AN IMAGE (Harun Farocki; Germany; 1983)
“This film, An Image, is part of a series I've been working on since 1979. The television station that commissioned it assumes in these cases that I'm making a film that is critical of its subject matter, and the owner or manager of the thing that's being filmed assumes that my film is an advertisement for them. I try to do neither. Nor do I want to do something in between, but beyond both.” (Harun Farocki, Zelluloid, no. 27, Fall 1988)
The ‘thing’ being filmed is a photo shoot for Playboy magazine, and this 25-minute film reveals the boredom, labour, tedium, and painstaking obsessive detail that goes into this supposedly glamorous and erotic scenario. The first few scenes literally build the framework, showing the construction, painting, and design of the set. It’s only five minutes that we see the model for this first time, and it takes another 3 minutes of film-time after that before the first photo is taken. This photo is then thoroughly dissected by the chief photographer and other senior staff, before we return to the set, spending minutes on the director trying to get the model to lie in the perfect position. He obsesses about her hand – through his lens, it looks ‘spastic’. The staff talk about having to retouch the photos to get the best effect. Everyone leaves the set, and the final few shots show the set being taken apart.
Farocki’s quote refers to not wanting to find the ‘in-between’ of critiquing the subject and promoting the subject, but instead to go ‘beyond both.’ Thus, he wants to transcend both criticism and advocacy. Does he manage to do this? Maybe he does, if we consider his film from this perspective; everything we see is just work. The film is no longer a dissection of a Playboy shoot, or a paean to this vocation, but a briefly detailed examination of the work that takes place in this world. We see the work of being a set designer, a make-up artist, a photographer, a model. There’s no glamour, but there’s also no condemnation. It’s just work – plain, tedious repetitive work.
But. Let’s go back to the original idea of not wanting to critique nor advocate. Although he wishes to do neither, in terms of how the film can be interpreted/ approached/ absorbed, isn’t it more likely that the film is going be viewed as a critique, and far less likely that it will be seen as an ‘advertisement’?