Packed in a neat little DVD are three experimental shorts films by Austrian feminist artist Valie Export. Three films about art, women, the body and the habits we/they share.
Valie Export (or VALIE EXPORT, as it is apprently supposed to be written) is a relatively new name to me. I have known of the DVD because I have an interest in Index as a company and have found myself considering purchasing this very DVD many times. Not for any other reason that the cover looking interesting, and knowing it contains three experimental films (as the title suggests). I figured "Valie Export" was a mere title for the collection, but it turned out it was the filmmaker's name. Well, not her real name, it's really Waltraud Lehner, but I can see why the change. Not because it's an ugly name but because the mere exposition of the DVD title, the name "Valie Export" managed to imprint itself in my mind.
Now to the DVD in question. As a short film collection fan I will say that few collection with a runtime around 30 minutes have been as great as this one. The three shorts are "Mann, Frau & Animal", "...Remote...Remote..." and finally "Syntagma" and they are all different but share some things that can only be described as Valie's style. I'm saying that having only seen these three, so take it lightly.
"Mann, Frau & Animal" is the first film. With the title I tried to find distinct roles, or parts, indicating (possibly) the difference between man and wife, and of course animal. It starts with a silence and a bathtub. After a while someone turns on the water, and screws off the shower head. The person is Valie Export (revealed by the tattoo on her thigh, which was mentioned in the brief biography I read in the booklet of this DVD). The lays down in the bath and begins to pleasure herself by letting the water pour on her clitoris. What makes it different than simple pornography is how simplistic it is shot (which is often the case with the films by actionists) but also that she actually seems to be pleasuring herself. Not faking it for the camera, but real pleasure. Not to say that can't happen in pornography, just that it isn't a characteristic trait of pornography as a genre. After a while it cut's to a white background with a black triangle on it, followed by the vagina (a different vagina?) again. This time pulsating, or rather tensing up repeatedly, covered in soap. On top of this is a silly sound of a man grunting. Cut to a bloody vagina, followed by the white background/black triangle-transition again. Finally we see a photograph of the nether region of a woman, perhaps the same woman, and a male hand that is bleeding over the photo.
What you should take from this, I don't know. But hadn't it been for the title I would have been lost. I'd say that this is about female sexuality, and perhaps the statement that she can get pleasure on her own. That it might be better, even. To puzzle together every piece is a bit much, I think, but I have some vague ideas about the two following bits but I can't seem to figure out how "animal" comes into play other than having "animal" actually mean "nature", or "the nature of women". It was far more interesting than similar shorts have been because of the title alone - it makes you think a bit, instead of just studying the images.
"...Remote...Remote..." was much easier on my mind, but struck harder on my "phobias". We have Valie sitting in front of a huge, old, black and white photo (of herself and brother as kids, perhaps?). In front of her is a bowl of milk, and in her hand is a box cutter. She starts cutting off her cuticles. Not in a fashionable way, but actually just cutting them off, leaving wounds. After cutting them all, she dips her hand in the milk, and continues to cut more. At one point there's a close-up of it as she is doing it, and it looks gnarly. Through all of this we hear the sound of an old clock, and by now it is becoming irritating. In a good way, I mean. In an intentional way, possibly.
Between the cutting of the cuticles and the sound, I found this one got to me. I'll explain why. I have a personal phobia of doing things to your nails (I can barely stand having my toe nails touched). Not watching it in fiction, but when it's real and I know it's real, it's painful to me! Not to the extent that I get ill or have to look away, but I get a chill up my spine. The close-up part of this one did that to me. But at the same time I absolutely loved the short and the ideas of the anti-feminine/anti-fashion manicure. Or maybe it's an extreme version of a childhood (bad) habit of biting your fingernails. Either way, it's simply stunning, even though it's 10 minutes of only that one thing. Much of this is because of the person behind the camera: Didi (whoever that is, but she/he also filmed "Mann, Frau & Animal"). She (I suppose it's a girl by the name) manages to capture some great shots of the fingers, the photograph behind her and the blood as some of it pours out into the milk.
"Syntagma" is the longest of the three, and unlike the first two this isn't from the early 70's, but from 1984. It's also slightly more of a narrative film. Not in common sense, of course, but if you consider that the other two are basicly recordings of events then this is more of a structured narrative short. A perfectly edited performance, if you will. It's a film on the body, body language, the female body. To sum this one up in a review is hard, so I wanted to directly quote the booklet from Index. It says it way better than I ever could:
"The "body" and specifically the "woman's body" is often used as a focus for questions of origin, subject-object relations, political resistance and sexuality. It may appear that this is also the central issue of Syntagma, yet VALIE EXPORT's notion of "body language" (Körpersprache) poses an ironic relation to these questions that actually acknowledges "the end of the body" or at least the final break with the way in which we understand it to be a biological, existential, or metaphysical entity."
What makes this film so great is the editing. It feels extremely rhythmic in its editing, not only next to the music but overall. It plays with different versions of bodies, one always on front of the screen while the other is projected onto the background. Examples of this is when the screen is split in two and one side moves towards a staircase, while the other side moves away from it. Feet are, for some reason, used a lot (I figured hands would be better to represent body language, but oh well). While the projection in the background shows feet walking up from a staircase, the feet in front are walking down. I think you get a grasp of what I mean, even though it sounds a lot less entertaining. It's quite beautiful, really. There's a bit in the short where a female body is laying on top of large black and white photographes of her own body (as seen on the front cover). They switch photos and play around with split screens and different positions. I was fascinated by this, it was absolutely fantastic - it was art. Like watching a collection of beautiful paintings, I couldn't keep my eyes away from it. Brilliant! The rest of the film was weak compared to these minutes, but overall it's a great little experimental art film about the body, and I can see why this is hailed as one of Valie Export's greatest achievements, even if it (intellectually) did less to me than her other two shorts on this DVD.
"Valie Export: 3 Experimental Short Films" is a very solid DVD, even though it's only 36 minutes long in total. It gives so much more than what 36 minutes of experimental film usually gives, and now I also have a gained interest in the filmmaker as well. She seems to be a very fascinating addition to feminist art as a whole, and surely have done more for it than I previously knew. A recommended DVD to fans of performance art, feminist art and experimental short films.