07 Dec 2018
Homo Sapiens Project (HSP) Vol 11-20
by Nikola Gocić
Cogito, ergo sum – the well-known philosophical proposition by René Descartes – could easily be reformulated into ‘I film, therefore I am’, when we’re speaking of Rouzbeh Rashidi (and this very undertaking, in particular). The same applies to his friend and colleague Maximilian Le Cain who shares some thoughts and stories on his life, work and relationship with cinema in the extremely lyrical portrait that marks the 100th step of the Homo Sapiens Project.
‘There’s one very specific memory from the time when I was very young…’ are the first words we hear after the silent, almost five minute long prologue in which Le Cain’s serious face is laid over the shots of a park. This time, the openness of the frequently utilized location in RR’s oeuvre may symbolize the frankness of the dialogues that will transpire between the two auteurs on the opposite sides of the camera, between both of them and the hypnotized viewer, between self and self of each participant, and finally, between the creator who acts as the ‘invader’ of his subject’s personal space and his creation that is being invaded by Entity of Haze (mentioned in the previous article on many occasions).
Shrouded in an undulating, high-pitched noise reaffirming of the uncanny presence, the violently flickering frames of reserved blues and fiery yellows (compatible with the Phoenix-like qualities of HSP) lull us into a dreamlike state. And that is quite an achievement, given that beneath the soft, warm patina of hallucinatory visuals, a documentary of a talking-head kind is concealed. As Le Cain reveals the abovementioned ‘specific memory’ of what he dubs as his ‘second birth’, ever-keeping the soothing tone of his voice, we fall into a ground hole opening to red and orange lights outside of a hotel room. All the while, he is submerged in a misty, ethereal aura which makes him look like an enigmatic messiah from another dimension.
The blurriness of the imagery complements the way he has perceived the world due to the inherited eyesight issues which he has been struggling with since the age of seven, and that leads to some reflections on the abstract and/vs. the concrete. A blackout transition takes us to a library visited by the director himself who later appears to attempt to measure the thoughts of his ‘protagonist’, as if he had entered his mind through the stroboscopic superimpositions. It is amongst the books that we learn about Le Cain’s love for stories, western, science-fiction and Charlie Chaplin’s comedies, all tightly linked to his childhood and/or the development of his vivid imagination.
Both the appreciation for old movies and ‘the sense of arriving on the planet too late’ has not only pushed him into the direction of foreign (i.e. non-English) films, but propelled him to learn of the history of cinema as well. During the puberty, he was ‘discovering life’ with the help of Bergman’s Through the Glass Darkley and Bertolucci’s Spider’s Stratagem, coming to realization that you don’t have to understand what you’re watching in order to enjoy it or rather, feel it and be immersed in its atmosphere. Which is a pretty good recipe to alienate yourself from the other kids who don’t have a penchant for ‘esoteric discoveries’, as Le Cain himself acknowledges, adding it was back then he decided to become a director, rather than an actor. A witty remark that ensues familiarizes us with the fact that he is not as grumpy as his appearances in EFS offerings suggest.
Reminiscences of his first camcorder and almost suffocating sensation caused by a strong desire to create (even at the cost of producing something that his adult self won’t like at all) are heightened by haunting soundscapes and emphasized by the incandescent shades of red and orange – reminders of the hole we’re still falling through. At the mention of Tarkovsky and Le Cain’s early works that the author – the one in the eye of the camera – dismisses as deliberately paced failures, ‘the rabbit’ slows the motion down accordingly. A high level of self-criticism gets ‘blamed’ for breaking with the traditional narrative and finding the voice in fragmented, formally challenging films relying on diverse histories, whereby Rashidi takes an opportunity to re-employ his thought-measuring meter as the tool for making some ‘perverse connections’, further disconnecting us from reality.
Halfway into HSP (100), Le Cain says that ‘the film is not supposed to be a walk in the woods’, referring to a documentary on Kōhei Oguri who considers the cinema to be limited. Expressing his disagreement with the said Japanese filmmaker, he claims that the film is akin to a ghost or maybe, to a certain kind of death, just like the green-tinted sequence of ectoplasmic proportions proposes. That is definitely why his pieces are ‘ruins and broken things put together from junk’, to paraphrase his own words. He avoids illustrating the screenplay (if any) and goes as far as calling himself ‘a very bad director’ who doesn’t pre-plan everything like, for instance, Kubrick did, and who likes playing with defects, incoherence, the element of surprise, as well as the unevenness of the rhythms. In this regard, his principles are similar to those of Rashidi who supports his ideas by obfuscating the line between the two of them and letting his twelve-minute short A Blunder of Doom become an integral part of this biographic documentary.
Prior to the unexpected intrusion, there is an aurally & visually inspired confirmation of Maximilian Le Cain’s ‘outer-liminal sanctity’ in which his face is replaced by the nave of a church-like venue, as in some oneiric collage, to the evocative music which gives off simultaneously dark and sacred vibes. And immediately after the grayness of A Blunder of Doom is drowned in the glowing palette of the HSP’s 100th segment, we are struck by Rashidi’s arrow ‘poisoned’ by his love for the silent era. The voice of his comrade and frequent collaborator is muted and will be muted once again before the great, not to mention peculiar epilogue in which the subject is subjected to a purely instinctive transformation into a being of unknown origin in a human guise; a being personifying both his odd attitude and old-fashioned relation to the cinema ‘that is still going and is very vibrant’.
