← Part of the Collection: Harun Farocki

Making the World Superfluous

An Interview with Harun Farocki

(1) Bilder der Welt und Inschrift des Krieges (Harun Farocki, 1989). Photo: "Images of the World and the Inscription of War" © Harun Farocki 1988

Thomas Elsaesser: You have been making films since 1966. I think your filmography numbers some fifty titles. Where have you been all these years? The New German Cinema has come and gone, Fassbinder, Wenders, Herzog – been and gone. How did you manage to survive? How have you been able to create such a body of work, unnoticed by the world?

Harun Farocki: Not entirely unnoticed. I’m probably the best known unknown filmmaker in Germany. Hartmut Bitomsky is another filmmaker in the same position, a well-known, unknown filmmaker in Germany. He and I started making films together, after leaving the Berlin Film Academy in 1969. During those years a lot of things were possible, or so it seemed to us. Kluge was successful in the cinema, and Hellmuth Costard’s work was shown on prime-time television. There was a short boom for political films in West Germany, and for a brief summer we had the possibility of producing this kind of films, and before we knew it the fashion was over. I think we didn’t take advantage of our opportunity all that wisely, and with the start of the 1970s, it was all over. Take Wim Wenders, he gave up his long takes, began to work with shot-countershots and made himself socially acceptable. But we didn’t manage the crossover, and it seems that anyone who failed to adapt at that point, stayed out in the cold for a long time. I tried to get by, by getting my work into arts programmes or on children’s television, but it was by no means always a done deal. And in any case, there is not much public attention to be gained from those kinds of assignments. Working for television, a documentarist like Peter Nestler attracted precious little attention, and today, not even the Straubs can provoke a reaction, always assuming that their films are being shown at all.

Was it a deliberate move on your part to more or less bypass the subsidy system as it existed in Germany during the 1970s? I noticed that Images of the World did actually get subsidised by the Land of North Rhine-Westphalia, a regional funding authority. Considering the way your projects are set up, it could not have been easy to submit scripts or otherwise comply with the regulations, which were required by this public machinery surrounding the subsidy system? Or maybe it was a political decision to not even try?

No policy decision on my part. Simply, in the case of Between Two Wars, I tried twenty-five times or so to get the finances together, but in the end, I had to produce it without public money, and instead used some 30,000 German Marks that I had earned with other film work.

I gather that Between Two Wars, when it was submitted for a Prädikat, that is, when it was submitted for evaluation to the Ratings Board was actually refused a certificate on the grounds that it was biased, unimaginative, a filmed lecture. Does this sort of discriminatory judgement hurt you when you hear someone referring to your films as didactic?

Yes, unfortunately, yes. If you look at the film that Henri-Georges Clouzot made about Picasso [The Mystery of Picasso, 1956] you can see that Picasso wanted to prove something, namely what a virtuoso painter he was. Apparently all that talk about his work being something “a five-year old boy could do” got to him. So it may be true that I, too, am trying to prove that my films are not unfilmic or uncinematic, that with my framing and editing I want to prove them wrong. There is already a burden of proof in Between Two Wars.

You have actually made feature films, fiction films, but I think on average you prefer either to make fictional documentaries or to document fictions. With your films, which sometimes go by the name of “essay films”, you have actually contributed to film history a sort of genre, or at least you gave the idea some currency in Germany. One tends to think of Jean Luc Godard in this context, but your films do not strike me as Godardian, to use a term that has gone a little out of fashion. But I know that you have worked with Jean-Marie Straub and Danièle Huillet, for instance. Do you see yourself as a filmmaker belonging to the European cinema in either of these senses?

For me, Godard has been way out in front for the past thirty years, he always encouraged me to do things, and I always found out that I do what he did fifteen years earlier. Luckily for me, not quite in the same way. At the moment I am working with video, sometimes I think I see myself remaking Numéro deux, the same staging in my apartment, but there are also major differences. So many ideas are hidden in his work that although you are a different director, you can nonetheless always refer back to him.

You have written on Robert Bresson. How does this come together? A filmmaker like Bresson on the one hand, Godard on the other. Are these compatible ways of thinking about the cinema, and if so, what idea of cinema do you see them pursuing?

