Robert Kramer Retrospective [1982]

As Fast as You Can

A toute allure
- 1982 / France / French / Color / 59 min / Video

Script: Robert Kramer
Director of Photography: Richard Copans
Photography: Michel Lecocq
Editing: Dominique Forgue
Musical Advisor: Barre Phillips
Sound: Andre Siekierski
Lighting: Yvan Martin, Daniel Defontaine, Claude Pezet, Daniel Benkimoun
Continuity: Martine Chicot
Cast: Laure Duthilleul, William Cherino, Bernard Balle, and others
Producer: Martine Durand
Production Company, Source: INA

There is a roller skating rink next to the enormous shopping center at La Defense. This is a building made of chrome and glass, of neon and music. Nellie and Serge are like all young people their age, but they have a different plan. They want to become roller derby champions, go to America, and to join the Chicago Flyers. But how can they get the money to do this? One day, Nellie and Serge meet Felix, a newspaper reporter who is doing an investigative report on youth. Maybe his newspaper would be inclined to finance that two skaters’ adventures so that they could publish their story. Serge is ready to collaborate, but Nellie is distrustful.

-- “It is a film about the power of money, about what is sold and what is bought, the thirst for life and the desire not to die too soon-a film for the Eighties.”

—Robert Kramer (Festival Cinema Giovani 1997)



Robert Kramer and Digital Video

Robert Kramer often operated the camera himself. This began early in his career, from the period of Milestones. According to Kramer, that has to do with the question of subjectivity and objectivity; “The whole act of living is about interpretations,” said Kramer. “ABC or the New York Times says that they are presenting objective truth. But these are also their interpretations of reality, according to the values of the big corporations. Then what does it mean to present them as objective ‘facts’?” One of Kramer’s solutions to this was to be himself in his films as a character, in Milestones, Guns, A Great Day in France/Birth and Our Nazi. But the real turning point to this question was Doc’s Kingdom: “I didn’t realize what I had done before seeing the rushes,” said Kramer. “Already at the opening scene when Doc—Paul McIsaac—wakes up, the camera is observing him as if it were a character in the movie. When Doc talks about himself, it is as if the camera is prosecuting him.”

Right after Doc’s Kingdom, Kramer shot X-Country in the US with Paul McIsaac—the Doc—as the sound man (McIsaac eventually appeared in the film as well), on video because it was cheaper, which experience became the groundwork for Route One/USA. From these films Kramer operated the camera himself for all his works. Thus, even though he doesn’t appear on screen, he still expressed his presence, with the camera functioning as one of the characters. For instance, about Walk the Walk in which each of three members of a European family starts his or her own voyage, Kramer proclaimed. “There is always the presence of a fourth character who is American: me, behind the camera.”

On the other hand, from Doc’s Kingdom, Kramer started to create the first rough cut of his films on video transfers, thus cutting the cost of hiring an editor and paying less for editing facilities. As for shooting on video, though it is a logical step to take use this format for TV commissions such as Berlin 10/90, he also shot the feature length theatrical effort Starting Place/Point de départ on Betacam for its flexibility as well for budgetary limitations.

Thus, for Kramer, the move to small but high quality Digital Video (DV) was inevitable. Kramer proclaimed, “The DV camera is like an extension of my eyes.” In Le manteau, which he shot on DV, he went as far to operate the camera and play its protagonist—a filmmaker—at the same time, showing everything from this protagonist’s own point of view. But Kramer was very cautious about not making its style “a truc” as in Lady in the Lake (1943, dir. Robert Montgomery): “The real story of The Coat is,” he explained, “to destory the distinctions between living and filmmaking.”

Since then, all his films were shot on digital format. Lust for Life, a project which was inspired form his trip around Japan with his wife Erika in 1997, was to be shot on various locations in Japan with a small DV camera. Kramer wrote on its synopsis; “The shooting style, frequently hand-held, and fleeting (like glancing to the right and left and trying to find what is important but not always knowing where to look), contributes to this sense of spontaneity and liveliness.” Though it was to have a fictional story (inspired from Mishima Yukio and Jean Genet), Kramer’s project was to intersect this plot structure with images of reality as caught by the small, flexible DV camera. Kramer’s sudden death prevented him from making Lust for Life.

Interestingly, for his last film Cities of the Plain, which was also shot on DV (then blown-up to 35mm), Kramer took neither of those strategies. Instead of glancing, the camera concentrates on series of extreme close-up, and audaciously penetrates into the inner psyche and meditations of the characters. The cities of the plain do not exist as long scenery shots. Rather, they are present on the metallic surfaces that the DV camera observes from up close. This film may have been a new starting place for Robert Kramer.

—Mizuhara Fumito

• Robert Kramer Retrospective | FALN | In the Country | The Edge | Ice | People’s War | Milestones | Scenes from the Class Struggle in Portugal | Guns | A Great Day in France / Birth | As Fast as You Can | Fear | Doc’s Kingdom | Route One / USA | Dear Doc | Berlin 10/90 | Video Letters: Robert Kramer and Stephen Dwoskin | Leeward | Point de départ / Starting Place | Walk the Walk | The Coat | Ghosts of Electricity | SayKomSa | Cities of the Plain | Against Forgetting