Whether we call it ‘the element of surprise’ or ‘the intervention of peregrine forces’ (read: Entity of Haze) or ‘drop some weird, cinematically appropriate neologism here’, there is no denying that the Homo Sapiens Project is miraculously kept fresh by virtue of whatever that is, even after 100 (yes, one hundred!) installments. Greeted with the flares of incandescent lava in flickering slow motion, we enter the second phase of Rouzbeh Rashidi’s ‘nocturnal’ magnum opus.
From the intertwining of diverse, seemingly incongruous ideas and visions, emerges the narrative so abstract, that it leaves you scratching your head in utter wonder. A young man talks to someone (or something) invisible sitting next to him on a couch, until he disappears. A dinner in the circle of artistically inclined friends is rendered uncanny via super-grainy imagery captured by the hand-held camera and filtered through eerie soundscapes. Shrouded in the deepest of shadows, a mysterious smoker occupies the stairs, maybe the same stairs that Farvad Sadeghi’s ‘Sisyphus’ vainly tried to climb in a paradoxical loop of HSP (87). And then, in a gorgeously framed shot which demonstrates Rashidi’s bravura use of negative space, a nude woman stands on a rock surrounded by a vast body of water – she has to be an otherworldly Venus, a nymph born into the comforting nothingness.
Induced by her smile, the uneasiness spreads all over the next segment composed of only three long takes – the first is the one of architectural reflections, both literal and metaphorical; the (shortest) second is a close-up of a weary lady resting her eyes (an instance of Piavoli-like poetization of the mundane), whereas the last one sees Atoosa Pour Hosseini (or her character, perhaps?) waving through the window, in a trance-like state that is emphasized by a reality-dissolving superimposition. The dense atmosphere of HSP (102) is intensified by the looming, dark ambiance of Raison d’être’s music.
Blending DSLR with 16mm found footage and ending with a ‘slashing answer’ to Andalusian Dog, HSP (103) frames a (sepia-toned) frame within a (dark red) frame within a (sea blue) frame, spilling out of the (big / TV / monitor) screen into the viewer’s reality that is, in a certain way, framed (by self-imposed limitations, inter alia). Almost identical aesthetics are to be later found in HSP (107) which, on the other hand, sends completely different signals. Its mid-section filled with the spiraling circles that would surely cause vertigo for John ‘Scottie’ Ferguson, this predominantly black and white chapter is imbued with the sense of horrid inevitability, yet it is oft-comparable to a pleasant evening stroll. Making it even stranger and more hypnotic is the finale accompanied by a sad, carnivalesque organ ‘grinding’ by Horace Finch.
The longest short film of Volume 11, HSP (104) is marked not only by the intrusions of sketchy animation and (improvised?) speech, but also by an intriguing, oft-repeated thought that ‘life has no value unless filmed and converted into cinema’ expressed by Jann Clavadetscher acting as Rashidi’s herald. Drenched in the cool, consecrated shades of blue, a long-haired chap talks about his favorite restaurant (where we first meet him) and a steel rhino (!) rising from the nearby river, as well as of a sexual encounter. Stripped of his humanity through the visually ethereal interventions, he is plunged into a parallel life that is the result of the abovementioned conversion. Explored and exploring, he ends up being a ‘victim’ of a Sokurov-esque distortion, whereby his ‘story’ is interrupted by a few odd, checkered episodes during which we hear Clavadetscher’s statement. A tension between this ‘subject’ and the ‘canvas’ he’s projected onto leads to a comic relief involving sunglasses decorated with 3D skulls.
During HSP (105), Rashidi fulfills ‘in sickness’ clause of the marital vows from his secret marriage to Cinema. Filmed in a hospital where we encounter the woman from HSP (102) (Pour Hosseini’s mother) again, this monochromatic and exceptionally moody piece mirrors the human fragility and counterposes it to the nondescript rigidity of medical interiors. Complemented by a monotonous tone that is overtaken by Majid Entezemi’s score from the Iranian drama The Cyclist near the end, it evokes the feelings of loneliness and depression.
With EoH still in a comatose state and the boundaries of time demolished, installments (106) and (108) present the puzzling clash between the (Iranian) past and the (Irish) present, as well as the great interpolations of footage shot in various formats, from VHS to Webcam to DSLR to miniDV. The former which has the color red brought into focus fits in a contemplative / introspective zone of Rashidi’s oeuvre, whereas the latter leaves us defenseless against the barrage of colliding images, so when the helmer’s younger self points a gun at the camera, we have to raise our arms in surrender.
Eventually, we are sucked into a psychotronic nightmare of old photographs and wedding scenes from a couple of decades back, only to have our hearts softened by a colorful S-VHS home video (of children gathered at a birthday party) transformed into an art film by means of a pulsating aural blanket.
Set to the pounding, metallic / industrial noise that could also be described as ‘alien’, Volume 12 opens with a companion piece to HSP (18) which chronicles Atoosa Pour Hosseini’s diurnal joyride from the bicycle’s POV. This time, the two-wheeler’s eyes are fixed on the director himself whose appearance is ‘hindered’ by the ripple-like effect (think the reflection on the river surface), to be fully replaced by the anarchic, ‘Sōgo Ishii meets Shin’ya Tsukamoto’ montage of urban chaos that suggests EoH may be awake again, not to mention bursting with furious energy.
