Applying Dirk de Bruyn’s Trauma Thesis to Other Avant-Garde Films

For anyone interested in applying de Bruyn’s thesis to other avant-garde films may I suggest the following:

Al Razutis, Visual Essays: Origins of Film (1973-1984) restates early cinema in terms of 1970s and 80s aesthetics. Additionally, it is film history as received in Vancouver, reworked and reflected back as an imagistic moon as Razutis’ personal genealogy of cinema, one that seeks to recover and overthrow the complex exchanges, hierarchies, and compromises that dominate film history. The artist re-constructs history, hoping to save us from subjugation. Rather than a coherent narrative or mythopoeia, Razutis presents us with a collection, almost a curated series of fragments, in uneasy relationship with one another. Maybe they are interchangeable, any recombination of the parts leading to any number and figurations of a whole toward a unity that can only ever be provisional. The Lumières are to be found here in their Train Arriving at the Station, Méliès too, The Storming of the Winter Palace, even Artaud, all reworked by Razutis as structural or flicker films, step printed, film and video hybridization, broken down as far as the grain of the image. At least one part of Visual Essays, (“Ghost Image”), explicitly addresses psychology in the visual tradition.

Believing that there was no future hope for humanity Christopher Maclaine made what is sometimes cited as the first ‘Beat’ film. In The End (1953) Maclaine depicts six people about to die, mostly by suicide. A prolific self-medicator unable to deal with life, Maclaine eventually descended into incompetency and madness.

In Other Reckless Things (1984), Janis Crystal Lipzin reworks ideas of the body in film, cutting the body and film. Responding to a newspaper account of a self-inflicted Caesarian section, Lipzin collages text, primitive animation, hand-held footage of medical instruments and graphic footage of childbirth procedures with a poetic narration which tells of a woman with mental health problems performing her self-Caesarian  with a pen-knife.

The ethno-experimental films of Trinh T Minh Ha address the rupture and displacement inherent in the experience of indigeneity, colonialism and exile. History, memory and trauma have appeared as recurring themes in films such as Displaced Persons (1981) and Cooperation of Parts (1987) by Dan Eisenberg. Here, self and subjectivity are formed in lived experience and past events accrue new associations over time and with transmission.

There are even a couple of little-known Australasian experimental films that perform trauma. In Michael Lee’s lyrical The Mystical Rose (Australia, 1976) a young man brought up strictly Catholic in Queensland struggles to come to terms with the bohemian alternatives he discovers in Melbourne’s metropolitan culture. He eventually rejects his religious upbringing. George Rose and Richard Adams made The Sadness of The Post Intellectual Art Critic (New Zealand. 1979) over several years in the late 1970s. A critic giving a lecture in an art gallery is overwhelmed by memories of his teenage sexual experiences. He roams through the gallery, just as de Bruyn does in Retinex Reflux, articulating an almost total emotional incoherence. Overwhelmed by flashbacks, he struggles to define his trauma within art critical languages until he completely breaks down, just as a vinyl record skips along the soundtrack, repeating the same sequence over and over again, stuck in the groove of his errant emotional life. Not only does The Sadness of the Post Intellectual Art Critic explicate trauma but the the circumstances of its making and subsequent screenings were ignominious and traumatic enough for both Rose and Adams to withdraw from filmmaking. Objecting to the film’s content, the laboratory seized it, refusing to release it to the film artists. Rose initiated a bitter and lengthy court case to retrieve the film. Later, it was pulled from the Auckland Film Festival ten minutes before it was to screen to a full house. A screening was later organized at a nearby independent cinema and the film subsequently played in Sydney, Australia before being independently screened throughout New Zealand.


Video Caption: George Rose and Richard Adams, The Sadness of the Post Intellectual Art Critic (Excerpt), 1979.


Text by Martin Rumsby




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