Focus on French director Philippe Garrel with live performances by Maria W Horn & Mats Erlandsson, Linus Hillborg and Mathieu Serruys
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Art Cinema OFFoff presents – i.c.w. Ancienne Belgique – the Night of the Experimental Film. Following an enforced silence, the Night is back. This new edition focuses on French filmmaker Philippe Garrel (1948) and his connections with the Parisian and New York underground. German model, singer and actress Christa Päffgen (1938–1988), better known as Nico, appears in all al the films and is the muse of this Night.
The Night traditionally combines films on their original medium with (inter)national live music and new soundtracks. The program was curated by the Ghent record label B.A.A.D.M. – run by graphic designers Joris Verdoodt and Mathieu Serruys – and it is one is which Serruys himself also plays a musical role, alongside a few artists from the contemporary Swedish electronic scene: Maria W Horn, Mats Erlandsson and Linus Hillborg.
Read on, below, to discover the entire program.
The focus is on two rarely shown films from Philippe Garrel’s underground period: 'Athanor' (1972) and 'Le Berceau de cristal' (1975). OFFoff received unique permission to screen them. Together with 'La cicatrice intérieure' (1972), that OFFoff screened in 2012, they form a triptych dedicated to his beloved Nico. A triptych about which Garrel remarked: “C’était sans doute l’influence de Warhol”. They met in 1969 and that same year Nico took Garrel along to the Factory, where she had already been working with Andy Warhol for four years as one of his Superstars. That was where Garrel showed Warhol his recently completed 'Le lit de la vierge' (1969) and Warhol showed him 'Imitation of Christ' (1967), his latest film with Nico. The two dandies loved each other’s work. Garrel was seduced by Warhol’s autonomous productions about and with a small community of friends. Garrel stated: “Après cette rencontre, ma manière a changé”, and even called Warhol “un ciné-père”. 'Nico Crying', one of Warhol’s finest odes to her, could not be missing from the program. Warhol also used this reel as the ending for 'Chelsea Girls' (1966), a film that Garrel – although he didn’t see it until 1975 – labelled “le seul film de ce genre qui m’ait vraiment marqué”. In all, Garrel made a total of seven films with Nico.
The French actor and filmmaker Pierre Clémenti had already spent time at The Factory in 1967. Clémenti was once in a rock band with Garrel, was involved with him in the radical filmmaker collective of the Zanzibar group in the late ‘60s, and acted in his films – including 'Le Berceau de cristal'. They were both involved in 'La bande de la Coupole', named after the brasserie in Montparnasse where a lot of actors, artists, film- and theatre-makers met up in the late’60s – pretty much the equivalent of Max’s Kansas City for Warhol and The Factory. With 'Positano', Clémenti created a beautiful, psychedelic portrait of the most important artistic group of friends around Philippe Garrel during the trip on which he had met Nico.
Here you can read an ode (in Dutch) to Nico, who once visited Ghent together with Philippe Garrel, written by poet, teacher and former artistic director of OFFoff, Sofie Verdoodt.
Le Berceau de cristal (1975, 72’, 35mm)
Nico is lying on a large bed, alone in a room. She reads, writes poems, smokes, gets up and walks to & fro, plays a few notes on a harmonium and spends most of her time pensive – all in a succession of fixed shots and in a disturbing darkness. The silence gradually becomes unbearable. Nico performs an intérieure monologue consisting of lyrics from what would later become ‘Purple Lips’ and other tracks from her album ‘Drama of Exile’. Gravitating around the mysterious figure of Nico, 'Le Berceau de cristal' presents a series of portrait-ish sequences of friends. Apparitions visit her dreams and visions: Dominique Sanda as a sort of Pre-Raphaelite, earthly goddess and Rolling Stones’ muse Anita Pallenberg as a diabolically grinning drug diva preparing a heroine shot. Painter Frédéric Pardo, Garrel’s best friend (who lived with Sanda in the sixties), is working and shows a number of canvases. Garrel himself turns up as a waiting man, always alone, near a marble column. Garrel stated: “J’ai essayé de filmer mes proches dans le style de la Factory”. The film is recorded in the private world of Henri Langlois’ film museum under the Cinémathèque française, located in the Palais de Chaillot at the time. "If Nico’s face catches the light, then it is only to return it to the darkness", is what critic Stéphane Delorme wrote of this hypnotic and deeply melancholy reverie.
