biographische Artikel | biographic articles

The Problem of Agency in the Digital Era
From the New Media Artist Michael Brynntrup to Run Lola Run
by Alice A. Kuzniar

In Michael Brynntrup's playful internet piece Kein Film/No Film: A Motion Picture Experience a stick figure walks mechanically on the spot.[0] In its title and in its kinetic antics Tom Tykwer's Lola rennt / Run Lola Run likewise presents itself as the pure and quintessential motion picture. But Brynntrup, in his choice of title, also insists that his web art is decidedly not a film. The manifesto flashes up on the computer terminal: "Film is no longer what it should have been. Rhythm in the age of its digital producibility." Brynntrup therewith challenges his viewer to reconsider what the status of the old medium of celluloid is in the digital age. The challenge presented by experimental new media, including multimedia, internet, and interactive art, is one I take seriously. If film is no longer in the digital age what it once was, what is different about the new dynamic arts? How do we as teachers, students, and scholars face this difference? No matter how fascinating and inventive (as, for instance, I find Brynntrup to be), experimental media artists are awarded scant scholarly attention, especially in German Cinema Studies in this country, where we anachronistically teach and write almost exclusively on feature-length film, as if we were not living in an era of digital, instantaneous media. And even as we are critical of the tactics of hegemony in popular cinema or well-financed Euro-art-house cinema, we ignore that there are other forms of low budget, underground, alternative visual production. Because they reflect on the digital apparatus and are structured on the principle of networking (especially with internet art but also with interactive installations), the new media arts reassess how virtual connections operate and how they condition the individual user. At the same time they question the intensity, integrity, and actuality of this interface: once online the user is engulfed by the larger network into which he is plugged. In this talk today I want to examine how Michael Brynntrup interrogates the possibilities for artistic intervention in the virtual realm. Then I want to reassess the issue of agency in another high tech/techno film -- Run Lola Run.

Michael Brynntrup has premiered his work more than ten times at the Berlinale and shown thrice at the Museum of Modern Art -- at the 1987 Cineprobe Film Exhibition, in a retrospective entitled Lebende Bilder. still lives in 1992, and again in 1998. This Mephistophelian manipulator of screen images is indisputably one of Germany's most significant filmmakers today. Notwithstanding, as with his cohorts in the experimental, underground vein, the venues for his work are still few and far between. The Goethe Institute will occasionally program his shorts, as will gay film festivals open to experimental forays. Fortunately, Brynntrup, unlike most experimental artists, acts as his own distributor, so that videos are available for purchase. Having made films throughout the past twenty years, the list of his works is long. Most of his films play off of and into the ability of the camera to reproduce and in so doing distort the image.[1] They toy with the problematic of the simulacrum and the mise-en-abyme of endless copies, often involving the mimicry of transvestism.[2]

Throughout his 20 years of filmmaking, Brynntrup has been fascinated with putting himself before the camera, thereby foregrounding the tension between individuality and its electronic reproduction, between original and copy, between mirror and warp. When you look up his web site (www.brynntrup.de) you navigate through his stylish self-indulgence: you can click on him "live" where a video camera is set up in his apartment; on a minutely detailed curriculum vitae; on extensive press excerpts and references; on various self-portraits; even on a site where pages from his diary flit by the screen and from which you can select one to order. The sales pitch, misleading as they all are but here ironically so, promises you an "original copy." Brynntrup in the age of digital reproduction; Brynntrup to the rhythm of the double click. He presents the human subject as serialized in images, supplemented by the internet, seamlessly fitted into the matrix.

Leading up to this self-stylized website are several films and videos that chronicle Brynntrup's life or manipulate an image of himself. They include Handfest -- freiwillige Selbstkontrolle / Handfest -- Voluntary Self-Control (1984), Tabu I-IV (1988), Die Statik der Eselsbrücken / Engineering Memory Bridges (1990), Herzsofort. Setzung / Heart. Instant(iation) (1994), Loverfilm: an uncontrolled dispersion of information (1996), and Tabu V (1998). With all his aliases, Brynntrup asks us to ponder what the status of the subject is in the world of digital processing and cyberspace. He himself has stated in an eerie, yet enchanting metaphor: "Das Leben ist eine Silberscheibe" ("Life is a silver disk"). And indeed, he has put his life work on a CD-Rom entitled Netc.etera that links to his homepage. The project creates a Gesamtkunstmedium,[3] a mammoth undertaking that is conceivable only via the new technology of the internet.

