De essayfilm: een filmvorm met verbeelding
Mon 12 Oct 2020, 20:00
Juke: Passages from the Films of Spencer Williams

Film essayist Thom Andersen snatches the Afro-American actor, director and scriptwriter Spencer Williams from obscurity with a striking, plotless montage film. In the 1940s, Williams made nine melodramas in the heart of Texas which document the era, showing how the average black citizen lived between the church and the bar, between gospel and blues. Juke was commissioned by MoMA to open its film series ‘A Road Three Hundred Years Long: Cinema and the Great Migration,’ running in conjunction with a show of Jacob Lawrence’s Great Migration paintings. (IFFR)


“During the 1940s, Spencer Williams directed nine race films for Sack Entertainment in central Texas, and he acted in eight of these films. Only one has yet to be rediscovered. In Juke, I attempt to reclaim his work, to demonstrate its originality and beauty as well as its documentary value. Williams returns always to the same theme: the struggle between the sacred and the profane, the church and the juke joint, gospel and blues. He portrays both with equal conviction. The church always prevails, but he gives the devil his due. That’s what makes The Blood of Jesus (1941) a masterpiece: it takes a miracle to bring Martha Jackson back from the allure of the city and its night clubs. The drama in his other films is more banal, but I began to notice a remarkable documentary record of black life in the 1940s in these films. There are the nightclub scenes, of course, but there is also a precious recording of residential spaces, from the shack in The Blood of Jesus to the comfortable middle class home in Juke Joint (1947). I bring out these documentary qualities by looping shots of empty interiors and showing actions freed from the plot. I am not trying to make some new meaning from these films; I am striving to bring out the meanings that are there but obscured by the plot lines: the dignity of black life and the creation of a dynamic culture in the segregated society of 1940s Texas. I regard my movie as a kin to Walker Evans’ photographs of sharecroppers’ homes in the 1930s and George Orwell’s essays on English working class interiors.”

Thom Andersen1

  • 1. Thom Andersen & Mark Webber (ed.), Slow Writing: Thom Andersen on cinema (London: The Visible Press, 2017).
Stonebridge Park

Patrick Keiller's first film, Stonebridge Park, was prompted by the length and articulation of a footbridge over a major road junction in northwest London, and comprises moving-camera footage accompanied by a fictional narration written later. It's a film in two parts. In the first part, the narrator describes the events that led to his impulsive decision to rob his former employer. The camera meanwhile walks about above the nearby road junction, surveying the distracted environment. In the second part, he recounts the anatomy of his panic following the crime, while the walking camera reconstructs his escape route. A final caption reports what happened after that.


“A riveting combination of formal-concrete cinema and glassy-eyed schizo-lyricism: cold, hard-edge, noir.”

Raymond Durgnat1


“When I arrived at the place I had seen from the train, I found that it was overlooked by an extraordinary structure, a metal footbridge I had not noticed as the train passed beneath it. About 200 metres long, it carries pedestrians over both the main line and a branch that passes underneath it, at an angle, in a tunnel. The longer of the bridge’s two spans is oriented so that Wembley Stadium is framed between its parapets.

The bridge’s architecture suggested a renewed attempt at moving pictures: its long, narrow walkway resembled the linearity of a film; its parapets framed the view in a ratio similar to the 4×3 of the camera, and its elaborate articulation, with several flights of steps, half landings and changes of direction, offered a structure for a moving-camera choreography which might include occasional panoramas.”

Patrick Keiller2

  • 1. Raymond Durgnat, Loose leaf in CSM Study Collection, 2 February 1982. Quoted in David Anderson, Landscape and Subjectivity in the Work of Patrick Keiller, W.G. Sebald, and Iain Sinclair (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2020), 48.
  • 2. Patrick Keiller, The View From the Train: Cities and Other Landscapes (London: Verso, 2013), 173-187.

In November, Hito Steyerl investigates the role of images in revolution, chronicling the journey of Andrea Wolf, a friend who became involved in the Kurdish liberation movement in Turkey. The work weaves together documentary footage from Kurdish television, scenes from an amateur film made by the two friends as teens, clips from Bruce Lee movies, and Steyerl’s own narration. Addressing a number of themes – including gender in political uprisings and the aesthetics of protest – this piece set the tone for Steyerl’s subsequent work. (MoMA)


The truth is, that only in fiction Andrea disappeared into the sunset;
The truth is, that only in fiction I have died for my ideas;
Only in fiction have the women become stronger than men;
Only in fiction were german weapons not used against the Kurdish population;
Not even in fiction are the heroes innocent;
And only in fiction does the good ultimately prevail

Hito Steyerl in November


“My best friend when I was 17, was a girl called Andrea Wolf. She died 4 years ago, when she was shot as a Kurdish terrorist. (...) In 1996, she had choses to go to Kurdistan in order to join the womens army of the so-called PKK. (...) I shot a Super-8 film with a group of people, including Andrea, when I was 17 years old. It was a feminist Kung-Fu film and she was its undisputed and glamorous hero. (...) Now this amateur fiction film has suddenly turned into a document, when in 1998 Andrea Wolf was killed, most probably by members of the Turkish army in a battle near the small border town of Catak in Kurdistan. (...) Her case is only one of the many extra-judicial executions which characterise this dirty and almost forgotten war of the 90s. (...) There are strange coincidences in the material we shot almost 15 years earlier, back in Bavaria, where we grew up. In the film, we are constantly fighting - probably for justice – and the ethic code of the film is that only villains use weapons and the good guys and girls use their bare hands for fighting. Only in the film it is myself who gets shot and Andrea who survives, taking up the weapon, executing the villain, and riding into the sunset on a motorbike. (...) When we were shooting our S-8 film, women had to look good and shut up. Female role models were rare. We picked them up at the movies, for example in this incredibly tacky film by Russ Meyer called Faster, Pussycat! Kill! Kill! (1965). It deals with a bunch of large breasted women terrorizing males. We copied these postures, creating pinups which hovered between pronography and sever dilettantism.

I realized that more of the people who have fought with Andrea live in my neigborhood in Berlin than in Kurdistan. And this was also when I realized that ‘Kurdistan’ was not only ‘there’, but also ‘here’. (...) Andrea became herself an unfamiliar kind of icon, a travelling image, when she was proclaimed a martyr for the Kurdish cause. Now, not only in Kurdistan women are bearing her picture but I have also seen my friends picture on demonstrations here, as part of a gloriole of martyrs, part of them suicide fighters.

But we are not any longer in the period of the October described by Eisenstein, where the Kosaks decide to join the Russian proletarians in internationalist brotherhood during the bolshevik revolution. Instead, we are in the period of November, when revolution seems to be over, and peripheral struggles have become particular, localist and almost impossible to communicate. In November, the former heroes become madmen and die in extralegal executions somewhere on a dirty roadside and information about it is so diffused with predictable propaganda, that hardly any one takes a closer look. Andreas death was known to us in early November. November is the time after October, a time when revolution seems to be over, and peripheral struggles have become particular, localist and almost impossible to communicate. In November, a new reactionary form of terror has taken over, which abruptly breaks with the tradition of October.”

Hito Steyerl1