The conclusion of HSP (111) and the beginning of (112) produce the illusion of calm, as we enter The Twilight Zone of a lonely young woman. Created in collaboration with Jennifer Sharpe who is entrusted with the lead (and only human) role, (112) takes a somewhat voyeuristic approach to depict a bit of a housework (brooming, to be precise) and post-housework rest as a prelude to… a murder, perhaps? Although the violent act does not happen (on screen), the lingering takes paired with the rapid cross-cutting between the ‘heroine’ and a slug create a foreboding atmosphere of sticky tension.
Following is a bleakly naughty tribute film for Frans Zwartjes whose name is a guarantee for saucy provocations which is exactly what we are provided with here. Not shying away from close-ups of pornographic nature (such as ejaculation and copulation), Rashidi boldly experiments with the form, not unlike Zwartjes, and depicts the most intimate portions of our daily lives, wrapping them in the foil of obfuscation. The lunar eclipse which is periodically shown foreshadows the mystery of Vol. 12 second half.
In the fit of self-reflection, Entity of Haze – RR’s 2010 film – is reconfigured by Entity of Haze – the extraneous force in charge of the Homo Sapiens Project – into a monochromatic specter of the original ‘monodrama’. Similarly to many other ‘specters’ of the series, it has the ability stemming from its ‘je ne sais quoi’ to haunt you long after you encountered it. Another dose of ‘recycled’ material sees Woodpecker confused by a Nonessential Recall over the wooden board which poses as a master frame for the serious case of screen-splitting, with different aspect ratios adding to the viewer’s disorientation. And the easiest way to decipher the first part of the last sentence is the exploration of Rashidi’s official website – however, don’t expect to find any answers there, even if you are familiar with the entire ‘Film Type: Short’ section.
As we approach the end of the HSP’s 12th tome, we gradually realize that we’ve been caught in the web of remixed dreams or rather doubly twisted reality possessed by the ghosts of the dreamed ones (i.e. the characters) who are mostly portrayed by Jann Clavadetscher. (And when they’re played by someone else, you get the impression that Clavadetscher’s boyish face will pop-up any minute.) So in (116), Anatomy of Man is etherealized into an abstract phantasy of smoky textures and elusive shapes, whereas (117) transforms the sepia-toned Nightfall into a reverberating nightmare that is somewhat reminiscent of Sokurov’s The Stone.
Further displaying his alchemical skills and expressing inextinguishable love for silent films, RR identifies ‘Now’ with ‘Damp’ and ‘Forever’ with ‘Misty’ which results in the oneiric portrait of his abovementioned friend and colleague. Injecting Stillness into Day’s End, he brings a rather strange beast to life and keeps us stupefied by a brooding, distancing mood, the veil of which is suddenly lifted after Friends leave the Shingle Beach. Common to his miniDV assays is the stark, extremely grainy B&W cinematography and the inscrutability of the souls it captures.
With the Volume 13 of his impressively extensive Homo Sapiens Project, RR proves time and again that the filmmakers who dare to break a rule or two, and step into an unexplored region are the ones keeping the cinema vital or in the worst case scenario, intriguing. Although he continues to ‘rehash’ his short films (2000-2010) throughout the installments 121-130 (with few exceptions), the results are utterly unexpected and one can almost feel his unquenchable thirst for creation materializing through the screen surface which stands for a glimmering portal between his and our dimensions.
Injecting Grey into Emptiness and vice versa, Rashidi paints a harrowing portrait of loneliness that would give Šarūnas Bartas a good run for his money. The monochromatic images grow relentlessly bleak, acting as long verses of a devastatingly melancholic poem that gives off a strong dark rock vibe (despite the actual ‘score’ amalgamating white noise with echoing ambiance). Simultaneously, they point to a multi-level mutation – of the very project, of the original films they stem from, of the mysterious force this writer named Entity of Haze, of the auteur’s and the viewer’s perspectives, of our relation to the cinema, of the cinema itself, etc.
The same applies to all of the following pieces which keep us in the autumnal mood (but, forget about the red, orange and yellow leaves and think bare trees and drab or steely skies) and take us on a walk in the company of sorrowful ghosts (hmmm, this could pass for a title of a burgeoning doom / gothic metal band’s debut album). HSP (122) transforms Etude for Oily Water into a visual ballad that evokes the dark feeling of depression, of literally losing your will to get up from the bad, get dressed and go out there looking for a reason to live. Its sullenly beautiful sepia-tones and slightly disorienting superimpositions add to the dense atmosphere.
The transition to HSP (123) is almost seamless, with the drab palette of the trademark frame-within-frame compositions covered by the muffled chant-like aural veil depicting Rosita drowning in the Flooded Meadow. Lyrical to the extreme, this cinematic phantasm is like a salve to a wounded soul. At this point, one gets the impression that the ever-spreading gloominess reflects a difficult period of the director’s life which is given meaning (light) via filming or, in this particular case, converting ‘filmic memories’ into patinated reveries. Of course, you can never be sure with subjective art, but amongst the numerous ambiguities, one thing is clear – RR’s obsession with silent movies is much deeper than that of, let’s say, Guy Maddin.