But Bertold Brecht and Thomas Mann were also antagonists, and nonetheless one can be an admirer of both, as happens to be the case with me. Bresson, to put it briefly, makes his images rhyme, of which I’m a great admirer, even though this is not at all my own project. Whether it is Bresson, Godard or the Straubs, watching their films or writing about them is like learning to read. In order to read a philosophical text, you have to have a certain amount of training; the text requires a different mode of reading than a newspaper or a novel. The same goes for these films. I study them in order to attune myself to their way of thinking and production.

One thinks of the kind of spare clarity that the mise-en-scène has in Bresson, the tremendous effort to keep a certain distance. With Godard, one rather gets the sense that he always comes in with his own voice or pencil or paintbrush, and that, graffiti-like, he crowds the frame with all kinds of – admittedly far from irrelevant – interferences and interjections. But I also remember something you said when we met nearly twenty years ago, and we got to talking about Filmkritik, the Munich-based film journal, of which you were at the time a contributor, and you said, jokingly: “Terrible magazine if you want to know what movies to see, but the best literary magazine in Germany.” As a long-time subscriber to Filmkritik, I found this an illuminating comment, also about your own work. Not only because writing for you is obviously very important. Indeed, some of your films exist as a written text and as a film, without the one cancelling out the other, but also because it seems to me that your writing is already a form of filming, of spacing, editing, of transposing ideas into images and actions. On the other hand, there is also a sense in which for you the cinema is not a substitute for writing. On the contrary, writing has, since the advent of cinema, achieved a new definition, a new purity and outline that is paradoxically due to the existence of cinema. Where does this stance of cinema as writing come from – for it seems different from the French caméra stylo idea of Astruc. Or is it quite simply an economic relation: you have to make some of your money with journalism, getting your work published, in order to keep circulating as an author, for only as an author can you continue making films.

Yes, of course, by writing one produces oneself as author. In the mid-1970s I stopped working for radio, because those texts took too much time compared to what they paid. Since then I only write when I feel like I have something to say, regardless of what it pays. But of course, writing increases your cultural capital, as it does for US professors who get promoted in direct relation to the number of published works. Another thing is that a film accompanied by a text elicits much more commentary than one in which the author manifests himself only with images and sounds and their organisation. Images of the World attracted much more writing than, for instance, Leben – BRD. The same is true of Chris Marker’s Sans Soleil, which has an extraordinary text – a text that emanates from a lifetime’s preoccupation with cinema, as you just sketched it. This text can also be reproduced without the film, by which I do not at all imply that the images in the film are somehow worthless. Rather, the text has had such a strong effect that in some places nobody paid much attention to the images. To give a small example: there is a scene in Sans Soleil where the camera accompanies two people visiting a grave. It rushes ahead of them and waits for them at the graveside, just like a television crew would do it, if it had the time and a chance to stage things. Why does the camera rush ahead? – this sort of question has not generated any critical energy. I probably write, or rather: occupy myself with writing, in order to determine the difference between film and text. I want to make films that are not that far removed from texts, and that are nonetheless very distinct. I am very interested in etymology. In the case of Images of the World, we always called it “pictures of war”, and that’s what it was called in the subtitles. In 1988, the film went to San Francisco to the festival, then started circulating in the US for a while, and when it came back it had been renamed “images of the world...” – that is how it appeared in all the catalogues and programmes. The same thing happens with children, you give them a name, but the world does not accept it, and then they end up with another name. I had chosen “pictures”, because I liked it when Sartre’s book Les mots was translated into German by the critic Hans Maier, who called it not “Worte” but “Wörter”. The latter is a less ambitious term, and that is also what I tried to do with my title. Etymology is a very strange discipline, I like surfing through dictionaries and learn about “Wörter”, before they become “Worte”. It gives you insights into all kinds of details that can never become a system, which strikes me as very innocent. Of course I know that words are not entirely determined by their origins, but where they come from for me retains a certain radiance. It makes the word “Holocaust” unacceptable to me, because it puts Auschwitz into a mitigating, historicising context. Maybe I want to exercise a similar form of tact with words in my films: investigate pictures, take them apart to reveal their elements.

