Anthony Stern, For Life
filmic work of Anthony Stern derives from a radical energy that reveals for us,
in figural terms, the life-drive. In
1968, San Francisco, a masterpiece of
psychedelic cinesthesia, explodes cinema, seeking a liberation not only of every sense but also of representation
itself – which no longer seems indexed to what is recorded, but connected
directly, organically, to the energy of history. How could this have happened?
How can Stern’s films, following in the steps of Peter Whitehead, crystallise
these precious moments of Western history, the apogee of the counter-culture
and the joyous echoes of a Romantic revolution which was then still imaginable,
with such justness, pertinence and ‘breath’?
San Francicso (1968)
achieve such a laying-bare of the drive, such direct contact with the origin of
desire and the image, obviously requires the highest level of poetic, musical
and visual culture to support scopic instinct and historical intuition. This is
exactly how Schelling defined intellectual intuition, the ‘mysterious and
marvellous faculty of being able to withdraw into the most intimate part of
ourselves, beyond all alteration that time brings’, so that ‘it is no longer we
who live in time, but time – or rather, replacing time, pure absolute eternity
– which is in us’. But Stern’s filmic work elaborates the exact opposite, which
thus can be called material intuition:
a continual, projective, almost pyrotechnical deployment of intimacy in time,
which remodels our conceptions of the instant, the present, the immediate, of
speed and history. San Francisco or Wheel concretise and sculpt time or
rather the here-and-now, which Stern treats as it were a woman’s body whose
every dancing vibration he must follow, whose least clearly outlined movement
he must seize. Our life is woven from desires that are sometimes unbound,
sometimes terrible, sometimes pathetic, in an unstoppable maelstrom of which Wheel – an intimate, multiple, noisy
diary of 1969 – offers an amazing pill-pop, rather like a scientific ‘section’
of the complexity of our affects. Because it proceeds from deep intimacy rather
than a priori certainty about things,
because it knows that cinema, irremediably, cannot register every vibration
(even the most negligible) of the instant, because there is too much to feel
and describe in the universe, Stern’s cinema – seemingly asphyxiated by the
world’s prodigiousness – adopts the discontinuous, the optical flash, permanent
intermittence, the shaky, chopped and blurred, creating a vertiginous ‘cinetic’
compression which is far more faithful to the entwined stratigraphy of the
sensible realm than a continuous contemplation of appearances.
San Francicso (1968)
issued from an organic breath that is transposed by a magisterial savoir-faire on the levels of shooting
and editing, an uncommon sense of rhythm dynamises Stern’s films – for example, Serendipity (1971), a serial
documentary on contemporary English architecture, The Noon Gun (2004), a reworking of footage shot in Afghanistan in
1971 – and thus the record of a civilisation which has since largely
disappeared – or Havana Jazz (2006).
On reseeing or discovering such radical energy – dead drunk, yet what lucid, translucent, sometimes ironic inebriation! – we ask ourselves a crucial question: where is the cinema of today going to get this kind of energy? In fact, we can keep drawing it from Stern himself. Having achieved fame, long ago now, as a master glass-blower, the maker of Baby Baby (1965) combines his know-how in the areas of poetic documentary and recycling (his 1974 Ain’t Misbehavin’ offers a precious panorama of cinema’s representations of women) with his mastery of glass, conjuring new chromatic, sensual and political marvels. With his collaborators Sadia Sadia and Stephen W. Tayler, he has taken apart that most carnal moment of San Francisco in 1968, reinterpreted it and placed it in historical perspective, thanks to a soundtrack that mixes emblematic political sound-grabs and speeches from the period with an original score. San Francisco Redux (2008) seems suddenly like a documentary on the affective sensuality of a shared memory. Anthony Stern’s festive vindications are as indispensable, as vital as those of Arthur Rimbaud, Maurice de Vlaminck, Herbert Marcuse or his mentor, Peter Whitehead. Stern has seized the bewitching phantoms of time and turned them into celluloid-children who establish, intensify, revive and set loose our collective history.
San Francicso Redux (2008)
This text appears in both French and English at Anthony Stern’s website: <www.anthonysternglass.com>.
Text © Nicole Brenez January 2009. Translation © Adrian Martin February 2009.