Thursday is Shorts Night, so we have a lot of directors to talk to. Peter Tscherkassky tells us about his intense Midnight Short Outer Space, which he compiled from found footage.
What inspired you to make Outer Space and how did you choose the specific footage for the film?
“Back in the ‘pre-internet’ era in the early nineties, my best friend, Martin Arnold, had a film magazine called Big Reel, in which a film dealer placed an ad advertising film prints for sale. I already had a concept of doing something with CinemaScope, based on the idea that if you would project the full film strip, you would see the perforation holes and the soundtrack on the edges of the screen, on the part of the screen which normally is only illuminated by CinemaScope films. So the outer space of the film strip would all of a sudden be seen. And my plan was to use the filmic material as the main actor of my film, represented mainly by the sound strip of the optical soundtrack, the perforation holes, and the celluloid itself, by cutting it up. Martin owed me something, so he read all the films advertised in Big Reel to my answering machine. One of them, The Entity, was not just in CinemaScope, it was also very cheap, only 50 dollars, and the description was: ‘An invisible ghost haunts and rapes a woman.” I figured I could try to replace the ghost with the film material, so I gave it a try. And when I saw the film I knew it was exactly what I needed. It was pure chance, really. And great luck.”
Has anyone ever complained to you about the visceral experience of watching your films? Do you have to give out epilepsy warnings?
“Strangely enough no-one has asked me that question before. Or at least I don’t remember. In any case, I’ve never heard of any incident of that kind. The only feedback I get is that the films are highly energizing – but no epileptic seizures so far.
“Some of my earlier films have caused little riots, however. Despite its title, Film of Love from 1982 was known to provoke real mayhem when it was shown. In fact, I know of two screenings where violent attempts were actually made to stop the projection: once in 1982 at the Interfilm Festival, Berlin’s first major Super-8 film festival, and shortly thereafter at the Tuscan International Short Film Festival Montecatini. And when David Gatten once showed my 1992 film Parallel Space: Inter-View he actively had to defend the projection booth to prevent people from storming it…”
How do you feel about the revival of analogue film through new initiatives by brands such as Kodak? Small polaroid cameras such as the Instax are immensely popular in the Netherlands. Are we returning to the age of analogue?
“I’m in a kind of shock state. If somebody would have described the situation that we have today only five or six years ago I would not have believed it. The decline of analogue cinema, in terms of the ability of cinemas to show analogue film, including projectionists who know their craft, who have the skill, is so dramatic, it is degenerating at an unbelievable speed. But, as you said, there is a counter movement happening which is unpredictable. If you take vinyl records as an example this gives hope. And Hollywood is coming back to shoot on 35mm for preservation reasons, simply because it is the most durable carrier for moving images we have. Digital carriers for images last about 5 years or 10 years, but then you have to copy it, over and over again, simply because systems and software change. But 35mm and 70mm will survive. There are people who are trying very hard to keep this going, like Christopher Nolan or Martin Scorsese. But petitions won’t help, this is an industry which needs a critical mass, enough people shooting on film. And the fact that Kodak is back on track with its analog products is a good sign that we are approaching the critical mass it needs.”