In the extended monologue opening Kristina Talking Pictures, a female narrator intones: “My actors will not move with indolent ease through painted landscapes filled with their spoils…. Their faces are not swollen with a masklike beauty. Their actions will not lead them, unquestioning as mindless automatons, into senselessly violent entertainment.” With this pointed critique of the conventions of filmmaking, especially as shaped by Hollywood, Yvonne Rainer positions viewers for a different kind of film, one in which she strips away narrative, drama, artfulness, and fantasy in an effort to sharpen us to a dense texture of ideas and to a critical view of film itself.
Before Rainer turned to filmmaking, she had established herself as a pathbreaking dancer and choreographer. With spare work built on everyday movements, she refuted the virtuosity and high drama of modern dance. Her approach to film was similarly minimalist and polemical. She completed her first film, Lives of Performers, in 1972, following this debut with Film About a Woman Who…, in 1974, and Kristina Talking Pictures, in 1976. With these three films to her name, Rainer solidified her oppositional stance: “The tyranny of a form that creates the expectation of a continuous answer to ‘what will happen next?’…having already attained its epiphany in the movies…has inevitably seemed more ripe for resistance, or at least evasion, than for emulation.”
In Kristina Talking Pictures, Rainer resisted what she termed “narrative expectation” by making a disjointed film structured like a collage. A loose plotline runs through it, centered on a Hungarian lion tamer named Kristina, whose past is haunted by virulent anti-Semitism, and who has come to New York to become a choreographer. She falls in love with a sailor named Raoul, who leaves her, returns, and then leaves again. But Rainer frustrates any semblance of plot or character development, and nothing remains stable in this film: dialogues begin, only to be cut off; a single character may be played by multiple members of the cast; each scene is like a self-contained vignette, rather than a coherent segment of a larger whole; and Rainer couples the film’s visual austerity with an excess of dialogue and voiceovers.
Rainer challenges audiences with her films, and Kristina Talking Pictures does not transport viewers into a finely crafted fictional realm. Rather, it keeps us in the real world and, so the artist hopes, engaged with an array of often uncomfortable considerations, including the dynamics of human relationships, forms of power and oppression, and depictions of women in film.