Dir: Johann Lurf, 2017, Austria, 99mins, Cert: N/A
Tue 4 December // 20:00
Tickets: £5 (full) / £4 (concession)
A nighttime journey through the history of cinema: from silent films to the present. From the conquerors of the cosmos to melancholy glances at starry skies. A symphony of humanity's nocturnal fears and silent hopes. It is a beautifully simple idea, but expansive and multilayered in the actual viewing, a profoundly involving, immersive, resonant experience.
Since the dawn of humankind we have been fascinated by the nighttime sky shining with stars. Beyond our view of these luminous points, the deep and endless universe spreads out, its faraway galaxies and nebulae invisible to the naked eye, leaving us to ponder them with mere speculation or in dreams. Our conception of the stars and the cosmos has been formed by others’ imaginations: scientists, science popularizers, and artists. Inevitably, our own ideas, fears, aspirations, and even our changing modes of depicting and thinking about them are detectable in these imaginings. Johann Lurf compiled his film solely from images of the universe drawn from a total of 550 films across motion picture history. The result is a compelling poetic essay that is as much about the way we represent outer space as it is about the cosmos itself.
Hubert Poul for the 53rd Karlovy Vary International Film Festival in June 2018
A film with no answers but as many questions as there are stars in the universe, Austrian structuralist Johann Lurf has chosen an audacious and ever-expanding subject for his feature film debut: the stars of cinema. Not the movie stars, but the stars in the night´s sky, pinpricks of light against the darkness excerpted from films beginning at cinema´s dawn and continuing to this present day in a project that is planned to be expanded yearly. These stellar instances, riven from context with sound intact—ambient hums, grand orchestral scores, pedantic explanations, dreamy speculation—are magical fields of darkness sprinkled with possibilities. Lurf´s jazzy editing, balancing tranquil concentration and jumpy jitters based on his methodology of retaining each clip´s length, image and sound, sends the audience on a journey across the tones of promise and threat that emanate from the cosmos. A subject difficult if not impossible to accurately photograph on film, we are therefore greeted again and again by the varied interpretations of the starry night by matte artists and special effects wizards, gazing now in stillness, now in careening motion across or into space at incandescent nebulae, distant twinkling dots, and the black void in-between. Surveying a history of cinema´s fixation with, and escape to, outer space, we find both what audiences in their own times saw up there, as well as mirrors of our own wonderment: Awe, terror, hope, arrogant confidence, melancholic yearning and blank, awesome silence. These are the rare moments when the movie audience, backs to the projector, in fact faces light projected at them: Our eyes are the screens for the cinema of the stars.
Stargazers watch out! Johann Lurf went to the tremendous effort of collecting starry skies from no fewer than 553 movies and mounting them in chronological order, from 1905 all the Milky Way to 2017. The amazing result is an unadulterated, searched footage documentary with a stunning soundtrack, a vast catalogue of mostly imagined firmaments from throughout film history.