I recently had the rare satisfaction to watch a preview of a steaming fresh postapocalyptic feature film + a directorial debut, that premiered on Austria’s ORF in March this year. What I was asking myself this time was to try and appreciate an entirely different kind of algorithmic force that was once again set loose by Johannes Grenzfurthner (of monochrom fame) upon unsuspecting survivors of the last 35 years of road-warrior, Amazon ruled, post-nuke, after-the-bomb films.
As a friend just tweeted, now every Hollywood blockbuster seems to be written by some underlying algorithm. The endless end credits are just the cinematic equivalent to a CAPTCHA response – trying to identify the film crew as human, even if this last human verification test is untenable and obsolete.
Anyway, I still retain this atavistic (and maybe you do too!) and perverse impulse to get to the bottom of actual directorial algorithms – trying very hard to enter the loop and be able to forget how Hollywood movie after movie manages to push an exact quota of car explosions, 3D makeover, eye-popping HD footage, hero worship, body count, family values, rescue missions ad infinitum into box office paradise.
Let’s be clear, I’m overenthusiastic about Gstettensaga – because it distracts the Hollywood canon, becose it is such a genre bender, a satiric H bomb, a horror movie and ex-auction house vaudeville going for the unexpected dialectical turns of current history, and leading us into the untrodden and definitely outrageous wastelands that could be populated by the likes of Surf Nazis Must Die, Escape from NY, Steel Dawn or America 3000.
Finally, in our year 2014, Gstettensaga made clear to me that Europe/including Austria is maybe feudally ripe for the post EU disaster age, the after-austerity, post- Canadian mining interests, structural changes, post-financial capital era where ome megalopolis (Schwechta) sprawls in the no-man’s-land(actually Gstetten is the Austrian word for wild urban area, vacant lot) somewhere on what used to be the river Danube. All its jokes and situated infobits (‘The Tatra outbreak’, ‘Sweden attacks Danemark’, ‘Iran attacks Israel’ etc) have a post- cynical take on a reality where irony becomes deadly serious – using a predictive sledgehammer akin to the Southland Tales world making.
I think that Johannes Grenzfurthner, in the tradition of gleeful and unrepentant post- disaster storytelling manages to simultaneously corrode and reconfigure the present we live in, by shipwrecking and beaching its contents onto the shores of Do It Yourself history and lore. The more it insists on toponymic specifics, on local tabloid news and blurbs, the more it can temporally mutate and amplify diverging Austrian regionalism and separatism within a new postal or linguistic contour. On the macro-political forecasting scale, this future chronology takes the shape of national-technological firewall world after the China vs Google Wars.
Expect plumbing warlords, wise PayPal quotes and sayings, as well as a brief but sobering remark on Polyamory.
The future is crap-o-tastic without doubt. The best is that it doesn’t need fancy gimmicks, since it is busy scavenging like future Robinson Crusoe’s in the lofty ruins of past technological glory, consumer goods and dead media, trying (with open hardware in mind) to get things working and functioning again. User manuals have this potential for sacredness – as I remember them from the Romanian video underground of the 80s and early 90s; those trashy typewriter written xerox copies sometimes had a Brancusi’s Endless Column on top of the Panasonic logo(which gets mutated into Panaşonic by the time of Gstetten era- saga).
Probably the Gstetten-saga universe should be placed along side Generation or Multi-generational Ship or Interstellar Ark stories(a personal favorite of mine!) as they are all exploring alternative or speculative anthropologies trough the ample flesh of deep space and deep time fiction. The cosmic drift of spaceship earth in the form of relentless entropy reshuffles not only tectonic plates but also hierarchies in unexpected ways. It also manages to enlarge agnatologic fissures where monopolistic feudal tycoons keep on capturing information technologies, copyrighting them and claiming media supremacy by reinventing themselves as post-disaster Gutenbergs. The same genetic and memetic drift affects both bodies and knowledge on the multi-generational Ark ships. Typically, on such a multi-generational spaceship, the crew transforms with the help of labor division into a new caste system and the command & machine rooms are the new holy of holies; a technoscientific sancta sanctorum. Once-in-a-lifetime mechanical alarm signals are misinterpreted or reinterpreted as divine providence and the captain’s log acts now like a Bible for the survivors who now struggle to understand its obscured terminology and hidden meaning.
The vacant lot of the drifting future is not empty at all – it is populated by a constant class war pushed into zombie class war, or by the marauding tribes of subsidized EU farmers. These are some of my favorites encounters, although one might pick other best of’s (such as the Occupy reference) – so watch out because of spoiler alert further ahead!
The two hero figures of Gstettensaga are a he and a she, a journalist and a technician (actually a baby boomer looser and a rising hacktivist nerd) on the quest to interview a strange hero of the nerd underground – a talking lizard hiding away in the ruins of the former Ecuadorian Embassy. And as we know from today’s world, it’s no easy task to interview Edward Snowden or Julian Assange, great dangers will await those who try this out after the China vs Google wars.
This team resembles a lot the heroic media-wise crusading journalist as a character armed with both tekkie acumen and pluck, harking back to a distinctively dystopian VHS-flavored 80s futurism where television networks and large corporations battle it out. This brand of TV broadcaster turned TV hacker, becomes an unlikely ancestor to the Internet cypherpunk whistleblower. Even if remotely related, the Gstettensaga couple somehow remind me of A.I. /human TV host Max Headroom/Edison Carter of Network 23 and his tech savvy colleague Theora Jones. In a post-Google wars future, after Mountain View headquarters got nuked, the satellite uplink TV transmissions seem to be back with a vengeance.
As the two wandering Gstetten-heroes are being kidnapped by a marauding tribe of ex-EU members of the Farmers Association they end up in one of these moments of pure futurologic bliss.
Of course the subsidized peasants will become tribalized and start adorning themselves with Christmas decorations and prize-winning vegetables! Of course they will be sacrificing newcomers in a ritual of signatures and paper document filling!
After the Berlin Wall we got today an incredible “Great Brussels Wall of Paper” that bore strange fruit in the Gstettensaga world. Lo and behold! Somehow the all-powerful white flip-chart, the omnipresent markers, the cheapo laser pointers have ended up becoming sacred paraphernalia of a new agrarian death cult. A cult centered around orgiastic signature sessions of cryptic documents on which the two captive urbanites make out a few awe-inspiring words: EU Funding and Application!
As if the (‘slow food’!) cannibalistic ritual of agrarian pagan paper-signing wasn’t enough, the heroes are confronted with ever bigger odds on their way to the final Tele-O-Vision interview. They are being attacked by a group of undead miners, stuck in the depths of long- since disaffected shafts, probably brought back to a zombie existence while toiling for rare toxic metals to supply our endless hunger for portable devices, mobile phones and tablets.
I also throughly enjoyed the full gear postal border services, looking like SWAT team members speaking a mumblecore idiolect called Reformed Styrian and vaccinating everyone who will try to cross their path.
There is lots to be said, not at least the grandiose adbusting finale – where the eye-logo of the CBS Network gets morphed from human gaze in a eye blink ((l)) with a distinctly nonhuman, reptilian slant.
The film is coming to a film festival or Pirate Bay near you(I for one, hope to see it at the next Simultan Festival edition ;-)).