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Life in Film: David Noonan

In an ongoing series, frieze asks an artist to list the movies that have influenced their practice.

David Noonan is an Australian artist living in London. He has a solo show at David Kordansky Gallery in Los Angeles from 8 September to 7 October and is included in the group exhibition ‘Rings of Saturn’ at Tate Modern from 30 September to 3 December 2006.

Jean-Luc Godard’s Alphaville (1965) has been in my head since I first saw it many years ago. At one point in the film, which is in black and white, it jumps into negative. Apparently Godard had run out of film and found some reversal stock, which he made use of – another reminder that allowing accidents to happen can often produce a more interesting result than the one you predicted. This film had a real impact on my imagination. After seeing it I began to make paintings with a positive and negative aspect. Even now almost all my work is black and white.

Andrei Rublyov (1969), directed by Andrei Tarkovsky, is another film I haven’t seen for years but which has stayed with me. The opening scene is extraordinary: a hot air balloon made of animal skin takes off from a church tower despite the efforts of an angry mob to stop it. It floats over Siberia as a church bell tolls. The man in it is elated at the experience, but suddenly the balloon loses height and he plummets to his death. This image is so haunting, so unexpected and so overwhelming – it’s almost as if the audience becomes the balloonist. I make work very intuitively and am very interested in the mystical moments that inhabit everyday situations. Andrei Rublyov celebrates images and objects that have their own, often oblique, logic. All of Tarkovsky’s films explore this: in Stalker (1979) a disabled child moves a glass telekinetically across a surface, and in The Mirror (1975) a memory is triggered by the condensation left behind by a cup. Inexplicable yet human moments in a film always stay with me.

Rainer Werner Fassbinder’s The Bitter Tears of Petra Von Kant (1972) is set in a very ornate bedroom. It’s both very minimal and very lush, like a cross between Viennese fin-de-siècle decadence and the Rolling Stones backstage dressing room circa 1972. Self-indulgent Petra, played by Margit Carstensen, is a famous fashion designer who looks like a character from a Gustav Klimt painting and endlessly listens to Scott Walker records. She has a patronizing, possibly masochistic, relationship to her mute, anguished assistant Marlene, and a sexual obsession with an amoral young model, played by Hanna Schygulla. It’s one of the best looking, most complex and strangest films I have seen.

Cockfighter (1974), by Monte Hellman, is a brilliant low-budget film starring Warren Oates as a man who fails to become Cockfighter of the Year after drunkenly bragging that he will. To punish himself, he takes a vow of silence until the title is his. As a result, he barely speaks a word throughout the film. Watching this movie is an uncomfortable but wonderful experience; the violence of the birds fighting is simultaneously harrowing and extremely graceful.

Werner Herzog’s The Great Ecstasy of the Woodcarver Steiner (1974) is about the greatest ski-jumper of his day, who can out-jump all his rivals – so much so that the ski-jumping fraternity cannot accommodate him. He’s also an amazingly humble and gentle man. It’s a film by a fan in homage to his hero but is less an exploration of skill than about the supernatural aspect of someone having an inexplicable gift. And Herzog’s titles are brilliant.

Holy Mountain (1973), by Alejandro Jodorowsky, is a sprawling, astonishingly surreal, psychedelic opus about a Christ figure in the 1970s, shot in Mexico. Other filmmakers try to recreate drug experiences, and they’re often laughable; this movie achieves the unreality of an hallucination and, like an hallucination, its meaning is completely ambiguous. In one scene, as I remember it, the Christ figure sits in a white room with a guru sitting on a throne with a leopard at his feet. It’s like a Prog Rock album cover.

Alain Resnais’ Providence (1977) is an icy, elegant film starring John Gielgud as a brilliant, insomniac writer who is dying in a crumbling manor house. As he drinks his way through the night he constructs a story about his children in which they become the monstrous projections of himself, fighting in a Freudian war zone. The costumes are by Yves St Laurent; Dirk Bogarde’s suits and Ellen Burstyn’s dresses are impossibly beautiful, and when they argue they look even better. A fun game to play while watching this film with your friends is to take a sip of chilled white wine every time someone in the film has a drink, which is about every three seconds. Make sure you have more than one bottle to hand.

The Squid and the Whale (2005), directed by Noah Baumbach, reminded me of my own childhood and my parents divorcing. It’s sad and funny, and it struck a chord. I loved Jeff Daniels’ portrayal of Bernard Berkman, the pretentious failed novelist undergoing a mid-life crisis. I once house-sat a flat in New York similar to the one in the film, and it brought back memories of the two insane cats I had to look after.

In Suspiria (1977), directed by Dario Argento, an American ballerina enrols in an exclusive ballet school in Germany and becomes embroiled in a witches’ coven bent on chaos and destruction. The art direction is astonishing and overshadows the acting; the film is saturated in a very unnatural palette, which heightens its sense of unreality, right down to the wallpaper designs by Escher. The baroque, flamboyant soundtrack is by the Italian Prog Rock band Goblin and is a masterpiece in itself. The murders are theatrical and balletic; the film is like a violent opera.

A Swedish Love Story (1970), directed by Roy Andersson, is about two teenagers falling in love while their parents fall apart. It brought back memories of the awkwardness of adolescence. The Swedish liberalism – the way the parents allow their kids to grow up independently – is very appealing. The kids are oblivious to boundaries, and they create their own world. It’s a simple, funny, moving film, and the cinematography is beautiful.

Federico Fellinis’ short film Toby Dammit (1968) is part of the trilogy, ‘Histoires Extraordinaire’, also known as ‘Spirits of the Dead’ after a short story by Edgar Allen Poe. The film is complete with Fellini’s trademark references, from circuses to paparazzi, stardom, kitsch and glamour. The film stars Terrence Stamp at his finest: an alcoholic, self destructive thespian lured to Rome to appear in a television show by the promise of a Ferrari – in other words a Faustian pact. Fellini conjures an extraordinary, creepy atmosphere, and Stamp’s crazed, decadent performance makes it all the more powerful.

At the moment I’m watching an anthology two-box set of music, footage of interviews, film clips and trailers starring Serge Gainsbourg, D’autres nouvelles des étoiles (more news from the stars, 2005). From 1958 to 1986 he is timelessly cool, with an incredible presence. Even the most banal of his genre- defying performances is inexplicably gripping. The duet he performs with his daughter Charlotte, ‘Lemon Incest’, in 1984, is sinister and intriguing; the combination of elaborate set designs and music that is both saccharine and epic is unnerving. What allows a man to sing a song titled ‘Lemon Incest’ lying half-naked on a double bed with his daughter in a set consisting of cracked rocks and smoke? It’s fascinatingly wrong.

Issue 102

First published in Issue 102

October 2006
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