Johan van der Keuken:
political and experimental

by Cohn Chambers

from Jump Cut, no. 34, March, 1989, pp. 41-47
copyright Jump Cut: A Review of Contemporary Media, 1989, 2006

In 1980 Amsterdam's main municipal Stede Lijk museum mounted a major exhibition of Johan van der Keuken's work: films, photographs and texts. This is quite an achievement for an independent, leftwing filmmaker who is too experimental and formalist for many political people and too politically pointed for many followers of the avant-garde. Influenced by Dutch realist photographers and filmmakers such as Joris Ivens, by existential and Eastern philosophies, by abstract painting and jazz, van der Keuken has developed a unique, memorable style, combining political and avant-garde filmmaking traditions and joining subjective expression and objective explanation.

Revealing his origins in photography, van der Keuken creates striking still images, which he then juxtaposes with other images to build up a context or to expose contradictions. He uses as a major theme in his work the growing and glaring disparity between the rich and developed yet alienated North (especially Holland and the USA) and the poor, "underdeveloped," oppressed, yet hopeful South. A major subordinate theme deals with artists' struggles and art's power. Clearly van der Keuken believes that art plays an important role in personal and social development and can intervene to change society. He learned to take photographs at age twelve, taught by a leftwing grandfather whom he recalls in FILMMAKER'S HOLIDAY(1974).

Born in Amsterdam in 1938, van der Keuken has become well-known in Holland compared to other independent filmmakers. His reputation has spread across Europe, especially to France. Yet, although his films are subtitled in English, his work goes virtually unknown in Britain and the USA. In Holland, state-funded cultural organizations and political groups (no parties) have commissioned him to make films. A liberal Dutch television channel, VPRO, has funded and broadcast most of van der Keuken's films. Subsequently they have been seen on the radical cinema circuit. Interest in van der Keuken has grown beyond the young cultural intelligentsia; several articles about him and interviews have appeared in large circulation papers as well as in left journals.

His mother was a primary school teacher, and his father became head of a secondary shool, leaving their working-class background for a more middle-class milieu. While still at school, van der Keuken published a book of photographs depicting his contemporaries and soon after that two more books of photos. He studied filmmaking in Paris from 1956-58 and with two friends, James Blue and Denny Hal, made his first film there. Before devoting himself full-time to making films, van der Keuken wrote film reviews for a Dutch paper while his photographs were exhibited in European cities.

Many of van der Keuken's films have a music score by the leading Dutch jazz saxophonist Willem Breuker. Van der Keuken has also made two films about jazz musicians: MAARTEN AND THE DOUBLE BASS (1977) and a personal film about the saxophonist Ben Webster who was living in Amsterdam when the film was shot. Like A FILM FOR LUCEBERT (1962), which was made for the Ministry of Culture about a Dutch painter-poet, BIG BEN (1967) is not a conventional portrait but an exploration. It is made up of biographical details, scenes of everyday life, and the joy and exuberance of the music contrasted to the violence of the world in which the black artist lives and takes his stand. We see Ben Webster in his surroundings — relaxing on a train, traveling on tour, visiting the zoo, talking to his landlady, and playing pool in a smoky bar.

The camera picks up and holds objects that might be excluded from a traditional television documentary, like the vase in the window of Ben's rented room. Yet this is not cinema verité. Any illusion of objectivity or any kind of "psychological" approach becomes shattered by the editing and cinematic rhythm. Until the end, we never see Webster play a number all the way through. The camera always interrupts him and cuts him short, until the end when it seems that the film no longer can contain him. The images constantly stress his size, his proportions, his physical presence, and the energy he uses to move and play. We seem to witness a struggle between the filmmaker and the musician. The filmmaker returns again and again to the ordinary aspects of life — smoking, taking a drink, swearing, being dignified or violent (suggested in the haunting zoo sequence by close ups of ferocious animal faces). The musician is always trying to do what he does best — play jazz. While the filmmaker undermines the "living legend" profile, the musician wins out. Finally we hear the tremendous sweet and powerful sounds given full rein. Van der Keuken's celebration is complete. The jigsaw puzzle is finished.

Van der Keuken's films are rigorously constructed artistic forms. When analyzed, they seem abstract. Van der Keuken always seeks to integrate his perception and artistic expression. This often produces odd and idiosyncratic films but ones that nevertheless add up to make telling statements about their subjects.

