Born 1965, Munich; lives and works in Berlin
American Night, 2009
5-channel video installation, color, sound, 40:42 minutes
© Julian Rosefeldt and VG Bild-Kunst, Bonn 2018
“American night” is a French term for the cinematic technique of day for night, simulating night while filming during the day. La nuit américaine is also the title of François Truffaut’s 1973 film, whose plot follows the production of film making behind the scenes. Julian Rosefeldt gives this title to a video installation that focuses on the Western, one of American cinema’s most popular genres, which makes often use of the day for night technique.
Each of the five screens features one component of the classic Western: a lone rider on a horse, a group of cowboys sitting around a fire, an empty street in a Wild West town, a saloon, a woman waiting at a door in the midst of barren wilderness. Everything seems very generic, in fact too generic, and the archetypal façade is indeed fractured in the very first minutes of the film, when the camera zooms on the lone rider’s face and he turns out to be a black man: a first apparent contradiction in the classic Western logic and a hint at Blazing Saddles, Mel Brooks’ 1974 satirical comedy in which the black sheriff is part of the parody of Western movies. From this point the film develops into a long list of familiar clichés from countless Westerns, analyzing and undermining them.
The movie illusion is wholly unraveled when all its conversations turn out to be quotes from Westerns or from American presidential debates. The film-within-a-film structure is apparent. The cowboys’ conversation about arms, morality and the American spirit turns into a cinephile talk, which develops into a hip-hop show and impersonations of American Republican leaders. The close quarter battle scenes and the brawl in the saloon juxtapose the values at the core of the Western—moving west to a new frontier, the sense of mission in bringing civilization to the uncultivated native lands, and the tough but just cowboy— with a controversial current political reality.
The film was shot mostly in Spain where Sergio Leone shot his 1960s and 1970s spaghetti Westerns, adding a reflexive layer to the collection of quotations and samples used by Rosefeldt in American Night. The virtuosity with which he does this discloses not only his close acquaintance with the genre, not only his wish to deconstruct it, but his enchantment with it.