Screening
OFFoff Presents: Ted Fendt
Mon 2 May 2022, 20:00
PART OF
  • Followed by a conversation with Ruben Demasure and Ted Fendt
FILM
Broken Specs
,
,
6’

After snapping his glasses in two, Mike sets off on a day of running into people he only kind of knows.

 

“Fendt’s comedies aren’t fashionably quirky or raunchy or arch, a far cry from the one-joke calling cards that clog up most festival shorts blocks. Structured as a series of gags around a single organizing principle, they perhaps best resemble silent comedy two-reelers, a debt Fendt openly acknowledges—Harry Langdon is thanked in the credits of his Shattered Sleep (2011), and its title is tellingly taken from Harold Lloyd. All five of his films to date present a single quotidian problem (often directly stated in the title)—unhappiness at work in Quitters Can’t Be Choosers (2011), a bedbug infestation in Shattered Sleep, a pair of broken glasses in Broken Specs, the need for a vacation in Travel Plans, finding a significant other in Going Out (2014)—and proceed to detail the ways in which the characters try (and usually fail) to solve them.”

C. Mason Wells1

FILM
Travel Plans
,
,
7’

A short film about traveling and staying at home.

 

“But I think the walking has many different purposes. I’m thinking back to a short I made, Travel Plans [2013], which had a couple shots of the characters walking down the streets in my hometown. I just liked the idea of showing these suburban American streets, in a way. You could of course show that without the person walking down the street, but obviously the landscape has a different quality when there’s a person there.”

Ted Fendt1

 

Broken Specs, Travel Plans, and Going Out form a kind of loose trilogy. Each provides a vivid regionalist portrait of Fendt’s hometown of Haddonfield, New Jersey, a suburb outside Philadelphia perhaps best known cinematically (if at all) as the inspiration for the fictional Haddonfield, Illinois in John Carpenter’s Halloween. In all three shorts, the narrative framework is fundamentally the same: the protagonists have chance run-ins with friends on the street (Fendt’s Haddonfield is a wintry, drab cousin to Rohmer’s Paris, with acquaintances constantly bumping into each other) and get casually whisked off to some kind of social gathering: a party or an apartment get-together or a meal or a bar. People hang out – they watch hockey, drink in kitchens, play with model train sets, see the Robocop remake at the multiplex – but mainly talk past each other. Every time, a character blacks out somewhere he or she shouldn’t, waking up in an unfamiliar place and walking off alone.”

C. Mason Wells2

FILM
Going Out
,
,
8’

Liz thinks she’s going out on a date with Rob to see RoboCop, but things take an unexpected (and inexplicable) turn.

 

Going Out is the third film in a trilogy of idiosyncratic short films directed and produced by Ted Fendt – all shot on 16 mm in New Jersey, twenty minutes away from Philadelphia, where Fendt grew up. In Going Out, Liz thinks she’s going on a date with Rob to see RoboCop, but things take an unexpected (and inexplicable) turn. Fendt’s films tell simple everyday tales – he frequently casts a group of friends, and friends of friends, from his old high school, and he incorporates ideas and stories from their real lives into his screenplays. Fendt enjoys working with a crew of a few people, recording natural sound and barely mixing it, and shooting with natural light.

To finance his films, Ted Fendt saves money from his various cinephile jobs: he is a projectionist at the Film Society of Lincoln Center and the Anthology Film Archives, he’s done English subtitles for the films of Jean Luc Godard and Jean-Marie Straub & Danièle Huillet, and he is currently editing an upcoming book on Jean-Marie Straub. Ted Fendt speaks fluent French. He went to Paris for two years during his studies at NYU, and he spent his time there watching as many movies as possible. Fendt is a true cinephile who speaks lovingly about his affection for the early talkies, such as the first talking films of William Wellman, and also rarer films made by 1930s actors such as Harry Langdon and Roscoe “Fatty” Arbuckle. He is a fervent believer in film who wants to shoot exclusively on film and have his movies projected on film – although he admits that can be unrealistic nowadays.”

Le Cinéma Club1

FILM
Outside Noise
,
,
61’

Daniela is unsure about what to do next and where to live. Mia is finishing a master's degree that she spontaneously started. Along with Natascha, another friend thinking of moving to Vienna, they wander around and talk.

 

“One of the characters in Classical Period, Ted Fendt’s previous film, suffers from insomnia. After reading all night, she wanders the streets and bumps into a friend. He asks, “Does it help?” She replies, “No, but it’s something to do.” This seems to be the origin story to Outside Noise, a film about wandering and insomnia. Daniela can’t sleep, whether in New York, Berlin or Vienna. Mia has similar troubles, and Natascha seems to be quietly falling apart too. Is some outside noise keeping them in this half-vigilant, half-dormant state? We all know this noise, the heavy noise of empty days, it’s everywhere, like anxiety. The film seems to be a way of dealing with this state by means of beauty, light , and movement, based on the belief that to be fair is to be poetic. Like in Classical Period, people here communicate by exchanging impressions of things other than themselves (people, books, cities, and ways of exploring them, theories, favorite museums, seasons, the moon), in order to create a world in common. Serge Daney said that we take care of the things we love, and they take care of us in return. This is one of those things. Maybe true friendship is the total absence of noise.”

Lucía Salas

 

Joshua Bogatin: For me, the rhythm of Outside Noise and of your other films can also feel like a stroll to no place in particular. You sort of move around with the characters, encountering various things along the way. Maybe there’s some excitement or a little bit of drama, but it never feels headed in a particular direction.

Ted Fendt: Well, the film is dealing with people [who] don’t necessarily have a clear goal, [who] are not really sure what they want to do and are not necessarily satisfied with where they are. They need some kind of change, but they’re not at the point where they can articulate that yet. I realized later that this kind of relates to what I was feeling around like 2016, 2017, 2018. I was in New York but beginning to feel unhappy there and wanted to change somehow, but didn’t know how to even express that. Then I found myself in Berlin and Vienna, so there’s [an] element of biography in there in a way.

How did you start to develop these feelings and ideas into a script? Your films can feel more like portraiture than drama at times, so I’ve been curious as to how you give a project like Outside Noise its form and shape?

Very associatively. Initially, it was gonna be just a short film where Mia would be visited by Daniela, but then Daniela came to New York for a vacation. And I said, “It’d be funny to shoot a test when you’re here, and maybe it could go in the movie.” But, of course, if it went in the movie it would be that her character’s in New York, which makes it a completely different story.

I think the film has this presentational quality to the way the scenes are shot because I was consciously trying to make this relationship between the viewer and the images really direct, without any intermediary of fiction. Like if you shoot a movie in Vancouver but it’s set in New York, you’re looking at a shot of the street of Vancouver, but in your mind you’re saying it’s New York. That’s like a filter, and I wanted something different. I wanted to allow a kind of immediacy to work.

With the very first shot of Mia in the film, where she’s lying on the bed, the character hasn’t been introduced yet, so she’s just a person on a bed, and there’s maybe the chance for the audience to have this direct experience of this person. I’m trying to get at a good, direct experience of places and people that you would only have if you went there, if you were face to face with this person, without allowing the fiction to be so much of a barrier.

Joshua Bogatin in conversation with Ted Fendt1