Nicola Lauré al-Samarai
Reference text Rainer
Mo Bernold, 2012
How everything is connected with everything. The weather report on German TV with a rape. The invented beginning with the dreamed one. A long-forgotten beginning with its repetition. The start of an experimental text written by a historian in Vienna in the summer of 2012 with the start of the script for Yvonne Rainer’s film Privilege, written over 20 years ago, probably in New York.
How everything is connected with everything. A provincial town in Ukraine with a university town in Japan, both of whose names have become global symbols of nuclear disaster. The name Helen Caldicott and the year 1986, visible as intertitles on the flickering white screen of the Apple Classic in the film Privilege and my Google search for, and thus my ignorance of Helen Caldicott, the Australian doctor and icon of the anti-nuclear movement who, played in the film by Yvonne Rainer, addresses me directly from a large computer screen on which I not only do my search, but also watch the DVD of Privilege, at night.
How much Yvonne Rainer’s film, made in 1990, anticipated and examined the drifting apart of film and cinema within the diversity of other media configurations.
ZT: Authorship as a red herring
Films about filmmakers interest me as a historian and as a media theorist. Meta-films, portrait films, and filmed self-portraits which seem to have featured increasingly on cinema programs in recent years. Hugo, or Les plages d’Agnès, for those who still go to the cinema, or who have the privilege of going to festivals and watching nice movies. I search for feminist films on authorship in film as something fleeting, authorship as placeholder, authorship as zombie. 
How everyone is connected with everyone. The remembered and the forgotten, those in between and off to one side, and those who in fact are only possible. Desire. Desire for the documentary.
The camera pans back to the face of the old likeness. Still clearly visible in the middle of the frame, the word: NESIGURNOST. Uncertainty. Someone is being interviewed. Maybe Heiner Müller, “time will kill” he once said in a TV interview, punning on “time will tell”.
ZT: INTER VIEW between image
And I’m still having hot flashes, not so often at night, but after every glass of wine and especially when I ... but she wasn’t interviewing me, the documentary filmmaker in Yvonne Rainer’s film.
What would our interview with Yvonne Rainer on the question of agency in film portraits of filmmakers look like? A filmmaker and a historian interview the dancer and filmmaker Y.R.. The interview would take place in the summer of 2015 at a location that highlights the elected placelessness of the privileged. There would only be privileged witnesses, no witnesses of privilege. Who speaks? Who is visible? Who begins?
Whiteness functions as an unmarked system of privilege. “What does all this have to do with us?” asks a white female student at Sigmund Freud University in the middle of Europe when expected to spend a semester reading Frantz Fanon, analyzing Imitation of Life, and being taught (and later examined on) theories of the construction of whiteness and racism.
Different voices answer at the same time, nothing is clearly understandable. Nothing is clearly heard. Later, in the background: Johnny Cash, Man in Black
The first film script I ever read was The Heart of the Cinema by Vladimir Mayakovsky from 1926. I was reminded of this when I read the script for Privilege. Maybe because of the aesthetic call for social change.
The Heart of the Cinema was a rewrite of the screenplay The Woman Bound in Celluloid. A Fantasy-Fact in Four Parts. Mayakovsky—whose autobiography begins: “I am a poet. This is what makes me interesting.”—devised a satirical critique of Hollywood and its production of stars and illusions.
The film addresses the fluid borders between documentary and fiction, albeit in the ideologically propagated form of film realism. The Heart of the Cinema is about a house painter who falls in love with a female film star, after which he becomes an artist and film poster designer, finally losing the ability to distinguish between reality and his desired ideal. The beautiful woman from the film The Heart of the Cinema escapes from the film poster and from the movie and, like Chaplin and Fairbanks, flees the world of cinema into reality. The film’s producer recaptures all of the escaped film stars and ties them up with celluloid. The match he uses to light his pipe sets fire to the film stock. The burning of the film becomes a revolutionary moment.
In the epilog, the cameraman, who is filming a carpenter at work, becomes a hero of the new age. The beautiful young actress is thrilled as she watches him at work. Class differences are still symbolized using the code of bowler hat versus tools (paintbrush, camera). The turn towards film realism is conveyed via the format of “true” love. The gender economy of this love remains traditional, narrated as a division of labor between the filming cameraman and the actress watching him work. There are no cultural or ethnic differences in Mayakovsky’s film scenario, only specific gender and class types. The beauty, the house painter, the shareholder, the manicurist, the cameraman, the actress, and the producer. There are no (bourgeois) names in The Heart of the Cinema.
The main figure in Yvonne Rainer’s film, a Black woman filmmaker, is called Yvonne Washington. In this name, the father of the nation is evoked as the mother of film narrative and identified as a sister by name of the filmmaker Yvonne Rainer.
My father’s name was Dervis. At a Catholic girls’ school in Vienna in the 1970s, that was embarrassing, not improved by his surname, Hasanagic. I was relieved that I did not bear his name, even if, in those years, an illegitimate child was evidence of deviance, and the laws were geared towards inequality and a privileging of hetero-marriage. In any case, as a child I sensed that my father’s unpronounceable foreign name pointed to the wrong nation. I would often say he’s called Dario, he’s Italian.
What we are is the result of narration and of what we want to be. So does it make a difference if I introduce autobiographical references into this text?
The camera shows the left-hand half of memory. Pan to the left. Maybe there’s a beginning in the archive. “That’s the way things used to be,” as Mayakovsky wrote elsewhere.
Because everything is connected to everything. Because we live in a shared world that exists as a diversity of views and interviews, an endless diversity. The ambivalence and polyphony of discrimination and difference were translated onto the stage of the cinematic space by Privilege as early as 1990.
Long shot: inequality
The paradoxes of identity and political agency appear in brightly colored costumes. The camera zooms in on all paradoxes and contradictory figures. They dance.
Without difference, no common ground. How do we share experience, and with whom do I share my privilege? Similarities, connections, alliances, coalitions. A succession of beginnings, history gets left behind. Memory, too, is often a privilege.
ZT: In the beginning, sometimes I left messages in the street.
This is the first sentence of Wittgenstein’s Mistress, the book I happen to be reading this summer, in which David Markson tells the story of a woman who is convinced, and who wants to convince the reader, that she is the only person still living on earth. Surely, this beginning cannot lead to a story? And later in the book: Time out of mind. Time out of mind meaning mad, or time out of mind meaning simply forgotten?
Stara žena. The old woman I imagine becoming has white wrinkles in her face. She sits in front of a big cinema screen, alone and with others, cheerful and distraught. She sits on the other side, with those who have not been murdered and expelled. The picture of the woman in front of the cinema screen is displayed on a computer screen that stretches across the wall of the room. On the cinema screen:
A film by Yvonne Rainer and Many Others
White curtain as backdrop. Soundtrack: Ani DiFranco, Splinter
Time out of mind
A text by Mo Bernold and other aging people
Monika Bernold is a historian, media and cultural theorist. She lives in Vienna.
Edited by: Sabine Rohlf & Jo Schmeiser
Translation from the German: Nicholas Grindell
This text was published (in German) on October 8, 2012, in the international art magazine springerin.
1) The title of my planned project on artistic research: Auto/Bio/Screen. Authorship and agency in portrait films about filmmakers.