Christophe Daviet-Thery: I would like to start by our shared interest in books and texts. I am a publisher of books, and a large part of them have no text, some are almost entirely empty, others have images. When I saw Orrery I realised that it is almost entirely made of written words, which appear in sequences, one after the other. Why such decision to give such a strong presence to text in this film?
Daniel Gustav Cramer: That is the reason why I wanted to share it with you. The film describes an intimate relation between two men, a relation of trust, of mutual understanding. But at the same time this closeness is always vague – after all they hardly know each other. The men spend time together, they meet in several occasions for a few hours, and then they depart for good. Many things are left unsaid: they don't need to be said. I feel that the appearance and disappearance of the words on the screen echoes this situation. One is drawn into the world, connected to the words and the rhythm of the text, following them step by step; at the same time these words are just letters, markers, written, like a veil: keeping the viewer at distance.
CDT: Yes, like a window that hasn’t been cleaned in years – one is left outside, watching silhouettes move behind it.
What about the sound? I have the impression that the sound draws me into the scene, although it is a sound of another space, the outside of the hut in which the meeting of the two men takes place.
DGC: Brian is one of the last remaining builders of Orreries. I was amazed by the image of a man who was creating a solar system, hand-carving planets and moons and constructing clock-like machines to finally connect those to a complete solar system, almost like a god, making worlds, unnoticed by his neighbours. I felt that the sound recording – made at night in front of his house – might connect his personal microcosm with the planets and galaxies above him. Instead of breaking the protective intimacy of the house by bringing a microphone in, it stayed outside, in his garden, pointed up towards the night. It is obvious that the microphone doesn't actually record the sound of the night sky, but whatever lies in the immediate vicinity of his house. It neither records the silence of the sky nor that of Brian’s house but rather the space in-between.
Later I understood that by doing so a second story starts to unfold. In the beginning of the recording you can hear cicadas, birds; everything seems alive. It starts at sunset. Once the sun is gone, the sound changes. Also the cars and a few animals can be heard, other stories, somewhere else.
CDT: Throughout the film I can sense this motive of distance, intervals and connections. The two men meet during the night, when the planets and stars are visible. The microphone outside, excluded from the conversation, yet indirectly connected to it. The stuffed cat, which died long ago, whose physical trace was kept. In the first part of the film, the “I” character imagines Brian as a child surrounded by pebbles on a veranda – much later, towards the end, Brian sits, now an old man, surrounded by these spheres that represent planets. I am not quite sure if the film is a constructed, conceptual piece in which the individual elements are fragments of a larger puzzle or if the description of the different moments came together naturally, in the manner of a diary.
DGC: I imagine the film as a large drawing of different lines and circles that intersect one another and build up a single image.
Some of these lines are drawn in time – like the physical remains of the cat and Brian’s memory of it – others in space: the hut and the stars, Melbourne and Berlin, the two men facing each other. In 2009, when I started to be interested in photographing the planets of the solar system, I heard about Brian and I wanted to visit him. Nowadays photographers use high-end digital equipment and get astonishing results, but I was more drawn to a classic approach: to use light on analogue film. When I entered his tiny house I could not believe my eyes: it was full of artefacts relating to early explorations, Captain Cook´s researches on the transit of Venus; his discovery of Australia, and above all Brian’s workshop, in which he built the beautifully crafted Orreries. The story is based on our encounter: the little moments in the film are based on events and words that we shared.
For instance, the first thing that Brian did when he invited me in was to offer me a coffee, and back in Berlin, when I started putting together all the fragments of my memory, I heard the coffee brewing in my kitchen, and the overall structure fell into place. In the process of bringing the elements together, or rather, of taking elements away, I started working with similar forms appearing and reappearing and a kind of rhythmic motion, back and forth. It felt like I was carving out a body from the mass of memories.
CDT: Let me return to the sense of distance. Recently we spoke about Yasijiru Ozu. What I like about Ozu’s films is the relation they establish between the inside and the outside: the window is a hyphen between both places. The architecture is the "frame" of the action. In Orrery, I also stay outside, even if I am allowed to be the witness of this "intimate relation" between Brian and "I". But at the same time I remain in another space.
DGC: I am wondering what this other space could actually be.
Is it the space of cinema, of one’s imagination? Or is it simply the garden surrounding his house?…
What I admire in Ozu’s films is the silence, the gaps, the unspoken words. The crucial scenes are left out, as if he wanted to protect the audience from their harshness. There is this sense of grace, this strong bond to life itself – in which the unsaid is as valid as the spoken word. In Ozu’s films the drama is caught inside the characters.
Orrery is obviously quite different. In this film it is the night that unites everything. As if these events could only happen in darkness. Everything seems still at a beginning, and this stillness gradually expands throughout the film. Brian touches the other man only once: he places his hand on the other’s shoulder. Apart from that they simply stay together, share some time. Towards the end, Brian’s presence gradually fades until he becomes a mere memory.
CDT: When I first watched the film I was surprised and slightly frustrated by the fact that there was nothing to look at. But then, when the sound began appearing, when the microphone was switched on, I was very pleased. Then, after a while, the first images appeared and expanded this experience. What is their function?
DGC: These three elements, words, sound and images – stand independently but next to each other during the film – form the borders of the project. In the centre there are the words, the first element. They are written from the perspective of the subject, simple observations and descriptions. The words never interpret or reflect on the thoughts and feelings of the two men. The second element is the sound recording of the outside of the hut. It is like a parallel story, happening at the same time, uncontrolled and vague, on the other hand it places the viewer relatively close to the events. The third element, the images, only portray the setting of the encounter, the inside of Brian’s house. No one appears in the film – with the exception of Brian’s shadow at 10’30’’ – as if the filming happened during the time that the two characters were absent, like the documentation of the stage. The film is structured in a few paragraphs or chapters. The images work structurally as interludes.
CDT: Who is the “I”?
DGC: Well, it’s not me…
CDT: What is the subject of Orrery beyond the relation between the "I" and Brian?
DGC: There is a short essay by Maurice Blanchot entitled The Essential Solitude, in which the French thinker describes the state of the human mind as being ultimately lonely, isolated, through the physical boundaries of the body of which it is part of. The two men are somehow lost in time, they share the same space, share unspoken thoughts, but each of them is sitting on their own chair, with their own past and future, in solitude. Vladimir and Estragon, infinitely waiting. Two leaves that fell from a tree into a stream and that for a few moments drift next to each other before being drawn apart by a rock blocking the way, and directing the flow of water in other directions.