Zum Ditter

(10 minutes b/w 16mm 1979)

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A rare document of amateur sound poet and “stunter” extraordinaire, Allan MacKay, exploiting the greatest name in music—Carl Ditters von Dittersdorf (1739-1799). In this extemporary performance piece, camera and actor develop a tight rapport like two instruments in a jazz band. Nothing is rehearsed except the finale, itself discovered by accident. The narrative structure of the piece establishes a subversive dialectic as bizarre as the filmmaker’s own piano punk-tuations, added later.

“Quite interesting—quite interesting indeed.” Allan McFee, Eclectic Circus, CBC 1979

Zum Ditter is a filmed performance by the sound poet Allan MacKay. The name Carl Ditters von Dittersdorf (the classical composer) inexplicably renders the performer incapable of drawing sounds together to form normal word patterns. Words are symbols which refer to things in the real world-they are the tools we have for naming and ordering the universe. MacKay is pointing out the arbitrary nature of our generally agreed-upon semantic codes, while Hancox films him, perhaps attempting to make the same statement pertaining to the dramatic film.

Recording this performance on film has set it within a fixed temporal framework, which Hancox has decided to turn into subversively dramatic time. His division of time into dramatic stages is done as arbitrarily as the scattering of the title lettering, or the plunking of piano keys on the soundtrack. In a sense, Zum Ditter could be credited as having a dramatic ‘climax:’ the release of MacKay’s neck brace finally allows him to pronounce the problem name. But the non-dramatic use of time before this ‘climax’ questions the validity of this as a dramatic moment.

This comparison between semantics and film language is a concept with which Hancox confronts us, and through this confrontation, he creates what he calls his ‘subversive dialectic.’” Michael Wade

Zum Ditter, a film by Rick Hancox in which Allan MacKay lays the starring and only role, further exemplifies this device. Emulating the culture-discourse format of television interview, MacKay assumes the role of host and commentator upon the life of one Karl Ditters von Dittersdorf, 18th century composer. Amid the scholarly clutter of a small library, our host begins his lecture predictably enough, but soon falters on the pronunciation of his subject’s name. Frustration mounts and as the artist focuses all attention on that name, only guttural sounds emerge. Every strategy is exhausted in the pursuit of the correct pronunciation. Can we every say what we mean? This agonizing cycle of attempt and frustration becomes increasingly hilarious to the viewer. A surgical neck support, which until this point has approximated the appearance of a clerical collar, pops off. Of course, with this stricture removed, the unpronounceable becomes pronounceable. Would that our souls were as easily made articulate.” (Alf Bogusky in A Book of Not Knowing We Are Going To Die Or Grow Up And Of Only Knowing A Little Bit by John Bentley Mays (Saskatoon,October 1981/Toronto, January 1982)

Available from:

Canadian Filmmakers' Distribution Centre
37 Hanna Ave. #220
Toronto, Ontario Canada M6K 1W8
telephone: 416-588-0725, e-mail: bookings@cfmdc.org
web: www.cfmdc.org

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Zum Ditter Script

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