Take, for example, one sequence in THE NEW ICE AGE (1974), the last film of the Triptych "North-South," which deals with relations between rich, industrialized northern Europe and the third world it has underdeveloped. In that sequence, the camera takes the viewer into Lima, Peru. The overall sensation is of visual and aural hub-bub. Loud, raucous traffic noises mixed with the sonorous sax of Breaker dominate the images on the screen: the mountains, the road, the traffic, the town, the primary colors of the huge advertisements promoting Marxism, Coca Cola, and Inca Cola. These images seem to fight the sound for a place on the screen. An impression of spatial depth is heightened when the sound becomes less intense and the image track uses more close-ups. According to van der Keuken, a hole is created when the sound "retreats," and the image can come across this hole toward the spectators.

The formal arrangement of shots against the retreating sound reproduces the effect of two cultures meeting. The traveler, at first confused and overwhelmed by noise, gets nearer and can make some order out of the mass of new sensations. The picture becomes clearer as the older culture takes over and asserts itself. The musical score draws on traditional indigenous music, connoting respect for the older culture, but it never loses the hybrid quality that characterizes Lima today, a city with its own proud, indigenous past whose present has been shaped by a foreign culture imposed on that past. At that time, out of that mix, and influenced by socialist ideas, Peru was trying to create a new future. At the time of filming in early 1974, there was still hope for improvement from a military government that claimed to be leftwing. (Things started to deteriorate in 1975).

Van der Keuken uses the notion that all a film's formal elements are autonomous yet come alive only in relation to each other. He tries to remind viewers that they are watching a film and also that the film is connected to their social reality. He mostly uses images drawn from non-fictional reality, ones that are documentary-based.

He uses kaleidoscopic montages to show reality in a new light, to show it better and more clearly. He tries to break through the flatness and the blandness of the screen which can easily reduce and remove the physicality and contours of people and objects. He stresses the materiality of nature, humans, and things in the way he chooses and shoots his images. It may be the deafening sound of factory machines churning without end, a row of meat carcasses on hooks passing before us like mass-produced dummies, the wash on a line swaying in the wind behind run-down tenements, or it could be the close up of an orange plastic dustpan, a sparkling stream, or the face of a Spanish peasant held still on the screen for a long time.

His work has a certain fatalism — such as images of men breaking stones or women sewing on an assembly line — especially when he uses the image of the circle, as in DIARY (1972), which has prominent shots of a pregnant belly or a wall being built around a hut. But the films also imply hope — the belly will give birth, the skin disease in the Cameroons is being treated. However, he faces a danger of reproducing the very problems being tackled, for example in fetishizing objects, junk and violence, or relativity without a moral stance. And he also may seem unrealistically romantic about the simple life close to nature, in the vein of "small is beautiful," as in FLAT JUNGLE (1978).

Van der Keuken, in common with many intellectuals of his age, embraced pacifism. He then came to support armed national liberation struggles and left libertarianism. His political commitment has developed as he has learned from those he has filmed. He no longer observes contradictions, networks of power and the interaction of societies and classes without also hinting at future avenues for action. But he never gives more than a hint and always questions all fixed ways of thinking.

Broadly speaking, van der Keuken looks forward to a decentralized, democratic socialism based on multifaceted communities and self-help. Such a political philosophy is not surprising, given that he is making his own films, controlling his own work, and using the cutting room as a political classroom. He films the individual in a working or creative environment rather than show the leadership of a trade union or a political party grappling with state power. Yet, the effects of fighting for that power are clearly present, most dramatically in shots of President Allende and the Chile coup in THE READING LESSON (1973), which film looks at how and what we are taught to read and at the relation of textbooks' images and language to imperialist values. Culture's role in maintaining the status quo of political power figures again in VIETNAM OPERA (1973), which was made when a revolutionary liberation troupe visited Amsterdam's main theatre. Yet, apart from THE PALESTINIANS (1975), none of van der Keuken's films has attempted, at a national level, to indicate a strategy for carrying out the revolution he acknowledges is vital.

His questioning films do have democratic implications. His democratic philosophy about media making begins in a very personal way from the moment he operates the camera, through the way he interviews people on film recording his voice as well, to how he transforms the footage in editing. He challenges the authority of the screen and of the filmmaker and, like Brecht in the theatre, he tries to hold an audience while at the same time asking the audience to stand back from the film and see it in perspective. He exploits the contradiction between the reality of the film and the obvious unreality of the way he has shown real things. "Thereby," he says to an audience, "you too can change society, or at least think about it in a way which might lead you to want to change it and believe that such change is possible."