Yet it would be entirely misleading to surmise that Brynntrup celebrates the internet as a site of free exchange. Instead, this savvy artist probes the contingencies of the digital medium. Film theoretician D. N. Rodowick in his recent book, Reading the Figural, or, Philosophy after the New Media, has written:

[T]he increasing velocity of information and the global reach of the electronic image world have made us all too aware of the gravity of our bodies -- their slowness, fragility, and diminutive size, their vulnerability to time and force. Thus what most widely defines the contemporary cultural meaning of the virtual is an (illusory) sense of a becoming immaterial, not only of discourse but also of the body in its communicational exchanges, leading to a phenomenon that has been called 'cyborg envy.'[4]

Whether in his films, videos, CD-Roms, or internet art, Brynntrup's reproduced selves are schizophrenically metastasizing or self-cloning, as if in an attempt to seize the immaterial, illusory body Rodowick speaks of -- or to freeze it into an image with which the self could then identify. Yet such hopes are in vain: Brynntrup takes to the limit the contingencies and disintegration of natural appearances that the camera accomplishes and that virtual technologies capitalize on. The transmission of data in high tech culture demands ever increasing acceleration and dissolving of the previous image. As in all our virtual environments (whether in virtual reality or on the internet) everything is a process of ongoing, often enigmatic screening. Cyborgesquely, Brynntrup presents himself as the sum of ever mutating image parts.

And yet, what Brynntrup also performs is what Rodowick calls the gravity and fragility of our bodies. What makes Brynntrup so fascinating is this resistance to the virtual, cyborgesque self through the materiality of his own, unique body. Despite the digital morphing, he insists on inscribing his unique physique into his films, as if this gesture marked the very signature of his work. Signature? Originality? Authenticity? Creativity? This artist asks whether such terms have any meaning in an age fashioned by the simulacra and digital alteration, which masks any original referent. His films inquire into whether technology and spontaneity are not at odds with each other. And he is not alone in engaging his own person as experiment in the new media: other German-speaking artists who do the same include Bjørn Melhus, Claudia Schillinger, Hans Scheirl and Urusla Pürrer, Pippilotti Rist, and Oliver Hussain.

The issue, then, is how Brynntrup both deploys the new media and comments on its presence in contemporary life. He clarifies how today the subject is resignified via its cyborgesque interaction with virtual technologies. These new technologies function not as extensions to ourselves, that is, as tools or devices to use. Rather, at the start of the 21st century, man inhabits the space of virtuality. The relationship of the body to the cinematic (as opposed to digital) apparatus has been hypothesized by such psychoanalytic film theorists as Christian Metz and Jean-Louis Baudry. They conceptualize the cinematic apparatus as analogous to the human body -- for instance, the projector and camera stand in for the eye, whose vision they channel. Along with the feminist inflection of such theory (as in the work of Laura Mulvey and Kaja Silverman), Metz and Baudry classically focus on spectatorial identification and disidentification via the gaze. Brynntrup, however, goes in a different direction with how we interface with more recent technologies of vision. By putting himself before as well as behind the camera or on the web, or by photocopying and rephotographing his image, he lodges himself inside the labyrinthine matrix of the new media. Rather than obeying the distancing economy of the gaze, he enacts one's engulfment by the permanent present of digital culture.

