On Skip Norman

Johannes Beringer

There was something beautifully forthcoming about the early days of the film academy when the films still had straightforward end credits. For example, it was almost always possible to ask Skip if he wanted to work on this or that film endeavor. He was available (like me, like others too)—the film crews fell easily into place, sometimes almost by themselves. (Students were supposed to support each other within a group assigned to a directing lecturer, but in fact the collaborations rather quickly went above and beyond this—to “strategic alliances,” “inclinations,” or “elective affinities.”) There was an unquenched thirst to be out in the city, to discover the city – to prove oneself with camera and sound equipment on the streets and squares, in interiors. This desire to see the world was more stimulating than the theory and history courses inside the academy. Moreover, we also got to know each other this way. In fact, it was above all from and among each other that we learned—over time, there were enough reasons to come together.

Skip was involved in both of my first dffb exercise films as camera assistant and miscellaneous crew member. Once, as we were filming in front of the Atelier am Zoo cinema, he playfully struck the zoom lever (at the end of the shot)—producing a rapid zoom in from the film title on the marquee (The Deadly Affair) to the people in front of the cinema.

Skip Norman’s rapid zoom in Johannes Beringer’s film Das Zimmer (1966)

While editing, I thought, Ach, I’ll leave that in—and so his explicit gesture is preserved in Das Zimmer. He can also be seen in Situationen—during the staged conversational situation about the future of the dffb (with Gerd Conradt, Holger Meins, Günter Peter Straschek; Lena Conradt, baby Alfa in her arms, he is also seated at the table).

There was a connection that existed back then that I absolutely need to reconstruct here—the one with Li Antes. In fact, I know hardly anything about her as a person. We spoke very little about our “pre-histories” together since we had quite a lot of the present before and around us. Li Antes “lent” (as an outsider) her body to Skip Norman’s Blues People and can also be seen as an actress in a scene in Günter Peter Straschek’s On the Concept of “Critical Communism” in the Work of Antonio Labriola (1843–1904) from 1970. After I had edited this film and drove to the screening at the film festival in Mannheim, I believe I saw Li Antes for the last time—as she said, she herself was considering to make films. (The time, I assume, would have been favorable for her to do so).


Li Antes (right) in Günter Peter Straschek’s On the Concept of “Critical Communism” in the Work of Antonio Labriola (1843–1904) (1970). On the left: Sigrid Ruschmeier

I saw Skip again at the time of FilmSamstag when he rather unexpectedly came into the screening at the small cinema at Babylon – we spotted each other and hugged. Afterward, I sent him an e-mail to Cyprus to ask if he knew something about Li Antes’ whereabouts—Straschek and I had already been wondering back then what had become of her.

Here is his answer from October 1, 2006 (he preferred corresponding in English “since my writing in German is weak, but my reading is very good”):

“Li Antes suffered from epilepsy. For years she took medication to control the seizures. But the medication made her drowsy, tired, and in need of a lot of sleep. She sought various ways of reducing the effects of the medication and even some alternative treatment approaches to the illness, like meditation, spiritual healing, and shamanism. Nothing seemed to give her the energy she sought to devote more of her time to creative endeavors, like filmmaking. One day, with the help and comfort of a new friend she decided to stop taking her medication. Eventually, she would have a seizure from which she never recovered. Her mother came to Berlin to take the body home and I would visit her grave and spend some time with her mother before leaving Germany. I don’t remember the name of the German village and I don’t remember the time of her actual death, but I do not think she wanted to die and for a while I would see her in my mind’s eye. She was a talented and sensitive human being who struggled with epilepsy since childhood and felt imprisoned by the medication, even though it offered some relief from the seizures.”1

I was thankful to Skip for this information and saddened at the same time: “Ah, finally some valuable information about Li—that was like a disturbing blank in my mind (emotion tinted).”

