(1990, 34 minutes, 16mm)
Kitchener-Berlin is a voyage at once personal and political, begun with movies of home, of children unwrapping war toys with unbridled delight as rockets flare over Germany, reducing its domestic interiors to a shatter of rubble and blood. While the Christmas scene is from the 1960s, it carries the echoes of a war fought two decades before, a war which has returned home underneath the tree.
Hoffman introduces archival photographs of old Kitchener, showing men on the hunt and the building of the main street, while inside the cathedral, candle-lit processions prepare a child for baptism. The only accompanying sound is a church bell inexorably tolling. It is a call to witness, a plaintive demand for gathering, so that we might stand once more before the wounds of the past.
Hoffman enters present-day Germany armed with a Steadicam—a gyroscopic device that permits the camera to float smoothly through space. He guides its disembodied presence over the cobblestones of Berlin, their mortared rectangles forming the foundation of centuries. It floats past tourists lying in wait, cameras at the ready, caught in a slow-motion stare of anticipation in locales previewed in travel guides and brochures. They wait before a massive church front as if for history to materialize, as if the momentum of gestures finished long before holds their travel in check, forcing them to mourn the passing of the invisible and unseen. These moments collect in a multiphonic exchange, two and three images appearing simultaneously, the technocratic ghosts of empire overlaid with the Pope’s native mission, the apparatus of the father lending shape to a burgeoning cavalcade of memories and mediation.
Kitchener-Berlin is interrupted midway by an archival Canadian film made by Dent Harrison in the twenties entitled The Highway of Tomorrow or How One Makes Two. Harrison arrived in Canada penniless in the early part of the century and invented the rotating oven, allowing bakers to make bread without burning it. With the proceeds he bought a motion picture camera and eventually made what Trap Stevens, archivist at the National Film and Sound Archives (a man Hoffman has worked with for years) calls “the first Canadian surrealist film.” Hoffman inserts this movie with few changes into the second half of Kitchener-Berlin.
shows a dirigible leaving England for Canada, its phallic girth promising
the technological fruits of empire. After landing, the filmmaker/pilot
steps into the editing room with his double—a twin manufactured
through trick photography—and together they pore over images of
the trip. They thread a projector and turn its historical spotlamp into
the waiting lens of the camera, marking the beginning of Kitchener-Berlin’s
second movement, entitled A Veiled Flight. This discontinuity
of events is occasioned by miners working underground. Their movement
unearths bridesmaids and horses, family rituals of touch, an Imax film-shoot
staging native rituals, and the filmmaker himself, crouched over his
desk in contemplation. It closes with a cave ceremony lit by candles;
the furtive rock etchings are a reminder of private manufactures where
the division of signs and the events they depict seem less inevitable
than today. A Veiled Flight is also comprised of marks like
these, expressionistic outpourings that represent an unconscious flow.
It is an expiration of memories redolent with mythology and association,
a rite of purification that looks to begin again beneath the earth’s
surface, in the shadowy enclosures of histories that may be shared without
being understood. This film asks that its two halves be brought together
like the two names of its title—the haunting historical stalk
of its opening movement joined with the unconscious lure of the second,
both combining to frame a portrait of ruin and restoration.” (Mike
In/Between Spaces by Darrell Varga
Kitchener/Berlin: Or How One Becomes Two (Or None) by Steve Reinke