Let me discuss these issues in more detail. Already in the manifesto to his 1984 film Handfest -- freiwillige Selbstkontrolle / Handfest -- Voluntary Self-Control, Michael Brynntrup writes:

The copy decomposes the original.
The pulse of the machine brings an end to the art of the free hand.
The retina turns into a co-ordinate system, the picture into wallpaper.
The art of disjointed, mediated body parts is over.
The only possible original now is the living picture without go-between.
The original is motion. Identity is denied.
Brynntrup here announces the theme that will run throughout his work -- the dissolution of the original and individual via replication. In this film, an intertitle "Self-Portrait with Skull" announces a series of images of Brynntrup with mouth and eyes wide open; as each blowup draws us closer into his pupil we see a skull form and then disintegrate before our eyes, as if linking mechanical reproduction to death. In Herzsofort. Setzung / Heart. Instant(iation) (1994), too, via rephotography and digital alteration Brynntrup manipulates images of himself, transforming them to the rapid patter of a camera clicking, so that we are left with the impression of the total, albeit virtuoso, mutability of the subject-image. Although his face is cut into frames and rearranged like a Cubist puzzle, Brynntrup is right in denying this to be an "art of disjointed body parts"; instead the picture is set in motion via the pulse of the clicking camera and electronic, liquid, repetitious music that sutures over each retake. The serialization draws us closer and closer into the face, forcing us to study it; yet in the maelstrom, depth reverts into the opposite -- sheer surface. Precisely because the human visage can be so malleable and anamorphotically changed, our eyes are captivated by its two-dimensional image. It exerts a fascination not unlike the optical illusions of Baroque, allegorical still life.[5] In the process, nothing is revealed about the intimate self, although here as elsewhere in his films, Brynntrup puts himself on display.

The fragmentariness of the experimental genre is visually enticing. Brynntrup fetishizes the partial object in its brevity, intensity, and obliqueness. In addition, he fetishizes the speed and oblivion of the techno-erotic. Disjointedness in turn creates a cult object: if the isolated image emits an air of mystery, then experimentalism turns its very products into auratic incarnations to behold, each film a body of tantalizing , mosaic-like glimpses. Profusion is represented, of course, not only optically but also acoustically in the techno soundtrack by Jay Ray. In other words, musical and visual seriality endows Herzsofort with an aura of transcendence and limitlessness or what Fredric Jameson terms the "technological sublime." As in virtual reality and the fantasy of the cyborg, there is no longer an exterior material boundary to the self.

It is this proximity of this film to virtual environments that I want to explore further, for I think Brynntrup has cannily tapped into what Vivian Sobchack calls the "Culture of Quick-Change" or Celia Lury "Prosthetic Culture," theorists who argue that we already live inside technology, that we don't just use it as a tool, but are living within its fictional space (for instance, as we become agents in a video game or in virtual reality). In rephotographing himself, Brynntrup launches himself into this incarcerating space. He points to how our notion of subjectivity has entered into the camera, into the projection screen, and at one point, into the computer terminal. He underscores how we crave an identity from repeated association and identification with these instantaneous takes and manipulations. In the film Brynntrup leans into the camera in a kind of self-examination that would merge with the mirror: and he indeed does merge, dissolve, and multiply into doubles inside the medium. It is not surprising that Brynntrup has recently become one of Germany's leaders in cyber-art, including interactive CD-Rom. In the CD-Rom version of Plötzlich und Unerwartet -- Eine Déjà-Revue, the user can construct his or her own death certificate while halting at hot spots in the film that present information on various burial practices. Herzsofort too is interactive, for by staring at us, Brynntrup reminds us that he is our mirror. As the image approaches us, we dissolve into it until we cannot see it anymore. We advance into the film.

This collapse of distance and differences presupposes an exchange between what Brynntrup aligns as "Mensch/Maschine/Medium/Material." In a statement about Herzsofort-Setzung, Brynntrup explains his desire to study the perception of media itself. He speaks of its spirituality and the "Eigendynamik" of technology (the dynamics peculiar to it). In the cyborgesque exchange of man and machine, the media themselves are anthropomorphized as possessing senses and even spirituality. Brynntrup moreover eroticizes the tactility the apparatus imparts. In order to create the sense of the immediacy and spontaneity of the technological and in order to respond instantly to each retake, Brynntrup used in this multi-media project what he calls the most direct forms of reproduction -- those of videoprint, photocopies, and Polaroid shots. He simulates a permanent present. To the same effect and contrary to preconceived notions of technology, Brynntrup marvels not at its precision and calculability, but at its potential for chance and chaos. Conversely, he borrows from the hard, scientific discourse to refer to himself: he is the variable who is mathematized. He is the object of dislocation: "Ich bewege mich aus mich selbst heraus" (I move out of myself).

