If one were to list filmmakers whose short films have been much in evidence at festivals during the last few years, there is one name that would fall frequently: Matthias M«ller. The filmmaker from Bielefeld has not only regularly enriched the competition programme at the Short Film Festival in Oberhausen with his works; he also stands for the opposite of what is commonly assumed of short film: that it is nothing more than a calling card and a field of experimentation for young filmmakers. For years now, Matthias M«ller has been counted among the premier German experimental filmmakers, who uses film as a means of expression, but is in the meantime more at home in the fine arts than on the short film scene.
Although his works are invariably shorter than 47 minutes, M«ller is rather sceptical when it comes to the concept of «short film«. For him, this term implies the unquestioned dominance of feature-length film, a genre that has no meaning for his work. His working principle is more like condensed montage, which lends every component of the story an added dimension. The brevity of his films can alone be attributed to the difficulties involved in the reception of this dense narrative form. Short film is therefore for M«ller «a formal category that says little about the character, energy and quality of a film«.
The camera has been a long-time companion of M«ller«s. Already back in the early 1980s, he was part of the German Super 8 scene, founded a distribution service and remained true to the format long after the introduction of video. It is only in the past few years that M«ller has also started working with DV, which allows him a greater measure of autonomy.
His films function on various levels, which contributes to their popularity. «The films should already be able to communicate something even on first viewing in a festival setting, a relatively distracting reception situation, meaning they have to have a certain inviting quality«, is how M«ller describes the classic viewing situation. M«ller himself categorizes his films under «experimental film«, while regarding this concept as a dynamic one. «Ultimately, many of my films create hybrid forms out of more conventional narrative elements and using advanced means that can frequently be traced to ideas from the history of the avant-garde.«
In «Home Stories« and «Phoenix Tapes«, M«ller analyses the representational codes of Hollywood movies, using Lana Turner and Alfred Hitchcock as examples. Rather than taking a dismissive, culturally critical standpoint, he evinces a certain fascination with dramatizations and role models, and the desire to dissect the images. M«ller often works with found footage. Apart from «Home Stories« and «Phoenix Tapes«, the filmmaker has also incorporated alien set pieces into «Vacancy«, about the planned city of Brasilia, and his claustrophobic film «Alpsee«, which contains autobiographical elements. This all flows together visually, sometimes even recalling the trash aesthetic of the retro look.
The changeover to the video format has had an effect on his works« aesthetic. In particular his most recent film, «Album«, which won an award at the International Short Film Festival Oberhausen 2005, features unusually long shots and, with its diary-like structure, seems much more personal than, for example, «Alpsee«, although both contain autobiographical allusions.
«Album« also represents a further step on a path M«ller set off on several years ago: away from festivals and toward the art market. «Album« does not have a linear narrative, but is instead conceived as a loop and is shown primarily in the gallery and museum context. Even though M«ller still has one foot in the short film scene, his video works have moved him step by step closer to the world of the fine arts.
Exhibitions such as documenta X and Manifesta 3, and many museums such as the Whitney Museum of American Art, New York, and the Mus«e du Louvre, Paris, have displayed M«ller«s work. In 1994 the Museum of Modern Art in New York devoted a retrospective to M«ller. Films and videos by Matthias M«ller can be found in collections including the following: Centre Georges Pompidou, Paris, Museu d«Art Contemporani de Barcelona, Australian Centre for the Moving Image, Melbourne, Nederlands Filmmuseum, Amsterdam, Kunsthalle Bielefeld, Towner Art Museum, Eastbourne, FRAC Haute Normandie, Rouen, Tate Modern, London, Sammlung Goetz, Munich.
His works shown in museums have correspondingly different conceptual surroundings, which has a major influence on the way they are presented and the use of the material. The «grey zone« are the festivals that are explicitly dedicated to showing artistic works as well as cinematic films.
Listening to interviews with the filmmaker, one realizes time and again how much careful reflection he devotes to his works and the medium of film, and his gift for expressing his thoughts without any hint of arrogance. Therefore, his disclosure of the means he uses and his theoretical structure have not detracted at all from his popularity.
For further information:
In November, edition arsenal experimental published M«ller«s book «The Memo Book « Filme, Videos und Installationen von Matthias M«ller« (ed. by Stefanie Schulte-Strathaus, in German and English).
For further information: http://www.fdk-berlin.de/de/verleih/news.html
Galerie Volker Diehl