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Harun Farocki

Harun Farocki: Working on the Sight-Lines

Edited by Thomas Elsaesser
Copyright Date: 2004
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  • Book Info
    Harun Farocki
    Book Description:

    For more than thirty years Farocki has been a filmmaker, documentarist, film-essayist and installation artist. What preoccupies him above all is not so much an image of life, but the life of images, as they surround us in the newspapers, the cinema, history books, user manuals, posters, CCTV footage and advertising. His vast oeuvre of some sixty films includes three feature films (Zwischen den Kriegen/Between the Wars, Etwas wird sichtbar: Vietnam/In Your Eyes: Vietnam, Wie Man sieht/As You See), essay films (e.g. Images of the World-Inscription of War), critical media-pieces, experimental work, children's features for television, historical film essays (e.g. on Peter Lorre), `learning-films' in the tradition of Brecht (e.g. Workers Leaving the Factory) and installation pieces (e.g. Still Life). In this monograph, Elsaesser approaches Farocki's work from different critical perspectives, as well as reflecting on his extraordinary biography. The volume is complemented by interviews, a selection of writings by Farocki and an annotated filmography. £22,50 $39,95 This title is available in the OAPEN Library -

    eISBN: 978-90-485-0526-5
    Subjects: Film Studies

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. 1-4)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. 5-8)
  3. Introduction

    • Harun Farocki: Filmmaker, Artist, Media Theorist
      (pp. 11-40)
      Thomas Elsaesser

      If I am interested in how the technological, and subsequently electronic media have transformed civil society, I can find no better chronicler of their histories, no more intelligent observer of their unexpected connections, no more incisive critic and yet interested party to their epoch-making significance than Harun Farocki. The fact that Farocki is both a writer and a filmmaker is therefore as much a sign of the times as a choice of vocation. Having early on decided to be, in the spirit of Arthur Rimbaud and Charles Baudelaire, ‘resolutely modern’, Farocki availed himself of the most resolutely contemporary medium. But...

  4. Image In(ter)ventions

    • Painting Pavements
      (pp. 43-54)
      Volker Siebel

      A popular specimen of the copyist is the pavement painter, still occasionally seen today in the pedestrian zones of our cities. As a young man, Harun Farocki started out as a pavement painter. Along with a friend, he copied in chalk onto German pavements the works from the usual repertoire of these true folk artists. Street painting is sustained in equal measure by the public’s fascination with icons and the artist’s self-effacement. Street painters have to keep to a limited canon of motifs (they may only copy easily recognisable images so that their ability as skilful copyists can be appreciated...

    • Images and Thoughts, People and Things, Materials and Methods
      (pp. 55-60)
      Jörg Becker

      Harun Farocki’s 1990 film Leben – BRD (How To Live in the Federal Republic of Germany) is a montage assembled from short scenes taken from 32 instructional and training classes, and therapy and test sessions from across the German Federal Republic. The individual film segments are all ‘acted scenes’, recorded during practice sessions in which some real life situation is being introduced, taught, practised, imitated, invoked, or mastered. Leben – BRD is a film composed entirely of these scenes – ‘a documentary film with performers’. The various types of performances in the film all have specific rules, sometimes revealing a depressing banality and...

    • Incisive Divides and Revolving Images: On the Installation Schnittstelle
      (pp. 61-66)
      Christa Blümlinger

      How does a filmmaker approach a museum art form like video installation? Harun Farocki finds himself among a small, but eminent group of like-minded directors – Chris Marker, Chantal Akerman, Raul Ruiz and Peter Greenaway – whose films negotiate the relationship between word and image in equally radical fashion, and conduct in their installations similar inquiries into their own images and those of others. They try to account for the metamorphoses cinema has undergone in recent audio-visual configurations, by restaging its publicmise-en-scène.

      Perhaps what is at issue here is giving images back their distance, so that a question like ‘what is...

