VALIE EXPORT - Invisible Adversaries
by Anthony Nield in DVD Times , 14.08.2008
Following respective short film collections for VALIE EXPORT and Peter Weibel, Index have recently turned their attentions to the pair’s 1978 collaboration Invisible Adversaries. Weibel wrote the screenplay, earns a “co-operation” credit and occupies the male leading role, yet this is very much an EXPORT film. She gains sole directorial credit, contributed the female dialogue (as such effectively making up for her lack of presence in front of the camera) and, most significantly, came up with the concept, one she had been gestating for some time. Basing itself on the Egyptian myth of the Hyksos – an ancient tribe who would stage invasions via sudden appearance and disappearances - Invisible Adversaries twists the idea into one of internal possession and bodysnatching (in the Invasion of… mode, as opposed to Burke and Hare) thus flirting with science fiction. Yet whilst it produces some great visual conceits, such as the perched black and white cardboard cut-outs adorning a town square, the conception is more metaphorical than concrete. Female dislocation is the key here, thereby placing the film firmly within the EXPORT oeuvre as we follow our female protagonist through a single year charted by a disintegrating relationship and a descent into nihilism.

By making the two leads a photographer/documentarian and an experimental filmmaker respectively, EXPORT and Weibel are able to both tap into political concerns (the cultural downsizing of Austria in which Wittgenstein’s birthplace is now the site of a faceless government building) and continue the ideas and themes of their previous shorts. We get video monitor manipulations as per those found on Weibel’s solo Index disc (Depiction is a Crime: Video Works 1969-1975), including a conscious nod to his Self Limitation – Self Drawing – Self Description. Meanwhile EXPORT continually evokes the sounds and images seen elsewhere throughout her career. Indeed, Invisible Adversaries often plays as a compendium of shorts, the lack of any overt storytelling (despite the overriding structure) only compounding the fact. Moreover, their integration into the feature film format is not always successful. Enabling techniques as trite as the dream sequence come into play, whilst the almost stand-alone nature of these interludes disrupts the flow: a switch to still images; a performance piece within a railway carriage.

This conflict between the feature length and the short form is ultimately Invisible Adversaries’ major failing. EXPORT has a great understanding of film and she once more displays her usual visual precision and rigour (though the confrontational edge is less pronounced here) not to mention intelligence. There’s even a surprising amount of humour – courtesy of Weibel? – as when a domestic row evolves by increments into international conflict. Yet whereas her short films demanded consideration and forced us to probe their meanings and ideas in minute detail, here such concerns are unavoidably diluted by the bigger picture. Our main task, as it were, when viewing Invisible Adversaries relates to how it all fits together; the overall context as opposed to the significance of individual moments – no matter how much of a piece they are with their filmmakers’ other works. Perhaps repeat viewings will lessen the severity of such misgivings, but the overall result of all this is that the film feels very much like a minor work whereas, as EXPORT’s first feature, it should have been much more than that.

The Disc

Shot on 16mm (hence the 1.33:1 aspect ratio) Invisible Adversaries is difficult to adjudge precisely on DVD. Interior shots have a tendency to lack definition and there’s an undoubted softness to image, but how much of this is inherent in the original? Certainly the presence of scratches and other print damage suggests that age is playing its part here, though the film is never less than watchable and this may very well be the best available. As for the soundtrack here we find the original mono and again results are variable. We get the occasional audio drop-out, though it is more than possible these come courtesy of the film’s production as opposed to the disc’s. Interestingly there are also two Invisible Adversaries housed here: one without English subtitles and one with, the latter being burnt into the image as opposed to being digitally produced. They do, however, remain readable throughout and there’s little discernible difference between the two prints. Extras are limited to the standard Index bi-lingual (German-English) booklet, here containing various articles, including EXPORT’s own notes on the film, alongside a brief bio- and filmography for the director.
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