Cinematic Portraiture

I originally began writing this piece for the Cinematheque Internationale of Philadelphia.  I am embarrassed to say that time escaped me and I became too busy to complete it to meet my deadline.  So I dug it out and finished it to post here on Zimbo Films.  I hope you enjoy it.

Of the four films I have seen by Barbet Schroeder, General Idi Amin Dada is certainly the most interesting and memorable.  The three other films by Schroeder were American productions made much later in his career, and my prior statement was not meant to demean the merits of these films.  It is just that General Idi Amin Dada is the most politically and aesthetically complex of these films.  In all fairness, I should limit my comparison to genre, and discuss General Idi Amin Dada in comparison with Schroeder’s documentary portrait of Charles Bukowski The Bukowski Tapes.

Both films were made with the direct cooperation and participation of their subjects, and it is evidenced in the manners of these two subjects that Schroeder has an uncanny ability to make his subjects at ease before the camera.  But it is in Schroeder’s approach as a documentarian that these two films contrast.  The very nature of the Bukowski Tapes is one of long sit down interviews shot statically over the course of many days, which is further preserved in how Schroeder cut the film as a tableaux of short confessions made to the camera by the author.  On the other side of the spectrum is General Idi Amin Dada.  Like the Bukowski film, Schroeder shot his subject for many days, often in a formal “sit-down” interview setting.  But it is Idi Amin who takes this further, arranging little forays for himself and the filmmaker to better illustrate his own unique view of his life.

That said; Amin’s portrait on film is much more highly objectified than Schroeder’s attempt at an objective depiction of Charles Bukowski simply because of the artificial scenarios created by the subject for the documentarian to photograph under the pretense of these events being fact.  So despite Schroeders efforts via editing and disclaimer title cards, the only version of Idi Amin the audience is allowed to see is the vision the dictator purposefully manufactured.  However, the plasticity of the events coordinated by Idi Amin are, in his editing of the picture, both exaggerated or underplayed so that the audience is made aware of Idi Amin’s farce, and that their emotional reactions will be more akin to Schroeder’s while he shot the film than Idi Amin’s.

Schroeder’s careful manipulation of his juxtapositions and subjective versus objective mechanisms is so tediously organized that the film flows organically.  Such an achievement is beyond even the greatest of filmmakers, and as far as portraiture is concerned is only rivaled by Portrait Of Jason, Don’t Look Back and, if I may take this liberty, the genre bending Edvard Munch.

-Robert Curry

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