As this phrase suggests, despite the intense preoccupation Brynntrup has with his own visage, he rejects physiognomically reading the face for the expression of inwardness. Instead he displays the essence of the self today -- its posing and impostures. He performs Baudrillard's trenchant observation that "we have interiorized our own prosthetic image and become the professional show-men of our own lives."[6] Brynntrup reminds us that what we crave is another exposure, instantaneously, to be superimposed and layered upon ourselves. The more abstract the image becomes, approximating the outlines of a cartoon or animated video game character, the more stylish it is. Insofar as the photographic and digitally morphed image fixes and freezes the self, the self becomes a matter of selective framing. Once in the matrix or mapped onto a grid, all views are partial and contingent. It is not that we want to dwell on or immerse ourselves in the self-portrait, but that we desire another snapshot as quickly as possible -- we long to be reimaged as quickly as the camera shutter permits or to revel in the jouissance that the click on a new web site provides. Yet we are also well aware of the shock and disillusion that the photo of our self creates, how the photo transforms our body into a specter -- hence Brynntrup's fascination with death and the camera in numerous films, including Testamento memori (1986), the Totentanz /Death Dances series (1988), and Plötzlich und Unerwartet (1993). And instead of the photo serving as a mnemonic trigger, consolidating memory in the close-up (photography's function in the past), here every rephotographing fosters amnesia of the previous image. The speed of digital transmission and the permanent present of our visual culture results in hyper-obsolescence. As R. L. Rutsky writes "technology has itself come to be seen as a mutational process or logic."[7]

Furthermore, instead of the photo being the supplement to the self (an image representing the self), here the self is the supplement, for one cannot retrace, in the reconfiguration of each successive shot, the originating moment behind Brynntrup's serialization. He reminds us that there is nothing "real" behind each image, only another image which preceded it, in infinite regression. Cyborgesquely, Brynntrup presents himself as hybridized, -- he is both an animated sketch and pieces of a puzzle. He morphs with every click of the camera, like the click of the mouse, into a newly screened image. Brynntrup attributes this impossibility of perfect reproduction or reference to an original to the chaotic independence ("Eigenleistung") of the technological medium: he writes that the reproduction creates the new original. As Celia Lury writes, the subject has moved beyond the mirror stage (of reflection) to the stage of self-extension, to "the advent of myself as other."[8] Brynntrup revels in the otherness of his own image -- with each retake into instantaneous distortion.

And yet, as if to compensate for the ego dislocation, Brynntrup engages in autopoesis: he recreates the self with confidence and artistic dexterity. What, of course, the cybernetic world does for its user is to endow the fantasy of armored techno invincibility: whether this fantasy be incorporated in Robocop or in the game player in virtual reality. Brynntrup, too, is imperious and inviolable. For him technology acts out and transforms the self in unpredictable, exciting ways. And yet at the same time, motivating this protean self-erasure is the contrary desire to engineer and orchestrate oneself. As if challenged by contemporary "quick-change culture," Brynntrup decides to master the rapid morph by performing it. He controls the momentum that is seemingly beyond his command. He inserts the pauses when his naked body appears before our eyes, and he arbitrarily ends the film that could go on indefinitely. The film foregrounds its constructedness, artistry, and performance, so that we sense the individual who has left traces of himself in what he has created. The paradox is that this self-staging is driven by the paranoia of being overwhelmed by the unlimited capacities and the self-generating dynamic of the apparatus.