The first film in which van der Keuken felt in his element was BLIND CHILD (1964), which he decided to make after reading a booklet by the Institute for the Blind on how blind children form images of the world. His interest went beyond the obvious one for a filmmaker, for whom seeing is paramount. The whiteness of the screen is the opposite of the blind's absence of light, and for the seeing, this absence is unimaginable. Blind children's discoveries are necessarily tactile and, as van der Keuken puts it, egocentric. In HERMAN SLOBBE/ BLIND CHILD II (1966) van der Keuken gives a portrait of one of the boys he had met at the institution while filming BLIND CHILD. He refines the first film by exploring not just blind people's personal adjustments but their social ones as well. We see Herman going to the fair, talking about sexuality, recording his own version of a favorite pop tune, and commenting on the music he likes. Van der Keuken extends the social context by referring to the bombing of Hanoi and James Meredith in Mississippi.

Here Van der Keuken goes beyond our preconceptions of what a film about a blind child might deal with and thus beyond our expectations of what a documentary might offer. He does not show the blind child as a sentimental object of pity and charity, or as inferior because of a terrible affliction. Against grainy black-and-white town scenes, which have a strange, distancing effect, the film begins with van der Keuken's voice saying it will take place on the streets between his house, Herman's house, and the institution where Herman lives during the week — "thousands of kilometers of well-ordered chaos".

Van der Keuken's attempts to define a world by beginning with the individual and working outward lead him to shoot many different means of transportion and communication. We always see cars, buses, trains, boats and carefully picked roads, given their own cinematic weight by being held on the screen longer than expected. People's "spaces" that are joined by such means of transportion are equally well caught and examined as if under a microscope.

Offices are shown row upon row, identical, down long corridors, faceless, anodyne. People's rooms are usually cramped. We see a woman bending down all the time on a barge or the poverty of a shanty town. All these are explored in detail. The camera pans, stares, or returns to rest on a picture or a chair, all the time registering the human side of these environments, such as the fisherman's home with a painting of a boat. Links between these "spaces" which could depict the plains, the mountains, a factory in Holland, or a farm in Africa, are established by the camera and not by the people in the film. Van der Keuken often uses shots of windows. He can change from interior to exterior, from individual to society, or from one place or time to another, but the people he films are often blocked, trapped or broken.

In BEAUTY (1970), van der Keuken built a whole film around how a hostile, alienated society cripples our subjectivity. The "free" movements of nature, such as the flowing stream, the flowers blowing in the wind, are contrasted with the "closed," uptight actions of a detective, ironically called Beauty, who is hired by wealthy, powerful businessmen to carry out a "job." He investigates by measuring and weighing everything from a broom to someone's nose, but he cannot solve the case. Modern life in heavily industrialized societies is quantified, reduced to statistics, and we are "unhappy." Beauty, like our society, turns to violence, viciously stabbing and slashing a human torso, stubbing cigarettes on it until a person is shot by another, who turns out to be himself. This theatrical, melodramatic and stylized use of the detective story genre allows van der Keuken to satirize with painful seriousness. For example, Beauty receives congratulations in front of a fluttering Stars and Stripes. He wears dark glasses, the symbol of macho competence, but they reflect back whatever he is looking at. He seeks reality but cannot recognize or find it.

Beauty has a double meaning in Dutch. The word schoon stands for "clean," suggesting here an authoritarian obsession with order and hygiene as well as with cleaning up society and ridding it of undesirables. It also stands for "beauty," used to sell chocolates or shampoo or High Art, all of which mask our real relation to nature.

Van der Keuken has a preoccupation with consciousness that figures, perhaps idealistically, throughout his films. In SPIRIT OF THE TIME (1968) van der Keuken presents a collage of "drop-outs," protesters (both left and right), musicians and "hippies." He organizes these figures around an idea of "mental readjustment," otherwise known as the counterculture. Acting upon a political and social withdrawal into self, they have tried to find new ways of living together. Crucial to their phiosophy was a new notion of time that came from Eastern philosophy and the drug experience. Van der Keuken tries to explore this new consciousness by holding shots still for a "long time," by cutting back and forth, by speeding shots up or repeating them or reversing them, by running sequences forward and backward. A male face in close up changes its makeup like an actor with new masks: Hitler, a clown, a werewolf, Christ, a black face, an accentuated woman's face, a 19th century gentleman's face, a French courtier's face, and so on.

