: Robert Frank - Energy and how to get it

I’m always doing the same images.
I’m always looking outside.
Trying to look inside.
Trying something that’s true.
But merely nothing is really true.
Except what’s out there.
And what’s out there is always different

Robert Frank, in Home Improvements


After the publication of his book The Americans, Robert Frank switched his camera with the film camera in order to better express in the film what he felt, not what he saw. He no longer wants to be the lonely observer who looks away after the shutter release. Martin Schaub describes Frank's films and his rejection of photography as biographical reasons, both internal and external, 'doubts about the human admissibility of taking pictures, for example, doubts about whether photographers can publish their view of things in the media at all without making cuts, doubts about the power of personal images in a time that floods people with images.' | 1

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||    I want to make a movie ... I want to use these memories of the past like strange objects, half buried, coming from another world, like objects that cause an unusual resonance, carriers of information, desired or unwanted messages, true or not true. Objects that disturb, tell, behave quietly, and often justify the interest one has in them. I would like to make a fotofilm, build a dialogue between the movement of the camera and the freezing of the rigid image, between present and past, inside and outside, front and back. Making a film in the dirty context of life in Cape Breton, Nova Scotia and New York ... In the film I propose, the photos will be stops in the flood of film. Breakthroughs to exhale, windows to another time, to other places. Surely there will be the usual passing of people: Neighbours, art sellers, lawyers, housekeepers, thieves, all those who cheat and have been cheated, also some friends and of course the guest you didn't expect. The whole thing in 30 minutes. This is exactly the film I want to make. | 2



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Robert Frank made this film: Home Improvements (1985). It is, like Conversations in Vermont (1969), a film in self-reflections, autobiographical reflections about his private and public life, about aging, transience and the meaning of taking pictures.
Sequences from his earlier films Me and My Brother (1969) Moving Pictures (1994) und Home Improvements are revealed again in True Story (2004/2008); a silent mixture of past and present, photography and film, shaped by the painful memory and sadness of the death of his children Andrea and Pablo, but also by the tender dialogue with his wife, the artist June Leaf.

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In the film Energy and how to get it (1981), which at first glance has documentary traits, Frank demonstrated very impressively that he can also make a television production 'his' thing. He was supposed to shoot something about energy saving, in fact he produced a film ( with .: Rudy Wurlitzer and Gary Hill ) about the bankrupt inventor Robert Golka, who is being persecuted by the authorities, who is tinkering in an old hangar in Utah with machines for generating energy from atomic fusion, and is chasing ball lightning through his high-voltage laboratory with a giant Tesla coil. An energy tsar ( William S. Burroughs ) interested in the patent incites his agent ( Robert Downey ) to him: 'You are a little man with a great idea. I have the money. We have to put these points together.' Energy and how to get it is a wonderfully offbeat parody of documentary filming, a contrasting, coarse-grained black-and-white collage of improvised and freely invented things about Golka and the question of what drives you in life.

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Robert Frank changed his autobiographical methods again and again, and in his photographic films, even more than in his cinematic foto works, he always confronts only one thing: himself. His visual essays are only committed to the search for truth, individual truth.


|| Uwe J. Haack . magacine | reprint shortlist


1 | Martin Schaub, “FotoFilmFotoFilm: eine
Spirale. Robert Franks Suche nach der wahren Empfindung”; in: Cinema, unabhängige Schweizer Filmzeitschrift, Zürich 1984

2 | Robert Frank, 'J’aimerais faire un film ..',
in Photo Poche 10, Paris 1983
by Uwe J. Haack - Ein 'Fotograf' filmt [pdf],
in FOTOKRITIK 20, Berlin 1986

fotos | stills aus Energy and how to get it
Robert Frank (16mm b/w, 28', 1981)

tags : Robert Frank, film, photography, fotokritik