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ANNETT WOLF- Films rétrospective at the Cinémathèque Française

January 7, 2016

(Paris, January 13th – January 29th, 2016)

 

A FILM AUTEUR AT THE TV

 

"You don’t catch luck, you provoke it”. This sentence by Annett Wolf features in the Danish Dictionary of quotes. It sheds a light on the dynamics of a biography that reads like a novel of initiation. Single daughter of a war resistant, smuggler of Jewish children, she experienced her first romances in Spain and England with bullfighters and Formula 1 drivers, Howard Hawks’ type of heroes engaged in ritual dances of death.

 

In 1962, rather than take over the family business of wine import, the intrepid young girl joined the teams of television, a medium where everything was yet to be invented. From spitting images of the daily news to variety shows, she cut her teeth on every format, became a producer, made a series of interviews and jazz concert footage (with Bud Powell, Dexter Gordon, Dave Brubeck or Eartha Kitt, among others), and American sax player Sahib Shihab, who lived in Copenhagen at the time, composed an original score for her Girl with the ballet Sleepers (1965). This tribute to Michael Powell’s Red Shoes drifts toward a dark vision of modern marriage: boredom drowns into the fumes of alcohol, swingers orgies drifting on the fringe of rape. These images remain staggering because Wolf already enrolls the stylish features of theatrical films on television.

 

In The Big Family, she inserts the profile of the Schumann circus troupe into the real time of the show, shifting back and forth between stage performance and backstage interviews in her editing, illuminating the art of Charlie Rivel’s slowburn techniques by going up the thread of memories, as she illuminates the art Chaplin by filming the run down neighborhoods of his youth in London: two children move away hand in hand; a restless tracking shot haunts the eerie corridors of a deserted mental asylum. With these two images, Wolf builds a connection between the art of silent film and the innovative styles of her contemporaries Alain Resnais and Jean-Daniel Pollet, that constitutes both the spirit, the style and the subject of A Lonely Sailor (1971). In the hippie fever of the Copenhagen of the 70’s, a retired merchant marine sailor comes up against indifference. Memories, images appearing as unexplained signs mysteriously shuffled and dealt, haunt him; Palle Mikkerlborg’s jazz establish a dialogue with Satie’s music, and everything leads to that key image of two seniors offering to each other a flower in front of the lascivious poster of a sex-shop icon.

 

Intensity, contrasts, dissonances, images stolen in the streets, these echoes of silence also resonates in her profiles (the ballet of hookers and customers in the port of Amsterdam, mirroring Jacques Brel’s lyrics) and her essays on Schade, Boris Vian and Malinowski. Poems read in front of the camera, archive footage, images of dormant and deserted dumps, sinister scenes where models mingle with humans in a mechanical ballet on the escalators, while Cage, Varese, Zappa and Santana collide on the soundtrack.

 

FROZEN MOMENTS OF THE 20TH CENTURY

Wolf is equally fascinated by Arts and by the artisanal gesture that crafts them. She feverishly embarks her crew to capture behind the scenes of film sets, tries her hand at directing stage plays, directs a short slapstick film (The man who had lost his shoe), questions the narrative function of the image (the life of Marcel Marceau returned as pantomimes filmed in the outdoor settings of biography) and the articulation of Speech and Landscape in the editing techniques (Brel). She achieves a purely musical layout of her material by vampirizing the paradisiacal scenery and thrilling score of a film shooting that turned into a calamitous disaster (Jaws II), and she doesn’t need more than a few shots of LA by night to seep in her jubilant portrait of Telly Savalas an humor and an erotic tension that a lot of blockbuster’s directors could be jealous of.

 

Carefully conceived, but never theoretical, her films naturally fit into a History of Cinema in which The Great Dictator would be the key milestone. When the tragedies of the world reach the ridiculous, the next step can only be comedy, summarizes the brilliant satirist Dave Allen. This thin fringe is discussed at length by Jack Lemmon, Hitchcock, Peter Sellers, and of course by Jerry Lewis. In Stockholm, on the set of The Day the Clown Cried, she gradually gains his trust; her images’ frame tightens along the way, until the moment where she records a devastating scene happening on the set. Then the filmmaker, worn out, completely vulnerable, grants her an interview in the middle of the night. A naked mind, like Ingmar Bergman’s, who confesses the incestuous nature of the love he devoted to his mother in an unreleased profile, or Brel, who unveils the essence of his inspiration under the heavy fire of Wolf’s questions about childhood and lost paradise. The art of the interview requires stalking, waiting, and listening. This lesson she learned from the iconic interviewers of the BBC delivers its most powerful result in a long uncut shot where a Jack Lemmon in very high spirits, reminisces two childhood blunders that have shaped his sense of humor and made way into his desire to become an actor.

 

Two three-part series testify Wolf’s ability to celebrate Art as well as to question its market. On one hand, The Time to Live (1974) displays, from Frehel to Gainsbourg, a magnificent panorama of 50 years of French song, ode to a form of expression she captures at its swan song; on the other hand, Hurray for Hollywood (1976) radiographies an industry at a given time, through some iconic films (Marathon Man, Rollerball, A Woman Under the Influence, Carwash, Jaws), questioning its inflating costs, its fascination for violence, its independence margins and the way it represents minorities

 

In 1977, Wolf established herself as an independent producer in the United States. She captures the last living images of Elvis Presley for NBC and, during ten years, shapes the making of as a genre and promotional tool for the studios, filming in that course the early steps of Stallone and Eddie Murphy. Part of this abundant production is unlikely to have survived the gigantic fire of a Universal warehouse.

 

In 1988, she directed Crossfire, a stage play in which 23 members of the Bloods are trying to establish a truce with the Crips by telling the daily life of gangs. But, as the political supports who had initiated the project wither, the Major studios, fearing stray bullets, put a brutal stop to Wolf’s career in the US. The hopes of these young outcasts break into violent deaths or life imprisonment sentences. Wolf leaves the United States and work again on Danish television before settling on the east coast of Canada. She is preparing a feature film where she will face her mortality on the Arctic shores.

 

Shakespearean kings who lose their crown, bodies dancing and then falling ... Some programmatic images which pass through her life and her films, and offer a unprecedented reverse shot of what the Western art of the postwar period has produced best. Some frozen moments of the twentieth century.

 

Damien BERTRAND

Documentary Filmmaker

 

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