Friday, August 29, 2014

Where to begin with late filmmaker and video essayist Harun Farocki

Posted By on 08.29.14 at 03:34 PM

The Interview
  • The Interview
I've failed to write about the influential filmmaker, theorist, and video essayist Harun Farocki since he died three weeks ago, in large part because I knew very little about him before this past January, when Kevin B. Lee presented a program of his work at the Nightingale. The numerous memorials written about Farocki in the past four weeks have made it clear that he was a great teacher both in and out of the academy. Given the breadth of his output—IMDB lists 79 directorial credits—I suspect I'm not the only person still catching up with his teachings. (This piece by Michael Sicinski provides a useful map for navigating his body of work.)

Facets has released several Farocki titles on DVD, and these are fairly easy to locate. Last week I caught up with The Interview, a 1996 documentary about a career-coaching seminar that's prescient in its analysis of video imagery. Interview focuses on how the counselors use video to record their mock job interviews, then scrutinize their clients' every gesture while watching the playback. Often they advise their clients to alter their body language, their speech, even their conversational manner—in effect, to pretend to be other people. Farocki's filmmaking fights fire with fire, scrutinizing the scrutinizers and exposing their servo-mechanistic view of human interaction. This pedagogical documentary asks us to consider the relationship between video recording (with its instant playback and the flat-looking way it captures light) and the dehumanizing worldview espoused by the career coaches. In the smartphone era, video imagery is so pervasive that Interview practically seems quaint. This would suggest that Farocki's work will remain relevant for quite some time.

Below you can find the first five minutes of The Interview and the entirety of Farocki's 1969 short Inextinguishable Fire.

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