I do get the sense that words for you are related to artefacts, that looking at them makes them strangely remote but also somehow haptic or tactile. When you say you’re interested in etymology, you obviously have a writer’s sensibility also as it relates to the shape of meaning, to the ambiguities and multiple meanings of a word. I am not thinking of the old problem of “film language” or “film grammar” that has preoccupied filmmakers since Griffith and Eisenstein, and film theorists from Bela Balasz to Christian Metz. What I have in mind has more to do with the nature of the objects, the artefacts that one can “make” with words, compared to the ones one makes with sounds and images. And the way in which an image can be a concept – here we do end up touching on Eisenstein – as well as a cliché saturated with cultural meaning, and therefore, act as a kind of “revolving door” between different associations, ideas, even histories. You seem to be alert to puns, for instance, and the way they can fuse two quite distinct levels, or domains. One very striking example of how a single word brings different things together occurs in Images of the World through the double and triple meanings of the German word “Aufklärung”. How crucial is it to you that audiences realise that “Aufklärung” has this potential? For this is something that gets lost in the translation, where “enlightenment”, “re-connaissance”, “sex education” and “a cloudless sky” really belong to very different clusters of associations.

Yes, there are terrible casualties that occur in translation. To translate the word “heldisch” as “heroic” is to deprive it of what is special about it. I have been wondering whether I should not really find authors who take full responsibility for the English or French versions of my films, instead of myself getting involved in the translations and the recording of the voices.

But now that the word “Aufklärung” carries all this baggage, are you intrigued by the possibilities? Does it make you reflect on how words like this suggest connections in the real world, in your visual material, in the argumentative fabric of your film, so to speak, for which you have to take responsibility?

Yes, that is a very interesting field. For instance, Hans Jonas points out in his book, Phenomenon of Life, that nearly everything in philosophy has a metaphor related to the eyes, to vision and so forth, and that in religion, things always relate to the ear. In many languages, at least in many European languages, God is audible and philosophy is visible. That’s very interesting because we always seem to believe that the word, simply the word is related to philosophy and the image to religion. So, in this sense, it’s very essential that the German word “Aufklärung” is a bit different from the English word ‘enlightenment’, and such things are essential for a film, but they were not the starting point of the film. In fact, I wanted to make a film without a starting point, simply to tell something about images nowadays, that was the idea. Luckily, I succeeded in raising some money, quite similar to an author who says, here I have pencil and paper and now I’ll take one and a half or two years to write something. This is how I started to work, and then I read this note by Günter Anders who is quoted in the film, who compares the early 1980s to these political attempts to prevent access to the Auschwitz installations. If there was a starting point for all the research, this was it. It was only later that I found this strange brochure about the two CIA men who came across those photos. 

(2) Bilder der Welt und Inschrift des Krieges (Harun Farocki, 1989). Photo: "Images of the World and the Inscription of War" © Harun Farocki 1988

So, the centre of the film, these two images, these two collections of images came later: one of the aerial photographs taken by Allied bombers, by American bombers in 1944, and this album, this Auschwitz album by Rudolf Vrba and Alfred Wetzler which was found, I forget when, in the fifties or sixties...

... no, earlier, it was re-found, it’s a long story...

... obviously, these two collections bring two very different perspectives to bear on something that in a sense is neither explicable, nor seizable in images or even words. It defies understanding in either direction, as it were. At least, this is how Auschwitz has entered our culture, as something that almost signifies the limits of understanding and representation, of our capacity of picturing something. You have in some sense tried to work with this blockage, to see in your film if something cannot be displaced, cannot somehow be opened up, maybe to “Aufklärung”. Is your film an attempt to open up a space for the mind to grasp what was going on, or are you more concerned about pointing to the unbridgeable gap between the two sets of images, pictures, representations? Could such an awareness of the gap help us overcome it, help us to “work through” it in some sense? I may be over-interpreting, I don’t know how you feel about this, but your analysis of the processes of “inscription” seems to make sure that the aerial photograph is opened up to a political history, which is the history of the Allied campaign against Nazi Germany. One begins to ask what were their goals, their objectives? On the other hand, there is the history of how it could come to Auschwitz, or rather how it could be that Auschwitz was “seen” but apparently not “known”? Or if they were indeed known, the existence of the camps was not part of any military “Aufklärung”, it did not figure as a reality to be verified or acted upon. Thus, even if it was known only in this virtual state, in these photographs, they make it clear that among the Allied war aims, humanitarian considerations, like saving lives, were not as important as the economic war aims, which were to destroy Germany’s military might and industrial installations. Yet by using this image of the woman, and the way you comment on it, you make something else very comprehensible to us, namely the “ordinariness” of the basic situation, and therefore the mindshattering extraordinariness of the circumstances. A man is looking at a woman, who is looking at a man and not looking at a man. It’s almost a kind of founding moment of cinematic fascination, vision and attraction, a moment very important, as we know, for feminist theories about the cinema. Yet these two detours, in order to approach “Auschwitz” are very, very different. Are you prepared to bear the burden of making the connection between them? What is it that is so productive in this juxtaposition across the gaps and the detours?

