Krass Clement’s new book from the Danish publisher Gyldendal, Bag Saga Blok, refers to an area in Vesterbro, Copenhagen behind an old movie theater that ran from the early 1940s until its closing in 1985. The theater, now sitting abandoned and succumbing to decay, sets the stage for Clement’s cast of characters and vignettes that spans almost a half-century.
Bag Saga Blok opens with a short sequence of images of three people in a dark neon-lit parking garage. A woman at the center is looking intently at a thick book. It seems an odd place to look at a book, unless the book is the same as the one we now have in our hands – a screenplay of sorts and the three are the orchestrators of the film that is about to begin.
Clement’s camera winds it way around the old theater buildings and finally out into the streets where characters are slowly introduced: a man who appears to be putting on make-up; an older man straight from Central Casting for an old shipyard worker; another younger man who appears to be wearing a dress; an older woman in a water-spotted raincoat who covers her head with a bag – fiction and reality blending together.
As the narrative winds deeper into the second act we are introduced to the darker, seedier side of Vesterbro populated by drugs, porn shops, and prostitutes. Two old men peek timidly into a porn shop window; a woman lingers in a doorway perhaps seeking a transaction; a man seeks a moment of peace in the hallway of an apartment building entrance perhaps to do drugs; condoms and wrappers lay in among autumn leaves; a spoon and heroin lay amongst litter on an apartment floor. The characters get more desperate looking, the photographic description of them blurred and unsteady.
As with almost every book from Clement the sequence is defined with cinematic repetition and slight shifts of view. He plies images from scene to scene effortlessly and jump-cuts to full effect; a short sequence of flea market sellers is for one frame interrupted by a woman’s spread legs on a doorway step – the words ‘Brug Matten’ (use the matt) just to her right.
In the final act, we have returned directly behind the old theater and a surreal but non-threatening play is being performed among some hanging sheets. Children play with an air rifle opposite a couple deeply intoxicated, a sign declares a thank you for visiting and a final image of streetlight lit construction cranes at night hovering over the area marks the curtain closing on an era.
At 224 pages and nearing 200 photographs, Bag Saga Blok is one of Clement’s larger offerings. The dark richness of the printing adds to the overall mood which – although looks backwards through several decades – avoids sentimental nostalgia. Surprising that it covers such a long period of time, all seems woven together to feel like one epic film – part documentary, part fiction, and distinctly Krass Clement.