Cinema Project Presents “Horrorism For Beginners”: Select Films by Berlin-Based Filmmakers, Anja Dornieden and Juan David Gonzalez, a.k.a. OJOBOCA
Last night, I thought I would have wild, fantastically visual dreams. The kind that you instantly recall upon waking up for the vivid hallucinatory quality they had; images from childhood, of yourself, imposed on textured recollections of places and things, fragmented in continuously changing light, with no discernible connection to the awake mind but completely understood as reality to that of the dreaming brain. The kind that stay with you only the first few moments of the morning when you remember somehow holding your favorite toy as a ten year-old and being with your mom, but your twenty year old self is there too, in a city you’ve never visited with a person you met randomly a few years ago, who you never expected to recall again.
It was a viewing of “Horrorrism For Beginners” that gave me this expectation. It is a few short films developed by OJOBOCA, the name under which Berlin-based filmmakers, Anja Dornieden and Juan David González Monroy collaborate, and was presented last night at the Clinton Street Theater by Cinema Project. To be more precise, the night consisted of one short film, a narrated slideshow and two projector performances. Feelings of disembodiment and indeed, a strange, non-frightening kind of horror, escalated into something resembling a dream watching these films one after another. Even now, I’m not sure what to make of each but not because of complicated story-lines or unclear narration. Rather, it was like having a dream and waking up, or feeling like you’re awake in the dream, and confusedly confronting a reality which you can’t completely understand, but are nonetheless convinced of it’s existence.
The first film, Gente Perra, or Dog People, is narrated in Spanish and tells the story of “The Admiral” arriving in an unknown land. The film begins as he comes ashore and the audience inhabits his view as he moves through dense, jungle-like trees and brush. The images are darkly lit, as if all the footage was shot at dusk. The greens are dark pine greens or black against a gray sky. It is populated with happy-faced gnomes, grazing zebras, monkeys and giant, stone-like images of elephants. There are no humans for most of the film, only traces of them, like fences and rope, in open spaces and the music, long hollow hums, is like the sounds you imagine silence and emptiness to have.
The story is based on the stories of Colombian writer, Gomati D. Wahn, which Anja and Juan came upon at a small bookstore in Berlin. It is the story of a conquistador searching for something and as we’re taken on this journey with him through a landscape that is made creepy by the gnomes and primitive by the animals, I am never really sure what he is looking for. But at the end, he says he’s found it. We meet his mother, the only person in the film, and we watch her old, wrinkled hands and listen as she laments her worn-out body. I think he’s found it there, in her. She is the source of his life and exploration as well as the means to which he can begin to understand the world. But how he got there is still uncertain, like a memory you have that you’re not sure is based in truth.
The second film, the narrated slide show, Wolkenschatten, tells the story of a small town in Germany that was suddenly and inexplicably abandoned. “Imagine a place. Imagine that place is a landscape,” a narrator asks us in German. On screen, we are among slender trees; their white bark softly glowing in blue light. The narrator asks that we imagine the light of this landscape, the warmth of it and then, asks us to imagine the pain of never being able to return there. The film presents photographs, projected on top of one another, like old newspaper clippings, faded with time or stained with countless spills. Some of them make me think of graffiti on underground subway walls or forgotten, desolate parts of a city.
The narration here sounds to me like a poem. The phrases and words are beautiful, depicting the subdued horror of loss and forgetting. The eyes are described as accessing all the senses. The eyes can taste, hear and smell. The eyes can be removed from the body and the images they once held are recorded and recaptured on the retina. Nothing is forgotten, then. We can remember if we can see. And we don’t need to occupy our physical bodies to see.
The images are of faces and landscapes, both recognizable and strange. The story is that a projector was found in a cave near the town and when investigators turned it on, all the images were projected on the walls of the cave. That is how they are displayed in the film– as blurred and grainy fragments of moments, both forever lost and retrievable as if to question the very existence of time in this visual revival of a town, collapsed in the memories of people who knew it.
A man’s face projected on the screen for 15 minutes made up the first projection performance, Now I want to Laugh. The music was jolting, like a stampede of hard, dense, sharp drum beats getting louder and closer, and it matched the chaotic light running over the man’s face. It was like watching an X-Ray of the face over and over. Sharp, white lines cut across the face as the mouth opened and closed slowly, dark patches like cancer spots appeared and disappeared on his transparent flesh. The image was at once ghostly and severe, then soft, making the face start to appear more like a baby’s then a grown man. It was difficult to stay fixated on the image. Even now as I think about it I’m not sure that the sounds were mounting or getting louder, there wasn’t a climax at all. It may have been a trick of my mind – as my discomfort rose, I perceived the sounds to be rising with it.
The final projection performance was similar to Now I Want to Laugh in that it displayed only one image. The continuous spewing of a liquid substance from an orifice in the earth’s rocky surface provided the visual for Apocalypse For You. A computer-generated woman’s voice narrated over the image. “Maybe this is change,” she repeated as we all watched the shifting intensity of the mini eruption. “Maybe you asked for too little, maybe you asked for too much.” “Maybe you spoke with your mouth too full,” she says and as she seemed to sum up an entire life in the simple thoughts we’ve all had or the statements we’ve all said or been told, I thought of the movie Boyhood, the Richard Linklater film that was shot over twelve years using the same actors to depict the story of a boy’s life.
There is something excellent about the movie and how it portrays the mundane aspects of a life, maybe due to it’s authenticity or it’s resistance to dress it up to be sensational. As I watched the steady spraying substance on screen, and listened to the voice which betrayed no emotion and evoked in me nothing so specifically powerful other than a dim impression of lament, I thought of how the distillation of all we’ve sensed, said, and done might come to look exactly like this incessant, slow gushing and the reliable, subsequent cascades that ultimately wash away.
I didn’t have those wild dreams last night. In fact, it was a brief, blank page of a sleep. I guess I expected the images to be imprinted on the inside of my eye lids or something, leaving me with rich, residual visuals when I finally closed them to sleep. Sitting in the audience last night and absorbing the film was kind of like becoming aware of another reality and maybe this wiped out my mind before sleep. OJOBOCA asks us to consider this, our other selves inhabiting other spaces, and “Horrorism for Beginners” had the vivid fragments of an unidentifiable reality not ruled by chronology or laws, and I felt not entirely awake watching it. OJOBOCA is on a west coast tour screening “Horrorism For Beginners” and although they were only in Portland one night, I look forward to seeing more of their work and catching other experimental films Cinema Project presents. These productions have the ability to put you in a different mindset, it’s hard to articulate. But there is an instinctual emotional reaction that transcends explanation anyway watching movies like these, very similar to that of our dreams.