~JAN ALBERT REVIEWS: ‘OVER YOUR CITIES GRASS WILL GROW’/ANSELM KIEFER
‘OVER YOUR CITIES GRASS WILL GROW’ – A FILM BY SOPHIE FIENNES ABOUT ANSELM KIEFER
REVIEWED BY JAN ALBERT. AUGUST 17, 2011
If you have had it with superheroes, lame rom coms, and the rest of the half-hearted movies Hollywood is peddling this summer, I recommend ‘OVER YOUR CITIES GRASS WILL GROW’ at the Film Forum. It is an immersive, unique experience that will fill your head with the visions of artist – with a capital A – Anselm Kiefer. It’s stunning and you want to see it on a big screen.
Unusual – even for a film about an artist!, it is an almost wordless experience. It opens with long pans that glide through dark tunnels dug out of earth, then moves on to half-built concrete bunkers, filled with broken glass and lit by single bare light bulbs. Gradually, the camera reveals cracks of natural light through doorways. We are somewhere in the woods.
With no narration to guide us through these labyrinthian ruins, just momentous creepy music, and since the director (Sophie Fiennes – yes, she is the sister of “Lord Voldemort”, himself – Ralph Fiennes) is in no rush to get on with things, my mind started to race with connections and possible scenarios.
I felt like WALL-E, searching for signs of life and adding to his collection of artifacts from a bygone culture.
There were sheaves of paper and massive books, solidified into rocks . . .
An occasional child’s dress, covered with soot, hanging from a lone hanger . . .
Rusted metal, staircases to nowhere.
Could be a war zone, what with those pillar-like outposts, like the ones left standing after the apocalypse in ‘THE ROAD’.
For me, it was evocative of so many things –
being lost and confused in the virtual world of MYST . . .
the remains of Pompei or the World Trade Center . . .
the kind of place kids play in and bad things happen in horror films . . .
a settlement after an Indian attack or New Orleans after the flood.
It brought to mind the royal crematorium I saw in Rajasthan, India, with branches piled up for the next funeral. Also, a town in Mexico, half-swallowed by a volcano.
It had the mark of ritualistic human creation, like OPUS 40, a magical place near Woodstock, carved by one man out of a rock quarry.
It could be an abandoned construction site or a bombed-out storage facility of some kind.
Who built it ?
Turns out Anselm Kiefer did. In 1992, the artist bought a town in the South of France near Avignon, called Barjack, and over the next 16 years, he transformed a derelict silk factory and the hundreds of acres surrounding it into an art factory and an enormous site-specific art piece.
Although this opening sequence goes on for what seems like 15 minutes, it’s far from boring. It casts it’s spell, then introduces the sorcerer who cast it.
We move from the forest inside to a factory space where the artist and his crew of assistants are focused on mixing concrete, smelting lead, and moving giant things with cranes. A cat looks askance at the whole enterprise, especially the noise, which is considerable.
Now, at last, just when you expect the director to launch into an interview with the creator or to explain what’s going on, she confounds the viewer again. Although there are moments when Kiefer speaks about his art, they are few and far between. Throughout the rest of the film , we are flies on the wall, watching Kiefer make this world and it is disturbing, exciting, confounding, and incredible – just like great art.
Anselm Kiefer is introduced in an amazing sequence where he is finishing a large landscape painting of the woods we just traveled through. His assistant dumps a cloud of ash all over the canvas, then we watch in real time as the excess crap drops off onto the floor, and the surviving scene seems to emerge through a cloud of gun smoke or a forest fire.
We see Kiefer directing his helpers to place a huge ship on an even vaster canvas of the ocean until they get it “just so” and we are lost at sea.
We follow the crew as Kiefer orchestrates a bulldozer to cut paths through the bunkers and pillars we saw outside. Then, the heavy machinery helps them lift huge blocks of stone one on top of another to assemble a series of dream-like towers in a clearing. They teeter, but somehow remain standing.
The workers break dishes, smash great sheets of glass, start fires and toast books lie marshmallows, until the artist declares them perfectly ruined.
Anselm Kiefer was born at the close of WWII and grew up in the ruins of postwar Germany. He played with bricks from the destroyed houses in his neighborhood instead of building blocks. He has spent his whole life as an artist, digging through those ashes; confronting the not so distant past and future, calling upon poets, Gods, mystics, geography and humanity to frame his work. Seeing this visionary in the throes of his own creation-destruction cycle is Sophie Fiennes’ great gift to us. You don’t have to understand it to be impressed, amazed, and moved.
Near the end, we hear Kiefer quote a passage from the Book of Isaiah about Lilith inhabiting an abandoned city. It gives the film it’s title, ‘OVER YOUR CITIES, GRASS WILL GROW’.
In 2008, Kiefer moved to Paris and left this mysterious and provocative ruin behind for man and nature to build on or destroy.
Thanks to Sophie Fiennes’ sensitive film record, it will never disappear completely.
AT THE FILM FORUM THROUGH TUESDAY, AUGUST 23rd, 2011.
oh yeah, most def, ya gotta see: ‘OVER YOUR CITIES, GRASS WILL GROW’/THE OFFICIAL WEBSITE – for the TOTALLY AMAZING !! – film clips !!
ok, this how much I mean that:
SCREEN GRAB – FROM THE CLIP – ‘RAISING THE PAINTING’.
oh yeah, images speak louder than words . . . in this almost silent, but most magic film.
I guess it would be optimal to see the film on a large screen – but even the small scale digital format of the clips – works pretty well – in getting across the film’s eloquence. Jan told me the film is amazing – and I believe it, and she said she didn’t even get into – “the bones and the teeth” !! ~ nancy.
from the artlovers archive . . .
see: photos from the ANSELM KIEFER exhibit – ‘NEXT YEAR IN JERUSALEM’, which ran NOVEMBER 6 – DECEMBER 18, 2010 at GAGOSIAN GALLERY on 24th St in NYC – a blockbuster installation – which meet much popular, and critical acclaim.