Super 8 film, for me, has a close connection to my father. Though I have not seen the films for many years, I remember watching my father as a child- playing with his siblings in the yard of my grandparents’ house in Leverkusen (Germany), and driving back and forth in the little toy car that now contributes to the decoration of my parent’s living room. Those films belong to a small collection that is complete with a Super 8 camera and projector. When filming their children playing, my grandparents demonstrated the the original (marketing) purpose of the Super 8 format, which was introduced by Kodak in 1965 “to help the average person document their everyday lives.” They are classic home videos: made to capture a private moment either on a special occasion or within everyday life. Watching those orange-tinted, grainy and vibrating images of my dad as a child in our living room is an intimate event that evokes a huge sense of nostalgia.
The films Dagie Brundert - a filmmaker specialising in Super 8 - shows in the short film programme Polyversum Super 8 at the Internationales Frauenfilmfestival Dortmund - Köln belong to a second category of Super 8 filmmaking: the artist’s film. Super 8 as a form of art film predominates the video and the digital camera, which replaced Super 8 in the home video sector. While most of the films in the programme were made for public screenings and galleries, they effortlessly retain a sense of intimacy and nostalgia. Their content ranges from collages of flowers and music videos to short animations and sci-fi thrillers, but the warm colours, graininess and little blots in the images create a visual association for me, with my dad in his toy car. As such, the screening process itself has a more personal feeling for me, than other short film screenings I have experienced. Eight of the eighteen films - all of which have been made by female artists - are screened with a Super 8 projector. The others have been transferred to digital format to save them from falling apart, as curator Dagie Brundert explains in the festival catalogue. The first part of the programme in particular, adds an extra sense of lived-in-ness, as it is accompanied by the rattling of the projector and little pauses when the artist installs a new reel. As such Polyversum Super 8 oscillates somewhere between a film screening and a live performance. Even more so than digital screening devices, Super 8 projectors are prone to accidents and technical glitches, however, a sense of excitement and joy flows through the room when Brundert shows a little paint brush to the audience. She tells us that she used it to remove some dirt from the projector only minutes before the audience entered the screening room. Indeed, Brundert and the audience agree that this excitement adds to the charm of the medium.
This atmosphere of liveness, the excitement of experiments and the nostalgia of the Super 8 films are enhanced by the venue where Polyversum Super 8 takes place: The sweetSixteen Kino at the Depot in Dortmund. A beautiful, relatively small and intimate cinema space- almost like a familiar living room. In front of the large screen is some space for performances and talks, and a piano underlines the versatility of the room as a cultural and experimental space. It is situated within the Depot: a large tram repair workshop that has been transformed into a multi-use cultural centre including a restaurant and a theatre. I could not think of a better space to screen Super 8 art works. It combines nostalgia for the industrial past of the Ruhr-area around Dortmund with both the present and future, where people are searching for a cultured and purposeful understanding of that industrial heritage. It is possible to suggest, in fact, that the programme itself mirrors the revival of the Super 8 format in vibrant artistic works.
The choice of films, Brundert says, is a very personal one. She has been working with the Super 8 format herself since the late 1980ies. Two films in the programme are her own works and many others are by friends and fellow artists, most of whom she has met personally. With some she has a “virtual connection” as they exchange recipes for the maintenance of material: avoiding the use of go-to toxic and environmentally damaging chemicals that are normally utilised. One of them is Finish/English artist Martha Jurksaitis / Cherry Kino, who develops her films in coffee and fixes them in seawater (for 20 hours!). Brundert affectionately calls her a “Film Alchemist”, and her mesmerising work “Silva Shade” is a result of such alchemy. We stand in a forest. While the treetops move around us as if we are at the centre of a “woodland carousel”, we can hear the cracking of twigs and whistling of the wind that might just be the sound of the projector. The colours of the trees transform from bright pink, to green, to night blue, in a hypnotic dance. Sometimes they appear like old withered photographs, stained with a spectrum of watercolours. Indeed, Martha Jurksaitis hand-painted the film with photographic watercolours to achieve such an ephemeral effect.
