By: Joshua Minsoo Kim
Director: Johann Lurf
Runtime: 97 mins | Genre: Experimental
Johann Lurf’s ★ has a straightforward but ambitious premise: take excerpts from films that feature a starlit sky and stitch them together chronologically. Unlike Christian Marclay’s The Clock, Lurf doesn't allow for any sort of figure-ground relationship to develop between sky and non-sky; our eyes stay glued to the cosmos. As such, no quasi-narrative develops as we jump from one clip to the next. Instead, the images provide an observation on the technological advancements that have occurred throughout the past century of film. What becomes increasingly clear as the film goes on is that despite these changes, the stars have remained a constant source of inspiration for both filmmakers and their characters.
Lurf is wise to exclude all subtitles and to leave the original soundtrack of each film intact. These decisions work to home in our focus on the stars alone: the former dissuades viewers from being too distracted by the dialogue, while the latter forces viewers to be acutely aware of the countless number of films used. Still, Lurf is aware of how repetitious ★ can seem, and he attempts to circumvent potential tedium via thoughtful editing. Rapid-fire cuts occasionally provide lively plunderphonics, and they're as moving as when dialogue or songs (such as Kenji Sawada's "ヤマトより愛をこめて") are left to play out. The editing often proves humorous as well, perhaps best exemplified by the Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan clip. We hear the famous "Where no man has gone before" speech coupled with triumphant music, and the shot conveys to the audience that the starship Enterprise is moving forward, into the depths of space. It abruptly cuts to a silent clip that features the camera zooming out, away from the stars: a perfect deadpan joke.
★ begins with Rêve à la lune (1905) and concludes with Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Men Tell No Tales (2017). Over 500 films are accounted for between these two, and Lurf hopes to add even more in years to come. Since ★ is an endless project, there's no need to give it a firm sense of closure, which is why the film's ending is decidedly unceremonious. It's a lofty goal, but the Wendy Carlos songs that accompany the credits are a playful reminder of how joyous it can be to create art. She once stated that a "nice blend of prediction and surprise seem to be at the heart of the best art.” Lurf seems to agree, and sees the cosmos as having the same qualities.