We’re talking about two different kinds of images. The aerial photograph is a technical image. Although an analogue recording, it already points, with its grid system (as Vilém Flusser noted), to the digital mode. The individual human beings fall through the grid, and only the ornament of their group-existence registers: for instance, when they line up in the yard for the selection or a roll call. The image of the woman, arriving at the camp, is taken by SS-men. Every bureaucracy is in the business of documenting itself, but not always with photographs. The Nazis did not circulate images of the concentration camps, so maybe these pictures were intended for a select public, or for an anticipated future. This particular picture, in any event, was the result of a reflex, an impulse of the kind you just described. The picture could even have been taken by a well-meaning non-Nazi. He takes a blond woman, so as not to pander to racial stereotypes, he shows an attractive woman, so as to arouse compassion. A woman one want to possess, and this is the desire that the Nazis accommodate... The main figure in the picture is basking in the light of our attention, while the people in the background are already swallowed in the twilight of our indifference. The two pictures belong to two different classes or categories, they embody the technical and the narrative mode of historical writing. 1944, with the discovery of the camps, was like an experiment. On the one hand, the new automated technology of recording was already around, was already in the air, capable of being used as a sensor and recording everything that was happening, including what was happening in Auschwitz. On the other hand, two prisoners, Vrba and Wetzler, who are escaping from the camp and have to testify to the reality of Auschwitz by being physical, bodily eyewitnesses. This is the crisis, this is somehow a turning point in human history. Both types of narrative, both types of images are inadequate, both are inappropriate. The old dualism of word and image – we cannot simply opt for one or the other, we have to try and establish a relation between the two. The same occurs here; maybe one image can elucidate the other, critique it, give it some experiential validity. If I may add something here, you are right in the way you’ve programmed this retrospective. The choice you’ve made in showing a series of films that look at cinema not as part of the history of storytelling, but as belonging more to the history of other techniques and technologies of surveillance, measuring, calculating, automation. I know of someone in Germany, Bernhard Siegert, who has written a book about the postal system. For him, the history of the novel is a sub-category in the history of postal communication [1993; transl. as Relays: Literature as an Epoch of the Postal System, Stanford University Press, Stanford, CA. 1999].

Now, while working on this film I became aware that in all these strange experimental installations where I did my shoot, “optical sensoring” or “imaging” was only a sub-category of other kinds of measuring, that light is only a wave of a certain frequency. Most measuring has little use for images anymore, certainly not in order to harvest figures, as at the time of Meydenbauer. The figures are now the primary material. They calculate the statistics and the numbers, and occasionally they press a button, and there is an image you can see, just to make it a bit more vivid. In the film, I argue that appliances and instruments that have become historically obsolete undergo a brief deification, before they disappear. You can observe it in today’s body culture: directly proportional to the decline of physical labour, everyone now dons these sport shoes and trainers, as if they were athletes. And I suddenly realised that the human eye, too, is no longer essential to the production process. Film and television images have a simple function: to keep our eyes alert and moving, similar to having to exercise horses, when they’re not out working. If you compare this to the field of manual labour, it is the same: more and more automation, also in the field of vision. Suddenly I realised that this branch of working with images that I am in is about as modern as Muybridge’s experiments with recording a galloping horse’s movement.

