In advance of the Picturehouse screenings of artist/director Julian Rosefeldt’s Manifesto, the following interview with editor Bobby Good outlines the process of editing a feature film from what had been presented as a 13-channel film installation in galleries.
The result is a fascinating and provocative film which draws on the writings of Futurists, Dadaists, Fluxus artists, Suprematists, Situationists, Dogma 95 and other artist groups, as well as the musings of individual artists, architects, dancers and filmmakers including Claes Oldenburg, Yvonne Rainer, Kazimir Malevich and Jim Jarmusch.
Did you have a background in art and/or in artists manifestos? How did you prepare for this project?
Art and art-history were my favourite subjects in school, so I was aware of the various art movements of the past century and the main associated works, but to a much lesser extent their written manifestos. In 2011 I edited Irish director Patrick Jolley’s feature film The Door Ajar which deals with the work and life of the influential French poet and theatre director Antonin Artaud. During that time I read Artaud’s The Theatre and Its Double – which contains his two manifestos of the Theatre of Cruelty. That was my first consideration of art manifestos in that form- for direct use in a film or art piece. In 2014 I edited Julian’s film Deep Gold and again I was introduced to a number of early female provocative manifestos. Deep Gold (2014) is Julian’s black and white film based on an episode from Luis Buñuel’s groundbreaking and at the time scandalous film L’Âge d’Or (1930). So, yes I guess in a way I had been introduced to manifestos before, but certainly never imagined to be editing them together in this form. Once we began editing Manifesto, I firstly had Cate’s transcripts written by Julian but also the wonderful book 100 Artists Manifestos from Alex Danchev, which is exactly what it says on the cover: a collection of artists’ manifestos from the 20th century. This was a great reference when putting the various manifestos into further perspective and also for understanding the chronology of some of the more minor art movements over the century. I think it’s the only book I read over and over that year.
How did you decide on the order and length of the manifestos for the feature?
In deciding on the order of the Manifestos in the linear version we played around with a lot of different ideas. It became clear that we did not feel bound by a historical chronology and so playing around with the order became a more creative process than we first imagined. This playfulness also led to the development of the title sequence (from House of North) being as bold and fast and loud as we could imagine. However, editing too quickly between Manifestos was not going to work as each one needed a certain amount of space and the audience needs time to immerse themselves in each setting. Matching cuts, colours and camera movements helped, like in the transition from the spiralling staircase in Suprematism to the circling dancing children at the beginning of Dadaism. And of course having music to edit on allowed us to speed up and slow down the film and transitions as we felt necessary; for example where Cate rides her moped through Berlin and we focus on the architecture and cut very much on the beat.
In other sections obviously we edited in exactly the opposite way. So for example where Cate rides in the elevator, she is omnipresent, but by muting her voice we can concentrate more on the character she is playing.
Juxtaposition is still the essence of the piece – finding unexpected aspects and voices in familiar or expected surroundings – but we shortened many of the texts for the linear version to allow for more breathing room for the audience. PopArt also served very nicely as a recurring humorous interlude.
Naturally, however, in the end the focus still remains very much on Cate and her delivery.
How involved was Cate?
Cate’s trust and belief in Julian and the project was obviously there from the beginning and they have a very close working relationship. Cate’s interest in the development of the installation and the film was obvious, but I think it’s unusual for any actor/actress to be involved too much in the editing process.
I have met her a few times since the installations – notably at The Armoury on Park Avenue in New York last December and here in London last month at the London Film Festival. She seemed happy with both versions although I know she was initially concerned whether the installation would translate so well to the linear version! But I think we were all concerned about that.
How long did it take to edit the installation piece into a feature film?
When we were editing Manifesto-The Installation one of our major concerns was that our biggest asset was also our largest challenge. “How can we separate Cate, the Hollywood actress, from the artistic texts she is supposed to deliver?” “How can the message retain its importance when the messenger draws so much attention?” So although it was very intentional on Julian’s behalf that Cate played the part, giving a popular female voice to an unwarranted male ego craving rebellion and speaking out of turn, we were genuinely concerned that her performance was so mesmerising across so many characters that the inherent message and importance of the artists’ manifestos might get lost in her performance.
This had a direct influence on the choice of shots in parts of the editing. The very long introductory shots to most of the set-ups, for example, were intentional so as to allow time for the audience to really immerse themselves in these landscapes or ideas and not focus on Cate. Good examples are the Puppet-Introduction to Surrealism, the very long shot of the spacey-elevators in Suprematism or the dirty backstage set-up in Creationism. In moments where we had choices, I often used alternative images and wider shots in an effort to shift the main focal point for the audience. These techniques helped us maintain the balance between the performer and the performance.
By the time we reached the point of editing Manifesto-The Film we had become very comfortable with the balance between the Messenger and the Message and so we were able to turn the emphasis back a little in the other direction and celebrate Cate’s performances more. As we already had our finished episodes from which to work, this process was much faster than the initial editing process. But it’s actually psychologically very difficult to re-edit something that is already working (as an installation) into a new format (film)!
I think we needed about 10 weeks for the edit including a few test screenings. This period was in close collaboration with our sound designers Fabian Schmidt and Markus Stemler and composers Nils Frahm and Ben Lukas Boysen. Any major picture changes were checked with our post-supervisor Jan Schöningh to make sure we didn’t unravel a whole new ball of string for everyone!
Anything else of note?
Since the installation’s release much has happened in the world which has inadvertently made Manifesto incredibly relevant and contemporary.
Through the work I have gained a personal realisation of the importance of art and artists as a voice of reflection and rebellion against the status quo.
I feel art and artists have a social and moral responsibility to explore radical creative approaches to sociopolitical systems and issues, and the time in which to do that is always now. To quote the Dadaist Richard Huelsenbeck “To sit in a chair for a single moment is to risk one’s life.”
Manifesto: Live From The Tate Modern screens at select cinemas on Wednesday 15 November, 6.30. Book now
Manifesto will be at select cinemas from Friday 24 November, including Picturehouse Central, Cameo Cinema, Arts Picturehouse and Picturehouse at Fact.