It is not easy to classify Michael Brynntrup's films in conventional terms. Are we watching a documentary? A fiction film? An educational film? A silent film? Though all of Brynntrup's films contain elements of these genres, each is so different from its predecessor that one could believe the director wants to elude categorization.
More than anything else, Brynntrup's films seem to be one thing: personal. There are some clues: Brynntrup is often the main character, often the only character in his films; the camera's gaze rests pleasingly on him; we see him in all of life's situations; we see how he (outwardly) changes over the course of several years' fashions and styles.
We see the seemingly private-pictures from the family album. But what should have been an image of carefree adolescence, is transformed into a tormenting horror scenario through a Bartok composition and standard-8 vacation movies. (»THE RHINE - A GERMAN FAIRY TALE«, 1983).
We watch him in his apartment, recognize him when, from time to time, he looks in a mirror with a camera. We see how he seems to live, among sheepskin rugs and pictures he painted himself, countless self-portraits on the walls and uncounted death's heads. (»EXEMPLARY - THE END, AN INTERMEZZO«, 1985).
And we believe that these are the facts, that this is his life. "What you see in the films is all there is to see, - that's it. Period. What's authentic, believable or not, has to be decided by the viewer." - "Life is a lottery, and the outcome is without guarantee." - Film cannot deliver a one to one representation of life to the viewer." There is always something in between, and that is the film itself." Should we suspect that he is slyly pulling our leg? That he conveys only an 'image' of himself, of his life. What is form, what is real? Brynntrup: "I like to play with the truth. Film is, after all, always illusion." But is it at all important if a film, if his films, are true? Why do they seem to be, above all, personal?
Brynntrup's films have an astonishing strength. They are full of facination. One reason perhaps is that he works with a 'look-at-this' effect, which is used to attract us, the voyeuristic spectators. His films are not only the work of a film artist, but also of a film expert. Brynntrup isn't content just to hold the camera and let the technicians and craftsmen do the rest, which is the rule even in 'auteur' films.
We see his self-produced multiple exposures, chemically induced color alterations, complex dissolves, hand colouring, contrast intensification. Black/white writings, positive/negative images suddenly shift; become independent, determining the plot, the content (especially noticeable in »SIMULATION OF HELL«, where Leonardo's 'Menschenbild' is virtually reanimated).
Brynntrup's films contain many recurring, recognizable, and variation-rich style elements. For instance the self-designed title credits, which often enough lead you to believe that the projectionist threaded the film improperly, because the director has already been up to his tricks, having integrated the countdown leader into an essential part of the film.
Doodles turn into brilliant images, drawings appear and disappear; the film stock is handled and treated to the saturation point. Then suddenly we see, perhaps, a portrait, a photo of the director. Then a handmade test pattern, then the title 'end', but the film goes on (»TABU I-IV«, 1988).
Watching Brynntrup's films is like looking through a microscope. Amoebae seem to swirl through the frame, microbes wiggle on glass slides, "Rests and Tests from the inquiry into prototypes." (»ENGINEERING MEMORY BRIDGES«, 1990). "I like to stimulate the retina's sense of touch, and to make the brain's convolutions physically perceptible." Brynntrup also develops the film he exposes. This, more than the much-invoked final cut, gives him absolute control over the results of his work. To return briefly to the theme of privacy: let us suppose for a moment that Brynntrup, through his films, also develops himself. "Formal proof through pregnant experiments on one's own body", as he himself labelled his film »ENGINEERING MEMORY BRIDGES«.
With these self-developed means Brynntrup tells his stories. For him the medium is really the message. Only through the medium can the director narrate, narrate by dealing with the film material, by the editing, by technique. Technique becomes art. Does it also become content? "If you ask about the content of art, you'll see only rhetoric in every comment. But if you ask about the form of art, the most astounding content will be revealed."
Brynntrup's films appear to be enigmatic. He calls two of his works, paradoxically the two that use quite conventional film language, riddle films (»ORPHEUS«, 1984, and »NARCISSUS AND ECHO«, 1989). In these two, "the content is to be guessed from the formal structure of the film". Here again he is playing with the viewer's curiosity. The viewer who guesses, guesses himself into a dead end. As, once again, it is not intended that the film's content can be guessed at, but rather be deduced through the formal framework of the film. The medium is the message.
Whoever has heard of Brynntrup's themes: death, the death strip, the death of Christ, death's head, death dance; assumes depression, melancholy, tristesse. These words however, hardly apply to the spirit of most of his films. Brynntrup has a marked sense for bizarre humour. It is, nonetheless, through this humour that his message becomes serious. For example »JESUS - THE FILM« (1985/86), a project conducted by Brynntrup, turned out to be a deeply religious piece of work. Even if at first glance we thought we were looking at blasphemy. (In the Annunciation Episode Brynntrup projects the Jesus fetus-cross and crown of barbed wire included-into the belly of the very pregnant Mary character.)
Michael Brynntrup's films appear abstruse, incomprehensible, chaotic. The construction is, however, logical. As logical as in the printing process, where one image is added to the next. It is up to the viewer to halt this flow, to decode and untangle the 24 images per second that Brynntrup presents.
(Michael Höfner, Ein Blick durchs Mikroskop, translated by Constance Hanna, printed in: Lebende Bilder - still lives, catalogue on the occasion of the Cineprobe Film Exhibition at The Museum of Modern Art, New York - Berlin, April 1992)