The Irreducible Difference of the Other (2013)
Directed and produced by Vivienne Dick
Editing by Connie Farrell
Featuring Olwen Fouéré
Vivienne Dick’s 2013 film The Irreducible Difference of the Other is a feminist work that critiques and destabilises the dominant (male) paradigm. Its weaving together of disparate sounds and images posits our interrelatedness as humans and challenges the prevailing understanding of relationships in terms of power, where one group or individual affirms themselves through dominating another. The film’s myriad juxtapositions of discordant visual and aural filmic styles broaches questions about being human in a world directed towards war, terror and consumption and, in posing such questions, creates an idea of being human as a relationship across boundaries of difference and otherness. Irreducible… therefore provides an interesting addition to a body of feminist film, as well as to experimental and artist cinema more generally, which is worthy of analysis.
Vivienne Dick is best known as a leading light of the 1970s No Wave film movement in New York, which brought avant-garde experimental film into bars and clubs, screening trash Super 8 short films alongside punk bands and performances. She moved back to Ireland in the early 1980s then to London in the mid 80s where she was actively involved in the London Filmmakers Co-op. She has lived in Ireland, teaching and making films since the mid-1990s.Dick’s background in the No Wave scene is relevant to an understanding of her latest film because, although it is a very different style and form of film than her earlier New York shorts, there are a number of distinct references to that earlier work within Irreducible… Indeed, a showing of her No Wave short Super 8 works has preceded almost all of the screenings of this latest film. For example, She Had Her Gun All Ready (1978) was screened before Irreducible… at the London Short Film Festival, the Feminist Film Festival in Dublin and at Indie Cork Film Festival. Lux Scotland has recently shown Dick’s Staten Island (1978) and her Irish film Visibility: Moderate (1981) before it’s screening of Irreducible… Thus The Irreducible Difference of the Other seems to be always directly linked to her earlier work in its exhibition contexts. There are also connections in the text itself, with references to the No Wave aesthetic in some of the audio (the performed-sound sequence by Suzanne Walsh which focuses on a close-up of her mouth at a microphone), the party sequences in which a bright red colour dominates, and the interview sequences, for example. This linking across time to an earlier period in history feeds into Irreducible…’s central theme of relatedness and interconnection. It also speaks to a concern with film form.
The 27-minute experimental documentary is packed with such a wide variety of shooting styles, locations and audioforms a densely-layered overall effect where no one approach dominates. This is achieved by careful editing with a very tight structure and rhythm echoed in both audio and visual repetitions. At a question and answer session after the screening at the August 2014Feminist Film Festival in Dublin, Dick referred to this film as a patchwork, a metaphor which helps unravel the film’s complex composition. The formal devices establish relationships between and across discordant elements. For example, an overhead shot of a Cairo street introduces an interview with a roof-gardener about weeding, before cutting to the diminutive figure of actress Olwyn Fouéré walking across a wide and very formally composed shot of a landscape in the west of Ireland. These scenes contrast sharply in shooting-style, content and audio yet a relationship is established between them not just through the editing but through minute details that pepper the entire film. The fleeting glimpse of a red table surrounded by chairs outside a café in the overhead street scene, for example, hits a note that is repeated in the table and chairs on the rooftop garden terrace, in the red jumper of the gardener who kneels on the ground and whose pose is mirrored in the figure of Fouéré, shot from overhead, kneeling to drink water from a stream and again in the barely distinguishable red of the sculptor’s dust-laden hat as she bends over her work. The entire film is suffused with such rhythmic repeats, not just visually but also in its complex and accomplished, sound design. The whole is made up of these various disconnected elements to create an impression that can only be comprehended from a distance, just as the repeat pattern of a patchwork quilt can only be understood by taking the focus away from the intricate detail to view the whole as one piece.
In this way the film connects dramatist Antonin Artaud to Russian poet Anna Akhmatova, both performed by OlwenFouéré, and in turn related through filmic devices to a broad range of settings, locations and ideas. The Arab Spring, is conjured, for instance, and repeated in Anti-War street marches in Galway and Dublin, and connected to trash culture as a trio of glamorous young women gather before a night out in Dublin. Or a wedding party becomes a fancy dress carnival that collapses into a confused bride turning up at the Occupy Dame Street protest, a scene that in turn is mirrored by the poet standing in a rural landscape or collapsing into water. Sculpting conjugates the natural elements of fire and air and relates them to earth and water on an urban rooftop before they dissolve in a riot of street protest or nightclub carnival: we can’t be sure which. This juxtaposition of opposing ideas, styles and formats becomes a cacophony within which the “other” becomes indistinguishable from the whole. In this way, the film disrupts documentary norms that facilitate our recognition of who we are through identifying an “other”. Irreducible… instead invites us to grasp at a sense of “difference” or “otherness” as a relationship, rather than an opposition or antagonism. It achieves this by presenting each as part of a richly textured whole, a whole that can only include each minute and differentiated element.
As Maeve Connolly (2003: 36-7) and Donal Foreman (2008: 249) point out Dick’s work has, by and large, been excluded from discussions of Irish cinema. It is worth noting that, although she has been concerned with specifically Irish themes across a body of work (Connolly 2003: 36-7), Dick is more interested in crossing boundaries of national identity than in helping to construct them. The Irreducible Difference of the Other invokes Irish questions and concerns; it draws heavily on a tradition of the west of Ireland landscape as a primary source and of the relation of an urban culture to this tradition, for example. However, the main overall thrust of the film is to break down boundaries of Irishness as an identity, so that the figures in this Irish landscape, Antonin Artaud, the French avant-garde dramatist, and Anna Akhmatova, the Russian poet, both played or “channeled” by Breton-Irish actress OlwenFouéré, challenge traditions of a wild, native, countryside as a basis for bounding Irishness by bringing in other nations and formations. This is further emphasised in audio for these landscape sequences where, for example, the music soundtrack might blend Eastern-sounding instruments with traditional Irish melodies or lines of poetic narration that are whispered, played backwards or otherwise distorted. The filming style, editing and audio blur the distinctions between the various urban settings and street protests, so that all merge into one global protest. Segments such as the touristic portrayal of the Egyptian Pyramids, whose amateur-style footage accentuates tour-guides and tour buses surrounding the site, fragment location as a filmic device while challenging notions of national heritage. These are just some examples of this film’s destabilising of ideas about nation, place and identity, among a myriad of devices the film uses to upturn such fixities and connect cultures and identities across and between temporal and spatial boundaries.
Thus The Irreducible Difference of the Other constructs links between and across identities, selves and others. This film breaks down the bounding potential of culture by highlighting, not so much our commonality as humans, but that difference and otherness are indispensable elements without which the whole cannot exist. In this way it resists conforming to a national cinema or such notions as cultural distinction and speaks to the connectedness and interrelatedness of culture across boundaries and borders.
Connolly, Maeve. 2003. “Excluded by the Nature of Things? Irish Cinema and Artist’s Film.” Circa 106.Winter: 33-39.
Foreman, Donal. 2008. “Experimental Conversations (2006): Ourselves Connected?” Estudios Irlandeses 3: 248-251.