VIDEOGRAMS OF A REVOLUTION (Germany / 1992)
Along with Chris Marker and, based on his recent work, Jean-Luc Godard, Harun Farocki is one of the leading cine-essayists working today. Much like his French counterparts, Farocki, who was born in 1944 in German-annexed Czechoslovakia and is currently based in Germany, not only excels at scouring and interpreting the subjects of his presentations, but also, and more importantly, his own methods of exposition. He has already made over 90 films in his career, in which he has also been seen as an author and a professor. Its a shame that, for the most part, Farockis work in the past has been relegated to remote and underground festivals, and thus it remains quite inaccessible. But in the uncertain political climate of today, when medias role is constantly being brought into question, his oeuvre seems to have found a newfound importance -- which isnt surprising to say the least because of Farockis penchant for implementing educational and discerning processes to discover/decipher reality from history.
In Videograms of a Revolution (Videogramme einer Revolution), which Farocki created and assembled with Romanian writer Andrei Ujica, the focus is on Romania's 1989 revolution which ended with the death of dictator Nicolae Ceausescu, who led a brutal rgime for over 20 years, paralyzing the country in more ways than one. Thanks to Ujica, the filmmaker was able to gain access to previously unseen footage from various professional and non-professional sources. The nearly 125 hours of footage, mostly shot during the 5-day span during which television cameras in Bucharest uninterruptedly recorded the events while the TV-studio was taken over by civilian demonstrators, was then condensed to highlight and elucidate the key events.
Early on, by instituting clips from various outlets, Farocki tactfully presents the differing interpretations of the same event: Ceausescus speech, which turned out to be his final. While its television broadcast was suddenly interrupted due to crowd unrest, a few cameras continued recording, capturing images and sounds that told a different story than what the state-sanctioned telecast led people to believe. And later in this doc-essay, we witness, perhaps from the very same cameras, a harrowing, October-like besieging of the presidential palace, as the Ceausescus flee in a helicopter from the rooftop. (Why cant something like this happen in the country which now needs it most?)
For the most part, the voice-over narration (in English, by a female speaker -- at least on the U.S. DVD) is well utilized, explicating what is necessary to gather from the various vantage points. Perhaps the seminal sequence of the work, insinuating the newfound power of media, occurs when the vice-president is not only brought on to the public stage, but is asked to repeat the statement which constitutes the dissolving of the government in order for the cameras to catch it properly. Farocki then takes us behind-the-scenes, where individuals are seen bickering over their new roles. But no one is seen shedding a tear when the bullet-riddled body of Ceausescu is ultimately displayed on television, even though it wont bring back their loved ones who no longer exist.
*Now available on DVD in the U.S. (Facets). Unfortunately, there are no extra features on the disc. A simple biography and a partial filmography of the filmmaker would have sufficed.