A Sur-real Tale about a Cinema Forum which took Place in Riga
Mārtiņš Slišāns, Film Critic
Book Arsenāls: A History of some kind of iconoclasm by Augusts Sukuts and Kristīne Matīsa (Rīga, 2009)

In these few lines dedicated to ‘Arsenāls: A history of some kind of iconoclasm’, a substantial book the thickness of a brick, I won’t say anything at all about the Arsenāls Cinema Forum. Let’s assume that the existence of Arsenāls is a generally known fact. Mostly because the discussion this time will be about a book for which, in the description of it, we can safely concur with the words of the manuscript’s first reader, Ivars Runkovskis, printed on the back cover: “This, of course, is not an ordinary book – readers should be warned on opening it.”

There are two ways of reading this book. The first – as an exciting adventure novel with twists in the plot and a cliffhanger style. Full stop. The second – having been present, for a while, during the creation of Arsenāls myself, and now – with the benefit of time – to see what it looked like through the eyes of Augusts Sukuts, the driving force behind the idea of the festival and the manoeuvrer through organizational bureaucratic financial icebergs.

But we must begin with this, that ‘Arsenāls: A history of some kind of iconoclasm’ is a book in which a person (Augusts Sukuts) blessed with a rare imagination and a wide cultural knowledge has met a strong and erudite author and editor (Kristīna Matīsa), who, in undertaking an encyclopaedia-sized investigative job, has introduced maximum order into the grandiose work and has supplemented it with descriptions of personalities, as well as structured collections of facts as needed by the reader.

Mystification is one of the fundamental key words of the Arsenāls concept implemented by Sukuts. Possibly this was both intentional and unintentional – balancing on the border where the wings of imagination are clipped by surly reality. And the way of beautifying this surly guest is to enter the space where life (i.e., Arsenāls) as a performance makes the impossible tangible, albeit only for the fleeting moment that the event takes place. The best thing of all is that a legend then remains. Consequently the book could be equally filed under biography, cinema history or science fiction. All of these elements are so organically fused by the author that they testify to the presence of a powerful talent. The skein is knotted in such a way that whichever thread of fact you may wish to tug at, it will immediately break off or tangle with a hundred other threads. It is a puzzle without a solution.

An endless muddle of fragments and the interconnected hyperlinks of culture-cinema-history-personal experience layers combined in a scrupulous mosaic. The reader can follow this mosaic’s patterns for large parts of the journey with enthusiasm, and then just as suddenly lose interest about some lengthy chain of events which are of importance only to the author. Undoubtedly, the pronounced presence of surrealism (cinema, art and the way of thinking) in the manner it delivers its message makes the text original. It reminds one of Dali’s version of reality. It’s the way the text’s author sees the world, a world made more striking for the purposes of the work of art.

What connection does Al Pacino in the young Godfather role have with the Bank Baltija founder Aleksandrs Lavents? – none at all. What connection does Klaus Kinski in the film Fitzcarraldo have with Andrejs Ēķis? – none at all. However, both actors, with sequences from the films mentioned, introduce chapters about men from Latvia. The only link to be found is in the author’s wish to create this imagined link, a coded cover-up scene.

The number of people in the field of culture or cinema who have directly or indirectly come into contact with Arsenāls is very large, and one of the book’s greatest virtues is that there are people documented here who most likely will never have a separate book written about them. Possibly they may not be as well known to a wide range of readers, but they have, however, earned a place in Latvia’s history of culture, art and cinema. Through the author’s subjective selection, this printed word will be a rare future testimony to them. If only there were more like this!

‘Arsenāls: A history of some kind of iconoclasm’ – is not just a journey along the paths of cultural history. Although it can’t specifically be identified in the text, the book has something romantic about it as well, something reminiscent of the hunt for wild animals (for example, in the jungles of Borneo). This feeling flares up, then fades, at times forcing the reader to trip over a barren plain of dry facts and to suddenly look at the book’s text as a mirage or a page from a report. At that instant the rich collection of black and white photographs can be refreshing. “Not a page without a picture!” – that could be the book’s design motto. It is as richly illustrated as few others. The photographic material couldn’t even be considered as padding – in the layout presented it has become an expressive part of the text.

The only thing missing, on reading this book, is one more book about Arsenāls, because to make a full evaluation about what was happening around Dali from his paintings would be an indication of hopeless optimism, wouldn’t it? Therefore, in the interests of balance, there ought to be “a real tale about a cinema forum which took place in Riga”.

/Translator into English: Uldis Brūns/
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