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IVAN LADISLAV GALETA - Obsession: Structuring Time & Space
von Anthony Nield in DVD Times , 21.08.2008
 
Croatian filmmaker Ivan Ladislav Galata is a key figure within structural film. Experimental in the truest sense of the word, his works are months, often years in the planning, all possibilities considered as he explores the medium and its capabilities. Such is his precision that the end results often resemble documentary more than they do the avant-garde; titles and intertitles (even these being exact in terms of font and framing) displaying all possible information, from the nature of the film stock used to the methods undertaken and the times of production. Dry and conceptual, then, but Galata’s ultra-awareness of cinema and its processes yields continually intriguing results: TV Ping Pong (the earliest work present) manipulates conventional editing syntax; Two Times in One Space investigates screen space via simple superimpositions.

Interestingly most of the films come with a whole series of dedications. Sfaĩra 1985-1895, for example, notes both Pythagoras and Plato, the latter suggesting there’s also a philosophical dimension at work. Yet the overriding element is always the mathematical one as every possible aspect comes under consideration. These are films about perspective and point of view, about framing and contrast, but most importantly are films about film and what it can do. Wal(l)zen, a manipulation of a pre-existing 1977 Chopin performance, initially recalls an audiovisual variant on those Bill Evans LPs (Conversations With Myself, Further Conversations With Myself) wherein the jazz pianist used double-tracking to effectively duet with himself, yet it is predominantly the visual possibilities which interest Galata and not so much the musical. Indeed, playfulness is not part of the plan – the preparation is such that the unexpected is generally kept to the sidelines. Certainly, the experimental nature of these pieces means that Galata can never be sure of the end results, but happy accidents are few and far between.

It is this aspect of structural film which has always left me a little cold beyond a certain academic appreciation. Emotions and entertainment are not part of its schemata, and Galata’s work is certainly no different. My interest in experimental cinema arose out of its potential for the unconventional and unexpected, stripped as it so often is from narrative concerns and considerations. Yet by applying their own restrictions the structuralists have created this very same problem unless working in sub-groups such as the landscape film and thereby allowing for more blatant documentary and aesthetic elements to come through. Galata doesn’t fall down entirely in this respect, though I suspect that what I see as miniature highlights were never intended as such.

Water Pulu 1869 1896, for example, possesses a certain humour thanks to its exacting use of intertitles. The central idea behind this particular piece is framing: the ball from the titular water polo match being kept in the centre of the screen despite the hectic nature of the game thus leaving the rest of the image to be occupied by the blurred participants and swirling colours. Alongside titles declaring the film stock and the time at which the match was undertaken, right down to second (complete with ‘talking clock’-style “pips”), we also sign off with the final score, despite its inconsequentiality in the grander scheme of things. Conversely Sfaĩra 1985-1895, another examination of screen space in which a spherical sculpture is double-exposed (one of the exposures a reversal of the other) to produce an almost 3D-like effect, is really quite beautiful and contains a fascinating documentary edge as the public at large toy and are generally bemused by the titular object – a series of responses that strangely enough evokes memories of Man With a Movie Camera and other silent “city symphonies”. Ultimately, however, such instances are rare as the academic nature of these pieces overrides all – and depending on how much you’re disposed to such considerations will no doubt affect your overall response. Personally speaking, it’s all a little too dry for my taste, minor interests and intrigue aside.

The Disc

At Galata’s insistence all of these shorts have been taken from original prints. This means original aspect ratios (1.33:1 in all instances) and director’s approval (which is always a tough one to quibble), but also signs of age and moderate damage. Soundtracks are similarly worn in places though it’s worth noting that none of this proves particularly detrimental to our viewing enjoyment. Moreover, the transfers themselves are technically sound, even if it isn’t always possible to be 100% certain given both this damage and the nature of the mediums used (early video, in particular). What will most definitely endear the disc to those interested in Galata’s work, however, is the reproduction of his preparation notes – in English - for Piramidas 1972-1984, here available as a special feature. Running for numerable pages and taking in every possible detail, it could be argued that they are more interesting than the resulting film, although they also undoubtedly stand as a vindication of Galata’s utter seriousness as filmmaker. Also present, as we’ve come to expect from Index, is the bilingual booklet (German-English) containing notes on each of the shorts plus filmography and a brief bio.
 
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