STILLE STADT (trans. Silent City) is an experimental feature which depicts the state of contemporary urbanity through an Everyman on the verge of a mid-life crisis, who goes through his life of routine both stricken and sustained by opera arias which stand in for his thoughts and emotions that only he (and the audience) can hear. It is an allegory of modern existence that blends the real with surreal to explore how urban dwellers lose their connection with the environment, people, and praxis; and the suppression and containment of those lost connections by consumerism, distraction, and interiorization.
STILLE STADT is an update and inversion of the city symphony form (exemplified by Dziga Vertov and Walter Ruttman), transforming the celebratory and voyeuristic city impressions into narrative vignettes that peel away issues of contemporary urbanity through the eyes of an Everyman. This also sets it apart from modern interpretations of the city symphony form such as the films of Godfrey Reggio and Ron Fricke in their deliberate avoidance of addressing issues. Instead of bourgeois fetish and spectacle, the city becomes the site of bourgeois isolation and despair.
STILLE STADT reframes and re-imagines the form of silent film to convey how the city both silences (via containment of the self/body), and the city itself is made silent (as people dwell in own bubbles). There is no dialogue, instead arias stand in for Everyman’s thoughts and feelings as he goes through his routine, and interacts with other people and the city. This foregrounding of the background (i.e. film music) both parallels the questions the film explores, as well extends the problematic Stephen first experimented in NORTH SOUTH (1998).
Allegory has a rich history of transcending specific socio-cultural contexts to speak to certain universal “truths” (e.g. Aesop’s Fables), as well as circumventing censorship in disrupting the relationship between the manifest and expressed. In STILLE STADT, the baroque allegorical device of an Everyman (famously revived by Brecht’s epic theatre) is employed to raise audiences’ awareness of suffering in others and themselves, and their complicity in it. In this manner, STILLE STADT occupies the void between films about lower class transcendence (e.g. Daniel’s PRECIOUS, von Trier’s DANCER IN THE DARK) and fantastical films about middle-class repression (e.g. Palahniuk’s FIGHT CLUB, Mendes’ AMERICAN BEAUTY).
As an allegory, the city (and its silencing routines) is the true subject of STILLE STADT. Everyman is a device in which to visualize the city, standing in for how one experiences the city (like the Little Tramp character in Charlie Chaplin’s MODERN TIMES). STILLE STADT both juxtaposes the body and the city to create commentary on the contemporary moment, as well as pulls the archaic (e.g. allegory, opera, silent film) into the present to simultaneously demonstrate its relevance and loss of historicity in the blinders of progress. It parallels and extends Masao Adachi’s fukei-ron (“landscape theory”) whereby the filming of everyday landscapes reveal structures of oppression in one’s environment – to include everyday rituals.
Music is integral to the visuals but none leads the other. Instead there is a semantic exchange whereby the music and text of the arias give meaning to the actions, while the actions re-contextualize the arias (which were originally written for a different dramatic context). The use of opera instead of popular music is an exploration in bridging the gap between historical or “high art” and everyday relevance. Although opera has been utilized in film before, it has typically been an ambient device vs. integral to the action and visuals. There is a reverence in the “high art” status of opera and its use, particularly in the films of Werner Shroeter. STILLE STADT takes a novel approach by recontextualizing and making opera integral to the actions and visuals, by making it stand in for Everyman’s thoughts and feelings as he goes about everyday life. In a way, STILLE STADT is a play on the notion of silence in silent film, where the visuals are removed from ambient sound and accompanied by music. However the music in STILLE STADT pulls a thread through history so that it both represents a kind of loss, as well as comes together in a newly relevant way in the contemporary city.
Chen’s portrait of the city is ultimately a portrait of a prison, and the prisoners who long for liberation. A man’s inner world is lit with lyricism, even at his most despairing. Chen has created a highly original film form, revealing to us the songs hidden behind the silence.David Finkelstein, Critic
Structurally, the experimental-narrative and opera-film hybrid form of STILLE STADT emerged from larger aesthetic and philosophical questions. Is it possible to deal with the general public apathy towards art? Is it possible to raise people’s consciousness in a non-didactic manner? Is it possible to communicate complex issues without relying on academic / esoteric semantics? Is it possible move experimental from “difficult” and “edgy”? Is it possible to do the above in a highly sensual fashion (e.g. via beautiful singing and visuals)?
The rhythm with this alternation of slow shots and fast ones, conveying both the frenzy and vacuity of a big city life. The repetition of situations, the dangerous encounters, the eternal wandering. The film manages to renders the actual feelings generated by these impersonal big cities … The direct link with Walther Ruttman’s hymn to the city, although here it is a warning, a critic.Simon Bertrand, Curator
Thanks to funding support from:
|CAST (IN ORDER OF APPEARANCE)|
|Stephen Chen as Everyman||Vasilios Filippakis as Lover #1|
|John Marcucci as Fling||Dustin George as Lover #2|
|Peter Mazzucco as Businessman||Joseph Jr Yeboah as Lover #3|
|Andrew Bee as Stranger||Andrew Kines as Homeless man|
|Trevor Ketcheson as Crush||Gabriel Shaughnessy as Lover #4|
|Brendan O’ Gorman as Date #1||Jeffrey Leonard as Date #2|
|Sammy Allouba as Escort||Milan Carmona as Lover #5|
|David Phillips as Boss|
WRITTEN, DIRECTED BY: STEPHEN CHEN | RUNNING TIME: 1:50:05 | COMPLETED: 05/15