Lust for life

Texte de Robert Kramer, 1998


Le site personnel de Robert Kramer mis en ligne avec l’aide de son ami John Douglas n’est plus accessible depuis fin avril 2023. En accord avec Keja Ho Kramer, nous partageons ce texte qui y était publié.



The following is a synopsis (of 4 pages) for a film tentatively called LUST FOR LIFE.

It is imagined that the story takes place in Japan. I have frequently seen the scene of skate boarders and break-dancers. I particularly remember one such gathering at night in Sakata. There is no reason to assume that the film must be shot in Tokyo: it could well be Hiroshima.

I have a doubt about the circus. Those that I imagine I have seen in Eastern Europe, in Portugal and Vietnam. If I am wrong in transposing this to Japan, I suppose that there is some other form of traveling troupe that would fit the story.

The film is to be shot very simply, with minimal light, in real locations, and using as much as possible « real people doing what they really do. » The idea is to insert our actors in real situations, trying to avoid turning the world into a film set. This implies a small crew, and a style of work with which I am very familiar.

Perhaps, in the synopsis, I have not found a way to convey the feel of the movie itself. While the story focuses on two characters, the feel of the movie is not intimist or psychological. The BOY and YUKIO are caught up in the swirl of life around them: the life of the city at night, the crowds, the circus world. Most of the film happens in public places, and there is very little dialogue. The shooting style, frequently hand-held, and fleeting (like glancing to the right and left and trying to find what is important but not always knowing where to look), contributes to this sense of spontaneity and liveliness. The story moves ahead rapidly, taking leaps that are at the limit of the narrative. The sense is, while YUKIO and the BOY are at the center of a story, their story is always in danger of being overpowered by the vitality of the world and people around them. Just as it always is. We think we’re very important, but there is a lot else going on.

The spirit of the movie is: « We go round and round in the night and are consumed by fire. » The feel of the flurry of moths circling around a lit candle at night.

After the synopsis I have attached a recent CV.

If there are any questions I can be reached in Paris by phone or fax at: (33)-1-4475-8964, or by e-mail at:

Thanks very much for your attention.


Robert Kramer
14 Rue Michel Chasles
75012 Paris, France

(a synopsis)

YUKIO is a successful painter. He is also a well-known cultural figure, identified with victims wherever they are. Courage, taking risks, going farther, are his trademark.

But YUKIO has been unable to paint. He feels dead. One month-six months-he has come to feel that this emptiness will last forever. He doesn’t see his wife, he doesn’t read the papers. If YUKIO were to see images of the man he was before, he would say who is this? How could he be so sure? Why did he care?

YUKIO drinks. He takes drugs trying to recapture the energy that was always right there when he called on it. YUKIO walks the city at night, a shadow among shadows, dull eyes in the flare of neon, drawn here and there by whatever current takes him.

« We go round and round in the night and are consumed by fire. »

Drawn by the music he comes to a place he has never been before. Marble floor, light like an aquarium in this hidden corner of the city. Young men, boys really: colored hairs and a wild variety of costumes. Break-dancers competing with eachother. Sweat, laughter and cries, a whirl of endless movement and the intoxication of young bodies at the limit of gravity.

It is all new to YUKIO, this careless passion to fly and glide, the thick hypnotic beat of the music. He goes back night after night. Gradually he begins to be aware of the BOY. From this time on he only sees the BOY.

Even in this outsider’s world the BOY is an outsider. He hangs at the edge, a stray dog chased by the packs. He’s not a great dancer. The others treat him with disdain but the BOY keeps trying. He has heart, he’s wily and lean. Now, each time YUKIO sees him, the BOY is more promising, more beautiful in the way he moves around the edges waiting for his chance.

YUKIO finds a way to approach the BOY, late one night, the BOY alone, exhausted and disheartened. The BOY is like a coyote alone in the city. YUKIO has the power of his years, intelligence, money, worldliness. It is a question of taming the wild and suspicious BOY. YUKIO is a sorcerer. His seduction is irresistible, like a spell that excites the BOY’s imagination.

The BOY comes to live in YUKIO’s studio. Everything here is strange to him. The possibilities of this unknown world are intoxicating. YUKIO and the BOY become lovers.

Now the BOY is the focus of all of YUKIO’s obsessions. The intensity of his feelings surprises him. He imagines that he has found the way out of his trap. YUKIO feels reborn.

YUKIO wants to make a clean break: there must be nothing around them that is familiar. He stops seeing his wife. He and the BOY move into a small hotel, and he begins the BOY’s training. Because YUKIO is certain that the BOY can be a great acrobat: a tightrope walker, a funambule. He believes that the BOY can be made to find this perfection in himself, that their shared destiny is to awaken this greatness.

He pushes the BOY ahead: weight training, acrobatics, dance and tightrope. YUKIO imposes a total regime of disciplines, which is inseparable from his love for the BOY, and perhaps also from his idea that the victims are only separated from their masters by the privileges that have been denied them.

