Red Line 7000

Translation by Roger Hillman and Timothy Mathieson

This essay was originally published in German in Der Ärger mit den Bildern – Die Filme von Harun Farocki (Konstanz: UVK Medien, 1998), edited by Rolf Aurich and Ulrich Kriest. The English translation is published here with the kind permission of the book’s editors, publishers and the author.

There’s no better way of getting to know a text than typing it out. (1977, p. 359)

One notices montage, and one doesn’t notice editing. Montage is linking images through ideas, editing is (…) creating a flow, finding a rhythm. (1979, p. 489)

To turn 120 pages into 15 is no longer editing, it’s post-synchronization. (1979, p. 563)

Ten years on it’s always the article on the back of the newspaper cutting that’s of interest, but half a column is missing. (1979, p. 234)

When you’re driving or running around it can happen that, with a brief glance, you catch the image of a totally different way of life. (…) Children acquire this glance when they look about greedily, longing for another life alongside their own. At last I’ve again been able to see images like this in a film. (on Le ciel est à vous [The Sky is Yours, aka The Woman Who Dared, Jean Grémillon, France 1943]; 1978, p. 471)

The first time I ran away from home, it was a Monday and on the cover page of Der Spiegel [Germany’s equivalent of Newsweek or Time Magazineed] was Juliette Mayniel, it featured a lead article about the Nouvelle Vague. At that time film was still an exotic topic for Der Spiegel, unlike today when the cinema has become a trendy topic for the entire bourgeois in-crowd. And West Berlin was a city quaking with fear, illuminated like a sausage stand near the railway station, where the owner lights up an Italian market lamp to scare away the shadowy figures (but dreams of pouring hot cooking oil over his assailants). (1981, p. 119)

The police here (in Basle) drive white Volvos. To look at them you’d think the academic middle class had finally been armed and put in uniform. (1977, p. 39)

I’ve always wanted to have a creative job. I gave up athletics, didn’t go near the Bravo [German equivalent of Who Weeklyed] reading girls in our tenement housing project. I dropped out of school to lead a life with more variety. In Berlin, I lived in a cellar. In the mornings, I went to a brewery to deliver beer, afternoons I distributed pamphlets to tenement houses, evenings I collected beer glasses in the first discotheque, nights I went to night school to do it my own way, around midnight I took part in dance competitions in the Eden saloon and on several occasions was voted Mister Twist, and dawn I saw beside the runway of the Tempelhof Airport in spotless PANAM overalls. But I couldn’t write anything. After three lines I feared that life wouldn’t let itself be grasped in this way and I went to look for it somewhere else. Then, for seven years, a woman sheltered me and I learnt everything. I can do my work. But what I experience makes no sense. Marriage — fake marriage, the company — fake company, life – faked life. (1978, p. 374-75)

The fight between Ali and Frazier took place twice. When Ali lost the first time, it was for us, for those wanting to speak out politically with film. We were sitting all together, it was a heavy defeat. We could see this amazement in his face from the 7th round as he was destined to learn that beauty cannot fly. When he won a couple of years later it no longer counted for anything. (1977, p. 411)

When I was working at a television studio, getting home at five each day, I was so wrecked that all I could do was watch television. (1977, p. 46)

I got into this business as a tradesman (…) I told my friends, who had to continue earning their money through beer deliveries, that I had connections. Straight away they hated and admired me, it never changed anything. (1975, p. 362-63)

A few years ago at WDR (West German Broadcasting), I’d been playing soccer for a couple of weeks with stage hands, drivers and technicians, when one day one of them let on that the director was in his team; from that moment on they not only used the polite form of address, but they stopped fouling me, the way kids might treat the kid who owns the ball. (1976, p. 502)

At present I can’t watch TV. How one is expected to live in the image of television; all I can do is to not look. A life of moderated participation. I would prefer to invent it for myself. (1978, p. 606)

Before I had kids, there used to be 1000 places in the city where I could go during the day, and time would just slip away. (1977, p. 409)

”Wenn eine Tote (when a dead woman)…” is a boring novel, but sometimes precisely this mechanical aspect is what’s needed to reassure oneself of one’s own singular being when it’s raining in a hotel room in a strange city. (1980, p. 276)

The first three or four times I saw Murder by Contract (Irving Lerner, USA 1958), it always seemed to me as if the hero committed ten murders before he killed the woman. Then I made a list and could see it was only three. That is a telling discrepancy. The film manages to tell us that the killer has been murdering mechanically for an eternity before the actual story begins. Through this the hero’s final killing assignment gains real significance, and the film understands how to fabricate this eternity with a very brief listing. (1982, p. 405-6)

If you don’t read thrillers it might not be possible to understand why such a film deserves to be admired. I attain lightness of touch, pace, and a feeling of happiness when I succeed in throwing the washing into the machine, registering a letter at the post office and return to the laundromat at the very moment the tub stops rotating. Red Line 7000 (Howard Hawks, USA 1965) is about the stupidity of life, excessively, without letting itself be influenced by its subject.

