This supremely lyrical Beating makes some brutal connections by Peter Goddard


Beating comes down hard. The single images popping out through the blurred swirl in Barbara Sternberg's new "experimental" film are loaded for action and reaction: Nazis, lynched Jews, a flaming poker stuck savagely into a doll's eye, lightning, still more fire, luridly lit sexual organs, couples struggling, dancers romping. 


As the independent local filmmaker explains, the thread connecting this visual overload is equally charged. It makes "the connection between Nazism, the patriarchy and feminism," no less. And that's not to forget her visual and verbal notions about memory, memory-loss, forgetting, forgiveness and revenge which are also threaded through the hour-long film being shown at 6:30 tonight by Cinematheque Ontario at the AGO's Jackman Hall and tomorrow by Pleasure Dome at Cinecycle, 317 Spadina Ave. (rear entrance).


So whatever else Beating is, it isn't Forrest Gump. That's the good news. Even better is that for all this content overload this is one Beating that's relatively easy to take-that's supremely lyrical in fact.  (One more Gump-shot. For all its "simplicity"-or simple-mindedness, take your pick-Forrest is one terribly angry guy and Gump is one terribly angry movie. For all the harshness of its barrage of sight and sound, Beating is remarkably at peace with itself. It's the contrast between repressed Muzak and let-it-all-hang-out jazz). 


Sternberg's aim was to explore "the pre-verbal, emotional life that moves through" these images, she was telling me earlier this week.  "I hope it's a film, not just a film that's making a statement. Why make a film if what I want is a polemic? I don't think film is a medium for that, really. I don't know if an hour's film is rigorous enough."


Her preference for rapid, flickering images-they're like brush strokes thickening layer after layer of paint-recalls filmmaking's earliest, pre-movie days when it was evolving alongside early photography. 


No less than any photographer, Sternberg is fascinated with the potential of a single image - there are lots of birds and water images - and with exploring them from different vantage points. 


The surface of Beating is lovely, an evolution of changing shapes through a beautiful array of grays, whites and blacks, then later through muted colors. 


Although it is in fact a collection of 25 short bits shot at different times, the dramatic shape is seamless. "I originally cut the film as separate little films", she said, explaining her work method. "I don't have a 10-day or three-week shoot. I'm collecting (images) as I go along. So a lot of it comes together with editing and shooting, then more editing and shooting." 


She's cautious with sound. "The previous film (Through And Through, 1992) had a soundtrack—it also dealt with being a woman and being Jewish-but as I worked on it I realized I wanted the images to be silent. So it stayed silent and I used the soundtrack (with Beating). "Sound is really strong. Whatever you do with it, especially if the sound is in words, has an effect. (A film's) visual strength can be overlooked when there is sound." 


Originally published in The Toronto Star, April 6, 1995.