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Spiritual Exercises: Olivier Smolders

February 29, 2008

This set of 10 short experimental films is now available on DVD.  I had previously not seen any of Olivier Smolders’ works, but I am intrigued by experimental film making as an art form.  My only disappointment is that most avant-guarde works in film is they tend to focus mainly on female nudity and death.  It gets tedious after a while.  One of the more interesting short films I’ve seen is a ball rolling through a workshop, much in the same way marbles went through the old board game “Mousetrap”.  The camera was in continual motion, as well as the ball, and it was cleverly done and fun to watch.  If we could get more experimental films about ducks, pirates and cardboard boxes, I’m sure they’d get more of an audience.

Starting with “Adoration”, this pretty much encapsulates the whole female nudity and death theme he’s got going on with this collection.  It features a man and a woman, woman reads poems, man shoot woman, man eats little bits of woman, man cuts off woman’s arm and leg, man stabs self.  The end.  I was not particularly moved, either intrigued or disgusted, because I’ve already seen it all before countless times.  The lack of narration and soundtrack make it seem lacking, as if the director didn’t realize he could use sound for dramatic effect.  It’s like as if a cook was baking cakes and left out all the eggs.

“Mort a Vignole” was a bit more interesting, and to me, more touching and human than the rest of the collection.  He describes how his child came out stillborn, and he wanted to photograph her, but they took her away for an autopsy.  He imagines that having captured her in photos would have given her a bit of life where she had none, a bit of immortality after death.  I found it very sad but yet beautiful.  Being a parent can change how you look at things in many ways, and I think prior to having my son I would not have appreciated this segment.

“L’Amateur” was an interesting progression of the female nude form.  Not how the women progress, but how the director progresses at the representation.  The addition of great contrast, props, movement, all begin to capture more and more beauty as the film goes on.  However as far as being engaging and moving, it didn’t much go beyond the beauty.  Calling out for his lost love like Lenore did not sway me at all.

The only other short that really fascinated me was  “Pensees et Visions D’une Tête Coupée”, which I believe is translated “Thoughts and Visions of a Severed Head”.  It details the work of Belgian artist Antoine Wiertz.  Like Smolders, he is drawn to the morbid.  His descriptions on seeing and talking to a severed head were very disturbing to me, more because of my fear of decapitation than anything else.  I would be curious to see how “normal” people would react to the work.

I found the use of midgets in this segment to be gratuitous and exploitative, as if no director can do a “weird” movie without throwing in at least one midget.  Then again, it may have simply been a perspective tool to make the paintings look bigger and grander than they already were.

Overall I felt the short film was very informative and respectful to Wiertz’s work, despite  narrations that described contemporary reactions to the paintings.  If more painters could have short films such as this dedicated to them, maybe more people would have time to learn about fine art from centuries past.

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