In Une femme douce (Robert Bresson, France 1968/69) a man and a woman are sitting mutely opposite each other, both eating soup. Bresson cuts from the soupspoon of one person, which is being lowered, to the other soupspoon, which is being raised to the mouth of the person eating. The movements of the spoons link man and woman in the same way the pistons connect the wheels of a locomotive. Shot-countershot, it is a technique of film language that has received much criticism – Bresson criticizes it by applying it with precision. (1984, p. 65)

I’m trying to comment on this shot-counter shot technique while taking shots from both sides, placed side by side they are meant to yield another image, and what is located between the images is also supposed to render something apparent… (1981, p. 516)

Pialat tries to make films without any rhetoric, films that leave you unlikely to say after viewing them: “well edited” or the like. (…) That is also why his scenes don’t begin with a few panoramic shots to introduce a scene and set its mood, nor with what is held to be the opposite and is in fact the same thing: namely an affected leaping into the scene. (1981, p. 117)

In Topaz (USA 1969), I thought it was amazingly brave for Hitchcock to make a film in which for two thirds of its length a stupid wall and a stupid door can be seen with a splash of light on them. (…) With Hawks and Hitchcock there is this hell-bent ugliness which blows me away. (1983, p. 32)

I have a theory that only in the American studio system were there people who could break the rules by cutting on action without action, that is, cutting from a further shot to a closer one taken from the same angle, with the same subject occupying the same sector of the frame. And they could do this without staging a grand movement to distract the eye so that you don’t notice that the images don’t fit together. (1979, p. 490)

One advantage film photography has over ‘pure’ photography is the film actors [in the broadest sense –ed], who direct the viewer’s gaze through the images. How nice it is to gaze at a stretch of water being traversed by a ship. Without the ship the gaze would head off into the distance where it would be buried by an obscure immensity, now it skims like a flat stone across the wake of the ship, a trace whose imprint the water bears for a surprisingly long time (1983, p. 327).

(…) why the fluidity of dramaturgy, why is there no crisis in acting! Actors still put on a cute act like orphaned babies in a crib parents to adopt them. This gurgling, dribbling and crooning! (…) Then the actors travel to the USA in summer, and partake in workshops where they can get wholly out of themselves, instead of having their facial muscles severed in a Swiss clinic. (1981, p. 139-40)

In 1890 the basic plan of action was for someone to kick the ball ahead and the others to run after it. Since then there have been 100 methods and applications. In the ’60s, the defensive approach did a lot of damage to soccer, but the game put this behind it. Soccer gives the impression of being a strong culture capable of renewal through formal innovation, like prostitution and drugs. Film seems to lack this vitality. There were a couple of eras when film was a part of everyday culture — philosophy had a physical expression, you could see it. Just as the thoughts on the playing field could be seen in 1972, when W. Germany beat England 3:1 in London. (1983, p. 12)

(In a porno film) There’s a tracking shot that begins as a long shot of a lake, then the camera travels through an ladies’ change room, past a thin dividing wall through to the gents’ change room, where some men are waiting, then on to a group of women who are going along the walkway to the little change booths. They talk with each other, the camera picks up on their movement and returns with them, past the now expectant men into the empty space that the women now enter. Not only does filming something like that take a whole day. Before you get to the pornographic elements, the place where it will happen is established with heightened atmosphere, and tracking back and forwards serves to emphasize the culmination’s inevitability. And the walls are cut open for the camera like beehives or birds’ nests in a scientific film, so that the camera can be in pursuit, a love experiment.

Everything I’ve chanced to read about pornography is filled with humanistic opportunism: the spectators are deceived, the producers are speculative cynics, desire is commercialised; what’s shown is disgusting, the image of woman is dragged through the mud. Meanwhile the words pimp, whore, prostitution have become operative concepts of cultural criticism. In the AB Club, where only singles were sitting, it was quiet, lots of concentration, and it’s true that an almost religious atmosphere prevailed. (1975, p. 537)

Visiting the cinema in conjunction with a trip has always worked for me. (1975, p. 539)

(In Basle:) On Saturdays I sometimes went to the flea market and opened a small Filmkritik stand on my jacket spread out beneath the cathedral’s gargoyles. The batik lady from the next stall came across and asked whether I was a film critic. No, no. (1977, p. 46)

