The Order of the Universe in Film Ist. a Girl & a Gun


Film Ist. a Girl & a Gun, a feature-length assemblage by the 57-year-old Austrian architect-filmmaker-musician Gustav Deutsch last seen at the 2009 Tribeca Film Festival, sets out to create a modern myth of origins. Taking his title from D.W. Griffith’s famous maxim that all one needs to make a movie is a girl and a gun, Deutsch recombines shards of archival footage—vintage nature docs, silent melodramas, old newsreels, and ancient porn—to explosive effect. Film Ist. opens with a fiery, lava-drenched genesis, passes briefly through a natural paradise of naked nymphs gamboling in the woods, and culminates in the regime of mad science and flaming battlefields. To add to the frenzy, everything is luridly tinted and frequently accompanied by the amplified twang of an acid drone guitar. (The only synchronous sound is a sequence of Nazi film star Zarah Leander singing a faux–Cuban ballad.)

Civilization is represented largely by glamorous clips from between-the-wars Central European movies, spliced together so that seduction segues into rape and escalates to murder. In the penultimate movement, everyone is wearing masks—whether to attend balls, protect themselves from poison gas, or engage in bestiality. By the end, sex and violence, love and death, are virtually interchangeable. Film Ist. a Girl & a Gun is not subtle, but its literalism—which refines the avant-primitivism of older Viennese artists—is its strength. Deutsch has a sense of motion pictures as a form of sex magic. This haunting movie is suffused in libidinal energy, with more than a whiff of sulfur. The pornographic images, many drawn from the Kinsey Institute collection, power Film Ist. even as Eros is shown as the driving force of human history and creation itself.