As the Last Vision of Dusk, Ravens fades before our eyes, once more we are reminded of the subtle uneasiness that accompanied so many HSP parts. The eerie close-ups of the 125th chapter in which the authorial footage is rendered as a heavily scratched found footage (probably by virtue of some post-production ‘mimicry’) have us floating in a weightless space between a delirious dream and a full-fledged nightmare of EoH’s attempts to merge with the scarred tissue of the film. Its failure to do so leads to the reddish break in which it appears to be possessing the valiant filmmaker who goes wild paying homage to Jean Rollin by including the music from The Grapes of Death (1978) and Fascination (1979). The self-portrait nature of HSP (126), as well as of HSP (127) (that narrows our field of vision to a mid-screen box) recalls Jean Cocteau’s thought from Testament of Orpheus (1960) that ‘an artist always paints his own portrait’.
Still puzzled, we encounter the Nucleus of Shabby Nights on a fine Spring Day, with Pooria Nick Dell’s doppelgänger laughing at our perplexity caused by the rock-paper-scissors-like cuts, at once maddening and hypnotizing. And then, animalistic soundscapes and various monotones merge into an ethereal illusion, providing us with an odd photo-novel-esque experience. Our minds played with as if they were Clay, we eventually find ourselves trapped in a room of distorting mirrors, with our salvation lying in the closing shot of oversaturated warmth and new enigma.
To rephrase the title of Jonas Mekas’s biographic documentary (yet to be seen) – as I am eagerly moving ahead, frequently I meet the shadows of obscure beauty waking to phantasmal life. In other words, the farther I travel into Rashidilandia, the more bewilderedly fascinated I become with its peculiar sights. Am I to start a cult around its founder or just get lost in its dark, shapeshifting forest of entangled trees and invisible beasts?
This journey is simultaneously inviting and intimidating, at times frustrating yet always stimulating. During its latest étape, once again I find myself trapped in EoH’s flailing ‘mind’, looking through EoH’s deceitful visual receptors and absorbing the sounds of EoH’s subconscious streams. I can clearly hear James Devereaux’s voice echoing, with his monodrama playing forward and backward, in a sepia-toned crash of reality-shattering proportions. The ‘dirty’ decolorization is ideally suited for a sleazy, slightly psychotic businessman (?) whom Rashidi’s frequent collaborator magnificently portrays. Surprisingly, the silent and ‘inverted’ version of the performance runs in the background, so to speak, whereas Devereaux’s pulpy script and subtle theatricality are brought into focus and given a chance to shine.
At the next stop, I am greeted with sheer brilliance laying in simplicity – a frame which reveals mostly abstract goings-on is superimposed, VR-goggles-style, over a young woman’s face frozen in a still shot, and it slowly grows until it swallows the entire surface of the screen. The window of a decrepit building in the film’s final moments poses at least three possibilities – metaphorical death, release from the alien influence or the fall into another rabbit hole that goes much deeper than the previous one. As the disturbing, radio tuning-like noise pierces my ears, I realize that EoH is in the eye of the beholder.
A Super 8 wormhole passage haunted by the ominous mutation of Jann Clavadetscher’s Forget You Now, as well as by cries of Clara Rockmore’s Theremin leads me to HSP (134) which has Max Le Cain and James Devereaux appearing as if they were body-snatched. Soon joined by RR in hyper-slow-motion, the two of them silently stand and stare at me or some cinematic projection of me that is at odds with the mirrored, yellow-tinted footage of a woman in a wasteland. Mesmerized by this time-stretching ‘incident’, I am swept away into a ‘Mise en abyme’ dream in which the old footage of various experiments gets experimented with ad infinitum, until an excerpt – the most memorable costume ball scene – from George Franju’s Judex causes some surreally serious hypnagogic stir.
On the white doves’ wings, I arrive at the beach shrouded in the mist thicker than that of Theodoros Angelopoulos’s 1988 masterpiece. Initially embraced by Tarkovskian calm, all of the sudden I am assaulted by the stroboscopic flickering which injects my melancholy – personified by a distressed woman – with indefinable emotion. Adding to my confusion is Timothy Carey’s rant from Minnie and Moskowitz immersed in white noise to create an intentionally incongruous soundscape. A rather aggressive Super 8 transmission – comparable to the fading memories frenetically swirling around in one’s head – obfuscates my thoughts, but eventually I find some rest in a transitory erasure of imagery accompanied by Guillaume Lekeu’s string composition.
And then, the trip takes me into a region where the film’s rotting flesh is processed by some unrestrained (non-EoH) forces into a murky liquid employed in ‘cinecromancy’, which proves to be a prelude for a Frankensteinian ‘personal response to Areas of Sympathy by Maximilian Le Cain’. A bizarre, Dada-esque patchwork of various formats and scenes, HSP (139) compels me to raise my arms in surrender, in spite of not having a gun pointed at my face. With the strange machines growling and grumbling, I end up in Dublin of this parallel universe, following Rashidi in his attempts to discover a Secret Entrance to Cinelandia (a shameless self-promotional reference). What does the revisiting of A Blunder of Doom mean? The answer escapes me.