It all began with Berlin having so many Leftist bars, so many cinemas with ‘acceptable’ films. Then the first fronds shot up out of the ground, permitting them to put forward the playing field, to set the parameters for ‘criticism’. And without asking anyone for permission people came and stuck a few leaves of their own on this playing field, on which they composed imitations of theatre and film critiques. At first the reader put up with that, the way you put up with someone who insists on putting on a little performance for a birthday. (…) We should be grateful to Telecom for not allowing a single parasite to open an arts review in the telephone book. (1978, p. 375-76)

Since the finance has swelled and Berlin has had a film boom, it’s been my impression that a whole host of people have been working on film who would otherwise be working in a bar or doing interior decorating. Any number of types on 5000 Marks a month, people who like doing pretty work, at which others get to look at … (1982, p. 240)

A person who looks out onto a street, perhaps with a pillow at the window, is viewed as a poor person, whereas watching the flow of a river is considered enriching. (1982, p. 354)

In the ’50s I too got shown the films of the FWU (THE educational film distributor in Germany – ed) in school. Silent, black and white, screened with a noisy projector, these films were about fallow deer and glassblowing. We high school kids with tastes formed by the photo journal Magnum, later on by Twen, Roth-Händle advertising, green MG, the monthly Polen (Poland), Herbert Vesely, Günter Grass, didn’t like these films, and even today in discussions when one will say “like a schoolfilm” it’s clear they’re saying something is the very dregs. But to me that’s not perfectly clear. (1979, p. 429)

When children play doctor, one learns more about the medical fraternity than when going to a hospital. (1978, p. 375)

Tarzan Triumphs

Once I saw a film called Tarzan und die Nazis in German (Tarzan Triumphs, William/Wilhelm Thiele, USA 1943). Tarzan couldn’t care less what the Nazis do with the blacks, but when they harass Cheetah (or was it Jane, or the child?), Tarzan is seized with rage and he enters World War II. Pearl Harbour looked like the idea of a scriptwriter who writes for films like Tarzan und die Nazis. Again and again the question arose whether the USA hadn’t staged the Japanese attack. (…) Pearl Harbour, the Reichstag fire as well, the assassination in Dallas, I’d like to call these stories core stories. (…) But what is a core story: one with the power to attract denials, confirmations, additions, deletions, legal and parliamentary investigations, and finally, scientific investigations. One layer on top of another accumulates around the nucleus, and as with freshly fallen snow, when you’re rolling a great heap for the snowman, even the green of the grass appears. (…) Thus they (the nuclear stories) tell how you cannot know how the world works, but you can imagine it. The way these interesting women teach you how it can’t work with love but still instil in you the idea of what it would be like if… (1983, p. 51-52)

When one looks at a woman on the street in Paris she looks back for about three seconds, then she lowers her eyes or else looks intently, conveying: “Enough of this approach”, then if one keeps on looking across to her she again shifts her neutral expression. Now the woman shows a second face, the face of conditional being, if one had access to her, it would be her own… She opens a door to show you you don’t have the key. (1982, p. 435)

The book (>Brackwasser< [Brackish Water] by Heinrich Hauser) reminded me of James M. Cain, the bit where a man wins a woman because he knows how to make fire and prepare a meal at the right moment. In >Serenade in Mexiko< the hero wins back his masculinity when he changes a loathsome iguana into a tasty meal for a woman. With Cain too there is this hope: the intensity one extracts from the world by working it might incorporate women. (1981, p. 381)

Construction workers, when shifting cobblestones, throw one stone into the air and catch it, each stone is different, and from its flight they gauge exactly where it’s to fit. (…) Work at the editing desk is like this: whether it’s a question of where to cut, which version of a take to include, or where to place the music, one needs to know the material so well that it fits of its own accord. (1980, p. 2)

For me this music begins when I realize we’re carrying out something that brings together a dozen adults in the middle of the week, half of them coming by car over the Berlin autobahn. Of course I’d prefer getting together for a communist commando expedition, but a dozen people coming together without the promise of a salary or reimbursement of expenses is already a big step; there has to be a spiritual power present. (1983, p. 34; a meeting, a fresh encounter with films by Hitchcock, Hawks, Truffaut and Straub, with which Filmkritik was “defined”; a retrospective; conversations about it, printed in excerpts. One year later the journal appears for the last time. When I start devouring the Filmkritik, it’s already bound on library shelves. Its format means it’s difficult to photocopy. Reading it makes one proud. R. K.)

Reproduction forbidden, even excerpts, no photocopies. (1981, p. 140)