Say Hello – Visiting the Film Museum: Thom Andersen

The Thoughts That Once We Had, 2015, Thom Andersen (Courtesy of Thom Andersen and Lux, London)
September 22 to October 4, 2017
 
He couldn't have made a living as a film critic because he works too slowly, Thom Andersen (*1943) reveals in the introduction to his new collection of essays, Slow Writing. So he turned to teaching, a profession that became his vocation. In manifold ways – as filmmaker and lecturer, author and curator, and cultural historian making interdisciplinary connections – he has, slowly and by degrees, but in complete freedom of thought, crucially expanded the debate about moving images over more than 50 years: a gift passed on by the Film Museum in its entirety. 
 
In the face of a splintered cinema culture and the proliferation of postmodern arbitrariness, Andersen proposes the unshakable belief that film (still) has something to say (and should say it) about reality and the way people live their lives. His renowned essay film Los Angeles Plays Itself (2003/13) brings us to the heart of the matter. A critical, smart and non-hierarchical analysis of how his home town has been represented in cinema, the film combines and transforms his ongoing interests (pop & politics, architecture & society, film & reality) into informative instructions for use: "I think that when you go see a documentary film, you should learn something."
 
The short films Andersen made in the 1960s and his feature-length debut Eadweard Muybridge (1975) already addressed the relationship between the world and its image in a startling philosophical manner. In his trailblazing comeback Red Hollywood (1996/2013), he and Noël Burch investigated the political options in the entertainment industry by looking into the McCarthy witch hunt. The duo also curated a retrospective for the Viennale and the Film Museum under the title "Blacklisted" (2000), which was followed by Andersen's equally engaged film series "Los Angeles. A City in Film" (2008). Since then, smaller films heading in a multitude of directions and an idiosyncratic history of cinema in the spirit of Gilles Deleuze, The Thoughts That Once We Had (2015), have significantly deepened Andersen's oeuvre. At the same time, he became more active as a writer, promoting intelligent, demanding, better cinema: "We don't need more masterpieces. We need work that is useful and work that is modest."
 
These ideas will be explored in greater detail in Andersen's carte blanche: from well-known avant-garde comrades-in-arms such as Morgan Fisher and James Benning to rediscoveries like Andrew Meyer, from the B-movie classic The Big Combo (1955) to Claire Denis' subtle study of a milieu, 35 rhums (2008). With typical lack of prejudice, Andersen also includes documentarian Michael Moore, who is regularly derided in Europe as a superficial populist, identifying him as one of the important critics of the American system: "Moore makes movies that entertain, inform, surprise, and move their viewers," reminding us of "the power of art to change the world, which seems to need it more and more."
 
Thom Andersen will be present in Vienna for a week to accompany his retrospective which will then travel to the Centre Pompidou in Paris. "Slow Writing," a new anthology of his essays on cinema (edited by Mark Webber and published by The Visible Press), will also be launched at the Film Museum.
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