Hypnotized by the (third?) eye of his own camera, Jann Clavadetscher is brought into a peculiar cinematic dialogue which will end in a sort of a projectional ritual, with RR as his ‘co-conspirator’. Both under EoH’s hold, they communicate through associative moving images (a game of paintball, sea, cave, people, stone drilling machine etc) in an attempt to discover the link between their own microcosms and outer limits, blurring the boundaries which separate their private from professional lives.
Often testing the viewer’s patience and observation / interpretation skills, their long ‘conversation’ takes many unexpected twists and turns during which their inner voices echo into oblivion… and then return ‘materialized’ to be injected into the stupefying and occasionally frenetic visuals, a good example being the sequences born out of the sparks produced by a railgrinder (HSP 143).
Mind-expanding or rather, narcotic, the scenes of the mundane reality are blasted into the filmic equivalents of heavy, non-sequitur dreams which have us disoriented even though there seems to be no reason for losing our way.
Oneiric confusion and ostensible inaccessibility simultaneously emerge from the devastating four-frames-within-a-frame compositions, from the on-screen merging of HDV and DSLR worlds, from the violent flickering of yellow and blue, and so on and so forth. As we fly in a remote-controlled plane, the ominous shots of nature penetrate our peace.
Still levitating above the luminous void, we encounter the ghost of Jean Rollin’s Lost in New York (1989). He’s captured in the ethereally beautiful cinematography complemented by the bells ringing of mystery and cows mooing of disharmony.
And the weightlessness of his wandering (around a lighthouse area) lulls us into an even deeper, petrifying dream or rather, nightmare…
Pushed out of our comfort zone and into the labyrinth of multiple dead ends, we find ourselves at a chamber rock concert, but what we hear is not in line with what we see. Dracula has risen from his grave to suck the colors from the glitchy VHS footage, to a sermon recited in Latin intertwined with roaring thunder and followed by a dramatic instrumental, as well as by some grunting and gurgling.
Illuminated by trembling lights, we try to escape, as if we are unaware that there is no escape from the terrors of the mind. The aurally aggressive ‘selfilm’ (selfie-film) suggests that the ear-shattering noise needs some ironing and that climbing steel constructions may help us release our inner lunatic into a realm of indigo shadows and glowing ennui.
Ex nihilo, that very realm is created, yet we’re powerless to realize its purpose, if there is any. A repetitive pounding stops, but we’re still in the darkness – ontological and epistemological, not the pleasant one of a cinema venue.
Nervous and utterly perplexed, we are compelled to dive into ourselves and bring the flame from the most remote recesses of our subconsciousness, in order to find our way out.
Stranded on a shore of some phantom island, we wake up to a new dizzying adventure, with RR as our guide and EoH as the omnipresent obstacle.
Prone to solipsistic mischief, they plunge us into another ‘selfilm’. In the cine-cathedral, through the gray streets, under the water and high in the treetops, we can barely breathe, yet we carry on.
Rashidi’s ‘obsessive preoccupation with film history’ (in Maximilian Le Cain’s words) leaves us in the state of awe.
Once taken to the extreme, it brings about impressive results, the final chapter of Volume 15 being the proof. Conceived as an homage to Per Oscarsson, HSP (150) blends the abovementioned ritual with the 70s found footage of a gluttonous man (a pretty clear reference to the Swedish actor’s most famous role) and the self-portrait drenched in blinding yellows that would devour Mika Ninagawa’s sultry reds in no time.
Jaundiced imagery of the author in the forest and later on the balcony sticks in your head like the taste of a sour-sweet chewing gum in the roof of the mouth.
Eccentricities such as the periscope-like vision or the mid-screen black hole add to the film’s alien-like qualities, operating both as stylish trademarks and reminders of the luminous void into which EFS offerings frequently make us leap.
Contemplating to a concealed smile of The Man Who Laughs, we come to a conclusion that…
This film is like a gun.
HSP: There Is No Escape From The Terrors Of The Mind
‘A very odd ballet is going to take place, throwing the sceneries against each other, mixing ages, places, characters, under the impassive gaze of a magician who makes statuettes appear at the door of the mystery.’
Dedicated to Jean Rollin and inspired by his charming lo-fi fantasy Lost in New York (originally, Perdues dans New York) which the above quote is extracted from, HSP: There Is No Escape From The Terrors Of The Mind marks the 151st chapter, as well as the culmination of the Homo Sapiens Project. A spiritual successor to HSP (146), it chronicles the journey of an enigmatic loner (James Devereaux) who could be a poet (or in a broader sense, an artist) and whose wanderings ‘through a series of uncanny surrealistic landscapes’ have no clear purpose, like the official synopsis notes.
As lost as the imaginative heroines of Rollin’s film, this John Doe appears to be in the state of both emotional and mental turmoil often throwing him off balance into psychotic episodes or seductive, yet laborious dreams inhabited by mountaineers and desert nomads, and haunted by (presumably) Rashidi’s alter ego(s) and the embodiment of Moon Goddess (portrayed by Irish artist Sarah Lundy). The moment he puts on a black mask (a clear reference to Lost in New York, though it may also be an homage to Georges Franju’s Eyes Without a Face), his crumbling reality starts slowly turning into Super 8 dust and VHS glitches acting as the reminders of EoH’s unflinching presence.
