An American In Europe - Directed by Johnny Vonneumann




The director has chosen a very difficult way to make his documentary: a risky, challenging, and unpredictable one. The path could be the greatest threat to his film, which is to mix different images, dissolve them, double-expose different film footages, and merge contrasting images. This can easily break the audience’s concentration and prevent the coherence of the context of the work. It makes it impossible for us to focus on a specific subject at the same time. However, the interesting thing is that Johnny Vonneumann turns this way into the strength of his film and makes it something that easily meets the basic needs of the film in establishing the desired themes.


He skillfully blends the details of each scene into another so that the viewer can see both at the same time, and beyond that, achieve a special experience of combining the two. Overlapping scenes convey new concepts, including "movement". The element of movement is very important in this film. Given the name of the film, An American In Europe, one can guess before watching the film that we are experiencing a journey-a journey that is usually made possible by moving around. The nature of travel lies in movement, and Johnny Vonneumann has made the movement the main focus of his work from this particular experience- the movement between the visual symbols that each carries its own sequence, the movement whose job is to connect or contrast the backgrounds, the movement that is supposed to take us from one side to the other in a world of image and color and make the main essence of this journey which is viewing and gaining visual pleasure more obvious.



Along with these moves, the filmmaker knows that in order to enhance the experience of this journey to a non-touristy and deep entity, he must be careful in choosing his images. Although, at the first glance, it may be assumed that these images were put together fortuitously, when we watch the film again, we realize how precisely the filmmaker has selected these images. An image of an old building with a part of a Western movie on it remains a good instance. The filmmaker intends to contrast two types of views, two cultures, and two modes of expression. In this way, the filmmaker depicts the confrontation of two worlds without the intention of criticizing or praising one nor giving more value to one of these two cultures. Note that the film does the same with classical paintings, especially Leonardo’s, in that the classical paintings coincide with the image of Clint Eastwood in American classical cinema. One of the film's questions seems to surround the fundamental difference between the two cultures: American intellectual and biological culture finds European culture in contrast.


In this sense, An American In Europe can be regarded as an artistic response to the difference between the two cultures- cultures that contradict each other in background, worldview, and points of emphasis, and these contradictions can be clearly seen when the filmmaker shows images of the Western film The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly on images of the splendid buildings of Europe. It is noteworthy that these high ceilings full of Renaissance paintings, these classical artworks and massive buildings, these columns, windows and bridges are mounted on magnificent classical music. The filmmaker is representing Europe from an American’s point of view, and in this representation, he reaches from Mozart to Picasso. It comes from the ancient times to the present day and goes back the same way in order to gain a special perception of time in this journey. This perception exempts the filmmaker from taking a stand against fundamental changes in human life and instead refers to an important point: when we travel to a land as a foreigner, as a stranger, have we not actually traveled in time? Has this geographical journey that took us from one airport to another not actually thrown us into the past?


For Johnny Vonneumann, the fundamental question seems to be how to see Europe better. Is this vast complex of parks, dance halls, squares, and amusement parks not Europe? Or should we be attentive to the images that pass quickly before our eyes to notice the traces of a great civilization? The filmmaker's response, like that of any inquisitive and analytical filmmaker, is to be more meticulous about detail. Concurrent with the very transient views of American popular culture (Chaplin, Western, and even the American flag itself), the filmmaker knows he has to show us all aspects suggesting the reason for presenting the grandeur of Roman Europe. Is the film attemting to break the illusion called Europe? Or is it trying to transcend American popular culture and achieve a different culture in Europe? The filmmaker cleverly avoids answering the audience's questions directly, and this is another one of the trump cards of the film which intends to speak only in the language of images- a film that is not meant to be a statement, nor is it meant to remain an oral explanation of abstract concepts.



The film achieves a special language which is a brilliant combination of a travelogue, a video-article, and ultimately, an experimental film. Sometimes it is a trace of an artist wandering in the context of upscale societies; sometimes it records the wandering, passion, and fascination of the passer-by for everything that takes place in the environment and atmosphere, and every now and then, it leads to a comparison between the origin and the destination and shows the salient aspects of both, and beyond both of these aspects, is a film that makes experiencing in the artistic form its major priority. The film constitutes an experience to reach an enigmatic, metaphorical, sometimes easy and sometimes difficult, and ultimately artistic language- a language that is meant to have its unique way of expressing itself, stepping out of mere recording experiences and seeing these experiences in an artistic form. It is the frame of this language in which the statue of David Michelangelo, the stone pillars of antiquity, and the tourists resting on the steps in the sun, are all invited to the "beholder" and "beheld" game. As we behold the past through these pictures and statues, we are viewed by others. We are the tourists of the halls of the museums of the world, being watched by our filmmaker while watching a masterpiece. In this game, “form” remains a proper platform and the actors will play their roles one by one. This is where the camera itself becomes the subject and the technique itself (that is merging images at the editing desk) develops the main form of the experience.


This method, whose potentials cannot be simply identified indeed, adjusts its tone along with the soundtrack. For instance, in the last third of the film, as the music subsides, we see a calmer and smoother rhythm of editing. With a highly smart choice of music, the filmmaker succeeds in making a suitable landing to reach the end of his film: the end, like the end of a long journey, is arranged to bring us peace, joy, and memory. It is in this tranquility that the filmmaker records all past images in the viewer's memory and refers the viewer to the internal review of those images. An American In Europe is one of the most successful experimental films that does not require dialogue for storytelling and focuses all its power on its spectacular images- a great film which prepares itself for repetition and revision in the viewer's mental world through this compact format.