If I understand you right, what you are hinting at is that images, which in some sense are fundamental to our culture – you mention religion, of course religion has a double edge because many religions have a big prohibition against images – are on their way out. For the last 200 to 300 years our culture has been dominated by images. We are shedding one of our key perceptual and conceptual supports, if what you are pointing to is really happening, namely the possibility that images today are, as it were, merely a concession to the human interface. Since machines don’t need images, they can do their own “visualisations” and “conceptualisations” with mathematical calculations. Is this, then, the historical connection between fascism and, let’s say, virtual reality? In some sense, for both, the human interface has dropped out of the equation as a cumbersome and costly irrelevance?

Yes, that’s correct. A process of human self-abolition is underway. The extermination camps were directed against “the Jews” – I put it in scare quotes, because so many of the victims were not even aware that this was their identity, being a “Jew”. Already in this case, the identity and image of the other was not clearly drawn. With euthanasia and eugenics the border is even less clear because every family can have a handicapped or terminally ill family member. In his table talk, Hitler was thinking out loud about the possibility of exterminating all those with hereditary lung or heart disease. Meanwhile, nuclear weapons are even more indiscriminate: they’re directed against everyone. The German philosopher Ernst Tugendhat once wrote that if there was ever a nuclear war, the survivors of the first wave would most likely queue up outside the gas chambers, if they existed. It is a terrible thought. I had it in the script, but maybe I did not dare keep it in. When in 1989, the regimes in Eastern Europe began to collapse into nothingness, it would have been a good opportunity to also address the question of the threat of nuclear weapons. The existence of nuclear installations is to my mind no less a scandal than political dictatorship or the five-year plan. Incidentally, this aspect of my film has largely passed unnoticed. It’s a little like the story with the title; to me, the film has come back from its journey with another name and a somewhat different identity. Of course, one has to be careful if one establishes relations between Auschwitz and other events, it can easily lead to purely dramatic or rhetorical effects. I hope my filmic method allows for certain reflections to enter into relations with each other, without suggesting equivalence.

Audience member: I found your film very graphic and I would like to know about your use of still photographs.

I saw a film recently, where Robert Frank was asked what the difference was between still photography and the moving image. And he said something like, “in a photograph you see a man standing somewhere, and in a film, he stands there for only a moment and then he walks out of the frame”. Then he walked out of the frame, but unfortunately, the camera panned after him. There is just too much movement in the world. When I make a film, I have to compete with all this movement. So, I try to reduce the level of expectation a little, slow things down a bit. I use still images, in the hope that afterwards, the moving image will acquire a different value. When I show sequences where there is movement, ideally I’d like to produce the same kind of astonishment that occurred when the first Lumière films were shown.

Elsaesser: Perhaps you can just pick up on this last point, because what strikes me about photography in general is that it is not as if the still photograph was there first, and then it became a moving image. Historically, photography and cinema are not quite related in this sequential causality. With you, it’s in fact the other way round, as you say, you are arresting time, you are slowing it down. Without, however, thereby annihilating the fact that a still image is the sum or the cusp of a movement, that there once was movement where there is now stilled movement. In that sense, as a photographer, you are always responsible for arresting time at that precise moment. And then the burden is for you to explain to us why you are arresting it, in other words, you raise a strong expectation of reading that image, of making that image say something, that it would not necessarily have said if it had just slipped past us. There is a kind of force that the image acquires. This seems very characteristic of your filmmaking, even in your other films.

It is probably comparable to what is meant when one speaks of an author’s concept, rather than of his movement of thought around the concept. I think I am looking for images that represent, in their stilled state, several directions of movement at once. An image like a juncture, the way one speaks of a railway junction. I am looking for an image that is the concept for several sequences of movement. Images of the World is not a fully worked-out film so much as the design or blueprint of maybe several films.

Audience member: Could you comment some more on your use of sound?