With him and us, the viewers, equally disoriented, somewhat alienated and hypnotized into a state of paralyzing Fascination, the magician behind the camera employs all the ‘flicks and tricks’ he is recognized for, insisting on the magical qualities of Her Highness and Holiness, The Cinema. In a new attempt to distill her essence and imbue his (inescapable) visions with it, he lets his obsession grow, sometimes uncontrollably, which results in plethora of visually inspired long takes that reach to the unconscious. From the golden deserts of Oman to the ancient ruins of Ireland transformed into the ethereally blue reflections of a world beyond our ken, he captures various shades of beauty, melancholy and (existential) dread.
Preoccupied with ‘extracting sinister moods from ordinary settings’, Rashidi simultaneously creates and dispels the filmic illusion, constantly reminding us that there really is no escape – The Cinema is (or at least should be) one step ahead of us. The experience he provides us with is comparable to mountain climbing in a thick fog (as one of the early sequences suggests) or listening to your inner voice’s soft whispering drenched in the resonating noise of half-forgotten memories. And it stays with you like a ghostly companion who will one day be replaced by the shadow of death…
One hundred and fifty one installments or rather, more than 30 hours of highly experimental footage behind him, Rashidi still doesn’t pull any punches with his explorative cinematization of mundane life, as well as with frequent ventures far beyond the originally planned areas. Forcing the viewer to identify with someone or something that’s not of this world, he effortlessly keeps redefining ‘homo sapiens’ as a human being who exists in, through and around the film.
In the first piece of HSP Vol. 16, he marries tracking shots to static long takes under the Cuadecuc Vampir sky and to the almost incessant growling of a chainsaw, dedicating this bizarre marriage to James Gandolfini who, God rest his soul, did look fit for the role of a lumberjack. Think watching some unending sequel of Friday the 13th (Jason Goes to the Farthermost Recesses of Pareidolia) in the Black Lodge-esque venue and you might get the idea of the associative potentials of HSP (152).
The following short sees Maximilian Le Cain visiting (and being hypnotized by) the ancient ruins captured by the praiseworthy handheld camerawork, in gloomy monochromatic glory. A sinister, somewhat funereal atmosphere is achieved via the uncanny soundscapes which evoke the memories of B-horrors and, in a foreshadowing twist, bring to mind a line from Orson Welles’s posthumously released meta-film The Other Side of the Wind (2018): ‘I’d call him a necromancer. But I do not know if he’s raised the dead.’
And then, we are struck by the weirdest triple superimpositions of the series – the 70s porn tinted in pink (a possible homage to Pinku eiga) is combined with a photo of Boris Karloff and Bela Lugosi in their horror icon garments, and with RR, Atoosa Pour Hosseini and Jann Clavadetscher camping in a forest and, of course, roasting some marshmallows. At one point, the so-called ‘Droste effect’ is brought to extreme, adding to the visual complexity (and our perplexity).
HSP (155) has the scenes of the sweet morning sleep and off-kilter morning rituals filtered in sepia or deep blue tones, and poeticized into an a ‘mystery’ of soft focuses that challenge our perception. The brooding humming in the background introduces the feeling of being submerged under water, which makes the whole proceedings seem even stranger.
The closest thing to a music video that Rashidi has ever done, HSP (156) employs the excerpts from some of the previous chapters into a phantasmagorical patchwork of recycled dreams. Created for Bijan Moosavi’s Iran’s Son Is Unaware of His Mother from the album Turn Around the Receiver (2013), as noted in the intro, it follows its own abstract logic and develops a cryptic / personal system of symbols through / despite the recognizable patterns.
Next in (irregularly oscillating) line is this writer’s personal favorite which opens and closes as a well-intentioned parody of a found-footage horror starring Le Cain as a man tempted by the night’s phantasms on a dirt road. Not only the highlight of Vol. 16, but also one of the most painterly and accomplished parts of the entire project, this medium-length film takes a meditative turn for its mid-section which depicts hazy summer days on a welcoming rural estate and its beautiful surroundings where the director himself enjoys the company of various animals. A dog, a cat and a couple of horses all fall under his spell, just like the camels of HSP: There Is No Escape From The Terrors Of The Mind. The sullen droning contrasted by the golden yellows and oranges of the images suggests that something is seriously off, with the reappearances of Le Cain’s suspicious character serving as a confirmation. EoH may be hibernating, but even in its dormant state, it poses a threat.
After a 180 degree rotation, we are faced with the romantic (post-breakup?) reminiscences of a young chap (Jann Clavadetscher) whom we meet in a classy hotel room that looks as if it belongs in the same universe as Cloud of Skin (which comes as no surprise, considering the mutual admiration between Rashidi and Le Cain). Peppered with wry humor (code: long-nosed monkey), HSP (158) successfully evades the trappings of a love story, presuming that’s what it actually is. Maybe Nino Rota’s music heard in the crazy conclusion holds the key?
A new and healthy dose of comic relief is provided by one of the shortest shorts of the bunch which plays out like a frivolous cinematic game, with RR and Clavadetscher waking their inner children to the chip tunes from Super Mario Bros. The theme of the game is ‘a gangster film’… which does not prepare us for what’s saved for the finale of the current tome.
