Ekran (Slovenia)

The classical attitude to films like Benson’s Predictions of Fire is usually as follows: We are too involved in the everyday to be able to have distance to it — thus it’s welcome that, here and there, somebody peeks in at us from somewhere else and shows how things really are. Therefore the premise is that the view from a side reveals more. Even if we agree with this premise we still don’t know anything about its function. Why is it so? Why does it seem that things appear clear from the side?

Predictions of Fire is offering an answer with a long-term reach, revealing as it does that frequently it is the un-understanding which leads to a judicious interpretation of history. Or, to put it through a slogan: un-understanding is the path to reason. As a symptom of this understanding through misunderstanding — massive enough it could even have given a name to the film — a tiny linguistic twist performs, in Benson’s film, a link with the welcoming speech of a rapturous speaker. He greeted the uninvited guests at Ljubljana’s central square with rapturous reference to “Bozi vrtec” (God’s little garden), which is of course to be understood as a classical Slovenian diminutive for “vrticek” (little garden) in which a “thousand blossoms of poetry moistly bloom.” And the makers of the film understood it as “God’s kindergarten,” Bozi otroski vrtec, and through this more than justifiably pointed out the playful juvenility of a small nation waiting to enter pre-school. Yes — they understood it literally.

After all, isn’t this the basic formal method, which is in Benson’s film itself, as a principle of Laibach disclosed by Dr. Slavoj Zizek: “I would say that the only way to be really subversive is not to develop critical potentials, or ironic distance, but precisely to take the system more seriously than it takes itself.” So Michael Benson had in this film a double task: firstly, not to yield to the seductive charm of metaphors, big historical imagery, but to take things literally; and secondly, to confront the metaphors to produce new meanings. This task is doubly demanding, because the first way requires the banality, almost triviality of literalness; and the second exactly the opposite — it risks losing all its charm the very moment when, because of an over-large closure of two irreconcilable contents, it could fall into banality. Therefore I can’t do anything but read, as only the most seductive duet in Benson’s film, exactly the tension set up by that fascinating archival “educational” film about the danger of spreading fire, which gets its subversive punch entirely when it is confronted — no less literally — with a quote from Czeslaw Milosz: learn to predict a fire with unbearable precision/ then burn down the building to fulfill the prediction.

And where in these fiery predictions is the place of NSK? I would say that the destiny of the drenched waterer befell them, and in the best filmic tradition. It was exactly those who took the system damned seriously who were dealt with by Benson as a system, and in addition, seriously! The consequences are of course precisely that which no system would want: it’s a thin line between parade and parody! A perfect documentation of the big phases in NSK mythology (Laibach’s concert in Krizanke, the TV performance on Tednik, the Black Square on Red Square, Mlakar’s speech in Belgrade) is, all over the film, piece by piece, nibbled at by doubt about the “seriousness” of all these exploits: what if the guys were just having a good time? It is exactly this dimension which is overlooked by Benson, who consciously doesn’t want to understand it — and thus because of that, he’s offering perhaps its most judicious interpretation. Where he as an author is convinced that even he personally was involved in the mythology itself (projections on the facade of the Slovenian philharmonic, descents into the mines for an Irwin art exhibition, ascents to the roof of New York skyscrapers), at the same time he completely demystifies, depersonalizes it. This is the part of the film which the depicted people cannot, by any means, like — which is confirmed by an (unofficial) statement by one of them, that if they had completely liked the film it would definitely have their own signature on it! After all, isn’t this the entire achievement of the modernistic project? How to achieve an authors’ individuality over the ties of traditionalism and at the same time not drown in the collectivism of a movement? How to (by the way, like Dragan Zivadinov in one of the most beautiful shots in Benson’s film) ascend the spinning crane of history and at the same time not lose face in the anonymity of the time? Gilles Deleuze was one of those thinkers of the end of the 20th Century who, in a continuous search for such a concept, even coined a special name for it: he named it dividual. If dividual means to divide the undividable and fuse the unfusable, then this is a filmic signifier par excellance. And a bet on it simply must work!

– Stojan Pelko, Ekran, Slovenia, Spring-Summer 1996 issue

 

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