Cooperation of Parts

Daniel Eisenberg

1987 | 00:40:00 | United States | English | Color | Stereo | 4:3 | 16mm film

Collection: Single Titles

Tags: Diary, Documentary, Expedition/Travel, Family, History, Jewish, War

The fragment contains within it an implied reference to something that was once whole. It suggests damage and violence, time and distance. These qualities I found were integral to my own constitution, and it was with the making of Cooperation Of Parts that this became clear.

“Misfortune makes and breaks you.” I have the misfortune of a history of disruptions, and the fortune of having that history to work with.

Intellectually, engagement comes from deeper sources than most of us are willing to acknowledge. What is it that keeps us from one work of art, and draws us to another? I myself do not fully understand this process, but in some way see it as a reflection of something essential seeking a form, a correlative expression, or a shape. And my attraction to the elliptical, to the simultaneous, to the fragmented and discontinuous is, I must acknowledge, a part of this process. I have always been drawn to those thoughts that are completely opaque or are crystal clear; when both are present at once, even more so.

In Cooperation Of Parts the method of gathering and combining materials blurred the distinctions between personal and formal. These artificial, critical constructs rarely play an active role anyway in the making of work, one is usually too involved to notice which is which. But in this film, identity, history, and formal manipulation of material found a kind of equilibrium, with formal choices echoing the personal ones.

The choices that presented themselves in editing were vast and dangerous. “Being left to invent myself I could wind up with a clear case of mistaken identity.” The Faustian power to change oneself at the editing table was tempered by the knowledge that you can only make the films you can live with.

The questions about identity, of the possibility of annihilation and survival, of the ruptures of daily life, of dislocations across continents - these are not merely Jewish questions. They have come to represent the paradigm problems of this century, and can be applied to conditions surrounding many peoples all over the world. That my own existence was made possible by the annihilation of so many (in the chance meeting of my parents in Dachau after the war) is an irony that does not go unnoticed in my everyday thoughts. I myself can be considered a fragment, reflecting a history that was once continuous and intact. It is no accident that I feel the most psychological affinity with the children of Cambodians now living in the United States.

The images for the film were shot with a hand cranked 16mm Bolex and collected on a trip to Europe in the spring and summer of 1983. Without any prescribed plan for shooting, I tried to use the camera not only to record what I was seeing, but also to register my own responses to what was being seen. The camera is truly a medium here - a giving back takes place; automatic, unrehearsed, irregular.

In contrast to this image layer is a highly articulated sound track complete with written texts, musical fragments, and sound effects. The musical fragments at the end of the film are from Ravel’s Gaspard de la Nuit and from his song, Soupir. The other musical elements are so small as to have lost all context and function more like notes or sound effects.

The text is spoken by myself and was developed out of material generated from the spring of 1984 through the winter of 1985. Aside from my own words are quotes from Edmond Jabès, Roland Barthes, Theodor Adorno, Franz Kafka, and paraphrases of material from Paul Valèry and John Ashbery.

The proverbs in the film have numerous sources: most are researched from Racial Proverbs: a Selection of the World's Proverbs Arranged Linguistically, With Authoritative Introductions to the Proverbs of 27 Countries and Races by Selwyn Gurney Champion. Others I constructed myself using the general form of the proverb as my guide. Still others are from my memory, from Ben Franklin’s, Poor Richard’s Almanac, or from aphorisms as far afield as the gates and roofs of Dachau, Buchenwald, Sachsenhausen, and Bergen-Belsen.

My initial impulse towards the proverbs comes directly from my experience with my father, whose peculiarly European talent for speaking in riddles, paradoxes, and proverbs peppered my daily life with images of beggars, madmen, vagabonds, wise mothers, prodigal sons, and a curious fellow named Jan Swon.

-- Daniel Eisenberg, 1988

This title is only available on POSTWAR: The Films of Daniel Eisenberg.