have to do something to while the time away in the northern reaches of
Scandinavia and the Baltics. A Brooklyn based musician will chew the fat in a hipster
commune, soak up the wonders of nature, and play a death metal gig in a grubby
little club, but less adventurous viewers will still look in vain for narrative
hooks throughout Ben Rivers & Ben Russell’s A Spell to Ward Off the Darkness (trailer here), which screens
during this year’s New Directors/New Films, co-presented by the Film Society of
Lincoln Center and MoMA.
decent sized festival ought to serve up some properly labeled experimental
offerings just to prove their depth and breadth. Spell certainly fills that niche, but if you have a taste for
hardcore metal, the final segment of the triptych will also give you plenty to
bang your head to. Viewers will follow Robert Aiki Aubrey Lowe as he wanders
through northeast Europe, starting in an Estonian hippie colony. Amidst the
bull sessions, one Finn tells a very funny story that we cannot describe in a
family outlet, but could nicely stand alone as an amusing short.
fact, there are a number of “lucid” moments in Spell, as when said Finn sheepishly prefaces his tale by
apologizing for its length. However, his interlocutor insists stories are
supposed to be long—that is the whole point of telling them. He has a point. After
all, storytelling is a ritual that harkens back to the mead-grogged Vikings
orally transmitting the epic of Beowulf.
Ironically, the nearly narrative-free Spell
helps viewers develop the vocabulary to explain why the avant-garde so
leaving the commune, Lowe will spend Spell’s
relatively short second movement communing with nature in the wilds of
Finland. Visually, these are the most striking sequences (bringing to mind
vintage ECM album covers), but they are also the most cinematically static.
it is time for Lowe to get down to business in a small Norwegian club. As the
Bens pan and re-pan the on-screen audience, we see considerably older cats than
we might expect for such a fierce show, but when an out-of-town band comes to
play, the locals probably go regardless. It is also worth noting the poster of
Sun Ra in the backroom, which speaks well of the club’s hipness.
There is an awful lot of grasping at small
details in the above analysis, but a film like Spell openly invites viewers to impose their own meanings where
they may. It has some interesting bits, but it is specifically intended for a
small, self-selecting audience. Deliberately languid and deliberate, A Spell to Ward Off the Darkness is
recommended for those who embrace the lulling effect of video installations
more than conventional bourgeoisie narratives when it screens Saturday (3/22)
at MoMA and Tuesday (3/25) at the Walter Reade, as part of the 2014 edition of
New Directors/ New Films.
Labels: Ben Rivers, Ben Russell, Experimental Film, ND/NF '14