FLAMING EARS - Pürrer/Scheirl/Schipek
by Anthony Nield in DVD Times , 13.08.2008
Having spent much of the eighties making provocative and wonderfully titled Super-8 shorts, Ursula Pürrer and Angela Hans Schierl turned their attentions at the end of the decade to producing a feature. Finally completed in 1991, Flaming Ears is in many ways an extension of these earlier works. The home-made pop (video) aesthetic, the playfulness, the transgressive nature, the punk-lesbian-transgender elements are all in place. Indeed, anyone who delighted to Index’s previous Pürrer and Schierl release, a compilation of their shorts entitled Super-8 Girl Games will know exactly what to expect. And yet: how do you transpose the witty, distinctive likes of Zigzagging Rivulet Sneaks Up On Shamelessly Wetting Thighs - near-perfect at only four minutes in length – to an hour-plus duration? What becomes of concept, content and plot?

Despite enlisting another co-director in Dietmar Schipek, a move which may suggest a concerted effort in offering some expansion to their previous efforts, Pürrer and Schierl make surprisingly few concessions to narrative cinema. Flaming Ears can be classed as science fiction – set in 2700 and demonstrating certain post-apocalyptic tropes of the genre – yet it’s still very close to the earlier “home movies”. The fact that these pieces were so distinctive and singular no doubt helps the creation of the own world, as it were. But it also prompts certain problems. As with the works of another distinctive filmmaker seemingly living in a world of his own creation – Andy Warhol – the home movie feel can’t help but incorporate a little boredom. Yet this boredom, in Warhol’s case, was intrinsic to the end results; his films didn’t deal in genre, they were closer to documentary and occasionally melodrama, however stunted. When combined with science fiction, however, there’s an almost self-destructive clash as a result, the two perilously close to cancelling each other out.

This isn’t to say that Flaming Ears is a failure, merely that it doesn’t work as a piece of storytelling. There’s no thrust to keep us intrigued at this level, and the characters are similarly flimsy, with Pürrer, Schierl, et al essentially playing themselves if their other works and indeed interviews are anything to go by. It’s in its strange vision where Flaming Ears comes to life. The blown-up Super-8 stock creates some wonderful textures, making the colours pop and lending the mostly night-shot scenes a fiendish ambience. (One that’s further enhanced by occasional glimpses of “real life”: the headlights of cars driving past in the distance and the like.) Moreover, the intentionally and unavoidably cheap SFX – model work, cardboard cut-outs, pixilation, even a quilt thrown over a car as a futuristic short-hand – have a kitsch charm, both quaint and lovely. Comparisons to the likes of Café Flesh, Forbidden World and Liquid Sky are fitting, even if the end results are all very different (Liquid Sky coming closest). And, of course, this explains how Flaming Ears found its niche at midnight screenings following the initial premiere at New York’s Gay and Lesbian Film Festival. It has cult written all over it, a near-definitive case of ‘love-it-or-loathe-it’ cinema, though as with so many such films I find myself falling between the two stools. As an introduction to Pürrer and Schierl, Super-8 Girl Games is undoubtedly the place to start, but Flaming Ears will certainly have an audience someplace, however selective.

The Disc

Blown-up 16mm was never going to have an easy time on DVD and so it is. Soft, grainy and with saturated colours, it is really quite difficult to tell what is inherent in Flaming Ears production and what relates to the print’s rendering on disc. Certainly, the grain can’t help but produce moderate artefacting, whilst there’s conspicuous edge enhancement (which again may simply be the result of the film stock), but for the most part this is an accurate rendering of how the film would have appeared at its premiere. As for the soundtrack, here we find the original mono and it’s generally fine. Once again any flaws would appear to be production rather than disc based whilst the English subtitles come optionally. Extras are limited to a bilingual (German-English) booklet containing filmographies, an interview with the directors and contemporary reviews.
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