Propelled by a scene from Alfred Hitchcock’s Rebecca screened on a TV, HSP (160) is a Zen-like visual symphony in incandescent reds and icy blues. Its harmonies are lost in the penetrating gazes of two women, one of which is suddenly teleported from our world to Rashidilandia, judging by her initial confusion; the other is probably possessed by EoH whose fascination with the camera’s eye reduces its powers…
With the great majority of RR’s works ‘stating the issues about the film’ (Michael Snow) and being characterized by fixed camera positions and the flicker effect, it comes as no surprise that the 17th Volume of the Homo Sapiens Project directly and lovingly pays homage to the structural cinema. Running less than half an hour (and that’s including the bonus feature which, in a way, recaps the whole thing in the series of hypnotizing superimpositions), this particular section makes you want more (of the same).
Giving the impression of solar dreams alchemically converted into glimmering solids subsequently wrapped in an amber foil, ten ‘micro-poems’ aim at capturing the film’s essence and ‘materialize’ it before our eyes. Call it Entity of Haze or ‘thigle’ like Paul Sharits did using the language of Tibetan Buddhism (Visionary Film: The American Avant-garde, 1943-2000, by P. Adams Sitney), it comes off as opaque, yet knowable/meaningful or rather, feelable/perceptible at the same time. It is as real and tangible as a 35mm celluloid strip, and as elusive and evasive as any given abstract idea.
Whether it holds no meaning or its meaning has been absorbed by the (luminous) void, one is left in a state of wonder after ‘encountering’ it. Embodied through the light of moving images, it generates a peculiar experience of cinematic illusion continually created, metamorphosed and destroyed. In the context of alien presence that has already been mentioned on good many occasions, it acts as EoH’s enigmatic alter ego or even as the manifestation of its extremely unpredictable nature.
The only constant is the persona of the auteur himself who remains true to his conviction that the visuals should not be used as a simple illustration of the screenplay, but rather as means of unending exploration. On a quest to find the purest of forms, he keeps employing unidentifiable soundscapes, as well as the variations of the Kuleshov effect to manipulate both the film’s and viewer’s reality. Or maybe, he came to warn us about the labyrinthine possibilities of the new visionary cinema?
Throughout HSP (171) which marks the beginning of Vol. 18, the spirit of collectivism or rather the ‘genius of friendship’ is pitted against EoH’s formidable powers. Once again, Rashidi re-utilizes the scenes from some of his early works and seamlessly blends them with the equally strange material lent by Jann Clavadetscher into a lyrical narrative that is bound to challenge the viewer. As the hazy black and white imagery of mundane qualities gets elevated to sublime heights by the solemnity of musical accompaniment, we find ourselves trapped between the unknowns of two worlds. And not even Clavadetcher’s alter ego can help us, despite his detective-like appearance.
Still struggling to escape (the impossibility), we are swallowed by a Lynchian film-poem of electric poles rear-projected onto the glitching visions involving a young blonde woman who might be a Laura Palmer’s stand in. From an old poster in the epilogue of HSP (172), Frankenstein’s creature smiles at our growing confusion. Next thing we know, we are deprived of sonic sensations, falling through the flickering planes of post-structural cinema. Three shorts – computer-generated homages to Peter Kubelka’s Arnulf Rainer – operate as One whose colors, grainy textures and mimicry of TV disturbances transmit encoded secrets.
Whether those secrets are related to Entity of Haze or Rashidi’s enviable skills to communicate with the history of cinema in various and oft-mysterious ways, it is hard to tell. However, they are firmly integrated into the very fabric of the Homo Sapiens Project and in some cases, they ARE the fabric themselves. In this regard, HSP (176) – the central and longest chapter of Vol. 18 – could be seen as the absolute film (not to be confused with the German movement of the 1920s). Opening in a bleak mood, then bone-chillingly flirting with horror, only to become a genre-defying experiment, this 11-minute wonder gets ‘Marienbaded’ into a puzzling tribute to Alain Resnais, with the author lost in the meta-labyrinths of his own creation. Employing some of his favorite ‘tricks’, RR invites us to follow him around a park where the film’s and his inner parallel dimensions meet and intersect.
But, when they collide (eventually they do), a multiple superimposition is born, to transform the sea into an imposing cinematic phantasm whose hypnotizing effect is intensified by the blinking light, with all the ships sailing directly into our subconsciousness. Once there, a struggle between our mind and body takes place, as reflected in the found video containing some self-defense techniques (?) demonstrated by two pairs of middle-aged men.
Travelling back in time, we stop in the retro-futuristic 1960s when we are rocketed to the Moon in the presence of beautiful ladies wearing groovy hairdos and pastel dresses. This twist makes another turn of the screw in RR’s constant and unpredictable reshaping of the form, reflecting his unabashed playfulness. The grand finale is reserved for the much-loved silent movies arranged into split-screen and frame-within frame compositions of disorienting impact – at one point, we simultaneously see a typist, surgeons and a construction worker each doing their own thing, extremely close to Borgesian Aleph.
Right at the start of Volume 19 (made in collaboration with a former EFS member), we realize that Pour Hosseini’s riff on the Voynich Manuscript – a mesmerizing meditation on ‘memory, subjective perception and the objective materiality of the filmed image’ – Antler, actually has a creepy prequel of sorts. Insects in extreme close-ups, and strange juxtapositions of tense music with relaxing scenes of nature are masterfully utilized to establish the unnerving atmosphere of HSP (181). As addled as the male character staring at a gorgeous forest waterfall, we witness the flickering fusion of multiple filmic dimensions which portends Sylvia Schedelbauer’s most recent offering, Wishing Well.
