aspect-ratio 10x9 “American Abstinence,” intermediate examination project by Max Viktor Herbert

“American Abstinence,” intermediate examination project by Max Viktor Herbert (© Max Viktor Herbert, HfG Karlsruhe)

On 11 May 2016, I counted 296 things from the United States of America in my life. I did without (almost) all of these things for (almost) a month. For a total of 35 days, I accompanied myself with a compact-camera.

I only realized the true extent of my asceticism during shooting. Not only tangible things constitute the representation of the USA, but also American pop culture and all means of modern communication, including the internet. American culture with its post-industrial achievements and innovations has become a kind of ersatz religion for many people, including myself. These insights exposed the naivety of my original idea. It became a challenging task to become an American recluse from one day to the next. The 70-minute documentary film American Abstinence describes my attempt to cope with this task. Since I had no interest in shooting an investigative, journalistic documentary, and even less intended to wield the cudgel of anti-Americanism, the film was supposed to move in my own cosmos and describe my individual way of dealing with American things.

I killed my time with visits to the hairdresser, pained squints at the camera, and cigarettes. Occasionally I tried to buy a mobile phone, read, drank, visited friends, and played with the zoom function. All in all, the experiment of American abstinence turned out to be pretty laborious; in particular the inaccessibility, which initially seemed to be an advantage, became a burden. The singing and chirping of the birds at my window, which otherwise represented a disruptive factor (for example when watching the pirated Blu-ray copy of the last winner of the Cannes Film Festival at 3 o’clock in the afternoon) became symbols of my brief liberation from the information overload of the 21st century.

Werner Herzog’s Of Walking in Ice and Michail Lermontow’s A Hero of Our Times rescued me for the first week, but reading texts about great, suffering men was not a sustainable substitute for my actual main problem: my apparently truly existing internet and communication addiction. And so a film about abstinence became an amusing insight into my personal life and my doomed attempt to be abstinent.

Supervised by: Prof. Răzvan Rădulescu, Ludger Pfanz

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