I’ll add one more memory here (from around 1968). We were walking along Potsdamerstraße late at night—there was an American club with good music down the road. There were three of us, I think, and we were walking in the middle of the empty street. (In any case, this is the image that’s stuck in my head. Also a feeling of the lightness of this nighttime walk, as though we could only go further and further… The street belonged to us.) At the time, I was living with Hartmut Bitomsky and Ingrid Oppermann on Kurfürstenstraße and Li lived on Gneisenaustraße—in a bleak apartment that is now around the corner from me when I go out. But I only look that way if the thought happens to cross my mind.

December 30, 2020

 

Johannes Beringer belonged to the first cohort of students at Deutsche Film- und Fernsehakademie (dffb) Berlin in 1966. He collaborated with Skip Norman on his two student films Das Zimmer (The Room) and Situationen (Situations). Together with 17 other students, Beringer was expelled from the film school in November 1968. Since then, he has worked as a writer (for the journal Filmkritik and many other publications), translator, and film programmer in various contexts. In the 1970s and early ’80s, he was editor and sound engineer of many Harun Farocki productions.

Translated by Ted Fendt. German version available as a PDF.

Footnotes

1 Editors’ note: In the conversation with Carlos Bustamante published in this issue, Bustamante recalls the circumstances of Li Antes’ death differently. 1

[Suggested citation: Johannes Beringer, “On Skip NormanRosa Mercedes 03/B (April 2021), www.harun-farocki-institut.org/en/2021/04/30/on-skip-norman/]

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April 30th, 2021 — Rosa Mercedes / 03 / B
Interface

The Reconstruction of Ukraine. Ruination / Representation / Solidarity, online symposium, September 9-11, 2022. “The Reconstruction of Ukraine: Ruination / Representation / Solidarity” devotes particular attention to cities, architecture, art, culture and psychological trauma – but the scope of the conversations it aims to start is broader. In due course, the discussions held during the symposium may coalesce into myriad projects, initiatives and experiments undertaken by government institutions, municipalities, educational and cultural bodies and other more interstitial actors. The ambition of this symposium is to establish a platform for dialogue, facilitating communication, collaboration and constructive argument between diverse actors and initiatives.

George Edwards (Zetkin Collective) on war, nationalism and the “anti-climate lobby” (via Arts of the Working Class): “The latest prognosis of this particular war was spelt out in a flurry of reports from the IPCC; the most recent, described as ‘an atlas of human suffering’ by the chief of the UN, demanded ‘rapid, deep and immediate’ emissions cuts in all sectors to ensure an inhabitable planet for all. In step with the science, many wish this conflict to mark the beginning of an intensified programme of decarbonization, ridding economies of not only Russian, but all fossil fuels, wherever their geological source. But whilst political leaders scramble abroad to secure new sources of fossil fuels – sweet-talking sheiks and summoning LNG terminals from the ground – a resourceful and committed cohort, let’s call them the anti-climate lobby, refuse to accept this diagnosis. The partakers in the fossil industry have seized upon this crisis, sensing it as an opportunity to enlarge and entrench economic interests rooted in fossil fuels. As the course of action prescribed by the IPCC imperils this line of business, the attempts to secure fresh investments in fossil fuel infrastructures, to lock-in production and secure profits for the coming decades may feel all the more pressing. The solutions they pose also fit within the national frame and it is with nationalist political forces that they find their most ardent allies.”

July 31st, 2022

The fundamental difference that we face in Europe at the moment between the Western approach characterized by the pursuit of peace and the Eastern one focused on liberation and independence poses a dramatic challenge – in order to survive and progress, democracy as a political regime has to be capable of defending itself also in a military way.” Armed Democracy revolves around the concepts of imperialism, liberation, fascism, autocracy, revolution, and militarization in pursuit of the world to come on Europe’s burnt out land. Conceived by the Kyiv Biennial and Biennale Warszawa from the East Europe Biennial Alliance, this special public program, curated by Vasyl Cherepanyn within the 2nd edition of Biennale Warszawa, the program is a first part of the series organized by the East Europe Biennial Alliance discussing Russia’s military invasion of Ukraine and taking place in Warsaw, Prague, Kassel, and Riga over the summer and fall of 2022.

