One of the traditional tasks of the film avant-garde is to show what cinema is capable of when it is released from literary stories, from narration: how to interweave seemingly unrelated pictures, how to convert outer and inner spaces into a synthetic, unrealistic third cinematic space. Linda Christanell’s works are a study of such a space. In the confrontation, in its layering, the material is subjected to an endurance test.
When faced with a series of short films by a single director, most DVD labels have a tendency to adopt the chronological approach. This is, after all, the sensible option; it allows us, for example, to note the thematic progressions or technical advancements, in other words to see the filmmaker grow. And yet, just sometimes, a more haphazard method can be equally revealing. If ‘programmed’ in the correct manner, a disc can provide an inlet into the little-seen corners or demonstrate what feels like a more comprehensive overview. Indeed, The Nature of Expression is one such disc: it flits around the filmic output of Linda Christanell, from the nineties to the seventies to the eighties and back again; it utilises only an approximate third of her oeuvre, and yet the end result allows for what feels like a pretty sound handle on what makes her work tick. In fact, the first offering lays down the groundwork nicely. The second part of a trilogy – and the only part to be included here - NS Trilogie – Teil II: Gefühl Kazet demonstrates many of the key facets to Christanell’s work, from the documentary associations to the masterful control during the editing process, from the use of experimental soundtracks (and their often unexpected juxtaposition to the visual content) to the manner in which seemingly insignificant minutiae give way to much grander themes and observations.
To go into a little more detail, Gefühl Kazet offers what Christanell sees as the residue of Nazism which persists through her everyday life. She goes about this deliberately, perhaps even fetishistically. Repetition is the key as images (which may very well be viewed as innocent by some) intermingle with archive footage of a more explicit nature (badges, symbols, faces, etc.), all the while a rhythmic soundtrack pounds away as if to highlight the ominous qualities. The result is forceful, yet also open enough to allow room for our own perceptions. The editing doesn’t batter us into submission but rather recognises our need to take our own time and find our own connections.
Following the disc’s course, we move from the most serious to one of the lighter concoctions, 1978’s Movement in the Inside of My Left Hand. Autobiographical (the credits, as with so much of Christanell’s work, come signed by the filmmaker), it’s here where The Nature of Expression first introduces us to one of the director’s most common images, namely the palm of her hand. In many ways it sums up her entire output: a simple image, yet unique, complex and carrying tremendous symbolic weight. Indeed, it sustains a number of shorts featured on the disc: Fingerfächer, For You, All Can Become a Rose - each coming in quick succession. As with the images in Gefühl Kazet, the palm is treated fetishistically, though the results here are perhaps more profound. The palm sits alongside other presumably autobiographical imagery – items from Christanell’s past, favourite textures, nic-nacs, etc. – whilst the soundtracks operate alongside similar lines. Fingerfächer, for example, offers a clash of doo-wop, horror score synth rumbles and punk as though providing a personal history of changing tastes. That said, For You goes the silent approach; all the better to notice the editing rhythms and the erotic/masochistic undertones (the palm being rarely present without an ornate needle nearby) which prove so persuasive.
Such a potent bland isn’t sacred to Christanell, however. She also turns her fetishistic attentions in other directions too. Completing the disc are Picture Again and Moving Picture, both of which utilise the image of Barbara Stanwyck (and, by extension, the power of cinema) to intriguing ends. By introducing the actress (via Double Indemnity) into other, often comparatively blander images, the films attain a grace and beauty that would possibly go amiss otherwise. There’s an undeniable texture present and it’s there solely through Christanell’s editorial control. Moving Picture, most notably, only really comes alive once Stanwyck makes her effective entrance: tinted scenes and shots of snow falling in reverse have a strange beauty in themselves, but become truly breathtaking when the actress slips into the edit. Indeed, the provoked effect is quite remarkable and demonstrates fully Christanell’s cinematic command; as a visual stylist there’s few who touch her.
The Nature of Expression follows the standard Index pattern. A single-layered Region 0 disc houses its 66-minute running time and copes really quite well. The shorts have been taken from prints that appear to be in the best condition possible and as such each appears in its original 1.33:1 aspect ratio. Visuals deficiencies are discernible, though this would appear to be the results of their production and of the stocks used (16mm in most cases; For You blowing up Super 8 to 16mm). The soundtracks exist along similar lines, each available as DD2.0 (if, indeed, a soundtrack exists at all) and each sounding, no doubt, as Christanell would intend. As for extras, here we find the usual Index offering of a bilingual booklet (English and German providing interview, film notes and filmography), plus an additional two shorts which fit easily amongst the disc’s main body: Change, from 1978, and Federgesteck, from 1984.
Review by Anthony Nield, published 2006 on thedigitalfix.com