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Some words on Sala's "Long Sorrow"

Updated on February 7, 2017

Anri Sala Long Sorrow 2005

Long Sorrow

Anri Sala’s video “Long Sorrow,” is a 13-minute long solo performance by the American free jazz saxophonist Jemeel Moondoc in which Moondoc improvises and responds to his surroundings with vocal and saxophone sounds outside of the window of a forlorn apartment building in Berlin, showcases a unique blending of pure, human conviction and present-ness with the existential void of the modern world. As Moondoc sits outside of the building’s window improvising on his saxophone, Sala neglects to offer the viewer with the comfort of knowing how he is stationed there, making for an out of body, surreal viewing and listening experience. The intensity and sincerity of Moondoc’s playing provides a sense that there is nothing better that he could be doing with his time, even though he is essentially playing to no one, or is he actually playing for everyone and everything? That is where the contradiction lies for me in the piece that makes it most provocative and interesting. Moondoc plays for the landscape, he plays for the church bells, he plays for the birds, and he plays for the passer-byers, yet at the same time, he plays for no one but himself. This becomes very clear to me at the end of the video where he is so intensely invested in his improvisation that his eyes open and close with the sounds of his saxophone in a trance-like way.

Sala captures the beauty and rawness of this performance through his slow, contemplative shots that linger on cropped selections of Moondoc’s head and body in relationship with the larger landscape outside, which is at times, extremely beautiful and lush, a contradiction to the run-down, desolate apartment building which he is outside of. The slowness and patience of Sala’s camera work allows the viewer to sink into the space and experience in a meditative type of space and hear the sounds for what they are and see the place for what it is. If I was better versed with Heidegger and Ponty I could probably make a really smart and profound statement about this idea. But the movements of Sala’s shots and expressions of Moondocs efforts provide a deep sense of being and existence that simultaneously feels rich, full and abundant, and existential, lonely and powerless. “Long Sorrow” is a true and pure depiction of the human condition in the modern world, and it is a rare skill to be able to capture this particular feeling, a filmic comparison that comes to mind is the work of Vincent Gallo, but it’s not like he is capturing it throughout the entirety of his films, but he does seem to pick up on a similar temperament and condition, which is something that I tend to get very engaged with. I would write more about this stuff but I am out of time.

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