The dreamy, sometimes ominous atmosphere is enhanced by the original, ethereal space-drone soundtrack by krautrock duo Ash Ra Tempel. Band member Lutz Ulbrich was one of Nico’s lovers.
Positano (1969, 24’, 16mm) / Live soundtrack: Linus Hillborg
Positano is an island on Italy’s Amalfi Coast that, according to legend, Neptune created out of love for a nymph. And it is love that this film is mainly about, a total and solar love. The house of Frédéric Pardo and actress Tina Aumont on the island’s rocks was a meeting place for the underground. In 1969, after the filming of Garrels 'Le lit de la vierge' in Marrakech and Grottaferrata, the team took a break there for a while. Actor and filmmaker Pierre Clémenti captured this idyll in psychedelic, multiple-exposure images of a stunning sensuality. We see Factory superstars Viva and Nico, who Garrel had then just met in Rome and had immediately joined on their travels. Aside from Clémenti’s intimate and loving eye for the faces and bodies in this this Mediterranean landscape, the film reveals the moving beauty of a utopia where coexistence is paired with continuous artistic creation. Nico wrote songs there for her next solo album.
Introduced by Balthazar Clémenti, who can be seen in the film as a child with his parents Pierre and Margareth Clémenti. His mother also appears in 'Le Berceau de cristal', amongst other films, and he also played in 'La cicatrice intérieure'.
The Swedish composer / sound artist Linus Hillborg (SE) is active in various fields, ranging from experimental music and audiovisual installations to post-punk and noise bands. His solo work focuses on the "temporality" of sound. He combines modular analogue synthesis with his own programmed digital synthesis, as well as acoustic instrumentation, improvised elements and various tape recorder techniques. On his new album Magelungsverket (Moloton, 2021), he takes listeners through desperate soundscapes of electro-acoustic orchestral arrangements that seep through in rich harmonic synthesis.
Athanor (1972, 20’, 35mm) / Live soundtrack: Mathieu Serruys
Nico, guardian of the fire, between tombs, in mirrors and castles. 'Athanor' consists of thirteen intense sequences with different static compositions by Nico and the model Musky. An athanor is the melting pot used by an alchemist. Along with 'Le révélateur' (1968), 'Les hautes solitudes' (1974) and 'Le bleu des origines' (1978), this is one of Garrels silent film experiments.
The work of Mathieu Serruys (BE) is characterized by filmic and scenic tape loops and eroded synth parts. His most recent album, 'Skin/Glove' (B.A.A.D.M., 2019) builds on the physical intensity, gritty tape textures, and emotive melodies of his debut. It is a mature concept album that evokes not only his musical but also his personal quest for self-realisation in a penetrating way.
Nico Crying (1966, 33’, 16mm) / Live soundtrack: Maria W Horn & Mats Erlandsson
In 1966, Andy Warhol filmed Nico for an hour while brilliant coloured lights and psychedelic patterns danced rhythmically over her face. Similar light shows and projections were typical of the Exploding Plastic Inevitable multimedia shows that Warhol put together with the Velvet Underground and Nico that year. Nico herself becomes a screen, her face a mask and surface. When Warhol began his second film roll, Nico broke down in tears. We screen this second half of 'Nico/Nico Crying' (1966, 66’) that Warhol recombined as the ending for 'Chelsea Girls' (1966). He zooms in and out on her upturned face, lips, heavily made up lashes and bleached fringe. Warhol shrouds the superstar in a veil of psychedelic mystery. Nico is silent, sits nicely, and looks around while Warhol makes her portrait.
Maria W Horn (SE) is a composer from the north of Sweden. She is interested in the manipulation of time and space through sonic extremes, utilizing both digital and analog synthesis as well as acoustic instruments and audiovisual components. Her work examines aspects of human perception – how audiovisuality and overload/loss of perceptual stimuli can conspire to transcend everyday life and invoke alternate mental states. She is a part of Sthlm Drone Society – an association working to promote slow and gradually evolving timbral music, and co-operates the label XKatedral.
Mats Erlandsson (SE) is an electroacoustic composer and sound artist based in Sweden, predominantly composing using modular synthesis. He is part of the vibrantly reemerging field of drone music in Stockholm and is associated with practices characterized by the extensive use of sustained sound.
Erlandsson and Horn collaborated before, performing a set on pipe organ at the Elevate Festival in Graz (2021).
Picture: Philippe Garrel-Athanor