“We are not images, not sounds, not even fictions. Just script, twenty pages in a drawer. An idea, a possibility, nothing more”. This is how the character called ‘the industrialist’ describes the characters from The Alien.
The Alien was supposed to be the first Indian science fiction movie ever made. Unfortunately, the film by director Satyajit Ray was never finished. Like so many other movies that never came into being, the only remnant of this production is the script.
The Otolith Group used the screenplay for this 1967 film, and the unfinished histories of the four main characters, as the basis for Otolith III, a ‘premake’ of The Alien. Through sounds and images from Ray’s earlier work, combined with new footage, they go and look for the director in order to confront him with their unfinished stories. As “the boy” keeps repeating: “It’s not easy to meet your maker”.
By investigating the unrealized potential of the script to The Alien, the film itself becomes the main character of this project. By exploring the choices that were never made the video emphasizes the way in which film is, like any art form, the product of the choices made by its maker. In Otolith III, even the director himself can not escape this process, as he is also subject to choice. First the right man for the job needs to be selected, after which he needs the right kind of office; “Where would he work?”, “Here?”, “Here”. Even the kind of footstool he would use to stretch his legs after a day’s work is subjected to detailed consideration, as a wide range of ottomans is presented, “Maybe this one?”.
In the other piece shown in the Otolith Double Bill screening, a screenplay again serves as the basis. In Communists Like Us The Otolith Group reimagine a scene from Jean-Luc Godard’s La Chinoise. A dialogue from this film about a five French students who are part of a radical Maoist group is reapproprated by only using the text of dialogue. The lines of the conversation between philosopher Francis Jeanson and his Maoist student Veronique are shown as subtitles with photos from different communist gatherings. Before each photo a picture of the folder containing the photo is shown, so we know we are watching an image of the “Indian womens delegation in the USSR” in Moscow in July 1953 for example.
The combination of the archival footage and the lines from the La Chinoise actually seems to make sense after a while. And why would it not? In this context the dialogue is part of a new piece, the result of the choices made by The Otholith Group, in this case executed by Simon Arazi.
With existing screenplays as their basis, both Otolith III and Communists Like Us explore the potential of these texts, showing how “twenty pages in a drawer” can turn into a movie about an alien or about international communist friendship, or something completely different.
Otolith Group (An Otolith Double Bill), 25 October 2012, ‘t Hoogt Zaal 1