In Praise of Nothing opens with a black screen framed in early 20th century cinema decorative title boundaries, against a crackling soundtrack.
The reminiscent of an old gramophone record left spinning after the end of a song – period typeface titles appear: «In Praise of Nothing/ a whistleblowing documentary parable/ (not exactly in prose)/ wherein Nothing tries to defend its cause».
To the haunting sound of dusty saxophone, images appear: first the sun piercing through blackened clouds, then endless whiteness seen from a passing icebreaker, next a vast desert highway, then a cat-food billboard in an apocalyptic landscape …
«The dogged determination over eight years has produced a film that is both lyrical and jarring.»
The titles continue: «One day nothing runs away from home, tired of being misunderstood/It crosses 8 mountains and 8 seas…/.. and arrives in our lost valley».
8 years, 62 cinematographers, 70 countries
Over more images, the nut brown, smoke and whisky tempered voice of Iggy Pop – a wild boy of the American punk scene in the 1970s, now a [unseen] wiry and weathered 71 year old – begins his voiceover: «Finally our first date;/not sure if I came early or late./ I’ve got so much to tell you but I’m still wondering how;/ I don’t wanna suck up to you nor make you bow./ There’s never been a less exciting time/to be behind a camera, on that I agree,/ so let’s up this game/a little bit differently…/ We will skip talking heads, expert analysis/special effects and cultural paralysis./No classic twists, no money shots,/no side characters, no subplots;/ No saving the world, no noble pretentions,/ – just portraits of you and me in everyday situations –/ And a few lines of comments,/to frame the debate,/just to make sure/ that you will bite the bait.»
«I wanted to make a cinematic equivalent to the best satirical book ever, Erasmus’ 1513 humanistic classic In Praise of Folly » – Boris Mitic
And thus this strange collation of images is «filmed over 8 years by 62 cinematographers in 70 countries, scored by cabaret grandmasters Pascal Comelade and the Tiger Lillies and narrated – in simple childlike verse – by Iggy Pop» (as Mitic’s introduction to the booklet that accompanies the film has it). The film then continues for a further 75 minutes or so.
A rhythm of words and images
Mitic, an amiable Bohemian hunk of a man – his straw blonde hair slightly, but only somewhat, tidier than British foreign secretary Boris Johnson’s unruly mop – is currently travelling the festival circuit with his film.
Modern Times Review caught up with him at the Moscow Film Festival outside the Oktyabr kino teatr on the Russian capital’s wide Soviet boulevard, Novy Arbat, and talked with him about the genesis and journey of this strange but compelling work.
Mitic claims he does not recall when the idea first came to him, but as it emerged he started contacting documentary filmmakers the world over to ask them to send him their best documentary shots of «nothing».
«Iggy Pop’s participation was an inspiration» – Boris Mitic
As the images started to roll in from cinematographers of the likes of Vitaly Mansky, Nedzad Begovic, Ed Godsell, Niklas Kullstrom, Goran Jovic among many, many others, the film takes on a mesmerising rhythm of words and images.
«I shared the images among the filmmakers as they came, anonymously, so that no one knew who had shot what and working that way – online – began to shape the material over the years,» Mitic says.
Iggy Pop’s participation was an inspiration, he adds. «I thought of someone special who would personify the character of ‘my’ Nothing and Iggy Pop came to mind. A friend knew someone who had been crew on his gig and one thing lead to another. After a few tactical emails and cinematic negotiation tricks, it worked.»
A tribute to follies and satire
The dogged determination over eight years has produced a film that is both lyrical and jarring; at times it approaches the transcendental, though it is perhaps too episodic to allow one to slip into the kind of trance I experienced when watching Terence Malik’s Tree of Life, for example.
Suffice to list just a few of the amazing images one can see in this most poetic and virtually indescribable film: the long shot of an empty good train trundling across a mountainous pass somewhere in the eastern reaches of the former Soviet Union; clouds dissipating in the sunlight over a dusty stretch of rocks; a dog wandering amid the dirt and waste of a slum; cows, horses, and various other creatures; flags fluttering into themselves in the wind; the sea washing ashore on a sandy beach….the images comes and go, go and come…
In Praise of Nothing is exactly what is says on the box.
As Mitic says: «I wanted to make a cinematic equivalent to the best satirical book ever, Erasmus’ 1513 humanistic classic In Praise of Folly, in which Folly goes around the world arguing that it is smarter to be mad than to be smart, 500 years later, it is Nothing who gets the main role.»