und sahen, was zu machen war...
A Kaiser reconstructed
"and saw what should be done..."
millennium Film Journal No. 30/31 | New York | 1997
and Kinema Kommunale | March/April 1995
1. Two men at work. Blocks of expanded polystyrene being assembled.No sooner are they stacked one on the other, than the pair begin to scratch and scrape the material away. Polystyrene snow gently falls upon the camera. Shapes emerge - hooves, horse-legs, two huge testicles. The sound of scraping has hardly ebbed when the shapes are covered with wet cloth. Plaster is applied. A woman´s voice is heard, singing a Schubert lied.
An enormous, female figure, enclasped in scaffolding, her head enshrouded. The black-and-white picture slowly takes on colour. Red, white and blue. The Tricolour scheme is underscored by a woman´s voice singing a communard song.
The sculpture is taken apart, the head glides down, suspended from a crane. The sculpture is put together again, the upper part of the body is heaved onto another fragment. The sculpture is sawn into pieces, dissected ...
A principle, a recurrent theme of this film becomes explicit during the opening sequences : montage and demontage. Again and again the film shows us something being produced, taken apart, put together, destroyed.is appropriate : the history of the monument at the centre of the action is a chequered one. The equestrian statue of Kaiser William I was also known as "the Guard at the Rhine", standing at the Deutsches Eck, or German Corner at Koblenz, where the Mosel/Moselle flows into the Rhine. The film is about the construction of the monument and its destruction near the end of World War II in which only the head survived the American soldier´s canon blast; and it is about the monument´s reconstruction.
And, of course, the topic begs the film trea: to cut something up and put it together again is what is done in montage ( and demontage! ). Sachs plays with construction and deconstruction at almost every register. He boldly mixes times, styles, form and content.He scatters confusion adeptly in what began as a chronological course of events. The film-maker defies the observer´s compulsive search for orientation in a timeless evolution of events. In this inconsistent stream, the spectator is forced to create his own productive associations.This recalls Surrealist film technique. The would-be continuity captions with their pretence of providing chronological orientation suffice to call to mind Buñuel´s un chien andalou. "April 1991"; "a few months earlier"; "a few days later"; "July 1991"; "German Unity Day"...
If Stephan Sachs enjoys playing with his audience´s associations,he indulges delightfully at all the levels of this film. The almost enigmatic activities of the craftsmen, shown in fragmentary mode and without comment in the first part, leave us so often wondering involuntarily what it is they are so engaged in. A later sequence could have been pasted in directly from a german Kulturfilm about the technique of bronze-casting. Sachs has the school-masterish, lecturing tone of the German "educational film" as it would have been disseminated in, say, the 1950s, to a T.
The colours of the French flag are brought into play at frequent intervals, becoming a leitmotif and highlighting French aspects in this history. After all, the Kaiser´s monument was, and so remains, a monument to the "victors" over the French nation in 1871. We are also occasionally reminded, almost incidentally, that William I, as the Crown Prince, was a notorious enemy of the revolutionaries of 1848.
The red-white-and-blue reappears when a fragment of the Kaiser, with his great clenched fist, is carried away to the sound of a Russian revolutionary song. In a different sequence, we learn that, in fact, our Eastern neighbours currently supply bronze for casting monumental sculptures at very reasonable prices.
2. Sound recordings from a film made in Nazi Germany "celebrate" the victors of 1871, and its architect, Bismarck, the founder of German Unity. Then, in 1953, Theodor Heuss, the post-war Republic´s first President [ tr.], dedicates the rump of the now Kaiser-less Deutsches Eck as a "monument to German unity".
Lines, number and letter marks identifying the different sections of the sculpture are combined with a spocken text passage on the correlation of war and cinema, and so become sketches for strategic operational plans and fronts.
...and saw what should be done... is a masterpiece of ironical refraction which constantly challenges the truth of the images shown. The film-maker´s investigatory tools include quotations from his own work: watching the craftsmen climbing the scaffolded monument, one might easily be watching the ascent of some "Holy Mount" out of an Arnold Fanck film. It is accompanied by the hero-making incidental sounds of wind from Paramount , another film by Sachs.
All this bustle of construction and dismantling is dotted with moments of satire, such as during short breaks, when the otherwise ever-busy craftsmen suddenly stand around as if helpless.- Just what are we doing here?
Then, there is the generous donor of the restored monument, shown alongside the reconstructed Kaiser - the generous benefactor who did not, in fact, live to see his triumph in place.
Or the art-collecting, museum-endowing chocolate-factory owner, explicitly avowing his support for this feat of German cultural initiative and so exposing himself publicly of his own free will.
The location transforms tourists into chauvinists unleashed, carnival parades become ridiculous and at once, menacing military marches, whilst pictures of the monument´s inauguration by William II in 1897 ressemble a nationalistic carnival.
It takes only a short montage to open gaping political abysses. We are made aware that the reconstructed Kaiser is to be restored to his pedestal on 2nd September, 1993,123 years to the day since the French humiliation at Sedan on 2nd September 1870.What a jolly slap in the face for our European partner to the West!.
...and saw what should be done.... is no "documentary" in the standard sense. Plainly it is no "feature" either; but neither is it an "experimental film". It defies the received genre categories ( which have outlived their usefulness in any case ).
Through its very own cinematic means, ...and saw what should be done ... is a poetic contemplation on our confused idea of history, on a new German nationalism following the opening-up of the East, on restoration and reconstruction. It is also about much more.Last but not least, it is certainly not only a "film about ...", but above all an excellent enjoyment.
The French have a fine mot juste : film d´essai. I´d be most inclined to call Stephan Sachs´s film a "film essay".