He asks us, as we try to change our external self in a fashion-conscious age, who we are, what our identity is, and how we signal to each other who we are. Disrupting everyday methods of watching, listening, and assessing time and the exterior aspects of a person's personality, van der Keuken reproduces the 1968 generation's search in his cinematic construction. Whether participants or observers, we are equally without fixed solutions, overwhelmed by an awareness of relativity, having only the individual as a floating axis.

Another film has this kind of preoccupation with time and the same direct impression of living now. It implies scepticism about an objective past that exists separately from our own invention. That is the organizing principle of VELOCITY 40-70 (1970). The city of Amsterdam commissioned it to commemorate the end of World War II and liberation from Nazi occupation, yet 1945 does not appear in the title. Van der Keuken chose 1940, the beginning of the occupation, which he linked to 1970, the year he made the film. He added the word "velocity" to emphasize how movement joins past and present without any historical break and projects into the future. VELOCITY 40-70 takes place only in the present, although you would expect a commemorative film to dwell on the past. A woman who had been in Auschwitz talks about the past, but we see no shots of the camp. The door of an ordinary freight train slams shut, sparking off associations of Jews being carried like cattle to the camps, but we do not see footage of that barbarity. A woman has electrodes attached to her head for an encephalogram, which measures what is happening inside her brain. It's a completely contemporary event, using the latest technology, but it suggests, as in BEAUTY, the Nazis' thorough documentation of their prisoners and total control over bodies — and the genocide that accompanied such dehumanizing "scientific" obsessions.

Even a bombing raid is depicted in a new light. Superimposed over an aerial view of a town, under the humming noise of a flying squadron, we see a formation of matchboxes, like a surrealist shock. Before that, we saw a sequence showing a box of matches on a metal strip and a hand picking up the box to light a match. The matchboxes remind us of the Nazi bombers, but they are also just ordinary matchboxes. The link is not entirely idiosyncratic — matches are used to set things on fire. The long-held sequence of the formation is then intercut with radar stations (communications again). Here van der Keuken assigns the present and the mundane with responsibility for the past. He is breaking down barriers between meanings and functions.

This aesthetic experiment eases up in later films. Symbols are used less, though significance and association are still manipulated. However, the later films are generally less metaphoric. For example, FLAT JUNGLE (1978), commissioned by the Dutch Society for the Preservation of the Shallows, an area stretching from North Holland to Germany and Denmark called the Waddenzee, is basically a militant ecological film. Unhampered industrial expansion (including nuclear power plants) into the Waddenzee threatens the inland wilderness with its mudflats and rare birds, and the expansion also threatens the residents' small-scale economic activity.

Van der Keuken refused to make a "nature" film, which might arouse liberal sympathy and private indignation but do little else. He showed how those worried about nature have a fight in common with those worried about nuclear energy. Shots of anti-nuclear demonstrators precede interviews with farmers attempting to farm in a small-scale, self-reliant way. Shots of animal and plant life go before an interview with a trade unionist, who wants his industry to expand so as to combat unemployment. He is aware of the negative aspects of further industrialization but feels unable to control either process. Van der Keuken links the different issues the people in the area face and says, "Your battles are not separate but one." He shows these battles as not just local but as affecting the whole nation, continent, and entire industrialized western way of life.

In terms of FLAT JUNGLE's effect, Van der Keuken made a more political film than his commissioners had anticipated, and it raised a sharp political discussion of the issues. This throws a new light on patronage, as does THE PALESTINIANS (1975) which Van der Keuken says he had tried to avoid making for quite some time:

"I was forced to take sides as a political filmmaker. It also involved my whole attitude to filming. I didn't want to reduce the film to only the content, the subject or the political theme."

