Walking into the Goethe institute you can’t help but notice the immaculately clean floors. After exchanging some formal pleasantries with adroit receptionists while flipping through a German language course pamphlet, you hang your jacket nicely into rows of waiting hangers. Surgically cut half muffins present themselves next to percolating coffee. Anticipating the films to come, the guests sit waiting for a cultural experience. Downing a dry mash of doughy coffee, I begin to choke in my comfy chair. Canine cunnilingus flashes on the screen. Outstretched legs accept a lapping dog to the overdub of a young woman describing herself as a young revolutionary. The first short film of Marie Brassard’s selection for The Goethe Institutes’ Carte Blanche has begun.
If the films reveal anything about the woman who chose them, I would have to peg Marie Brassard as a natural outsider. Isabell Spengler, a Berliner teaching experimental film at Universität der Künste, has three offerings in this selection. Latouy is seven minutes of detached and beautiful images while a somewhat more linear plot follows The Natural Life of Mermaids and Psychic Tequila Tarot. The pseudo-plot of the latter follows the idealist Leila through a western road trip. She acts as a vessel, filling herself with the desires of others – from ex-sorority girls to drunken gamblers – by creating fictive fortunes and wedding them with reality. Whether performing a blowjob or trying to convince a prostitute her life is perfect the way it is, Leila is striving to reach the unreachable innards of others. Refusing responsibility for her “own existence” is the way she deals with a sense of disconnect from society. And she’s pretty much naked the whole time.
If you’re counting on plot and style as clean as the welcome rug guarding the Goethe institute, this short film may not be for you. There’s an amateurish feel to Psychic Tequila Tarot and Spengler’s other works, especially the playfully absurd Natural Life of Mermaids. But if you can get past the stylistic slush, you can forgive Spengler on the grounds of her far-reaching, bold messages.
The Nomi Song by Andrew Horn presents a more linear film: a documentary bio. Clause Nomi has come to be associated with elven spacemen for a reason – Nomi looked like one while singing some of the most inspirational pop-opera of the New York New Wave age. The trajectory of his career was fairly short, but it reached its peak when Nomi was a back-up singer for David Bowie on Saturday Night Live, and ended early with the devastation of AIDS. He’s described as the “most mesmerizing freak show in the history of Rock and Roll” and does not disappoint. Andrew Horn had to dig deep for this cultural nugget, as very little footage of Nomi existed outside his SNL performance. An unsuspecting closet in Sweden held an hour of footage on Super 8 film, and Horn relied on six degrees of separation for much of his interviews and colouring.
Camera-ready and made up as a style-minded invader, Nomi also appears as an outsider – there’s the persistent feeling throughout the film that we can’t get beyond his styled exterior. He is a challenging character, but anecdotes of his voice reverberating around his New York courtyard on lazy afternoons give this little-told story some grounding in reality – a redeeming achievement, considering the surreal image of Clause Nomi is about as believable as a Psychic Tarot Tequila diva in his first appearances on screen.
The Carte Blanche begins January 15 and 16 with Berlin, Symphony of a City, and Berlin Song, followed by The Nomi Song and Spengler’s three short films on the 22 and 23 of January. A string of other selections continue until March 13, closing with The Wonderful Horrible Life of Leni Riefenstahl. For the full program check out www.goethe.de/INS/ca/mon/enindex.htm.