Is it possible to anthropomorphise a digital projector? Mamoru Iriguchi gives it a good try, turning himself into a one-man cinema to celebrate a legend of film. The projector is mounted on a cycle helmet, and the images play on a metre-wide screen, which has had its middle cut out so that Iriguchi’s face is at its centre. It’s like a powered-up, pop-up, stripped back, Heath Robinson contraption – and just like Robinson’s eccentric devices, it is actually quite brilliant.
The aforementioned legendary star is Marlene Dietrich (born 1901, died 1992); she fits the bill because her remarkable life and career have faded, and now deserve a comeback. It’s a stylish return, complete with the pink tails from her cabaret years, but just remember that it is Iriguchi – his head poking out of the screen – who is “wearing” the top hat. He tells the story of Marlene’s life, illustrated by stills and film footage projected around his face.
That’s the first half. Then there’s the second, the 4D part, introduced as a “bonus feature”. It’s kind-of a videoed reprise. The style is different here, with a full-sized screen, and Iriguchi providing subtitles delivering additional biography using a live camera to “read” the script. In effect, Iriguchi presents Marlene Dietrich twice – in real time and then retrospectively – and makes a coherent job of both sequences
I have not seen narrative so obviously assembled before, and the clever second part of the programme makes this doubly apparent. I’m old enough to remember 2 spool, 8mm cine projectors, in the days when running a film backwards or “winding it on” were fiddly mechanical operations. 4D Cinema doesn’t stutter or jam, but there are enough deliberate stops and starts – for two volunteers to “dress” Marlene for instance, and to whip up an egg nog – to remind you that editing film was once a hands-on process.
4D Cinema very nearly achieves the perfect tone: tongue-in-cheek hilarious and serious at the same time. The ingenuity, the spectacle, the glamorous subject, the light engaging manner, the egg nog, even the sly reveal of its close, are arguments in its favour. But that second half was long. Conceptually it had to be that way – and admittedly we were sitting in a lecture theatre – but I would have preferred more Lili Marlene, and ten minutes less of getting my head around the virtual reality and literal make-up of a screen goddess.