DER SCHLAMM VON BRANST
With Der Schlamm von Branst
(2008) De Gruyter and Thys have created a film inspired by the world of clay modeling. The "hobby world" intentionally positions itself at a distance from the outside world, pursuing its repetitive activities in attics, basements or special workshops. The finished products seldom leave the spaces in which they were created, ending up in cabinets, boxes or on dusty shelves. The video follows a group of shut-away hobbyists who, under the leadership of a tyrant, submit to ongoing work on their miserable creations.
In De Gruyter & Thys’ work, there is a theatre of cruelty, in which robots, objects and an odd-ball cast of bullies, perverts, indeterminate furry beasts and deranged workers inhabit a world that is by turns slapstick and desolate. Almost no one speaks in their films, or at least not naturally or easily: grunting more often than not represents the alienation and powerlessness of these human pawns. They are played by nonprofessional actors, extended family members and even people culled from a local pub, whom the filmmakers place in banal but claustrophobic spaces with almost all indication of time and place effaced.
The strength of their projects lies not only in the way in which De Gruyter and Thys corral their actors to perform with a painful-to-watch awkwardness, seemingly interminable bouts of staring, and little or no spoken language, but also in the duo’s apparent disregard for the conventions of ‘good form’, mastery and hipness that permeates so much of today’s contemporary art and cinema. One could cite their excruciating long takes, lack of any narrative structure, recurrent desynchronization of sound and image, or their use of hopelessly outdated organ music and cheap 1980s video effects. Despite their disavowal of so many of the unspoken rules of contemporary art filmmaking, there is nothing slapdash or accidental about the results.