Movies on Movies with "The Film of Her"

Bill Morrison's romantic docu-fantasy brings to mind the real-life trips to the cinema of one Franz Kafka

(Author’s note: Moviegoing, whether it be at home or at the theater, brings about some expenses. If you enjoy this blog/newsletter and are so inclined to support it, please do follow along, subscribe, leave comments, and share it around. Many thanks!)

(One more note: The following is part of a series of posts called Movies on Movies, which will bring up attachments to films about film, and the acts of watching and thinking about film. In other words, it reviews movies about movies with movies on the mind. Or something. Read along, won’t we?)


Dear Moviegoers,

It’s been some time since I picked up my copy of Hanns Zischler’s book Kafka Goes to the Movies for another good read, but understandably, I’ve been preoccupied with my own obsessions with going to the movies - at home mostly, pandemic be damned. And yet, despite keeping this book covered in a thin layer of dust on my shelf, I often mentally refer back to it in some way.

And recently, it was a viewing of Bill Morrison’s wonderful short The FIlm of Her that did it. Twofold.

Like Abel Gance’s Napoleon and Crispin Glover’s It is Fine, Everything is Fine!, I had long-listed The Film of Her as a mostly unseen favorite, having only watched a clip or two here and there. Not that it was terribly hard to find before - Director Bill Morrison had it streaming on his site for a time (it’s now available on DVD here) - but that maybe I wanted to keep it elusive and out of reach for “fun,” as a game of sorts. What did the title mean to me? The synopsis? The style? It wasn’t so much judging a book by its cover as it was dreaming up a picture before seeing it. Yes, this is one of many ways I occupy my time. Always on movies, and in different ways, folks. It’s been this way since childhood.

And having now watched the film (thanks to Bill Morrison’s kindness), I feel as though this odd form of dreaming is embedded in the story presented, as well as Kafka’s feelings toward early film itself, inside and outside the theater.

The Film of Her is part documentary and part fantasy, almost like a sweded flick straight out of Michel Gondry’s Be Kind Rewind. At the end of that movie, the neighbors of this struggling video store band together to encourage the creation of a VHS tale on a local historical figure, telling the legend more than the “reality.” Reality. Why not make their own, especially if it’s all of theirs?

The Film of Her melds together the real story of a Library of Congress clerk who, in his own voice-over words, saved a treasure trove of paper film - copies of early cinema, saved for the sole purpose of record-keeping - from being destroyed by fire, with that of the imagined dreams of said clerk, who may have saved this history on the off chance that he’d see “her” once more. At the beginning of Morrison’s work is a presentation of the big bang, both for life in the universe and for this wicked and wonderful medium, which goes from nature to the manufacturing of the storage film stock, from trees to paper rolls. And, with that, so is the birth of a new kind of memory and a new kind of dreaming.

The clerk seeks out “her,” an unnamed image of a woman in an early stag-like movie that he saw once, which brings up true flutters of the heart for him. He’d risk job and harm for “her,” if it came to it. “Her” is his memory, as forged by frames in the illusion of movement through light on a screen, now stored on paper in what may potentially be the only copies left, and they’re being sent to the fire for space-saving measures. The real clerk describes standing in front of a truck, holding it up from reaching its destination of destruction, while the imagined clerk - voiced by an unseen individual - talks of “her.” It’s never expressed as an improper relationship between man and image, though what else could it be, really, if not that. Romantic? Certainly, the gesture of saving these films was, but the yearning of seeing “her” once more? Maybe it was the birth of something else. Something we’ve seen too many times in contemporary times…

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Twofold did Kafka Goes to the Movies come up for me. 1) Kafka’s exposure to the cinema would alter his work and how he saw the world, and 2) He too had a fascination with “her.” In a review of the book for The Guardian, Joanna Griffiths notes about the author Hanns Zischler:

“He suggests Kafka 'plunges into the cinema... seeking and longing for meaninglessness. He goes to the movies to forget'. But it is cinema as one of the fabulous sights of the modern city that comes through most vividly.”

Attending comical parodies and scandalous silents, in between strolling down red-light districts (just strolling, of course) throughout Europe, Franz Kafka comes off more as, well, a Joe Schmoe looking for entertainment than anything. And what he got would be interpreted as more than that, as something that profoundly affected him, no matter the subject of his viewings. Had he lived now, watching something like Holmes and Watson - while a punishing Kafka-esque experience in itself - might have left him thoroughly in thought and with some enjoyment. Not so much for the “meaninglessness,” but for the flickering lights and those dancing fools jumping on screen. Within the poor nature of what’s being watched is the yearning for escape itself. And escape is provided.

Bill Morrison gets this absolutely in The Film of Her, interpreting a clerk’s heroism as a means to explore memory, dreams, and even a bit of obsession with the moving image which, more or less, is an obsession with dreaming and remembering. Kafka took part in this, no matter expectations we may now have for him to have viewed the classics, ala Don Lockwood’s fake retelling of his upbringing in Singin’ in the Rain. We all have our vices, some strange and some familiar. In the end, we’re all looking for “her,” and never will we want to forget.

Keep the rolls around. Keep the memories alive. Keep on living.

Sincerely yours in moviegoing,

:)


(Author’s note: Moviegoing, whether it be at home or at the theater, brings about some expenses. If you enjoy this blog/newsletter and are so inclined to support it, please do follow along, subscribe, leave comments, and share it around. Many thanks!)