ParaTheatrical ReSearch

Rainer Maria Rilke's

A VideoPoem by Antero Alli (1991)
the Stephen Mitchell translation

I have my dead, and I have let them go, and was amazed to see them so contented, so soon at home in being dead, so cheerful, so unlike their reputation. Only you return;

brush past me, loiter, try to knock against something, so that the sound reveals your presence. Don't take from me what I am slowly learning.

So begins Rilke's tribute to the accomplished painter and friend, Paula Modersohn-Becker, who died unexpectedly eighteen days after the birth of her first child. Rilke's epic lament serves as the narrative for this video docudrama of a paratheatre performance staged at The Bell Gallery, in Seattle WA, during October of 1990.

REQUIEM: the videopoem presents a visual montage of a woman who, after the shock of her own death, is caught in a haunted bardo where a ritual enactment of her three-fold self -- artist, mother, and soul torn between -- unfolds.

"Once ritual lament would have been chanted; women would have been paid to beat their breasts and howl all night, when all is silent. Where can we find such customs now ?"

REQUIEM FOR A FRIEND (1991; 40:00)
A ritual lament; a time and a place set apart for the mourning of what has been forever lost. This REQUIEM is also a story of Rilke's own quest for self-knowledge and insight into the creative process and a window, and sometimes a mirror, to the Mysteries of what cannot be fathomed by the mind alone.

Featuring KIA SIAN, CAMILLE HILDEBRANDT, JADINA LILIEN. Soundtrack by SYLVI ALLI. Spoken, directed & edited by ANTERO ALLI. John Comerford, assist. editor. Produced by ParaTheatrical ReSearch. (1991, 41 min. USA)


the art of Paul Modersohn-Becker

Rainer Maria Rilke and Paula Modersohn-Becker

Czech poet Rainer Maria Rilke (1875-1926) wrote “Requiem for a Friend” (1909) as a tribute to good friend and established painter, Paula Modersohn-Becker (1876-1907) who died suddenly eighteen days after birthing her first child at the peak of her artistic development. Amost a year after Paula's tragic death, Rilke wrote his epic lament over three days and nights (Oct. 31 through Nov. 2, 1908) alone in a room at the Hotel Biron in Paris; it was published in 1909. Paulas' death continued to haunt Rilke's life for most of his remaining years.

Rainer Maria Rilke in 1908; Hotel Biron

"...I'm sure you have gone astray if you are moved to homesickness for anything in this dimension. We transform these Things; they aren't real, they are only the reflections upon the polished surface of our being. I thought you were much further on. It troubles me that you should stray back, you... who have achieved more transformation than any other woman. That we were frightened when you; rather: that your stern death broke in upon us... darkly... wrenching the till-then from the ever since -- this concerns us: setting it all in order is the task we have continually before us..."

click above link for the text in its entirety


On Making the “Requiem For a Friend” Video


Kia Sian as "mother" and Jadina Lilien as "artist"

mother, artist and soul torn between
In both performance and video, our premise was to enact a ritual lament involving three women symbolizing three facets of Paula -- the mother, the artist and the soul torn between -- interacting with and reacting to the shock of her own death. Originally staged at The Bell Gallery (Seattle) in October of 1990 as a live paratheatre performance, (with my then-partner, a very pregnant Camille Hildebrandt as "mother", my unforeseen future partner Cyndia Pickering as "soul torn between" and my good friend Jadina Lilien as "the artist"), "Requiem" was videotaped eight months later in a soundstage studio (with Kia Sian portraying "the mother", Camille as "soul torn" and Jadina as "artist").

The Set; a window, a mirror, a frame
All three women are simultaneously undergoing their own distinct ritual within a physical set of one very large black wall (40ft wide x 8ft high), through which each woman is seen behind her own large framed opening: the mother rocks an infant to sleep (within a large painting frame), the artist creates a painting (as seen through a large window) and the soul torn between slowly unfolds an abstract dance of death (inside a large "mirror"). The two wings of this wall -- mother and artist -- are slanted towards the audience, allowing all three women to see each other, with the soul torn in the middle.

The Video Production; shooting and editing at the same time
The day before shooting I told the camera operators to view and closely study Andrei Tarkovsky's film, "The Mirror", as a visual and pacing reference: the ultra-slow pans, creeps, and crawls; the locked down long shots. The next day we shot the performances with three cameras (pro 3/4" SP) and a switcher (w. four video monitors) enabling us to edit live on site as the cameras rolled. After hours of working to get the lights just right, shooting began. Miraculously, we got everything on the first take (all three cameras never stopped rolling for 35 minutes!).

Over the following weeks, we recorded my reading of Rilke's words and mixed that voice-over with an original soundtrack composed and performed by Sylvi Alli. I also added half a dozen video inserts (shot in various locations) before the final cut, my debut video, premiered in Autumn of 1991 at 911 Media Arts Center in Seattle. Since then, "Requiem" has regretfully gone the way of obscurity, screening only five or six times since its opening night. (The video still exists as an exhibition piece but is not available for sale at this time)

The Life/Art Mirror
These staged and video productions foreshadowed a fate far greater than any artistic achievement or critical acclaim. Camille Hildebrandt gave birth to our first daughter, Zoe, on January 4, 1991 who, after twenty months of bringing us nothing but joy, suddenly died. In the wake of our tragedy, Rilke's words provided me with unforeseen solace and insight. Following my own lament over Zoe's passing, I have slowly come to see more in his "Requiem" than a story of death and loss. Though certainly that is there, I am now facing something in the core of Rilke's own faith and convictions that have been guiding and resurrecting my own life ever since my daughter's death and, perhaps all along. It seems that death brings gifts, as well.



2005: Rilke's Requiem revisited



the 2005 feature film by Antero Alli incorporating Rilke's "Requiem "
click above image for details


On Love and Other Difficulties
additional writings by Rilke


electronic mail link

site map