  5. Filming as Writing, Writing as Filming, Staking One’s Life

    • Passage along the Shadow-Line: Feeling One’s Way Towards the Filmkritik-Style
      (pp. 69-76)
      Olaf Möller

      Harun Farocki, Hartmut Bitomsky, Wolf-Eckart Bühler; Manfred Blank, Ingemo Engström, Gerhard Theuring, Hanns Zischler; Rudolph Thome, the young Wim Wenders of 3 American LPs (West Germany, 1969) and Summer in the City (West Germany 1969-1971, with Helmut Färber and Zischler, dedicated to the Kinks), reminiscences of it in Nick’s Film – Lightning over Water (West Germany/Sweden 1979-80): Each anauteurwith an unmistakably individual voice. Nevertheless, all of them more or less share something we could perhaps call theFilmkritikstyle, just as there once were Warner-style gangster films or MGM-style musicals² (see ill. 3).

      This style is only applicable to...

    • The Green of the Grass: Harun Farocki in Filmkritik
      (pp. 77-82)

      There’s no better way of getting to know a text than by typing it out. (1977, p. 359)

      One notices montage, and one does not notice editing. Montage is linking images through ideas, editing is [...] creating a flow, finding a rhythm. (1979, p. 489)

      To turn 120 pages into 15 is no longer editing, it is post-synchronisation. (1979, p. 563)

      Ten years on, it is always the article on the back of the newspaper cutting that is of interest, but half a column is missing. (1979, p. 234) (see ill. 5)

      When you are driving or running around it...

    • Staking One’s Life: Images of Holger Meins
      (pp. 83-92)
      Harun Farocki

      After his death in prison, I saw a picture of his body in a magazine. He had been on hunger strike and was wasted to the bones. It was hard to believe that this body could have been alive only a short time before; his death seemed to lie far in the past, and some special circumstance must have protected the body fromdecay. Encasement in eternal ice or in lava froma volcano – the face, however, belied this. While it bore the marks of the drawn-out death, which had distorted it, it was in no way strange. Not only was it...

  6. Between Wars, Between Images

    • Working at the Margins: Film as a Form of Intelligence
      (pp. 95-108)
      Thomas Elsaesser

      Cahiers du Cinéma’s November 1981 introduction of Farocki needs to be updated.² Admittedly, much of Harun Farocki’s early television work is buried in the cellars of several German broadcasters and his short films are not in distribution. But he has completed a second full-length feature film, Etwas wird sichtbar (Before Your Eyes – Vietnam).

      The title could translate as ‘Something Is Coming to Light’, and with it, something more about Farocki deserves to come to light as well. Not necessarily about him as an individual (although he is a colourful personality on the Berlin film scene), not even about his production...

    • Dog from the Freeway
      (pp. 109-132)
      Harun Farocki

      A photograph from Vietnam. An interesting photo. One has to put a lot into it to get a lot out of it.

      The American soldier has put on a hearing device and is listening to the ground. He is listening to hear whether there is any movement in the tunnels dug into the earth. Bullet-proof vest, glasses, and stethoscope – he looks like a physician. The American soldier is the physician who wants to cure Vietnam. The Vietcong underground is the illness afflicting Vietnam (see ill. 24).

      All of Vietnam was a warren of tunnels – tunnels connecting villages with each other,...

    • Political Filmmaking after Brecht: Harun Farocki, for Example
      (pp. 133-154)
      Thomas Elsaesser

      Filmmakers, especially in Europe, who profess they owe something to Brecht are numerous, but his legacy has been appropriated in very different ways. For Italian post-war directors such as Luchino Visconti, Francesco Rosi, Bernardo Bertolucci, Ermano Olmi, and the Taviani Brothers, Brecht’s influence was most apparent in novel, often anti-heroic ways of dramatising (national) history. In films like Senso (1954), Salvatore Giuliano (1962), 1900 (1976), The Tree of Wooden Clogs (1978), and Kaos (1984), the historical process is depicted not only in the Marxist sense as the movement of conflicting class interests. Directors delight in that sensuous apprehension of lived...