Brynntrup referred to Herzsofort-Setzung as "autogenic manipulations," a phrase suggesting masturbatory pleasure. Digital cultural critic, Peter Lunenfeld, has referred to the "narcissism inherent in contemporary technology,"[9] meaning that the so-called interactivity between user and terminal screen is actually a self-absorption. He notes the "pleasure of vicarious agency,"[10] for instance in video games. Yet rather than moralizing on Brynntrup's vanity, I would prefer to speak of his authorialism, his faith in the agency of the artist/performer that would serve as an antidote to precisely the vicariousness of which Lunenfeld speaks. In discussing new media genres, cultural critic Andrew Darley suggests that "even in its 'de-centered' guise, the idea of authorial freedom has become so attenuated by the workings of the system itself, that quite simply it is no longer an issue."[11] Darley could hardly be more wrong in the case of Brynntrup. To be sure, the fact that the artist acts in his own films signifies how engulfed the subject is by technological culture. He refuses to disengage himself from the morphed spaces he creates yet that are representative of this culture: hence he lodges himself in these incarcerating spaces. Yet by virtue of his honesty in admitting his entanglement in the self-enclosed world of simulacra and cyberspace, he reflects critically on it, and, as in the modernist tradition, takes (self)-representation as his very subject matter. He unravels the fabric of the simulacra itself -- a singular accomplishment and intervention in an era of fake agency. Yet, at the same time, he delights in the games of fakeness and camouflage: through putting his life's opus and intimacies from his diary on the web, he plays not just with the anonymity and disguise of the internet but also with its users' puerile curiosity and hypocritical, anachronistic beliefs in privacy.[12]

In closing this section on Brynntrup, I want to add that, given his juxtaposition of the artificial reproduction of the self with its agency and independence, it is not surprising that he frequently uses flamboyant transvestite performers. In fact, whether citing from his diary in a voice-over or incarnating himself before the camera, Brynntrup himself is always performing in a kind of drag. His exploration of the simulacrum is brilliantly queer when one considers its transvestitic dimensions. Marjorie Garber writes, "the subversive secret of transvestism [is] that the body is not the ground, but the figure," an insight which leads her to observe that "the transvestite effect . . . underlies representation itself."[13] Transvestism complicates the dynamics between original and copy that so preoccupies Brynntrup.

An example of this engagement is Brynntrup's recent NY' NY 'n why not, a film shot on super-8 and trans-ferred digitally onto 35mm. It begins with the lyricism that super-8 as an old-fashioned medium creates, yet just as Kaspar Kamäleon, Brenda Sexual, and Glennda Orgasm transform gender signifiers, so too does super-8 metamorphose under the digital alteration to become jagged and syncopated to the techno score by Jay Ray. Like the title, the images stutter. The halting repetition, fast-forwarding, and freeze-framing of movement point to computerized modification, just as the m2f repeats but alters signs of feminine gender. Out on the streets, these women are in trans-it, experimental selves in an experimental medium. It is clearly not an issue of them passing as women, instead their artificiality matches the garish tint and frenetic pace of the image. Brynntrup's transgender characters move away from any nostalgia for the original, natural body and question claims to authenticity via gender. Even the names of his actresses -- BeV StroganoV, Tima die Göttliche, and Kaspar Kamäleon -- signify not a biological origin but an acquired singularity. If, in Herzsofort, Brynntrup presents a shifting constellation of fragmented selves and his grid reassembles multiple parts, then these include, as in NY' NY 'n why not, signifiers of gender which are substitutable and replaceable for each other. The transvestitic performer points to sexual difference as inherently obeying the economy of the simulacrum. Brynntrup thus instrumentalizes virtual gender to explore the virtual medium.

Yet despite the freneticism of the present moment -- the stop and go of high heels dodging cars -- the film alludes to a past, indeed, a specific history. The sign "Christopher Street" (where gay liberation in America began thanks to the courageous drag queens who resisted a police raid) appears at the top of two shots, and the film is dedicated to these veterans of the Stonewall uprising. Thus despite his acknowledgement of "the culture of quick change," Brynntrup is also at pains to locate a tradition within it. He sees the need to gesture to this crucial link for gays to the past.


