Sommerkino 2010

Despite fickle weather, hordes of mosquitos and problems with projectors, Viennese cinephiles turned out in force

On The Town | Michael Buergermeister | September 2010

Young Viennese, in shorts and T-shirts, laugh at the fashions of their parents as portrayed on screen – the shaggy haircuts, the thick glasses and shapeless, post-hippy clothes of Vienna of the late-70s. To the right; so luminous on the hot summer night as to seem just a few meters away, is the Parish Church of Charles Borromeo, designed by Johann Bernhard Fischer von Erlach, completed in 1729.

A woman starts to scream at the audience: "You should all go home!" but gives no reason for her outburst. The crowd ignores her or simply laughs. That’s just how it is at Sommerkino, 2010.

Despite the hordes of mosquitoes, exploding bottles of cider, innumerable problems with projectors, and not least, the unpredictable weather, the Viennese registered, once more, their passion for cinema and turned out in force. Even when the weather was comparatively cool or sometimes positively inclement, they still showed up in droves.

If there was one thing the city’s summer film festivals had in common it was their great locations: Karlsplatz, Schloss Neugebäude (begun by the Emperor Maximilian II in 1569), the Augarten, the Arena, Jodok-Fink-Platz, with its 1753 Piarist church designed by Lucas von Hildebrandt, and of course Rathausplatz, with its City Hall designed by Friedrich von Schmidt, completed in 1883 as part of the new Ringstrasse.

Some of the festivals were so exclusive, such as the short film festival in the garden of Palais Schönborn, that few could get in (if only because the gates of the garden were locked half an hour before the films were actually shown). Some were consciously designed for tourists as well as Viennese, such as the "great performances" Filmfestival at the Rathausplatz, with its recordings of Anna Netrebko and Rolando Vilanzon, Lang Lang and Mariss Jansons. Some festivals however were designed specifically for a Viennese audience, and all too often assumed that they would be stupid, with dubbing that made films often nearly impossible to watch. Some, such as the retrospective of Derek Jarman inside at the Votivkino were spared the vagaries of the weather, others, such as Filmarchiv in Augarten, had fully prepared with a massive tent, or Schloss Neugebäude with a roof that sheltered the fortunate half of the audience, while others, like the wandering Volxkino that wandered from district, were forced to rely on unreliable weather forecasts and last minute decisions as to whether to show a film or not.

There was huge variety in the programming, providing the chance to see rarely-screened films or old favorites. The Filmarchiv, in collaboration with the Viennale, showed a wonderful selection ranging from San Toit ni Loit by Agnès Varda to Strange Days by Kathryn Bigelow, Arena showed The Ghost Writer by Roman Polanski and Rebel Without a Cause by Nicholas Ray; while Schloss Neugebäude screened Inglorious Basterds by Quentin Tarentino and Un Prophete by Jacques Audiard; Votivkino showed Caravaggio and Blue by Derek Jarman, while Kino unter den Sternen showed films such as: Liebelei by Max Ophüls and The Third Man by Carol Reed.

One of the most daring choices was a documentary at Brunnenmarkt about the practice of trial marriages in Iran entitled: "Im Bazaar der Geschlechter" (At the Market of the Sexes). As it turned out the young, white, educated, liberal-minded and female audience proved not the group who might have raised active or even violent protest. It was only afterwards, upon leaving the area that one became aware of mistrustful and disapproving glances from out of the darkened streets.

It doesn’t take long to realize that Sommerkino is more than entertainment to while away a summer evening.  It is the projection of cultural riches flickering onto the screen under a warm night sky and a fine opportunity to reflect on the nature of film, as well as the world that watches it, a window onto the city encountering itself. To quote, with a little license, from James Cameron’s screenplay of Strange Days: the filmmaker is the "Santa Claus of the subconscious," smuggling his gifts of imagination under cover of darkness, and film, the "switchboard of the soul."

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    the vienna review September 2010