The politics versus art dilemma kept van der Keuken away from the Palestinian project as long as his mind was more geared to individualistic, aesthetically oriented projects. Now it seemed a challenge he could no longer avoid. He produced a powerful, politically committed statement in support of the Palestinians' right to self-determination, which was what the Palestine Committee in Holland wanted. For van der Keuken, it meant working more at the level of experience, with exposition and self-expression playing a greater part than kaleidoscopic montage. The displaced Palestinians living in camps in Lebanon are caught between Zionism and the Lebanese ruling class. Imperialism cuts across the Jew/Arab divide, and the film places responsibility squarely on the shoulders of the European ruling classes who allowed anti-semitism and nazism to flourish. Palestinian camp life, makeshift hospitals, military training of children, and a funeral of villagers murdered by the Israelis punctuate this story. It is characterized by deep emotion and images of daily routine, shot with van der Keukens characteristic calm and perceptive eye. It is framed by an opening sequence showing documentary photographs with a neutral voice telling the history of Palestine since the end of the 19th century. The closing sequence shows a lively class in a camp where a teacher goes through these same points with his children — old facts renewed by a current reality where knowledge of them, personally and politically, becomes a matter of life and death.

Giving people back an image of themselves that they can use is important for van der Keuken. He works on the margins of the film industry and lets those on the margins of society whose voices are not usually heard speak through his films. Of course, the end result is van der Keuken's and not theirs. This can prove a problem. Once, a group of black teenagers whom he had filmed for THE WHITE CASTLE (1973, the second part of the triptych North-South) reacted badly to the film. He had shown them the first part of the triptych, DIARY. There, the scenes of Africa had been a way into the film for them. But in THE WHITE CASTLE they could not see what they had to do with images of the poor Spanish people of Formentera. The fragmented montage had placed the screen images of the teenagers a long way from the images they had of themselves.

Similarly, in Lima some of the battling, self-ruled community of Villa el Salvador could not understand their juxtaposition in THE NEW ICE AGE (1974, the third part of the Triptych North-South) against deaf workers in Holland. The film's goal was to question western-type capitalist industrial development by including this theme of deafness and portraying alienated working conditions. Van der Keuken's relativity may have a thematic unity in his films, but when this political aesthetic is tested against the lives of those making real political choices, his univeral approach may seem inadequate because it embraces too much while defining too little.

The question of the reception of people's images of themselves is very complicated. Van der Keuken deliberately foregrounds it as a problem in his films. This is a political as well as an artistic choice. He feels other political filmmakers too often avoid this issue. To van der Keuken, making and using films in itself poses a problem. Sometimes, but only sometimes, a film's usefulness may become clear after the artist wages a struggle of both a political and perceptual nature, particularly a struggle with one's own perceptions as related to different contending forces in society. A mediamaker has no simple options and nothing is guaranteed.

Van der Keuken sees as much division between cultures and societies as he sees unity between people, and he tries to deal with both. This attempt to represent, in a progressive way, different levels of perception and reality leads him away from a question-and-answer form. His approach is very different from political media which takes up an issue and offers possible resolutions to problems. The way in which THE PALESTINIANS is useful does not make it a better film than those in the triptych. It was made as a "tool" for understanding cause and effect in the Middle East. The contradictions that arise in terms of his films' reception show how difficult the problem is. But despite criticisms, for example, of the texts in DIARY, at least van der Keuken is confronting the issue head on.

DIARY was shot in three countries having different levels of technology — the Camerouns, Morocco and Holland. The film examines north/south relations through the tools people use and how the tools shape their reality and affect their lives, whether it be computer or hoe. The film values each of the cultures, though visually it stresses the creativity of earlier modes of production. We see as a contrast contemporary scenes of dehumanized modem technology. In the lyrical construction of the film, an insistent hope comes through in the face of waste, alienation and disease. The oneness of the vision, pregnant belly juxtaposed against African graves, implies our common responsibility for the system that impoverishes, alienates and destroys.

After the triptych was completed, van der Keuken rewrote some of the printed commentary. While he uses more politically analytic language there, he still deals in totalities. He calls for everyone to change rather than specifically analyze forces and societies. Imperatives takes the place of strategies because van der Keuken is still the privileged white European filmmaker motivated by the thought that he could have been a black schoolboy in Cameroun (DIARY) or a prematurely ageing, retarded woman in a ghetto in Columbus, Ohio (THE WHITE CASTLE). Subsequently, van der Keuken has become more critical of the commentaries for DIARY.

Sharper, harder, and more fragmented, THE WHITE CASTLE was filmed in Holland, the Spanish island of Formentera, and Columbus, Ohio. This second part of the triptych dispenses with written commentary. The supply and demand world of isolation in which everyone seems to be part of one production line or another does have moments of resistance and hope (e.g., a humming mother rocking her baby to sleep). Van der Keuken's generally pessimistic view is always tempered with these optimistic moments. He contrasts a monotonous, noisy assembly line of seamstresses in Holland with rows of pig carcasses moving down a line on hooks. But then contrasted with these two dehumanizing lines he shows a human chain passing buckets of water at a summer camp in the USA — a production line put to social use.

