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From the Diary to the Webcam: Michael Brynntrup and the Medial Self
(excerpt on »Aide Mémoire«)
by Robin Curtis

It is this kind of singular devotion to the body’s ability to feel that is held up to scrutiny in a large number of Brynntrup’s films — indeed, is the motor for the dilemma they present. On the one hand the exact feeling of the events that make up a lifetime as they leave their trace on the body is privileged in Michael Brynntrup’s films. There are, however, no stunts such as Farocki’s, nor is there any tendency toward emotional or physical exhibitionism. The body is not the site of a demonstration of willpower; it is, in Brynntrup’s oeuvre, often simply the medium through which the world is perceptible in all its banality: hence his focus repeatedly on arbitrary moments of experience, or “the now.” However, for him the body is also the point where love and loss have all the meaning that they can have. His films are unfailingly personal, because they repeatedly seek to function as a proof of existence, a document of life as it was lived. In both Aide Mémoire: Ein schwüles Gedächtnisprotokoll (Aide-Mémoire: A Gay Document for Remembering, 1995) Brynntrup’s documentation of a series of conversations with his good friend Jürgen Baldiga before his death from AIDs-related causes in 1993, and Loverfilm: Eine unkontrollierte Freisetzung von Information (Loverfilm — An Uncontrolled Dispersal Of Information, 1996) Brynntrup takes stock of the faculty of memory.

The 16-minute film Aide Mémoire begins with a shot of an organgrinder standing in the courtyard of a working-class Berlin apartment block, viewed (with a handheld camera) from the window of a first-floor flat. The courtyard functions here (as is often the case with Berlin apartment blocks) as a theater, the public space between the many apartments that open out onto it. Indeed in this film the undeniable (and oftentimes unpleasant) permeability of public and private space is key. The organgrinder’s music continues as Brynntrup sets up his camera for a conversation with Baldiga. As the film’s credits are still appearing, the film rests on a still image of the smiling Baldiga holding up a used condom, an artefact of past pleasure, a keepsake, and at this precise moment of private reminiscence, a woman’s hoarse voice can be heard shouting threateningly, “Du schwule Ratte! Du, ich bring Dich um, Du Sau!” (translated in the text list available on Brynntrup’s Web site as “You fucking fag. I’m gonna kill your ass!”). The woman’s drunken invective (which, sadly, was not staged for the film) continues for most of the film, a tirade that is directed at Brynntrup by name. We soon see that she stands in the same courtyard (that of Brynntrup’s own apartment, already familiar from Musterhaft) as the organgrinder had before her, although the camera peers a great deal more cautiously out of that same window, around the edge of the curtain, at the middle-aged woman shouting with spittle visible at the edges of her mouth.

The film alternates between these two (mostly) off-screen sounds that waft in, as Brynntrup and Baldiga speak about what it feels like to live with the knowledge that the body is rapidly breaking down: topics range from the first orgasm (in a tree) to the most recent one (yesterday at the Neukölln public pool), the effect that the knowledge of impending death has on one’s sexuality (positive), to the power of the photographic image to preserve the ephemeral (poor). In the face of that admission, the film assembles a series of fragments that describe Baldiga’s life in the past and present, from his move to Berlin in 1980 to his vision of what death will be like. During one such conversational fragment he casually injects medication into his leg. Several still images interrupt the flow of the interviews and show Baldiga in a far worse state, physically, than he is shown in those segments, having indeed developed the ailments he has described in the interviews. The last still image finally shows him in his casket. Aide Mémoire is both unsentimentally direct about the fate of the body, making the facts of life with AIDS public, and tender in its representation of these private moments.

Alternating between the two spaces that are conflated by the offscreen sound, Baldiga’s apartment and Brynntrup’s own, the film seeks to both link and distinguish between the private and the public. After the bellowing woman is finally seen to stumble out of the courtyard, Brynntrup takes the organ-grinder’s place and is seen to gaze up to the window of the apartment, where Brynntrup can again be seen to be standing in the same suit, holding a camera shooting the scene below as well, taking charge in that formerly contested space and occupying it in a more positive fashion. Ultimately, however, the film likens itself to the condom that Baldiga had held up at the start, saying “After two years they don’t smell” to which Brynntrup replies, “Nothing? Not even like Latex?” Baldiga answers: “No, it’s bone dry. The way everything ends up.” Nonetheless the condom performs a function as a keepsake, despite this sensual limitation.


While these films point clearly to the significance of corporeal experience for Brynntrup, they also represent a departure from the role that Michael Rutschky had accorded to the body, as a corrective to the “teeming discourses” to which the socialized individual is subjected. The only refuge from those discourses, according to Rutschky, was a “search for selfactualization and self-determination beyond the realm of language, in perception and sensuality, in the body, indeed, if necessary, in horror and pain” (263). While Brynntrup’s films obviously show as much respect for experiences of horror and pain as for those of pleasure, never shying away from the inevitability of death, the body demarcates the highly ambivalent point where the medium and the self are not reconciled; it is where they do battle.

(Robin Curtis, "From the Diary to the Webcam: Michael Brynntrup and the Medial Self", In: "After the Avant-Garde – Contemporary German and Austrian Experimental Film", Edited by Randall Halle and Reinhild Steingröver, Camden House Rochester, October 2008)

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Gesprächsprotokoll | discussion
Moderation: Barbara Frankenstein, Diskussion zu »Aide Mémoire«, 3. Dokfilmwerkstatt Poel am 20.09.95, veröffentlicht in: "Poeler Gespräche", Landesfilmzentrum M/V 1996