For 25 years the German filmmaker Robert Bramkamp has been caught between two stools. In his case, this doesn’t speak against him and his way of making films but against the existing stools and their way of providing a seat for thought and vision. Which is to say that Bramkamp’s films tend to combine things that television and film funding bodies generally place in different categories: documentary and fiction, the concrete and the abstract, the body and its thoughts, the grounded and the lofty, the precisely located and the imaginative foray. Bramkamp brings all of this together. And how!
For example, his first long film from 1987, Gelbe Sorte, combines agricultural scenes with a subtle EU subvention fraud, a love story with images from the Chinese Cultural Revolution. The early short film Der Himmel der Helden describes an encounter between Bielefeld and the moon. An appearance of the evangelical born-again Apollo astronaut James Irving in the Rudolf-Oetker-Halle is combined with fictional scenes in which a female cosmonaut saves an American colleague’s life on the moon. Linking these scenes is a stone – an extremely concrete metaphor for the basic principle of Bramkamp’s cinema: montage. This is less the montage of the Soviet cinema of the 20s, which focused on the immediate effects of a tension between contrasting single images, but one that operates on a more fundamental level. Bramkamp’s use of montage allows something extra to emerge from the collision that wouldn’t be offered by the single elements alone. And it isn’t only the single elements that are altered; the conventions of established genres and distinctions are also undermined through a redefinition of their reciprocal relations.
Thus for example in the most recent film from 2006, Der Bootgott vom Seesportclub, Bramkamp boldly links the most banal Brandenburg present with the mythical depth of the Sumerian Gilgamesh myth. As part of a job creation scheme, the central character Enki (played by Steffen Scheumann) works as a handyman at Wendisch-Rietz lakeside sports club. The voiceover, however, insists that we grasp the most everyday activities (such as painting bricks, oar competitions, standing around on the jetty) as mythical events and Herr Enkert as Enkidu. Which, due to the vastly diverging conceptions, is funny – as funny as Bramkamp’s films – although not always visible at first glance – fundamentally are.
But which also – at least, as Bramkamp stages it – has another effect. This is far from being the reactionary re-enchantment of a dismal normality. Instead, the addition of myth subtracts something decisive from reality: the most numbing of all ideas that what is must necessarily be exactly what and how it actually is. The mythical aspects of an otherwise entirely documentary-seeming film remove, with the simplest means, everyday life from its anchoring in the self-evident. And because it is half playful and intentionally naive and half unapologetically rich in ideas, Bramkamp’s work is situated somewhere between the cerebralism of Alexander Kluge and the intellectual playfulness of Jacques Rivette.
Nor is it surprising that – in Prüfstand 7 from 2002 – Bramkamp is the only person who has been allowed to film Thomas Pynchon – and, incidentally, would be the perfect director to adapt the novels of Dietmar Dath, who produces very similar effects in the medium of literature to those produced by Bramkamp in film. Bramkamp’s films are situated somewhere between the stools of cinema and art and thus extremely uncomfortably between the various funding pots and trophies of the industry. Their status as Arte Povera, however, doesn’t detract from the quality of the films in the slightest. Only, there are not many of them, and getting to see them has not been easy. This has now changed. In the 4xDVD box set or individually, the most important Bramkamp films can now be purchased from the store of the director’s website.
The address is www.bramkamp.info. The films cost €21.50 or €27,50 individually or for the box €64.50 with Gelbe Sorte as a bonus.