In Julian Rosefeldt’s Manifesto we are treated to 13 different characters played by Cate Blanchett. To watch the Australian national treasure sprouting the manifestos of famous artists, while outwardly portraying women as varied as a homeless person and a television anchor, is worth the price of a cinema ticket alone.
Rosefeldt, a Berlin video artist, had originally created the work on 12 screens as an installation for international museums – including The Art Gallery of NSW and ACMI, who both contributed funding – and by turning the work into a film is hoping to entice the masses. To help achieve that end, he chose to premiere the film in the more market-driven Sundance Festival rather than the artier Berlinale.
Interestingly, few in the Sundance audience realised that Blanchett’s hubbie Andrew Upton and their three sons, Dashiell, Roman and Iggy, feature in one of the most prominent segments.
I spoke to Rosefeldt in a salubrious Sundance condo embedded in snow.
HB: Can you talk about the project and how it changed in the transition from installation to film?
JR: In the installation, the screens are all synchronised so they are all the same length, 10 and a half minutes. We had 11 days to shoot the whole thing and what you see in the film is exactly the same, just edited in a different way.
"There’s a certain kind of self-irony in these texts that became milestones of art history."
HB: I was on the bus afterwards and a regular Park City man thought the film was pretentious.
JR: I think what is pretentious is the attitude of the manifesto authors. When you write a manifesto you’re young, you’re arrogant and you’re angry at the world. But at the same time what we often forget, because these artists became so famous with their visual works later on, is that they were writing these texts in a moment of their lives when they were extremely insecure, when they were leaving home and starting to define themselves and finding out who they were. They shouted out loud, they wore funny clothes, had funny haircuts or wrote a manifesto. It’s mockery; there’s a certain kind of self-irony in these texts that became milestones of art history.
HB: Clearly you put your own mark on the manifestos.
JR: I wanted to reveal the curiosity of things and to break with rules. It is very much my humour, to combine scenery with content that doesn't necessarily belong there. Yesterday was the first time we’ve shown the film to a big audience and I was amazed how precisely people observed the little details and reacted to them. In the installation some of the details tended to disappear in the overall scheme.
HB: How did you get in contact with Cate?
JR: We met through a mutual friend Thomas Ostermeier, the director of the Schaubühne Theatre, at an opening of my work in Berlin. Cate was working at the Sydney Theatre Company with her husband Andrew Upton and these two theatres had an exchange. She was in Berlin shooting a film Hanna at the time. That very evening, the idea came up to do something together. I was asking myself what that could be. I just knew I wanted her to be many characters. It wasn't until two and a half years later when I was researching another project and reading artist manifestos that I came up with the idea. When Cate came to Berlin to make Monuments Men, I proposed the project. I think she was shocked because she’d probably imagined doing something non-verbal and this was the opposite. But I think the idea of being a chameleon appealed to her.
HB: She loved doing Bob Dylan in I’m Not There (and was Oscar nominated). I think she basically likes to dress up and be as many characters as she can possibly be.
JR: And she’s very good at it.
HB: How did it come about that she was with her husband Andrew Upton and their three sons around the table in the Pop Art segment? Her eldest son Dashiell is very good.
JR: They’re all very good. Iggy the little one is amazing. He’s whispering something in her ear and you have this tenderness between the son and mother that you could never achieve otherwise. And Andrew’s good too. (Rosefeldt chuckles as he imitates Upton wiping his forehead). I loved it.
HB: When did the filming happen?
JR: We did it two weeks before Xmas in 2014. It only happened because Cate decided to spend Christmas in Berlin with her family. Her winning the Oscar for Blue Jasmine was problematic for me, as production companies came up with more ideas for her and she almost had to cancel it. Luckily she stayed on board. I asked her one day if she imagined that the whole family could be involved and she said yes.
HB: The Pop Art manifesto belonged to which artist?
JR: Claes Oldenburg who wrote the I Am For Art manifesto, which I basically shortened. It's the only scene where one author is heard.
HB: Why did you make Cate a conservative Southern woman?
JR: I wanted her to be the antidote, to show what Pop Art means. Sometimes it was strictly intuitive like the Dada funeral scene. I felt all this morbid charm in the text. I felt it was a funeral scene.
HB: She kept swearing!
JR: That's Francis Picabia and there were others like Hugo Ball in there as well.
HB: Did Cate have much input?
JR: Definitely. Her knowledge and experience helped in the improv for each scene. Even if we had an incredibly short time frame – one time we shot two scenes in one day – she could still come up with ideas. We also discussed the characters beforehand. Originally we had 60 scenes and we did 12 in the end.
Wednesday 29 September, 7:40pm on SBS World Movies (streaming after at SBS On Demand)
Australia, Germany, 2017
Language: English, Italian
Director: Julian Rosefeldt
Starring: Cate Blanchett, Erika Bauer, Ruby Bustamante, Carl Dietrich Carls