage in the service of political activism.
Healthy People for Fun (1971) is a portrait of Vojvodina, a community full of different ethnic groups. This film is ethnography by way of political commentary on the supposed unities asserted by the Yugoslavian government. Godina makes ironic use of the modes of presentation common in pastoral celebratory propaganda (extending tendencies nascent in 14,441 Frames). In spite of the film's curiosity about the individuals in Vojvodina, I couldn't help but see this as a minor film for Godina, one that combines irony and ethnographic seriousness without exploring either in any great depth.