Review of Ruth Novaczek’s The New World
The New World (2013). United Kingdom/United States/Israel, 23 minutes. Written, Directed and Bricolaged by Ruth Novaczek.
A few years ago one of my early mentors Chris Kraus, author and editor of the independent press Semiotext(e), turned me on to the “Patti Smith of film” Ruth Novaczek and I am honored to review her most recent work The New World. In my first communications with Ruth she was working through how to structure and write about her filmmaking practice as she worked toward her PhD in fine-art film at CREAM University of Westminster, London. In our email conversation she wrote “I’m trying to strategize a rock n’ rollers cinema that lets the desire and abjection and experiment shine through” while “negotiating the stifling world of British avant-garde academia and the way it is so uncomfortable with kikes, women, artists who aren’t buttoned up and subtle.” To me it always seemed she was interested in making, watching, and discussing feminist work that wasn’t just plain boring or dry exercises in theory. I’m pleased to say she achieves this goal brilliantly in her short film The New World.
In The New World one can see her influences and obsessions shine through—she describes it as a “bricolage of cinephilia in the 21st century.” I hesitate to genre code the film as purely experimental in a knee-jerk response to the form it assumes, as she samples and remixes various elements (sound, image, sound and image) from Alfred Hitchcock and David Lynch to Jean-Luc Godard and Todd Haynes, Patrice Leconte and Orson Welles to Mike Nichols and Chantal Akerman; not to forget icons such as Katz’s Deli and the Statue of Liberty. While there are tell-tale signs of “experimental” form – lack of a linear structure, calls attention to the medium, created by a single person and is basically devoid of anything one would expect in the delivery of a Hollywood film. As Fred Camper said in his essay “Naming, and Defining, Avant-Garde or Experimental Film,” “the lack of a stable name is a sign of the movement’s health. . . to take off on Gertrude Stein’s famous remark to the effect that a museum can’t also be ‘modern,’ if you know exactly what avant-garde film is and how to name it, it probably isn’t very ‘avant-garde.”
Ultimately I find that Novaczek’s work crosses into what some might refer to as “genre trouble” of found footage work, however, her skillful cooption and reworking of existing material comments on how we assume an active part in narrative and iconic films. For the time we are invested we become some character, feel what they do, fear impending doom and suffer the unbearable heartache and confusion. By ruminating on and playing with the tropes, imagery, sounds and character arcs of various cinemas over the last several decades she presents her viewer with moving picture sights and sounds that find a soul connection in the work of creators not stifled by polite society or how women should be characterized, understood and explored – think Sophie Calle, Nan Goldin, Sadie Benning, and Abigail Child. Our narrator (Novaczek) is at once every woman from the narratives she pirates as well as a hybrid of all of them. Statements, questions, accusations fill the audible frames:
“Half of her was simply missing . . .”
“What are the options of not assimilating?”
“A cat can’t be persuaded to drop a mouse mid-kill.”
“REVOLT SHE SAID.
But what would revolt look like?
You can’t just chop off heads and take prisoners . . .”
The New World culls nostalgia and longing while implicitly referencing the non-disputable ripples of globalization and heightened access to media. In fragmented moments the narrative comes out of the material – of course this is inherent to a post-modern approach, but Novaczek finds the devil in the details. As soon as you feel bombarded with too much information the pace will lull a bit and you are treated with a fade to black to bathe in and breathe. Aesthetically the film blends formats, frames and textures into a stew of the reality of working with culled materials from over seven decades.
Re-contextualizing our reading of Joan Crawford or Bette Davis allows us to not only revisit classic moments in cinema, but to meet the frames and reflect on what representation within them means now —how are we framing and being framed? A philosophical approach to cinema is often the most poetic and revelatory. Novaczek gives us plenty to chew on from Jackie Brown to Marnie with a bit of BBC Shipping News thrown in for good measure. As she said in one of our first email exchanges “I love the idea of repositioning films then and now.” The New World realizes the now of cinema history’s relevance through bricolage, juxtaposition, and risk-taking sound design.
 Camper, Fred. “Naming, and Defining, Avant-Garde or Experimental Film.” Fred Camper. ND. Web. June 22, 2014.return