And YUKIO has started to work again. It erupts; it pours out of him! He goes to the Boy’s classes and sketches, he paints the BOY in their hotel room, there is never enough time now, and this euphoria also makes YUKIO a hard master.

And the BOY in all this? The BOY is overwhelmed by it: the force of YUKIO’s obsession, the hard physical work of the love and the training, the violence of YUKIO’s discipline. This is not in his character. And he doubts his ability to be what YUKIO wants him to be. The tightrope work scares him. But there is so much that is exotic in this new life, there is so much freedom from want, and there is so much real tenderness and generosity on YUKIO’s part, that there’s no way for him to say no.

In fact, the BOY steals a little from YUKIO. And once he runs away to his old friends. But both these things-the guilt that comes from the stealing, the fact that his former friends couldn’t care less about him-bind him even more to YUKIO.

And it is all happening so fast! Like in a dream…or a movie.

The BOY’s teachers are not convinced of his ability. Blinded by his dream YUKIO insists, and because he is paying no one will say no. But behind their backs this whole thing is a public joke. The BOY is forced to hide his doubts, and in face of such scorn YUKIO is even more determined.

YUKIO arranges a place for the BOY in a poor traveling circus. The circus goes from town to town, a ragged band of has-been performers and old animals. YUKIO takes on the job of feeding the animals, each night the BOY tries his skill.

It is not clear that he is making progress on the tightrope, and anyone can see that the BOY’s health is failing. But for YUKIO this is inevitable. A true path leads through these kinds of difficulties. The BOY is being tested and the only way to advance is to demand more of oneself. As if to confirm these views, YUKIO’s painting is flourishing with intensity that he has not known since he was young.

One night, after much urging from YUKIO, and with a sort of magnificent desperation and hopelessness, the BOY tries a dangerous number on the high wire. Part of the challenge was to remove the safety net. The BOY falls.

The BOY is partially paralyzed. The doctors don’t know whether he will regain control of his legs. It will be a long recuperation.

Each day YUKIO visits him in the hospital. The BOY is broken, hollow, a wounded animal curled around his pain. YUKIO sees him as he did that first time, that first night, a stray dog on the edge of the pack, a wary, vulnerable boy.

YUKIO watches as his obsessions dissolve around him. He is as implacable here as elsewhere: he sees what there is to see. And so, very lucidly, with a fine intelligence that doesn’t lack tenderness, he tells the BOY what is happening, and what has happened to them. It is all he has, his ability to describe his feelings and draw the conclusions. But there is nothing left of his passion for the BOY.

YUKIO settles a certain sum of money on the BOY, he gives him a percentage on the future sale of the paintings he’s made during this period, he promises to help him any way he can.

YUKIO visits his wife. She’s finished with him and has already taken a lover. YUKIO doesn’t really care. With an old and civilized intimacy they talk about the BOY.

Cold, a layer of dust over everything, the studio is as he left it. He lays out his recent drawings: bodies broken and twisted, paralyzed limbs, bodies joined with prosthetic devices, strange half-machine, half-human cyborg figures, all in a contemporary style very different from the work we have seen before.

YUKIO starts to work, and later that night he returns to the place where he met the BOY, and where so many others like him still whirl and fly in the dim aquarium light.

(Or a different ending)

YUKIO settles a certain sum of money on the BOY, he gives him a percentage on the future sale of the paintings he’s made during this period, he promises to help him any way he can.

YUKIO accepts that everything has changed and there is no going back. He stays with the circus. Because of what happened to the BOY he is an outcast there. He accepts this as his due. He feeds the animals and cleans their cages, and in his caravan he continues to draw.

It is strange now, the experience of drawing. His hand moves in unexpected ways. Things he has never done before emerge as if by themselves: bodies broken and twisted, paralyzed limbs, bodies joined with prosthetic devices, strange half-machine, half-human cyborg figures dancing in caverns of steel.

By day he works with the animals, at night he draws, with the sounds of the circus drifting in from the big tent that is beside his caravan.

Robert Kramer
Le Fresnoy
Tourcoing, France


BORN (ORIGINES): New York City , New York, 22 June 1939.

STUDIES (ETUDES): Swarthmore College, Stanford University: European history, philosophy, English literature.


1975: New York Council of the Arts
1978-79: San Francisco State University
1984: I.D.H.E.C.
1990: F.E.M.I.S.
1996: California Arts Institute
1998-99: Ecole National Le Fresnoy

HONORS: Summa Cum Laude, Phi Beta Kappa, Woodrow Wilson Fellow, L’Ordre des Arts et des Lettres (grade Officier), Deutscher Akademischer Austauschdienst (Berlin 1989-90).

Resident permanent en France depuis 1982.


Produit Aux Etats-Unies:
THE EDGE (1967)
(1967: founding member of THE NEWSREEL, avec un production collective de plus de 50 documentaires)
ICE (1969)

Produit en France:
GUNS (1980)
DIESEL (1984)
OUR NAZI (1985)
DEAR DOC (1990)
BERLIN 10/90 (1990)

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