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Ghost in the Machine by Robert Kirchhoff


Every ghost is set free once in a while; by rubbing the lamp or re-enacting the situation in which it got caught. Ghost in the Machine does the latter and gives a deep historical, as well as instructive perspective on Slovak film history. The fact that the documentary was realized at this moment in time might mark a passing of the baton to a younger generation of Slovak cineastes. Some of the pioneers who defined the national cinema are in fact long dead, like Karel Plicka, who died in 1987 and was a former founder of the FAMU film school in Prague in 1946. Plicka’s films, especially Zem spieva (The Earth Sings) from 1933, are considered by film theorist Pavel Branko as major examples from the Slovak school of filmmaking, which tended towards poetic realism.

Director Robert Kirchhoff refers to this tradition in his approach to selecting cameramen, as well as through remarks from theorists considered to be representative of the movement, such as Bazin, Kracauer, Bresson, Zapatini and Renoir. In order to get a sense of the working processes that might have taken place at that time during the actual film shoots, Kirchhoff goes to the shooting locations favoured by the respective cameramen. Two generations meet through the camera techniques – highly contrasted black and white 16mm sequences meet flat, pixellated colour images. The poetic realist style and its related economic precariousness are being passed down to a generation which earns its living through commercial movies and is at the same time searching for new modes of expression generated by digital devices.

The encounter reveals not only a continuity in theoretical and methodological approaches between the analogue and digital generations, but also a former, nearly forgotten Europe-wide exchange of intellectual power. In 1970, Igor Luther worked on the film Eden a Potom (L´Éden et après) directed by Alain Robbe-Grillet, earlier, Tibor Biath collaborated on Boxer a smrt (The Boxer and the Death) by Peter Solan. Imitated camera movements as well as the old music evoke a search for existing memories embedded in the places visited.

At the end the film finds a nice metaphor for Slovak directors: stone layers from a river brought to light by archaeologists are referred to as the former filmmakers themselves. They are peacefully united, not only in a box that conserves them but also in one digital image with the contemporary filmmakers.

By Johannes Bennke

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