On July 29, Dutch artist Gabriel Lester will guest in our DOUBLE FEATURE. He has chosen Gus van Sant’s “Gerry” as his favorite movie.
"A cigarette is the perfect type of a perfect pleasure. It is exquisite, and it leaves one unsatisfied. What more can one want?" This statement by Lord Henry, the antagonist in Oscar Wilde's "The Picture of Dorian Gray" says a lot about both cigarette consumption and about pleasure in general: Pleasure, which the psychoanalytically inclined associate in the case of the cigarette with the pleasure gained in the oral phases, always also includes a reference to transience, as pleasure can only exist in contrast to nausea or disgust, i.e., for a limited period of time. This aspect of transience is also emphasized by the remains of the cigarette, by the smoke and the ash, reminiscent in this regard of the mortal remains of the human body, which in the Christian liturgy is referred to as ashes and dust.
Gabriel Lester's 26-minute-plus film "Last Smoking Flight" (2008) offered a filmic discussion of these thematic pairs: The decidedly cinematographic piece starts with a camera pan of some six minutes through a sea of clouds, with melancholic piano music as the score. The seemingly infinite expanse of the heavens makes any geographic localization impossible and also means no exact time can be determined, either. The camera pan then ends in a small passenger plane, in which, in the individual seats in each row there is one man and one woman per row. For the next 14 minutes the camera stays in the plane.
Large-format close-ups and slow camera pans through the plane's interior show us solitary individuals who all first and foremost do one thing: they smoke. As time passes so one starts to feel one is witnessing different types: a worried person, an intellectual, a carefree person, one who is bored, another who is inquisitive, a dreamer, a sad person. The filmic piece intimates some sort of narration, but one that exclusively arises in the mind of the beholder, as the persons say nothing and thus for us viewers essentially remain strangers. The passengers, surrounded by the timeless, geographically undetermined backdrop of clouds, seem caught up in an equally timeless, geographically unspecific non-space, left only to their own devices and the last remnant of something real: a cigarette. Yet in the last six minutes of the film all that remains of the cigarettes is wafting smoke, bereft of destination or purpose, seen against a black background and accompanied by elegiac music.
Nature's indifferent beauty
Born in 1972 in Amsterdam, in his works (they embrace film, but also music, photography, the visual arts and installations) Gabriel Lester concerns himself broadly with the representation of illusions and the mechanisms with which they are created. In his installation "How to Act" (2000), for example, Lester fostered the illusion of a movie-theater experience exclusively by means of light reflections, a film score and a soundtrack of noises, without a single film frame being shown. "Last Smoking Flight" is the first film in a trilogy of silent films that continues with "The Big One" (2010) and culminates in "The Blank Stare" (2013) -- in them, Lester focuses on a kind of "introverted gaze".
For the evening, Gabriel Lester has chosen as his favorite movie Gus van Sant's "Gerry", dating from 2002. The film is based on real life and accompanies the two protagonists (played by Casey Affleck and Matt Damon), who each call the other simply Gerry, on a trip to a desert world. After only a short time, both lose their bearings and get hopelessly lost.
The film is 103 minutes long but only involves about 100 different camera positions and in many parts dispenses with dialog. The camera repeatedly simply focuses for minutes on end on the two protagonists or the nature that surrounds them; in all its indifferent beauty it seems only to stridently emphasize how insignificant the two men are. The two protagonists' inner worlds are hardly verbalized, and with their almost stoic acceptance of their destiny reference the passengers in Gabriel Lester's "Last Smoking Flight".