"The culture of quick change," as symptomatized in Brynntrup's cloning, fast-forwarding, and techno music, can also be seen in Tom Tykwer's Run Lola Run. In fact, NY' NY 'n why not, with its transvestites in brashly blonde wigs running haphazardly between cars waiting at a stoplight, seems to parody Run Lola Run. As I indicated at the start, Tykwer's work is truly a motion picture -- a movie about velocity in the era of the internet. The director has stated that the image of Lola running is that of cinema itself -- motion and emotion ("Dieses Bild ist Kino: Bewegung und Emotion, kein anderes Medium kann das so transportieren").[14] But the film has ties not only to cinema: with its loop-structure Run Lola Run resembles a video loop installation on the one hand and on the other an interactive CD-Rom where you have limited choices about the narrative path you can follow.[15] As in video games or chatrooms, you can create the character you play. And, as in video games, there is a time limit and each time you play the game you can carry over limited knowledge from the previous game and pick up extra time to improve your score. The film is related as well to the internet, insofar as the hypertext has accustomed us to the nonlinear progression that characterizes the parallel worlds Lola sequentially inhabits. As digital critic Peter Lunenfeld states: "[Because of t] he constant play between interlinked nodes of information . . . we can no longer know where a proposition will come in relation to other propositions."[16]

But despite its evocation of such diverse new media, Run Lola Run does not critically reflect on the postmodern technoterrain it inhabits. It is a popular film whose high art constructedness amuses and whose speed and throbbing music carry the viewer along in a trance, discouraging the piercing self-examination that characterized Brynntrup's performance in Herzsofort-Setzung. This slight of hand is enabled in Run Lola Run via the construction of its main character. Apart from her scream, Lola is quite ordinary, like the individuals she encounters on the streets whose atomized lives scroll by pixellated in arbitrary narratives before us. She is someone with whom the average spectator can safely identify, for, as Tykwer has stated, she comes from a normal middle class household.[17] Her life could be written this way or that, preferably with a happy end but with a modicum of agency. But mostly life is just a gamble, as the culminating scenes in the casino intimate. Lola's choices are restricted and conventional. It is not surprising that her life is cloned thrice over, each time erasing the past. In today's world, one's self is composed of a constellation of possibilities (like in a video game or Chuck Jones' cartoon) and does not follow one integral, unique path, linked to the past. In other words, such a self can be supplemented by multiple frames or narratives.

Tykwer's film, however, does not problematize this lack of self-determination in a mediatized, techno society. In fact, it tricks us into believing Lola does have effective will and agency, and in that sense allays our anxieties about performance and intervention in a posthumanist world. Tykwer plays upon the spectator's hackneyed fantasy of being able to save the beloved and get rich quick, as when he banally claims that "the most important statement is at the end: not everything is determined. There's a place for the realization of our desires."[18] Moreover the viewer is conned into believing that Lola is a model of a strong, inventive, and resolute young woman, despite the fact that her most effective resource is her primal scream. The director summarizes Lola's attitude as: "Ich mache mir die Welt, wie sie mir gefällt" ("I make the world to be what I want").[19] The universe according to Lola. Her uniqueness and individuality are signified, not surprisingly, by hair color, which instigated in turn a copy-cat fad.

Tykwer's claims to present an average, young woman -- hearty and natural in her resolve to fulfill her instinctive desires -- are belied by the constructedness that determines every aspect of the film, including Lola's body and character. At the most basic level, Lola's prosthetic life is engineered by cinematic narrative conventions -- bank heist, robbery, shoot-out, and happy end. Her story itself is mechanically re-produced in three versions. If in the virtual environment everything is a process of screening, then Run Lola Run literally flashes up new screen scenarios in its retelling of the plot. In his review for The Nation, Stuart Klawans writes: "Lola is most emphatically a creature of Cinemaland. Able to slip back and forth amid formats, Lola can exit a room and immediately reappear in it on TV, or change into a cartoon figure . . . or shrink herself to accommodate the demands of a triple-split-screen effect."[20] Tykwer also makes ample use of black-and white as well as color stock. All scenes without Lola or Manni are shot on video in order to indicate that "the world outside these two is artificial and unreal"![21] Tykwer also deploys fastforwarding, hand-held camera (in the bank scenes to show nervousness), and digital technology (in smoothing over transitions). As we see her body pumping along and breathing hard, we forget that Lola initially appeared during the credits as a cartoon character. Her heartbeat is cyborgesque as well, supplemented by the techno music which pulsates and punctuates her stride. If techno is an art performed by DJs who sample and splice fragments of pieces together, then Tom Tykwer is DJ, sampling films, such as Wim Wenders's Wings of Desire. This cyborgesque-like composition of disjointed excerpts then mirrors the parceled form of the film.

