1. Throughout his work, the late German filmmaker/artist Harun Farocki was fascinated by what he termed “operational images”.1 Operational images are those captured for a non-artistic, clinical purpose – they depict rather than infer (i.e. footage from drones or security cameras).
2. In his most well-known feature film, Images of the World and the Inscription of War (1988), Farocki looks at photographs, primarily aerial footage taken by the Americans during World War II. In Prison Images (2000), Farocki cuts clips from feature film and documentaries set in prisons alongside surveillance footage. In repurposing these operational images, Farocki makes the viewer aware of their original purpose and of the political implications inherent in his use of such footage in his films.
3. Throughout most of Interface (Schnittstelle, 1995), Farocki sits at a desk, watching two video monitors and explaining his editing process in a monotonous fashion: how to edit with film, how to edit with video, how to pause and play and loop and repeat. He only faces the camera once in the film’s 24-minute runtime, and even then does not look directly into the lens.
4. “The image comments on the image,” says Farocki, pointing at each of the television screens. The images on these screens come from film footage, though rather than a series of operational images it is Farocki’s own work; clips from his earliest available short, Inextinguishable Fire (1969), sit alongside sequences from essay film Between Two Wars Zwischen Zewi Kriegen, 1978), his short An Image (Ein Bild, 1983), the feature he co-directed with Romanian filmmaker Andrei Ujică, Videograms of a Revolution (1992), and his documentary Workers Leaving the Factory (Arbeiter verlassen die Fabrik, 1995). By using his own films to illustrate his approach to editing, Farocki turns his art into an instructional; these images are treated as if they were operational.
5. Five years before Interface, Farocki made the documentary How to Live in the Federal Republic of Germany (Leben – BRD, 1990). This film takes the instructional as its starting point; it comprises 32 distinct instructional lessons (including classes for expectant parents and educational role plays) filmed by Farocki in the style of a fly-on-the-wall documentary. As the number of sequences rises, the sterile and rehearsed human interactions become a noticeable trend. The film becomes a mirror to society, reflecting the performative nature of social existence. It also finds extra-textual meaning in the notion of teaching normalcy, having been filmed prior to the collapse of the Berlin Wall in 1989 but released before the German Reunification in 1990.2
6. Interface not only uses the guise of the instructional but also visually illustrates extratextuality in a surreal sequence where Farocki’s editing room fills with smoke, immediately following the concurrent playback of two clips, both from Inextinguishable Fire: the first sees Farocki stubs a cigarette out on his arm; the second, a dead rat being lit on fire.
7. Interface is Farocki’s first gallery work to use two-channel projection. In its intended setting, the gallery, the film is presented with each video channel side-by-side. In a cinema and on video, the two channels are presented in hierarchy, the video on the left above the video on the right, at an angle; they overlap on a corner and throughout the film the weight of each image shifts, sometimes the images are faded together in the overlapping corner, at other points only one is opaque in the intersecting corner.
8. Unlike the video versions of his later installation work, like I Thought I Was Seeing Convicts (2000), Farocki makes no attempt to clearly separate the two channels in Interface into categories of image and analysis.
9. The two channels often use the same footage, with one channel slightly delayed or with the original image shown on a screen in the other channel. There are distinct moments in the film, though, where identical footage is used at the same time on both channels:
a. Two minutes in, a dark orange screen with the Romanian phrase for “live transmission” in blueish-white text at the bottom is show on both left and right channel. The clip is from Videograms of a Revolution. In that context, the transmission message was a way for the television broadcaster to cut off the live feed; the television audience would not see protestors challenging Nicolae Ceaușescu. Farocki, in Interface, muses: “This disturbance, this interruption, was it a sign of revolt?”.
b. Five minutes in, Farocki’s hands fold up paper notes before he turns on the second television screen. The shot is a transitional exercise, putting away the banknotes used in the previous sequence and resetting the focus of both channels, now they look upon the edited image.
c. Sixteen minutes in, a clip from Between Two Wars. The ledge of a window, with a watch in the centre of the frame. Then, a shot in which a woman’s reflection is seen as she reaches out to a screenplay sitting on a shiny black desk. Farocki narrates over this shot sequence, which he mutes. Then, the right channel repeats this sequence but with sound and the left channel shows Farocki watching the same sequence and repeating the voiceover from the original film. Instead of editing, the leap from written word to visual image is the focus.
10. The final shot of Interface is also a duplicate across the two channels. Shot slightly above and to the left of Farocki, he looks to be reciting text from paper or screen outside the frame. He invokes the notion of an interface: “Might this editing station be an encoder, or a decoder?”
11. Interface is an interface is an interface.
Schnittstelle (1995 Germany 24min)
Prod Co: Musée Moderne d’art de Villeneuve d’ Ascq, Harun Farocki Filmproduktion, Berlin Prod: Harun Farocki Dir: Harun Farocki Scr: Harun Farocki Phot: Ingo Kratisch, Leo Borchard Ed: Max Reimann
Cast: Harun Farocki
- Thomas Elsaesser, “Between Knowing and Believing – The Cinematic Dispositive after Cinema” in Cine-Dispositives: Essays in Epistemology Across Media, eds. François Albera, Maria Tortajada (Amsterdam: Amsterdam University Press, 2015), p. 58. ↩
- Jessica Ellicott, “You Have to See… How to Live in the German Federal Republic (dir. Harun Farocki, 1990),” 4:3 (September 2014). ↩