  7. Documenting the Life of Ideas?: Farocki and the ‘Essay Film’

    • The Road Not Taken: Films by Harun Farocki
      (pp. 157-162)
      Jonathan Rosenbaum

      The filmography of Harun Farocki, a German independent filmmaker, the son of an Indian doctor spans sixteen titles and twenty-one years. To the best of my knowledge, only one of his films (Between Two Wars) has ever been shown in North America until now. A travelling group of eleven films put together by the Goethe-Institut began showing in Boston last November, and this April [1992] will reach Houston, the last of the tour’s ten cities. Nine of the eleven films are currently showing at Chicago Filmmakers and I presume that the other two, both 35-millimeter films, aren’t being shown because...

    • Slowly Forming a Thought While Working on Images
      (pp. 163-176)
      Christa Blümlinger

      After the screening of Images of the World and the Inscription of War (1988) at the documentary film festival in Lyon, I was so disturbed that I was unable to say anything to Harun Farocki other than to ask him what Hartmut Bitomsky was up to, whose intelligent compilation films had similarly impressed me. As a kind of damage control, I conducted an interview with Harun two days later, which was to mark the beginning of our friendship and was to change my view of the essay film as a genre. Documentaries that both think for themselves and present themselves...

    • Making the World Superfluous: An Interview with Harun Farocki
      (pp. 177-190)
      Thomas Elsaesser and Harun Farocki

      This interview was conducted after a screening of Images of the World and the Inscription of War at the National Film Theatre-MOMI London, 6 February 1993.

      TE: You have been making films since 1966. I think your filmography numbers some fifty titles. Where have you been all these years? The New German Cinema has come and gone, Fassbinder, Wenders, Herzog – been and gone. How did you manage to survive? How have you been able to create such a body of work, unnoticed by the world?

      HF: Not entirely unnoticed. I’m probably the best known unknown filmmaker in Germany. Hartmut Bitomsky...

  8. Images of the World and the Inscription of War

    • Reality Would Have to Begin
      (pp. 193-202)
      Harun Farocki

      In 1983, as preparations were underway to install even more nuclear weapons in the Federal Republic of Germany, Günther Anders wrote: ‘Reality has to begin. This means that the blockade of the entrances to the murder installations, which continue to exist, must also be continuous. [...] This idea is not new. It reminds me of an action – or rather a non-action – more than forty years ago, when the Allies learned the truth about the extermination camps in Poland. The proposal was immediately made to block access to the camps, which meant bombing the railroad tracks leading to Auschwitz, Majdanek, etc....

    • Light Weapons
      (pp. 203-210)
      Tom Keenan

      One of the Jewish prisoners forced to work in a so-called ‘special detail’ at Auschwitz told Claude Lanzmann in Shoah, a film that contained no historical or archival images, what happened when a new transport arrived at the station and the SS was notified:

      Now one SS man woke us up and we moved to the ramp. We immediately got an escort and were escorted to the ramp – say we were about two hundred men. And the lights went on. There was a ramp, around the ramp were lights, and under those lights were a cordon of SS. [...] Now...

    • The Political Im/perceptible: Farocki’s Images of the World and the Inscription of War
      (pp. 211-234)
      Nora Alter

      During the 1970s and ’80s, Harun Farocki was not as well known as Fassbinder, Schlöndorff, and Kluge – the group that came to be known as New German Cinema. Yet Farocki’s films constituted more of a departure from or radical alternative to dominant cinematic practice. Farocki was a member of the first year class of the Deutsche Film und Fernsehakademie Berlin (DFFB), and his classmates included Helke Sander, Hartmut Bitomsky, Wolfgang Peterson, and former protester and activist Holger Meins. Though Farocki was not an active member of the RAF, he, like many of his colleagues, clearly sympathised with RAF politics, and...