As in Brynntrup's mosaic-like work, here too all views or elements of an individual's life are partial and contingent. Other components of Lola's character mark her as a creature from Sobchack's "quick-change culture." She embodies the generational fantasy of how to break out of old structures (she is literally not her father's daughter), even of how to break out of time. At the start, as a cartoon character, she smashes all obstacles with her fist. Unlike her bank-manager dad, she represents how money circulates today: as one critic observed,[22] she represents a new concept of agency and temporality in the late-nineties age of entrepreneurial, get-rich-quick internet startup companies. Her swiftness reflects the fetishization of speed in the computerized era. Like raves where the constant music and consumption of ecstasy transports one out of one's body, here too Lola is, despite her Berlin setting, a body of sheer kineticism, taken out of space. Her course was shot at disparate sites in the city. Moreover, the streets were purposely filmed empty and Tykwer proclaimed that Berlin was to function merely as a staged city ("eine inszenierte Stadt") and a stage set ("eine Kulisse").[23] And, indeed, the shots of Friedrichstraße and Gendarmenmarkt display the part of the former East Berlin most revitalized, sanitized, which is to say, Westernized at the time of the shooting. Lola tracks through city streets like someone navigating through a computer game she's played once before and whose coordinates vary slightly on each round. (In other words, pedestrians can be reduced to obstacles in a video game; moreover, Lola has no awareness of the effects she has on their lives!) Watching her, we too are in synch with the music and, through the beat of her footsteps, one with her experience. She makes us feel as if she brings our bodies, passive in high tech, back up to speed. In other words, Lola's very essence is patterned on the velocity of high tech communication and the prosthetic nature of our bodies today. If she runs rather than drives a motorcycle (like Tom Cruise) to accomplish her mission impossible in this fantasy action film, then it is because her body is already enhanced and cyborgized. Lola is, as Janet Maslin has observed, post-human.[24]

In his review of the film, Tom Whalen says Maslin's term is hardly accurate "for the human moments evident in the desires and dilemmas of the characters."[25] What Whalen ignores is that these very desires are themselves late-20th century cultural constructs. What masks the techno body is the grounding of the narrative in the ideology of the heterosexual "fairy tale."[26] Tykwer can blithely call Run Lola Run "a romantic film, a true love story" and a "fairy tale."[27] Yet he also pretends to divorce the artificiality of his formal devices from the apparent truthfulness of the characters: "Die Künstlichkeit der Konstruktion muß verheiratet werden mit der Wahrhaftigkeit der Figuren."[28] Tykwer, like Whalen, downplays that, although the heterosexual romance endows the film with a sense of "naturalness," as in the interim sequences when the frenetic pace stops, the couple lounges in bed, and Lola is back to being a blonde, this romance itself is a cinematic convention. Lola, this creature of Cinemaland, is the postmodern citation of her namesake from Sternberg and Fassbinder. Like her boyfriend Manni, whose name represents his sex, so too her name cites her encoding as the cinematic woman par excellence. Like Marlene Dietrich and Barbara Sukowa before her, she is a cipher for today's woman. Ironically then, insofar as one can talk of heterosexual conventions, in Run Lola Run, as in NY' NY 'n why not, gender and sex are a virtual construct. The difference between them, clearly, is that Brynntrup acknowledges and plays with the construct instead of spuriously naturalizing it. Similarly, unlike Lola's pretense to individuality in her red hair and pumped-up body, Brynntrup interrogates where agency can exist in the virtual realm today, even as he dissolves his body into fragmented, metastasizing copies. As he peers curiously into the camera, this artist imparts an intensity to his search -- a search for honesty, integrity, and inventiveness -- for which Lola's speed is no match.