A totally zero-sound space is considered to be a no-no in the cinema. That is why even silence is “represented” by low ambient sound. I did not want to take this kind of atmospheric sound out of the archive, that is why I made one with music. I had the idea to take Beethoven’s Razumovsky quartet and Bach’s English suites, and then I took the sound reel and put the scissors on it and then put the reel in the eraser drum. Everything was erased except the parts protected by the scissors. During the final sound mix I was also following an aleatory principle, because without calculating it in advance, I would sometimes turn the music on and then off again. Every language version therefore has a different soundtrack and because these frequencies are different in nearly every theatre, each performance is somehow different. The idea was to have something excessive and random, not calculated, because there was already so much calculation and premeditation in this film.

Audience member: My question relates to the previous question. You use images that speak very eloquently, but you give them a very insistent commentary, too. Unless I’m wrong, the commentary tended to overlap and double the images, sometimes to undermine them. At times this made me angry, it seemed quite didactic. I wonder whether it was meant to make me angry. Could you imagine making a film, perhaps even this film with these images but without the commentary, imagine that the images are on their own, without the insistent commentary?

Yes, you’re right, in principle, I could. I think if I was really using up the images with my commentary, then I would have to agree with what you say. But I think that often I make such playful use of the commentary, I propose this meaning and then another meaning, and then exchange them, as one does when playing cards in a game. They are never the so-called representative illustrations for these ideas. They are never that. There is always a reading of the images, sometimes a provocative reading, where the audience will wonder, “surely, this can’t be the right commentary to these images?” Between the images and the commentary there is a parallel, but it’s a parallel that will meet in infinity.

Elsaesser: This may actually be a point that an English audience would be more struck by than a German audience, where commentary, when it is used in a documentary, often seems to be killing the images. In Alexander Kluge, for instance, one has that sense that he knows it all and whatever is in the images is in a sense just dangling from his words. In your film – partly because of the rather flat delivery by Cynthia Beatt – one is very conscious of her delivering the words in a kind of even monotone, against the melody of meaning and sense. Was this precisely in order to create that interplay that the last questioner was alluding to, that there is the possibility not only of reflecting on the sense, but of inserting oneself and disagreeing with the words, disagreeing with the commentary?

Yes, the dramaturgical line is not in the commentary, it is somewhere else. It’s somewhere in your mind or in these connections and solutions. And the connection is made through all these combinations, the structure of these loops, and therefore the music and the commentary should also loop in this way.

I am thinking of “the solution that begets the solution” that Chris Marker found in Sans soleil where he actually has a female voice speak what is effectively a male text because these are letters written to her by a man. So there is double displacement or reversal, and at the same time, there is a gender question involved as well. Is the voice in the German version also a woman’s voice? Is it important that the gender of the voice is female?

Yes, but not for political reasons. It was not a matter of choosing a female voice so that women can have their say – that would be bizarre, since it is after all, I who wrote the text. Simply, I wanted to make evident that here a not-I was speaking.

In the case of Kluge, the commentary was one of the major objections women filmmakers had about his films. That here was a male voice, which often was Kluge’s own voice, telling everybody what to think about the images.

Yes, but Kluge has such a wonderful feminine Saxonian word-melody! I want to defend Kluge against some of the criticism you have alluded to. First of all, when Kluge speaks, it’s not at all easy to understand what he says, there is still plenty of work for the spectator. Secondly, his films are full of passages that make so many different kinds of sense, if you think of all these tangles of slow-motion he puts in, and all these moons and clouds speeding past in his time-lapse fast-forward sequences. Kluge is at least conscious of the fact that a text can tie up one’s thoughts, instead of setting them free. I would not agree that he is a know-it-all. Or at least, he doesn’t want to be one. And that is already a lot.

Is this another case of a filmmaker who is very different from you, yet whose work you can admire, because you recognise and respect his project?

I hope so, I hope so. I definitely try to avoid being smarter than the film is. I try to let the film think. Literally, I write a line, then I go to the editing table and try to comment on it with images. Conversely, I try to find my words on the editing table. I have both my typewriter and my editing table in one room. It is connected to this question of writing and filmmaking, because it is also very evident you cannot make films the same way you can write a text. For the text you need to go to the library, but 80% or so of them are created in the room, or if not created, then at least the final version is made indoors at your desk. That is also the last stage of the filmmaking, the aspect where writing and filmmaking come together. People ask me, why don’t you write anymore, and I realise it is because I have succeeded in making a form of writing out of my filmmaking.

