“Cooperation Of Parts” – 1987, 40 minutes, color, sound, 16MM, USA
Camera, Edit, Texts Daniel Eisenberg
Second Camera Mark Lapore
Title Design Paola DiStefano
Sound Mix Richard Bock
Editing Assistant Kate Rabinowitz
Thanks to Rosa Eisenberg, Jacob Eisenberg, Pan Urbaniak, Anne Marie Stein, Steve Anker, Mark McElhatten, Paola DiStefano, James Steinberg, Mark Ostow, Kevin Crader, Dwight Cody, Henry Hampton, Debbie Ungar, Boston Film/Video Foundation,
Special Thanks to Ellen Rothenberg and Mark Lapore
Funded by MassProductions, Massachusetts Council on the Arts, New England Film/Video Fellowship Program, National Endowment for the Arts, the American Film Institute, Xanadu Graphics
The fragment contains within it an implied reference to something that was once whole. It suggests damage and violence, time and distance. These qualities I found were integral to my own constitution, and it was with the making of Cooperation Of Parts that this became clear.
“Misfortune makes and breaks you.” I have the misfortune of a history of disruptions, and the fortune of having that history to work with.
Intellectually, engagement comes from deeper sources than most of us are willing to acknowledge. What is it that keeps us from one work of art, and draws us to another? I myself do not fully understand this process, but in some way see it as a reflection of something essential seeking a form, a correlative expression, or a shape. And my attraction to the elliptical, to the simultaneous, to the fragmented and discontinuous is, I must acknowledge, a part of this process. I have always been drawn to those thoughts that are completely opaque or are crystal clear; when both are present at once, even more so.
In Cooperation Of Parts the method of gathering and combining materials blurred the distinctions between personal and formal. These artificial, critical constructs rarely play an active role anyway in the making of work, one is usually too involved to notice which is which. But in this film, identity, history, and formal manipulation of material found a kind of equilibrium, with formal choices echoing the personal ones.
The choices that presented themselves in editing were vast and dangerous. “Being left to invent myself I could wind up with a clear case of mistaken identity.” The Faustian power to change oneself at the editing table was tempered by the knowledge that you can only make the films you can live with.
The questions about identity, of the possibility of annihilation and survival, of the ruptures of daily life, of dislocations across continents - these are not merely Jewish questions. They have come to represent the paradigm problems of this century, and can be applied to conditions surrounding many peoples all over the world. That my own existence was made possible by the annihilation of so many (in the chance meeting of my parents in Dachau after the war) is an irony that does not go unnoticed in my everyday thoughts. I myself can be considered a fragment, reflecting a history that was once continuous and intact. It is no accident that I feel the most psychological affinity with the children of Cambodians now living in the United States.
The images for the film were shot with a hand cranked 16mm Bolex and collected on a trip to Europe in the spring and summer of 1983. Without any prescribed plan for shooting, I tried to use the camera not only to record what I was seeing, but also to register my own responses to what was being seen. The camera is truly a medium here - a giving back takes place; automatic, unrehearsed, irregular.
In contrast to this image layer is a highly articulated sound track complete with written texts, musical fragments, and sound effects. The musical fragments at the end of the film are from Ravel’s “Gaspard de la Nuit” and from his song, “Soupir.” The other musical elements are so small as to have lost all context and function more like notes or sound effects.
The text is spoken by myself and was developed out of material generated from the spring of 1984 through the winter of 1985. Aside from my own words are quotes from Edmond Jabès, Roland Barthes, Theodor Adorno, Franz Kafka, and paraphrases of material from Paul Valèry and John Ashbery.
The proverbs in the film have numerous sources: most are researched from “Racial Proverbs: a Selection of the World's Proverbs Arranged Linguistically, With Authoritative Introductions to the Proverbs of 27 Countries and Races” by Selwyn Gurney Champion. Others I constructed myself using the general form of the proverb as my guide. Still others are from my memory, from Ben Franklin’s, “Poor Richard’s Almanac,” or from aphorisms as far afield as the gates and roofs of Dachau, Buchenwald, Sachsenhausen, and Bergen-Belsen.
My initial impulse towards the proverbs comes directly from my experience with my father, whose peculiarly European talent for speaking in riddles, paradoxes, and proverbs peppered my daily life with images of beggars, madmen, vagabonds, wise mothers, prodigal sons, and a curious fellow named Jan Swon.
“Out of a feeling of urgency to know more, the filmmaker undertook his journey to Europe to confront a tangible world that was previously both vivid and spectral through evocation throughout his life. He was ready to ask how the Holocaust had defined him personally. The resulting film explores the boundaries between historical and private experience. It tests the limits of what is knowable through the questioning of conditioning and assumption. As a film of remembrance and active resistance, “Cooperation of Parts” joins forces with a vast array of works that take on issues of the Holocaust. But very few of the films are works of such radical invention, that offer not only an individual perspective but a new possibility of seeing the world.”
Mark McElhatten, KINEMATHEK, January, 1992
Film has become a personal and reflective medium, an art form through which the artist can explore the self as well as larger forces in history. Filmmakers fashion poetic visions of their personal and collective pasts that supplement the more traditional cinematic representations of history. Daniel Eisenberg’s Cooperation of Parts is one such film.
Eisenberg uses Jewish proverbs and his own travels to Europe to create a personal meditation on himself as the child of a Holocaust victim. Cooperation Of Parts is not a literal documentary or narrative but a complex poetic text that constructs a dialogue with history through written and spoken statements and an inquiring camera. The film looks at the past through historical monuments and juxtaposes these shots with scenes of daily life in the cities of Eastern Europe. It fuses the personal diary tradition with the formal concerns of conceptual cinema to vividly present the towns in Poland that Eisenberg visited, towns that offer mute testimony of the concentration camps where his family was destroyed. This is a moving and compelling self-portrait created through the vision of the present and the memory of the culture, places, and people of the past.
John Hanhardt, Whitney Biennial Catalogue, 1989