Little White Lies
Read the review online : « Johanna Vaude – Wide Angle » By Yusef Sayed
A new DVD collection comprising the Parisian artist’s recent film work provides an invaluable insight into the evolution of cinema.
The relationship between the eye and the screen, between seeing and sensation, between the audiovisual content we experience and the ideas it provokes, extending beyond the medium of cinema, are all explored in Johanna Vaude’s film collection, Hybride.
This DVD, released by the experimental film label Lowave, gathers six of Vaude’s films from 1998 to 2006, and forms an essential counterpart to her more recent work which has been published online, available to stream, and confirming Vaude as an exemplary artist.
Vaude establishes intersections between the material experimentations of Stan Brakhage and the radical montage of the French and Soviet filmmakers of the 1920s, as well as ’90s Hong Kong action cinema; between Hollywood and television images; between artisanal craft and the digital remix, to create powerful artworks that strike the eye with a particular force.
Through this hybridisation Vaude’s work reflects a vast knowledge of the history of cinema, encompassing both the film industry and the avant-garde; it absorbs a wide range of experimental techniques, as well as thematic concerns, that have been explored by those before her, and finds specific places, across her work, in which intertextual references can gel with her own multimedia strategies, which are perhaps peerless in terms of the amount of material resources that are drawn upon.
She confidently blends painting, Super 8, found footage, chemical effects, internet images, scientific film and more. Her images evoke memory and myth, induce reverie and discomfort, in films which often unravel across unnamed dimensions. The viewer often encounters abstract, sensual hues and dreamlike imagery, as well as textural friction, with each photogram exquisitely crafted with assurance and instinct. Just as often, the images are familiar, though renewed through context, technical intervention and Vaude’s creative sensibility.
Notre Icare is unsettling at the outset. A quick succession of television news images show countless horrors from around the world. The images are also seen by a male character onscreen. From Vaude’s harrowing montage countless small shocks ripple out, until the film is overloaded and overwhelming. The speed of the editing does not hide anything, though, proving that rapid-fire editing needn’t result in the eradication of clarity.
For Vaude, the aim is to draw attention to the prevalence of images of real violence and death within the media and entertainment industry and to prompt us to consider how to respond. In the second half of the film, the man who has watched the clips with us turns inward on himself, calling an Icarus spirit to creativity and imagination, daring to aim for the sun again.
This hopeful message upends the traditional interpretation of the Icarus myth and it fits with Vaude’s dauntless experimentation with film form too. It also brings to mind the acceptance given by Stanley Kubrick on receipt of the DW Griffith Award, in which he suggested that the moral of the Icarus myth might be, ‘Forget the wax and feathers and do a better job on the wings.’
Watching Exploration, it is enthralling to find Vaude’s film pushing further through overlapped interstellar, physiological and psychic realms than even Kubrick does, in 2001. Interestingly, Vaude created a short film in 2011, I Turn Home, composed entirely of sequences from Kubrick’s back catalogue.
This is the second in an ongoing series of short films, called Carte Blanche, for the French website Blow Up Arte, all of which are comprised of found footage that is re-edited with breathtaking skill. In these works, Vaude has also begun to work on the soundtrack herself, compositions of intense and deftly arranged and mixed sounds, often carefully selected from the audio track of the films sampled, to further propel her work, whereas earlier films were scored in various styles by collaborators.
This series elaborates on the approach found in Vaude’s early work Samourai, in which she uses footage from numerous martial arts films. The familiar spectacle of the disciplined warrior engaged in a sword fight dissolves as the film begins to impart intricate rhythms, and something more exciting than a bloody battle takes over the screen: Vaude unleashes the pure radiating energy of the samurai onto the film through exquisite editing strategies.
Another of Vaude’s found footage experiments is Anticipation, which conveys a profound sense of unease concerning the individual’s place and identity in a world where authoritarian control is commonplace and genetic experimentation seeks to shape the future. The film strikes a disquieting chord and reminds us of the personal and political resonance that such experimental filmmaking can achieve, in tandem with its formal innovation.
The most recent entries in the Carte Blanche series, all of which are archived online, include Inner Stranger, a stunning montage of Leonardo DiCaprio’s performance style and a jolting psychological portrait, and Let’s Fight, which orchestrates the dynamics and drama of screen pugilism, drawing excerpts from numerous boxing films, including The Set-Up, Rocky and The Fighter.
In some respects similar to the video essays and other creative attempts at expanding upon the tradition of film criticism and analysis, which have become more and more popular in recent years with easier access to editing tools, Vaude demonstrates with unquestionable rigour and insight what a deep effect such found footage films can achieve as discrete audiovisual works which investigate our relationship to images and their effects; a critical artistic energy that is shared by filmmaker Peter Tscerkassky, whose magisterial Cinemascope Trilogy is comparable to Vaude’s recent films.
In both cases, experimental technique and commercial images are interwoven, creating arresting works, at once hypnotic and revelatory and which will appeal even to viewers typically resistant to non-commercial filmmaking.