MELBOURNE INTERNATIONAL FILM FESTIVAL: Gustav Deutsch’s kaleidoscopic interpretation of Jean-Luc Godard’s oft-quoted appraisal of cinema – 'All you need is a girl and a gun" – makes for intriguing, confounding and confronting cinema. It will definitely not be to everyone’s taste but it is a unique achievement from the Austrian-born director.
Deutsch has collated dozens of clips, primarily from the silent film era, and applies a fresh film language to convey his artistry. Godard’s quote (which some film historians credit to pioneer filmmaker, D.W. Griffith) is brought to life by Deutsch’s light-hearted opening sequence – cowgirl Annie Oakley shooting balloons and apples, in some of the oldest archive footage still in existence.
Deutsch aims to explore man’s definitive qualities and the way they are dealt with in cinema. Love, sex, violence and the subsets that exist inside these definitions, such as jealousy, lust, joy and innocence, have been recorded by filmmakers for over a century and Deutsch utilises his vast archival resources to explore them in a contemporary vision like never before.
He frames the montage content within five distinct sections that document, with the aid of quotes from Greek philosophers Plato, Sappho and Hesiod, the progression of human nature and society’s base needs. 'Genesis’ reflects the dawn of man and cinema; 'Paradeisos’ (literally, The Garden of Eden) was a joyous time of childlike play and blossoming emotions; 'Eros’ projects an invitation of love, but also the darker ramifications of envy and manipulation; 'Thanatos’ portrays the domination of the phallus that society blindly accepted and the hurt that came with its power and desires; ultimately, 'Symposion’ is the positive unity of the man/woman ideals.
Deutsch’s skills lie in the juxtaposition of unrelated silent film moments, industrial and musical audio cues and ancient Greek quotations into a beautiful and bewildering artwork.
The collection of clips is quite extraordinary. Many are only grainy fragments of long-since perished full-length features; some are scientific, propaganda or documentary in origin. Most confronting are the silent pornographic images: 'hardcore penetration’ scenes in today’s language and shocking yet crucial to Deutsch’s non-linear plot, most were provided by the Kinsey Sex Institution in the U.S. Be warned that if explicit sexual images offend, Film Ist: A Girl & A Gun may not be for you.
The film is the third in Gustav Deutsch’s Film Ist: series. His previous two films, Film Ist: 7-12 (2002) and Film Ist (1998) took entirely different yet no less revolutionary approaches to the art of cinema and the role it has played over the last century. He also has to his credit the short Film ist mehr als Film (Film Is More Than Film, 1996). All have been shown at past Melbourne Film Festivals and the programmers should be applauded for screening the confrontational and compelling third chapter. Though the film ends with a 'To be continued" card, one feels that relates more to the ongoing evolution of mankind and cinema than further instalments, but we shall see.
The film's detractors will call it a gallery piece, too specialised to warrant broader exposure, impenetrably esoteric. The Festival audience disagreed, leaving the screening in deep discussion and wildly enthused. Surely a venue for such bold international cinema could survive outside of the Festival schedule? Why should so many fine global films go unseen by Australian audiences?