People are victims barely understanding the systems that oppress them. The generation-old routines of Formentara continue in spite of the penetration of tourism and the disposable migrant laborers. The film repeats its main images, changing their significance. The pattern of the film is built up and then shattered, then rebuilt again as the film moves toward the white castle.

Longer sequences of interviews with three teenagers are bracketed by this breaking up of the other images, creating a tension within the film's structure. Two different rhythms come out of van der Keuken's view of the societies he intercuts as the camera progresses toward the white castle. Our first glimpse of the castle is hazy and occurs about 20 minutes into the film; the next comes 20 minutes later and is a little clearer; the next five minutes later, and so on. These "discoveries" are accompanied by heavy rain and a flashing police car, a black teenager talking about the need for mass action to change the U.S., and workers discussing occupying their factory. The white castle turns out to be a 24-hour roadside cafe selling fast food in Columbus. It's a precise and suggestive metaphor, followed by a sequence in a juvenile detention center, showing its orderly rows of white, clean beds. Parallel to the gradual unmasking of the castle by the camera are shots of curtains and windows. Can the people on the inside see what is happening outside their own lives?

Van der Keuken intensifies this theme of blocked senses, of people cut off, especially those living in the so-called first world in the last part of the triptych, THE NEW ICE AGE (1974). Three sisters and a brother, unskilled workers at the same machine in the local ice cream factory, feel depressed because they cannot change the system they know oppresses them. The family suffers from deafness, which also affects their writing and speech, the basis of communication. In contrast, the shanty towns around Lima, exploited by U.S. multinational corporations, are full of garbage picked over by pigs, dogs, and humans as well. But dies places also have pockets of hope. We see a stormy meeting in which shantytown villagers thrash out the democratic rules by which they are hoping to live.

Van der Keuken continued the work of the triptych in THE MASTER AND THE GIANT (1980) and THE WAY SOUTH (1980-81), cinematic notebooks from a journey that he made from Holland through France to Egypt. It was first shown on television as three shorter pieces which he then re-edited into a single longer film.

THE MASTER AND THE GIANT, shot in Holland and Tunisia, takes the theme of north-south polarity to its furthest experimental extreme. A strain between "actual" and "artificial," between reality and representation, becomes heightened by the use of actors performing in a melodratic style with obviously theatrical gestures. Sometimes text and action seem dislocated, and sometimes we hear sync sound speech but cannot grasp the meaning. This daring film often has the feel of dream and the tone of nightmare. The commonplace relations of art and myth, master and servant, and heaven and hell are transformed as we see images of different cultures shaped by the dominance of one over the other and the exploitation of one by the other. The only difference between migrant laborers and cattle is a passport, which becomes the freedom to be slaughtered away from home.

In another commemoration film, van der Keuken sums up his recent experiences as a filmmaker. ICONOCLASM: A STORM OF IMAGES (1982) was made to celebrate the 10th anniversary of the Milky Way (Melweg). The Milky Way is a multimedia venue in Amsterdam, which van der Keuken captured in THE SPIRIT OF THE TIME; it was established in the spirit of the '60s and became an international center of counterculture. Van der Keuken's free but highly formalized composition creates a milky way of images on the screen, drawing on drama, poetry and particularly music — rock, new wave, Afro-Caribbean and punk. Caught up in this storm, which has its calms as well as its tempests, are six people for whom the former milk factory is a haven. Some live and work within the mainstream of society, like Steve the welder. Others, like Angela or Karin try to exist in opposition to it by living as squatters or playing in a band or demonstrating for peace. ICONOCLASM depicts a jigsaw of a generation, as did THE SPIRIT OF THE TIME. Van der Keuken shows what has survived and what has not, what has changed and what has remained the same about the counterculture.

Returning to similar themes again and again, van der Keuken restlessly tries to achieve "a broad form of beauty, doubt, fear and belief." He catches various layers of reality and perception rather than isolate a subject. He often cannot give answers. He knows that the latter may be more immediately useful but not necessarily more true. Nevertheless, this "lone wolf" of the independent cinema hopes that his films will become part of the continual struggle to find some of those answers.