Olena Lyubchenko on Whiteness, Expropriation, War, and Social Reproduction in Ukraine (via LeftEast): “[…] when we hear on the news that ‘Ukraine is fighting a European war’ and ‘Ukraine is defending Europe’, amid images of fleeing ‘poor white’ women with children prioritized over racialized ‘Others’, ‘Ukraine’ is being made ‘white’ in the global imaginary. That is, “the injunction to ‘return to Europe’ by way of Europeanization is enabled and conditioned on the mythologies of Western civilization, and that Europeanization at once marks (promulgates) and unmarks (naturalizes) racial whiteness” [Nadezhda Husakouskaya and Randi Gressgård]. The paradox is that Europe’s existence as such has only been possible precisely because of the exploitation of global working peoples through expropriation of resources and today neoliberal economic reforms and reproduced by feminized labour.”

Vasyl Cherepanyn about the “inertness, hiding behind the European Wall” (via L’Internationale): “Many Western institutions that have been claiming ‘radical political engagement’ for years, have simply resorted to a white cube radicalism and self-satisfying humanitarianism, too afraid of acting politically beyond their comfort zone and unsettling their publics and authorities by attempting to affect the decision-making process regarding the Ukrainian cause.”

May 28th, 2022

Tatsiana Shchurko on the War in Ukraine, Entangled Imperialisms, and Transnational Feminist Solidarity, via LeftEast (May 2, 2022): “[An] uneven knowledge production and the many implications of the war against Ukraine reveal the dire need to develop a feminist anti-capitalist critique of multiple imperialisms. This language should grow from within the occupied and suppressed communities of Eastern Europe and Eurasia. An anti-imperialist and anti-capitalist feminist positionality grasps that the local is part of a global in an effort to build transnational connections of mutual aid and support against state and corporate violence. For example, statements of solidarity with Ukraine expressed by the International Committee of Indigenous Peoples of Russia and Native American communities along with the anti-war feminist march in Bishkek (Kyrgyzstan) on March 8, 2022, pointing out that the war in Ukraine should be of concern for a broad transnational community, may serve as instrumental examples of alternative anti-capitalist and anti-imperialist solidarities that stretch beyond state regulations and macro-politics and foreground decolonial perspectives, necessary in addressing entanglements of multiple imperialisms. Such solidarities also bring to light hidden interconnections of the past that allowed for distant communities to survive and support each other against the violence of imperialist intervention and its attendant capitalist exploitation. Thus, the march in Bishkek reminds of the socialist roots of the International Women’s Day to call for internationalist, intersectional, class solidarity against imperialism and militarism.”

Vasyl Cherepanyn on that “It’ll take more than tanks to ease Germany’s guilt” (via Politico): “Since the Soviet Union’s collapse, Germany has been imposing neocolonial optics on its Eastern European ‘peripheries,’ and on the post-Soviet space in particular, where Ukraine was long considered a gray buffer zone about which the EU was ‘deeply concerned.’ Germany didn’t bother itself much with differentiating between former Soviet countries’ pasts. Even until recently, any Ukrainian agenda in Germany was often ‘balanced’ with a Russian perspective, so as to not exclude the latter by any means.”

An unnamed anarchist and art scholar, who joined the Territorial Defense Forces, quoted by Olexii Kuchanskyi in an essay on “Digital Leviathan and His Nuclear Tail” (via Your Art and e-flux notes): “At dawn, Dima and I talked about cinema. Dima believes that cinema is inferior to literature as a means of expression because you spend much more time with a book than a film. It’s a really interesting point, something to dig into. I studied at the department of art theory & history and I never thought of it. Dima served in the military after school and worked at the factory all his life. He listens to rap, smokes pot, and tries to have fun. He is thirty-eight, his child was born last year. He likes Wong Kar-wai and is a fan of Asian cinema in general. Dima communicates by quoting Omar Khayyam, Confucius, and other awesome guys.”

April 20th, 2022
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