Some-Thing More Than Night



aka Something More Than Night : Germany/USA 2003 : Daniel EISENBERG : 77 mins

According to its creator, Some-Thing More Than Night “describes the city with our own familiar sense of the night. labour, boredom, fear, fatigue and anticipation.” The film itself lives up to this statement all too well – it’s very hard work, often boring, in which our fatigue makes us very afraid of falling asleep – and we’re in constant anticipation of the moment when it’s all going to be over. Eisenberg has, therefore, clearly accomplished what he set out to achieve – but that’s not much consolation to those hapless viewers struggling to keep increasingly heavy eyelids open. This is an aggressively ‘experimental’ (i.e. non-narrative) mid-length film in which we see various nocturnal activities in and around Chicago – offices, roads, trains, shops – to the accompaniment of largely wordless ambient noise. Connoisseurs of the American avant-garde have, however, been down this route several times before.

At one point we see a large billboard advertising a DNA-screening service for pregnant women: “Who’s the father?” reads the slogan. In terms of this film, there’s one clear answer: James Benning, the virtuoso of dialogue-free, observational, geographical cinema and most recently responsible for the California Trilogy. Whether or not Eisenberg is familiar with Benning’s work, it’s very hard not to think of the older man’s vastly superior handling of this format – Eisenberg occasionally moves his camera within the shot, and there are more people visible on screen, but these are only relatively minor divergences from the Benning method. Only a small handful of Eisenberg’s shots match up to Benning’s level: an inner-city basketball game, in which we hear the participants’ distant cries; and, best of all, the two halves of a raised road bridge slowly moving back together to the accompaniment of a frantically clanging bell.

And the wider structure of the film lacks Benning’s organisational rigour. This film seems like a collection of individual shots, though the pernickety way Eisenberg presents the words on his title card suggests he may have tried to exert a similarly precise ‘assemblage’ of his sequences. Thematic connections are difficult to discern, however – at times it seems to be all about different kinds of light, and the costs of constant illumination, but this ‘subplot’ isn’t sustained. Worse, the inaudible on-screen Chicagoans end up coming across like so many spied-upon, unwitting props organised to support some unstated, nebulous thesis. The fact that they’re quite often seen through glass, meanwhile, only serves to make them seem even more like the mute, less-than-human subjects of a pointless, ostentatiously tedious lab experiment.

17th March, 2003
(seen 8th February, CinemaxX Berlin – Berlin Film Festival – Forum)

For all the review from the Berlin Film Festival click here.

by Neil Young