We have been to the edge of the cinematic universe together more than once, haven’t we? We have pinched shut our noses against the stench and filth of Aleksey German’s Hard to be a God with its very own weird cinematic language and drab medieval sci-fi outlook on life. We have waded through the seven-hour long Satantango, Bela Tarr’s masterpiece, puzzled by the fact that we didn’t know what the hell was going on. Both movies might take huge liberties in storytelling: they seem to redefine or even abuse the notions we have of plot, story, or dialogue. German’s movies pretend that they have never heard of a reaction shot. There are whole takes that seem to go against anything that we seem to have learned about cinematic grammar, but no matter how shrewd or outlandish those movies might get, they still are – movies.
And sometimes we cross the border from cinema into the experimental. You can, of course, draw the line somewhere else, but to me, Johann Lurf’s Star is no longer a movie. Star is not even its proper title; it has a pentagonal black star as its title, the star you get from Unicode Character (U+2605). I am not technically proficient at displaying the proper title here; go and google the title if you like. I am going to use the word instead of the symbol to keep this post readable.
So now then, what is Star? Lurf is an Austrian video artist and has had the shrewd idea to compile as many scenes as possible from feature movies that contain the sky with its stars, be it made up in any way, or real. He has done so chronologically, with the help of many friends, movie geeks and film archives, and the result is this 99-minute compilation of 553 excerpts of night skies from 1905 until the year of release 2017 . Lurf was strict in his search: he cut out any non-astronomical feature, which means you won’t get to see any Millennium Falcon or Cylon or David Bowman. He has, however, left the sound untouched, which leads to the repeated mutilated John Williams score during the credits of Star Wars (all seven of them) without the big names of top billing, so there are split-second time jumps not only in the picture, but also in the sound, and that can get on your nerves. The audience was already small to start with, maybe ten people, and I think that those disjointed bits were the reason for some of the walkouts. A number of scenes were a split-second long, and I remember only one two-minute long sequence of the same galactic cloud while an Asian male voice sang a heartfelt song.
Or maybe it was the total lack of coherent story, dialogue, characters or landscapes that made Star hard to watch. Sometimes the camera was steady, sometimes it travelled at warp speed (remember the zipping blue lines during a hyperspeed jump?). To me, the most entertaining thing during watching Star was to play ‘Guess the Movie’, and sometimes there were moments of surprise, for instance when I realized that the first scene of Beverly Hills Cop started with the night sky. You can also roughly guess in which year we are when the garbled Star Wars theme comes on yet again. It’s a weird thing to watch Alien or Starman without the Alien and without Starman, but then, the whole feature is weird, and the punchline is that there is a trailer for it, when you could virtually take any two minutes out of the movie, and voilà, there’s your trailer.
So what did I take away from Star? It was hard to sit through because of the chopped melody bits and because it’s sort of a completionist’s wet dream: Star could end after five minutes, after twenty minutes, at any point, but no: it has to include as many night skies as possible. You can glean from the program that it’s a 99 minute feature, but you simply don’t know for how long you are watching the scene in front of you. There is no-one and nothing to root for, or to invest your empathy in. It is impossible to marvel at the night sky for 99 minutes, however majestic or infinite or bursting with energy you may find the excerpt in front of you at the moment, because as soon as you want to delve into the sky in front of you, there is another sky, another mood, and your interest seems misplaced, which is a frustrating experience even for a seasoned moviegoer. I admit that I was exhausted when the credits ran, but when I got out, it was already dark, and I had a look at the sky, and it looked similar but excitingly new at the same time.