KUZNIAR, Alice A. (2003): The Problem of Agency in the Digital Era: From the New Media Artist Michael Brynntrup to Run Lola Run, Rutgers German Studies - Occasional Papers Series, New Brunswick, NJ.

[0] (http://www.brynntrup.de/nofilm/c_keinfilm_768x576.html)
[1] These include Handfest -- freiwillige Selbstkontrolle / Handfest -- Voluntary Self-Control (1984), Stummfilm für Gehörlose / Silent Movie for Deaf People (1984), Veronika (vera ikon) (1987), Höllensimulation: frei nach Platos Höhlengleichnis / Simulation of Hell: loosely based on Plato's parable of the cave (1987), Die Statik der Eselsbrücken / Engineering Memory Bridges (1990), and Herzsofort. Setzung / Heart. Instant(iation) (1994).
[2] See Narziss und Echo / Narcissus and Echo (1989), Liebe, Eifersucht und Rache / Love, Jealousy and Revenge (1991), and Plötzlich und Unerwartet -- eine Déjà Revue / Sudden and Unexpected (1993).
[3] I borrow the neologism from Peter Lunenfeld, Snap to Grid: A User's Guide to Digital Arts, Media, and Cultures. (Cambridge: MIT Press, 2000), 120 ff. and 172.
[4] D. N. Rodowick, Reading the Figural, or, Philosophy after the New Media (Durham: Duke UP, 2001), 213.
[5] Brynntrup's baroque, allegorical fascination with death and its requisites (skeletons, skulls, funerals, graveyards) can be witnessed in Testamento memori (1986), the Totentanz /Death Dances series (1988), and Plötzlich und Unerwartet(1993). Both Orpheus -- der Tragödie erster Theil / Orpheus -- first part of the tragedy (1983-84) and Narziss und Echo reenact Rococo metamorphoses of Ovid's tales, as well as scenes from Cocteau and Greenaway.
[6] Jean Baudrillard, "The virtual illusion: or the automatic writing of the world," Theory, Culture and Society 12:4 (1995), 97.
[7] R. L. Rutsky, High Techné: Art and Technology from the Machine Aesthetic to the Posthuman (Minneapolis: U of Minnesota P, 1999), 17.
[8] Celia Lury, Prosthetic Culture: Photography, Memory, and Identity (NY: Routledge, 1998), 3.
[9] Peter Lunenfeld,150.
[10] Lunenfeld, 164.
[11] Andrew Darley, Visual Digital Culture: Surface Play and Spectacle in New Media Genres (London and NY: Routledge, 2000), 141.
[12] See Brynntrup's Loverfilm: an uncontrolled dispersion of information in which Brynntrup flashes up photos of all the lovers he has had in his life. At the start of the film he invites the spectator to leave the room before he or she is party to invading another's privacy.
[13] Marjorie Garber, Vested Interests: Cross-Dressing and Cultural Anxiety (NY: Routledge, 1992), 374.
[14] "Ein romantisch-philosophischer ActionLiebesExperimentalThriller: Tom Tykwer im Gespräch mit Michael Töteberg," Tykwer, Lola rennt (Hamburg: Rowohlt, 1998), 129.
[15] Brynntrup's versions of Plötzlich und Unerwartet are respectively that of a loop structure and an interactive CD-Rom.
[16] Lunenfeld, 51.
[17] Tykwer, 138.
[18] "Tom an die Lola-Mannschaft vor Beginn der Dreharbeiten," Tykwer, 117.
[19] Tykwer, 136.
[20] Stuart Klawans, "Born Cool," The Nation (July 12, 1999).
[21] Tykwer, 134.
[22] Ed Dimmenberg in discussion at the German Film Institute, hosted at Dartmouth College, August 2000.
[23] Tykwer, 135.
[24] Janet Maslin, New York Times (26 March 1999).
[25] Tom Whalen, "Run Lola Run," Film Quarterly 52.3 (Spring 2000): 39.
[26] "Fairy Tale" is Whalen's category p. 39.
[27] Tykwer, 129 and 130. The first voice that one hears is that of Hans Paetsch, known to generations of German children for his recordings of fairy tales.
[28] Tykwer, 136.


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