I want perhaps to close with something you said earlier on. Quite casually you mentioned a phrase that really was quite extraordinary to me. You said that cameras are circling the world to make it superfluous, and that you are part of these cameras circling around the world...

It’s not my idea, but yes, in a way I am part of it. I am also part of the business, even though I am not literally in the space industry. And it’s those cameras that I was talking about. I think the analogy is that in a film, I can always tell who speaks the image, I can always hear the image, I always know how people are making use of an image, instrumentalising it. Once, when Ronald Reagan was in Germany and went to the Bergen Belsen concentration camp with Chancellor Helmut Kohl, he said something like, “I didn’t know that Christians – not just Jews – were also victims of the Nazis”. It’s unbelievable how people make use of victims. After all, they are just quoting things, in this remote way. I suddenly realised that I am also making use of images as quotations, therefore, I had this sequence with the woman photographed in the camp, where somehow I have to confess my method so I can’t continue to hide behind other quotations. Perhaps that’s also the designated breaking point of my film. Sometimes, one has to say “I”.

(3) Bilder der Welt und Inschrift des Krieges (Harun Farocki, 1989). Photo: "Images of the World and the Inscription of War" © Harun Farocki 1988

This interview was conducted after a screening of Images of the World and the Inscription of War [Bilder der Welt und Inschrift des Krieges] at the National Film Theatre-MOMI London, 6 February 1993.

With thanks to Antje Ehmann and Volker Pantenburg

© Harun Farocki GbR


Milestones: Bilder der Welt takes place on Thursday 22 April 2021 at 19:30 on Sabzian. You can find more information on the event here.

In Passage, Sabzian invites film critics, authors, filmmakers and spectators to send a text or fragment on cinema that left a lasting impression.
Pour Passage, Sabzian demande à des critiques de cinéma, auteurs, cinéastes et spectateurs un texte ou un fragment qui les a marqués.
In Passage vraagt Sabzian filmcritici, auteurs, filmmakers en toeschouwers naar een tekst of een fragment dat ooit een blijvende indruk op hen achterliet.
The Prisma section is a series of short reflections on cinema. A Prisma always has the same length – exactly 2000 characters – and is accompanied by one image. It is a short-distance exercise, a miniature text in which one detail or element is refracted into the spectrum of a larger idea or observation.
La rubrique Prisma est une série de courtes réflexions sur le cinéma. Tous les Prisma ont la même longueur – exactement 2000 caractères – et sont accompagnés d'une seule image. Exercices à courte distance, les Prisma consistent en un texte miniature dans lequel un détail ou élément se détache du spectre d'une penséée ou observation plus large.
De Prisma-rubriek is een reeks korte reflecties over cinema. Een Prisma heeft altijd dezelfde lengte – precies 2000 tekens – en wordt begeleid door één beeld. Een Prisma is een oefening op de korte afstand, een miniatuurtekst waarin één detail of element in het spectrum van een grotere gedachte of observatie breekt.
Jacques Tati once said, “I want the film to start the moment you leave the cinema.” A film fixes itself in your movements and your way of looking at things. After a Chaplin film, you catch yourself doing clumsy jumps, after a Rohmer it’s always summer, and the ghost of Akerman undeniably haunts the kitchen. In this feature, a Sabzian editor takes a film outside and discovers cross-connections between cinema and life.
Jacques Tati once said, “I want the film to start the moment you leave the cinema.” A film fixes itself in your movements and your way of looking at things. After a Chaplin film, you catch yourself doing clumsy jumps, after a Rohmer it’s always summer, and the ghost of Akerman undeniably haunts the kitchen. In this feature, a Sabzian editor takes a film outside and discovers cross-connections between cinema and life.
Jacques Tati zei ooit: “Ik wil dat de film begint op het moment dat je de cinemazaal verlaat.” Een film zet zich vast in je bewegingen en je manier van kijken. Na een film van Chaplin betrap je jezelf op klungelige sprongen, na een Rohmer is het altijd zomer en de geest van Chantal Akerman waart onomstotelijk rond in de keuken. In deze rubriek neemt een Sabzian-redactielid een film mee naar buiten en ontwaart kruisverbindingen tussen cinema en leven.