AMSTERDAM DIARY

This beautiful film documents the dismantling of decorations for the Queensday festival in Amsterdam. Workers in coveralls are shown operating cranes, taking down the larger-than-life papier mache figures which were part of the decor for the celebration. The entire film is in a majestic slow motion, not the smooth slow motion of a varispeed film camera, but the otherworldly, hauntingly fragmented slow motion of video. The music, from a father and son team which Konefsky recorded in the Rijksmuseum, is for accordion and clarinet, and brings a powerfully mournful and soulful tone to the video. The fantastic clarinet melodies soar freely, and are both ecstatic and dolorous.

This is one of those slow motion films in which the slow motion seems to open up and reveal the hidden truths within ordinary moments. In particular, the carefulness with which workmen have to handle the delicate figures as they slowly fly them down to earth seems to translate into facial expressions of extreme tenderness and empathy. The faces of passersby also seem full of a radiant mixture of sadness and joy, but this is because Konefsky has a remarkable eye for seeing the beauty in people’s faces and for editing them into a poetic sequence.

The film gives the impression of a monumental effort involved in taking down the trappings of the celebration, often in the pouring rain, and, in doing so, it shows a culture in which there is a living, breathing connection between ancient festivals, as revealed in the fantastic figures of devils and monsters, and the modern day world of the cranes. This is a world in which it does not seem unusual to invest large amounts of time, effort, muscle, and money into keeping a living culture alive, and integrating art into the lives of the people.

When the still art of the sculptures (whose expressions are violently alive) are seen floating through the air, serenely hoisted by the cranes, it is as if the dead themselves were brought to life, and the past brought into the present. This is especially poignantly felt in the image of a sculpture of a convict in striped garb, sitting on the electric chair. (The figure has a different connotation in a continent that views America as barbaric for maintaining the death penalty).
Through the simple means of slow motion, soulful music, and exquisite editing choices, Konefsky has turned a touristic diary film into a haunting, elegiac meditation on culture, art, death, and transformation.

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