The recurring theme of ‘dance’ seeps through the entire programme. There is the music video “Stucky Bumaye!” (2009) where Swiss singer and artist Erika Stucky performs an interpretive dance to her own version of Michael Jackson’s “Bad”. Grainy and fuzzy images show her clad in bright red on a little plateau above a big city- moving energetically to the sound of her gravelly voice. Another one is Helga Fanderl’s “Binsen” (2003): a long and golden cane by the side of a lake dances slowly and beautifully in the wind. Like her other two films included in the programme “Brunnen” (2000) and “Mädchen” (1995), the film is silent and only accompanied by the intimate sounds of the projector and the audience: these are meticulously composed, beautiful images that have a soothing and meditative effect. In contrast the short, stop-motion-animation “Fünf Ahoi” by Frigga Horstmann has a lot of ‘on-screen’ movement and sound. Little plastic mermaids dance to staccato-like music, seducing sailors as they go. The music is played on a laptop while the images are rattling away on the same, little projector. “Fünf Ahoi” is another example of the variety of Super 8 films that are out there. While the approaches by Helga Fanderl, Erica Stucky and Martha Jurksaitis make explicitly experiment with the unique visual characteristics of ‘naturalistic’ Super 8 images, “Fünf Ahoi” experiments with the form of animation. The curator herself mixes Super 8 film with text lines that float over the screen, alongside small, comic-style paper figures in “Get up, Jucy Lordan” (2009). The camera dances through a city: there is a lake with swans, candles are being lit, a glass of wine is being poured and from time to time the filmmaker captures her own face as she strolls through the unknown city. “Get up, Jucy Lordan!” jumps from cut to cut, the images overlap and swirl around in another mesmerising dance. At the same time, we hear Dagie Brundert sing the lines “At the age of forty-something I realized I can ride quite well through Berlin or Los Angeles in a rental car with the hot desert wind in my hair”. It is a knowing nod to Marianne Faithful’s original line, “At the age of thirty-seven she realised she'd never ride through Paris in a sports car with the warm wind in her hair” from her 1980s song, “The Ballad of Lucy Jordan”. Using the warm and blurry aesthetics of Super 8, the film offers a self-reflexive response to the idea that a woman’s life is engraved into rigid and unforgiving lines.
The entire programme comprises a vividly abstract and culturally engaged discussion on the (all too often overlooked) creativity of women filmmakers, which is succinctly captured in the sci-fi influenced, short film “Schraube (1993) by artist duo Hanna Nordholt and Fritz Steingrebe. The narrative follows three female astronauts who discover a barbaric and violent world, where they are forced to fight for their lives. Aside from its immediate, unnerving tone, the setting of the film’s scenes reveal both a playfulness and attention to detail. Indeed, the black and white aesthetics of “Schraube”, the chunky, ‘vintage’ interior of the spaceship, and the recognisable use of paper to model the spaceship’s exterior, recalls elements of the 1960s sci-fi series Space Patrol (Raumpatrouille - Die fantastischen Abenteuer des Raumschiff ORION). While travelling throughout space, the film transports us through time: namely to the 1960s, when Super 8 found its way into many households. The last two films, “Die Geschichte der heiligen Veronika” (1997) by Vroni & Vroni and “Der weisse Prinz” (1991) by Eva Bertram, are a roller-coaster ride through female fandom and sexuality. “Die Geschichte der heiligen Veronika” mocks the idea of devoted female fandom by exchanging Jesus for Elvis in the story of the holy Veronica, who receives an imprint of Jesus’ face to commend her devotion. It mixes explicitly comedic and over-the-top acting with ‘cheap’ costumes and makeshift sets, complete with a clay, stop-motion animation of a bathing Elvis. Likewise, in the whirlwind of images that comprise “Der weisse Prinz”, a girl eating lone breakfasts in rubber boots, longingly licks her lips for ‘the white Prince’ who does not exist. Dagie Brundert curated a programme that has the audience leaving the screening room in nostalgic delight. Through an implicit exploration of nostalgia and memory, the artists have captured mesmerising images and turned them into unique art that offers ever new and changing perspectives of our world. Polyversum Super 8 celebrates the surging energy of female creativity, pushes Super 8 film exhibition into the realms of live performance- seeking to provoke intimate moments of connection, while transcending both past and present.
Words by Kathinka Engels
Some of the films from the programme can be viewed online: “Silva Shade” by Martha Jurksaitis / Cherry Kino on vimeo: https://vimeo.com/69814260
“Stucky Bumaye!” by Erika Stucky on YouTube: https://www.youtube.com/ watch?v=5nYcQvSxZUU
“Get up, Jucy Lordan” by Dagie Brundert on YouTube: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-pWfi89rRwk “Stucky Bumaye!” by Erika Stucky on YouTube: https://www.youtube.com/ watch?v=5nYcQvSxZUU “Get up, Jucy Lordan” by Dagie Brundert on YouTube: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-pWfi89rRwk