Inspired by her children’s ubiquitous ABC picture books, not to mention the traditions of avant-garde alphabetizing, experimental mainstay Lynne Sachs concocted Abecedarium: NYC, an exquisite online corpse of cinematic cartography.
All my life I’ve been working in the arts. I drew, took pictures and wrote poetry a lot as a kid. Later, when I was a teenager, I got very excited and disturbed by a number of issues—particularly the reinstatement of the draft and abortion rights. I realized, “There’s this part of me that cares about social and political situations; but, I’ll still need to keep this other part that is about my more private self, the part that wants to play with images and words, exploring the everyday.”
If I had to choose a single word to encapsulate Lynne Sachs’ cinema, it would be “searching.” Her work is marked by a mode of inquiry, of seeking out connections, of investigation. What is she looking for? Meaning, maybe. But more so, historical consciousness, an ethical way of being in the world, a politics of humanity. I’ve known her to get on a plane to move a film project forward, unsure what she will find when she lands or where the project is going. It seems every time we talk and check in, she’s been someplace else, at work on yet another project. She is indefatigable in her search, and she has been extraordinarily prolific.
“In 2009, I completed The Last Happy Day, a film that uses both real and imagined stories about Sandor Lenard, a distant cousin of mine and a Hungarian medical doctor. (See text above for description). Several years ago I traveled to Sao Paolo, Brazil to film Sandor’s eighty-five year old wife, Andrietta. She described in vivid, almost dreamy, detail her husband’s macabre work. I listened to her recount his daily contact with the detritus of war, wondering to myself why we so rarely think about who is responsible for “cleaning up” the dead. Later in the film, Andrietta’s graphic, realistic recollections stir visual ruminations on this futile act of posthumous, cosmetic surgery.
Con Viento en Pelo begins and ends with the approaching rumble of a train engine. For the young protagonists of the film, the train represents both a source of freedom and an interjection of cold, adult reality into their innocent, sheltered existence. This film forgoes a traditional narrative in favor of an exploration of the sensations that accompany the burgeoning adolescence of four Argentinean girls. This causes the film to unfold as a documentary of emotions, so to speak, rather than a conventional movie. Director Lynne Sachs is far more concerned with capturing textures, sounds, and feelings, the ingredients of memories, than action or dialogue. For example, in an early scene, Sachs juxtaposes a soft-focused close-up of a fluffy, wet dog with the cold, austere barbed wire fences of the Buenos Aires slums.
Sachs’s daughters and their friends read from this text and and recite bits of Lenard’s biography, providing a piquant tonal contrast to the archival footage and the interviews with his son and his second wife. A visit to Buenos Aires and short stories by Julio Cortazar inspired the dreamy narrative Wind in Our Hair (2009, 42 min.), which deals with sisterhood, children’s games, passing trains, and brief encounters.
How do you make a doc that’s not a doc? How do you make an experimental film that is not one? How and why do moving image experimenters and documentarians combine their genres? Howard Guttenplan’s Millennium Film Journal (Spring/Summer 2009, #51) deeply penetrates these questions and creative cross-fertilizations. Guest editors, Lucas Hilderbrand and Lynne Sachs have gathered innovators to fill 100 pages of insights. Jill Godmilow’s advice to abandon “truth claims, intimacy and satisfying forms” recalls genre-bending pioneer Luis Bunuel’s “I have always been on the side of those who seek the truth, but I part ways with them when they think they have found it.” Reading MFJ raises new questions. Richard Fung queries, “What kind of truths can be communicated better in documentary than in fiction – and vice versa?” This echoes Faulkner’s “Sometimes the best fiction is more true than journalism.” The essays provoke us to examine the motives and consequences of these media practitioners.
A filmmaker who started work in the second half of the Eighties, Lynne Sachs effortlessly saunters between film, video, the internet and gallery installations. Principally concerned with the involvement of individuals in History, Lynne Sachs’ films often adopt the film essay form to explore the interrelationship between collective and subjective memory. Her films mix the most experimental and poetic of approaches with live recording, archive material and a range of narrative sources, all with the same air of ease.
Su estilo cinematográfico, siempre en movimiento, se ubica en la encrucijada del cine documental, experimental y de ensayo autobiográfico al mismo tiempo que transciende cualquiera de estas categorías preestablecidas. (Pablo Marin)
A HISTORY OF NEW YORK website describes Abecedarium:NYC: “A wonderful, continuously expanding site sponsored in part by New York Public Library: Abecedarium:NYC. The whole thing seems designed to lead you down the path of hours spent exploring. The perfect site for people who love words as much as they love New York.”