Wednesday, February 15, 2006

Outer Space/Instructions for a Light and Sound Machine d. Peter Tscherkassky, 1999/2005

This is ridiculous cinema. If I understand right, Tscherkassky spends an hour in the darkroom for every two seconds of film, using a laser pointer to transfer partial images (and sounds) of existing film onto his raw stock. The result is amazing, really. Tscherkassky maintains that the films he makes, struck from other films, are narrative, not purely structural as one might first surmise. And, yeah, there is a narrative there, but that's not the really interesting part. What is interesting is how Tscherkassky's films are pure cinema, inseparable from the building blocks of movies. The viewer is constantly aware of the medium: the sprocket holes make their way into the image, the image burns like combusting celluloid; for Tscherkassky, the film seems to be entirely about the medium rather than the images captured therein.

Outer Space uses 1983's horror flick, The Entity as source material. A nice little curio in itself, The Entity (which I have not seen) consists (entirely?) of Barbara Hershey tossed about, raped, and generally badgered by some hostile invisible forces. Friends come to her aid, I think, and try to dispel these invisible molesting forces. In Tscherkassky's hands, The Entity retains its odd & charming foundation of eerie mystery - the enemy is still invisible - but Barbara Hershey's character mutates into a subjective instead of an objective. That is, she interacts with the film instead of being captured on it. When she moves, the film moves, revealing its sprocket holes; when she is subjected to violence, the film is subjected to violence - the visuals jarringly strobing with darks and lights, the soundtrack breathing rapid and angry. Here the film is not a medium, like I imagine was originally intended with The Entity, but becomes the eponym of the original film's title. That is, film (or maybe Film) is no longer a simple medium in Outer Space, but an element just as or more important than the visual image displayed; it becomes the mysterious entity that pushes about Barbara Hershey and, in turn, affects the viewer. One cannot watch Outer Space passively; you are forced to react to the film - to the Film - and become intertwined with it in the brutal stabs of sound and violent juxtaposition of images.

In Instructions for a Light and Sound Machine, Tscherkassky uses Leone's The Good, the Bad and the Ugly as source material. As with Outer Space, the standard relationship between viewer and image, as well as image and medium, is manipulated; the Film seemingly bludgeons, hangs, and resurrects Eli Wallach, all while the viewer is aligned with the Film. I.e., via numerous first person, subjective camera angles, you are implicated as a perpetrator in the assaults on Wallach. The subject matter here, then, is the violent nature of Film and the often-ignored violence that accompanies the act of watching a film. Individual frames cycle at a standard rate of 24 per second. This means that 24 distinct, autonomous images are placed and displaced before your eyes every second. Whether a passionate love scene, a pedantic monologue, or a boxing match is the subject, the medium is assaulting and manipulating you. In Instructions, in order to make this apparent to the viewer, the relationship is reversed; the viewer becomes the medium - the Film, even the Camera - and the images "captured" on the film (captured is a tricky word in this context) become the viewer. Now we get it: Eli Wallach's violent flounderings are exactly what Film does to our sensory perception.

The nature of the image is that you are constantly interacting with it, but most films - most images - make it easy for you to forget that. Tscherkassky's do not allow this type of lackadaisical posture; they force you - violently - to act and react with the image. They force you to look at, rather than just see, the image.