Oh, Butterfly!


Length: 19:30 mins
Year of production: 2022
Exhibition Format: DCP or Quicktime file
Source Format: 8 mm, super 8, 16mm, HDV and youtube downloads
Cinematography: Lena Soboleva
Language: English and Japanese
Sound Mix: Jochen Jezussek

Synopsis: An imaginary cassette tape repeats a famous piece of music in self-referential loops.

–––A work that subjects Puccini's exoticizing opera to a critical commentary in multi-layered, superimposed image, text and sound quotations. (Silvia Hallensleben, TAZ)

––– The awarded film dissects the legacy of American Imperialism in Japan via a multifaceted and ingenious reworking of the various media incarnations of Madama Butterfly. The filmmaker is interweaving audio and film clips from performances of Puccini’s opera with personal archive footage and intergenerational conversations about the Orientalist implications of this wellknown narrative. The Uppsala Grand Prix 2022 goes to Oh, Butterfly! by Sylvia Schedelbauer. (Uppsala Short Film Festival, Jury statement by Skadi Loist, Ren Scateni, Inès Girihirwe)

–––Waves roll under an echoing lament for a lover across the ocean. The jury awards a multi-layered work of exhaustive research that places family history in dialogue with one of the most frequently reproduced works of twentieth century opera. The filmmaker uses archive footage organically to create a vivid and ornate palimpsest, touching on themes of race, Empire, migration and performance. This is a work of both rigour and excess; we applaud the filmmaker’s ambition, sensitivity and mastery of her material. The German Short Film Award goes to Oh, Butterfly! by Sylvia Schedelbauer (Hamburg International Short Film Festival, Jury statement by Genne Speers, Matt Lloyd, Andreas Fock)

–––In her most recent work, Oh, Butterfly! (2022), Schedelbauer orchestrates a symphonic and multifaceted critique of American imperialism via the Orientalist story of Madama Butterfly (1904), blending in elements of her own family history, which thematically connects the work to [her first film] Memories. Based on the semi-autobiographical novel by Pierre Loti, Madame Chrysanthème (1887), and the short story ‘Madame Butterfly’ (1898), by John Luther Long, Giacomo Puccini’s opera recounts the tragic story of Cio-Cio-San, a young geisha who marries a US Navy officer and eventually commits suicide after being abandoned by the man. Similarly to her previous works, Oh, Butterfly! combines superimposed images – archive footage of a nineteenth-century steamship, various opera productions and film adaptations of Madama Butterfly, 8mm home movies of Schedelbauer’s family – with text and sound to construct a kinetic palimpsest weighing in on a larger discourse on multiracial love and its historical connotations, often dictated by colonialist power dynamics. Audio clips and scenes from David Cronenberg’s subversive M. Butterfly (1993) tessellate the film and perhaps illuminate a different and quite radical interpretative path, in light of Cronenberg’s upending of common tropes of Western dominance and Asian submission. Eighteen years after the critical commentary of Memories, Schedelbauer rearticulates her personal mythology by releasing problematic markers of national and gender identity to the warm embrace of a communal psyche. (Ren Scateni, Art Review)

–––This tour-de-force union of an imagined cassette tape playing Puccini's Madame Butterfly as interpreted by 60+ singers magically flits and flutters between archival footage from Edison to numerous Madame Butterfly films to 8mm home movies shot by her parents. This viewer also wonders whether the combination of these home movies and Schedelbauer herself repeatedly walking into frame alongside the mostly Western interpretations of Puccini's opera is also a personal reflection on Sylvia's bi-racial-ness and the realities of straddling both Asian and Western European histories. Watching Sylvia's films is the equivalent of a deep conversation with a trusted comrade/friend/lover -- it deeply touches my heart and my gut, and "Oh, Butterfly!" is no exception; truly a film to savour and savour again, ideally on a bright big screen with maximum operatic sound capabilities. (Scott Miller Berry, Letter from Oberhausen, pt 2)

–––Sylvia Schedelbauer created an enchantingly unstrained essay on the overstrained topic of "cultural appropriation:" Oh, Butterfly! shows dozens of opera divas in 20 minutes – from Leontyne Price from Laurel, Mississippi, to Anna Netrebko from Krasnodar in southern Russia: all in the role of the deceived "Madama Butterfly.” During the credits, in the aftermath of the painful aria, two Japanese women talk about Giacomo Puccini's opera and its template, the "Butterfly" narrative by the American John Luther Long: neither [author nor composer] had ever been to the original location in Nagasaki. (Ralph Wilms, WAZ)

–––A finger presses play on a tape recorder–Madama "Buttterfly" sings. The sea surges again–the U.S. naval officer Pinkerton travels across the Pacific to Nagasaki. Schedelbauer's melancholy, ecstatically dramatic montage of Puccini's opera heroine Cio-Cio-San and 60 of her interpreters, of picture postcard motifs, geisha portraits, film historical footage from Thomas Edison to David Cronenberg, and her familial fantasy and private mythology creates a film of sublimely physical texture. Condensate of her creative work. (Andreas Wilink, kultur.west)

2022 Grand Prix, Uppsala Short Film Festival, Sweden
2022 Best German Film, Hamburg International Short Film Festival, Germany

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