The merging of disparate worlds continues with the following segment – a somber and almost silent ‘mystery’ which marries found Super 8 footage to the one captured on DSLR camera, and features what appears to be an artistic, highly sophisticated display of ‘golden shower’ (involving a stiletto shoe). The closing shot which sees three figures sitting before the big screen in a Mondrian-esque, 3-frames-within-a-frame composition, reminds us of the cinema’s power to let the viewer be present in (at least) two worlds at once.
Clocking around twenty minutes, the third film of Vol. 19 is also its longest entry, though it feels much shorter due to a great cohesion between the seemingly incompatible elements. The excerpts from vintage adult movies shot on 16mm rewrite filmed pages from Rashidi’s diary, shrouding their everyday casualness in the deep shadows of perverted uncanniness. Are they the reflections of the author’s ‘private obsessions’ and thus, the seed from which his two epics – Ten Years in the Sun and Trailers – will grow, or dirty tricks that EoH plays with his and our minds? No matter what the answer may be, this bizarre, slightly grotesque amalgamation takes the form of an intriguing, ever-mutating puzzle that maybe only a crow can solve.
Family photos and 3D visualization of female anatomy accompanied by the first movement of J.S. Bach’s Concerto for Violin and Strings in E Major announce another round of poeticized obscenity which induces pareidolia of racy nature, i.e. the viewer’s perception becomes sexualized to the point of identifying a mushroom cloud with ejaculation and a park bench with vulva. Represented as an unexplored landscape, a (naked) human body riddles us more than all of RR’s flirtations with science-fiction, so even when its fluids are spilled, the solutions remain elusive. However, this and all of the remaining chapters of the 19th volume introduce us to many faces of eroticism – dark and pensive, radiant and jovial, delicately subversive, vulgar yet dignified, behind a fetishistic mask, burlesque and petrified in fear from the unknown.
All the while, RR daringly challenges the boundaries of cinema, blurring the lines separating ‘bad’ from ‘good’ taste, and titillating from the authorial material that is oft recycled and recontextualized into provocative phantasmagorias. What is utterly amazing is how unpredictable his moves are – for example, the first few minutes of HSP (185) drenched in indigo blue work similarly to HSP (78) that is a wonderful homage to Theo Angelopoulos, whereas the second half dissolves into a silent French porn ‘delicatessen’ titled Mousquetaire au restaurant and produced in 1920. Occasionally interrupted by brief brooding passages, the threesome between a musketeer and a couple of maids is rendered majestic by virtue of a musical choice that sounds like it belongs to The Rite of Spring.
Revealing further details would spoil the pleasure of the surprise, so let’s just say that HSP (186)-(190) provide us with a hefty dose of stroboscopic eyegasms via nunsploitation ‘abuse’, split-screen madness and raunchy superimpositions, inter alia, suggesting that EoH, Rashidi and modern cinema at its most experimentally naughty could be one and the same.
Still operating in a ‘pervert’ mode which is to be expected after the delightfully lascivious Volume 19, one may mistake the big eyes of a plush donkey with large breasts of an air doll, and panting that’s heard halfway into HSP (191) with that of a sexual (read: masturbatory) nature. A red-lit close-up of Maximilian Le Cain’s open mouth that wouldn’t be out of place in (a parody of?) some Grandrieux’s film does not help in averting dirty thoughts. On the other hand, abstracted visions of physical spaces and distortions of close collaborators’ faces via special lenses do make a difference. Welcome to the conclusion of the Homo Sapiens Project.
Does it really end or is it just the beginning of an inescapable curse? The final shots of HSP (199) which show a railroad track disappearing into the distance indicate that it is impossible to run away from the cinema (at least for the ones hopelessly in love with it), especially if the cinema is of the ‘films that are watching us’ kind. A bonus feature containing VHS recollections mostly related to the director’s omnipresence offers an analogous answer. But, where’s the viewer in that?
Well, the viewer is pretty much stuck in an apocalyptic limbo of repetitions or rather, variations on the same ‘theme’, with both aural and visual contents being slyly re-employed as the signs of EoH’s growing insanity (caused by spending too much time observing us). A spider tracking the cracks in the wall, a distorted voice announcing ‘tonight’s news’ and Le Cain’s ‘crimsonized’ face all make their comebacks, both as idiosyncratic ‘running gags’ that refuse to wear off, and as the parts of a twisted, DADA-esque fairy tale mechanism. With the magic mirror broken, the prince dreaming of trees and the sleeping beauty sleeping sound(less)ly, experiencing a flickering revelations, we find ourselves gone astray in a forest where an evil warlock who looks like Klaus Kinski sacrifices a poor village girl. Or something along those lines…
Unrestrained and uncompromising, Rashidi leaves us to our own devices and leaves plenty of room for various interpretations of his ‘oblique diary’ turned into an impressive magnum opus. His vast knowledge of film history and experimental techniques, as well as the accumulated experience in working with different formats (from VHS to webcam) make themselves apparent time and again, even when the result of his experimentation is only a minute or two long (as the majority of Vol. 20 shorts). Truly dedicated and fully aware of cinema’s endless possibilities, he communicates with its ghosts, creating impenetrable shells for them to rest in for eternity…
More info about Nikola Gocić HERE