In Jean-Luc Godard’s masterpiece Pierrot le Fou, famed American director Samuel Fuller pontificates, “Film is like a battleground. Love. Hate. Action. Violence. Death. In one word… ‘emotion.’” The fragmentary nature of the quote suggests a collision of these elements, with cinema itself as the explosion. If this is so, then the aptly titled a girl & a gun, the 13th installment of Gustav Deutsch’s FILM IST. series, settles in right at ground zero. Using clips mostly from obscure, silent, and often explicit films, along with quotes by Plato, Hesiod, and Sappho, Deutsch constructs his own unique history of love, lust, desire, and violence on the silver screen. Deutsch’s editing approach avoids the limitations of chronological or categorical contextualization by opting instead for a more poetic and truly cinematic style of montage and match cuts. Through melding images as disparate as nature footage and pornography, he is able to not merely introduce viewers to an alternate history of heretofore mostly unseen images, but piece them together in support of his overarching thesis on the symbiotic relationship between sex and violence in cinema.
Pitting Thanatos, the death drive, against Eros, the sex drive, Deutsch illustrates the innate connection between the two through a cunning use of symbolism that epically heightens their dramatic impact. The use of ancient Greek philosophy and poetry helps to transform simplistic actions (a woman diving into water, a man holding a missile, a nude couple running) into powerful, emblematic forces. This elemental style, based primarily on Sergei Eisenstein’s theory of montage, is obviously not groundbreaking in itself, but the use of such a wide range of sources to form a genuine, unified cinematic theory is certainly unique.
Beginning with Genesis and ending with the apocalypse, Deutsch covers the history of both film and mankind. Opening images of minimal avant-garde films and unpopulated nature recalls a primal, pre-narrative cinema, an art form briefly concerned with movement and images as opposed to story. The growth of cinema from this “pure state” is embodied in the links drawn between often mundane actions, gestures, glances, and motions that together form a nearly seamless dance of pure emotion. In but a few words, FILM IST. a girl and a gun outlines the battleground of which Fuller spoke. While it’s far from new to view sex, violence, love, and death as inexorably linked, it’s both refreshing and invigorating to view such an artful rendering.