  9. Film: Media: Work: Archive

    • Workers Leaving the Factory
      (pp. 237-244)
      Harun Farocki

      The film workers leaving the lumière factory in lyon (1895) by the brothers Louis and Auguste Lumière is forty-five seconds long and shows the roughly one hundred workers at the factory for photographic goods in Lyon-Montplaisir leaving the factory through two gates and exiting the frame to both sides. Over the past twelve months, I set myself the task of tracking down the theme of this film, workers leaving the workplace, in as many variants as possible. Examples were found in documentaries, industrial and propaganda films, newsreels, and features. I left out TV archives which offer an immeasurable number of...

    • On Media and Democratic Politics: Videograms of a Revolution
      (pp. 245-260)
      Benjamin Young

      Videograms of a Revolution (Videogramme einer Revolution), the 1992 film by Harun Farocki and Andrei Ujica, details the five days in December of 1989 during which a popular uprising in Romania deposed and executed the Stalinist dictator Nicolae Ceauçescu. The nascent revolt was first propelled onto international television news by images of corpses reputed to be victims of the army’s recent attack on anti-government protestors in the western town of Timisoara. The bodies were laid out for display to the television cameras and the images of the dead helped publicize the incident abroad. Although the images were not seen on...

    • Towards an Archive for Visual Concepts
      (pp. 261-286)
      Wolfgang Ernst and Harun Farocki

      The cultural memory of images has traditionally linked images with texts, titles, and other verbal indices. Confronted with the transition of images to digital storage, non-verbal methods of classification are gradually becoming more important. It is not the archival question as such which makes video memory a problem; but that search methods used to find pictorial information are still limited to models developed for retrieving texts: ‘Typically, available methods depend on file ID’s, keywords, or texts associated with the images. They do not allow queries based directly on the visual properties of the images, [and they] are dependent on the...

  10. From the Surveillance Society to the Control Society

    • Controlling Observation
      (pp. 289-296)
      Harun Farocki

      In January 1999, Cathy Crane and I started research in the US for a film with the working title Gefängnisbilder (Prison images). We were looking for footage from security cameras installed in penitentiaries, instruction material for prison officers, documentaries, and feature films, which included depictions of prisons. We got to know a private investigator who, as a civil rights activist, campaigns for the families of prisoners killed in Californian prisons: a private detective who reads Hans Blumenberg when he has time to kill. An architect showed us the plans for a new penitentiary for ‘sex offenders’ in Oregon; one-third of...

    • Nine Minutes in the Yard: A Conversation with Harun Farocki
      (pp. 297-314)
      Rembert Hüser and Harun Farocki

      The interview took place in Berlin on July 25, 1999.

      Rembert Hüser: In your film-installation at the Generali Foundation in Vienna, Ich glaubte Gefangene zu sehen (I Thought I Was Seeing Convicts, 2000), the dead prison convict, William Martinez, lies in the yard for nine minutes before he is taken away. Everything follows a precise choreography.

      Harun Farocki: I’m sure you are using the term ‘choreography’ because the yard resembles a stage. Guards, ready to shoot, have their guns trained on Martinez; a camera is lying in wait for an incident worth recording. Martinez is an inmate of a high...

    • Harun Farocki: Critical Strategies
      (pp. 315-322)
      Christa Blümlinger

      In his analysis of media coverage of the first Gulf War for the newspaperLibération, French film critic Serge Daney proposed a conceptual distinction between the ‘image’, which he qualified as cinematic, and the ‘visual’, which he attributed to the media (television, advertising, techno-military images). Daney defined this distinction as follows:

      The visual, then, is the optical verification that things are functioning on a purely technical level: there are no reverse shots, nothing is missing, everything is sealed in a closed circuit, rather like the pornographic spectacle which is no more than the ecstatic verification that the organs are functioning....

  11. Acknowledgements
    (pp. 323-324)
  12. Farocki: A Filmography
    (pp. 325-362)
  13. Notes on Contributors
    (pp. 363-366)
  14. Index of Names
    (pp. 367-374)
  15. Index of Film Titles / Subjects
    (pp. 375-380)
  16. Back Matter
    (pp. 381-382)
  17. [Illustrations]
    (pp. None)