English Title: Tanka

Country of Origin: New Zealand

Director: Richard von Sturmer

Runtime: 24 minutes

Genre: Experimental

Year: 2007

Volume: Australasian

The personal is rendered poetic in Twenty-Six Tanka Films by Richard von Sturmer, a 24-minute-long cycle which was made between 2004 and 2007. Taking his lead from the Japanese Tanka form of unrhymed Japanese verse of five lines, von Sturmer presents semi-descriptive poetic paradoxes in films made up of two or three shots accompanied by equally brief poetic statements.

Generally, Tanka contain two poetic images. The first is taken from nature; the second is a kind of meditative complement to the nature image. Tanka look simultaneously at nature and the observer of nature.

Like visions on a crystalline reflecting pool, von Sturmer’s quiet, assured films muse on the transitory nature of experience. Seeing a moth on a razor stem, the artist decides to remain unshaven. Following a shadow down a street of one-eyed cats, past a scoria mound, he sees himself walking on another planet. Von Sturmer evokes a depth and reality behind surface appearances in what may be the terrain between life and death; an escalator from which no one arrives or departs.

As von Sturmer recites in one of his Tanka: ‘The machines of darkness are working all the time while in remote areas small defenders hold their ground.’

Von Sturmer, a practitioner of Auckland street theatre in the mid-1970s, later collaborated with David Blyth in writing the surrealistic psychodrama Circadian Rhythms (1976) as well as contributing dialogue for Blyth’s Angel Mine (1978) – the first film ever funded by the interim New Zealand Film Commission. Besides writing the New Zealand hit song ‘There Is No Depression In New Zealand’ in the 1980s, von Sturmer was also a member of the rock group The Plague and the performance art duo The Human Animals. Von Sturmer acted in the film One of those B’s, about the Hawera based writer Ronald Hugh Morrieson, as well as in the first Polynesian existentialist film, Martyn Sanderson’s Flying Fox In A Freedom Tree (1989). In addition to his activities as a film artist, von Sturmer writes and publishes poetry; his books include We Xerox Your Zebras, Network of Dissolving Threads and Suchness: Zen Poetry and Prose.

Author of this review: Martin Rumsby