The CinemaScope Trilogy, 1998-2002

Peter Tscherkassky’s elegantly conceived, idiosyncratically transfixing, and neuron-saturating CinemaScope Trilogy is made without a camera – a series of films entirely realized in the dark room using techniques of contact printing and variable exposure to transfer found film into unexposed film stock, then manipulated and processed to create the final works. Serving as both an homage to film as cinema, as well as an experimental study on the physical materiality of the medium (a philosophy similarly echoed by Peter Kubelka during the lecture and screening of Truth and Poetry at the 2004 Views from the Avant-Garde), the films reflect an intrinsic ability to distill the essence of human observation, sensation, and even psychology into the assimilation – and fragmentation – of interplayed images, rhythms, impulses, associative cognition, and instinctual responses.

L’Arrivée, 1998

Constructed as a multi-layered study on the meaning of “arrival”, the first layer is a point of reference on the implicit audience anticipation for the seemingly delayed start of the film, as the familiar, audible hissing and popping of a recorded soundtrack accompanies an extended white screen that intermittently (and teasingly) reveal the silhouette of linear film stock straying into and out of frame to create a playful and evocative interactive illustration of the process of engaged waiting. The second layer is an ingenious reference to the Lumière brothers’ L’Arrivée d’un train à la Ciotat as a steam engine train slowly approaches the station, a selection that seems particularly appropriate, not because of their pioneering work in filmmaking, but because of their continued influence in defining the structural conventions of narrative film with their microcosmic encapsulations of the “real” world – a series of visual stories with a beginning (or setup condition), an action, and a resolution. In L’Arrivée, the “action” comes in the synthesized forms of image duplication, fracture, collision, and decontextualization that result in the unsteadied and imbalanced chaos of a virtual train wreck. For the final layer, Tscherkassky impishly follows the Lumière narrative code in the tongue-in-cheek, hyper-romantic image of a luminous Catherine Deneuve in period costume emerging from the train and into the arms of an (understandably) enraptured Omar Sharif, a sequence from Terence Young’s film, Mayerling (1968).

Outer Space, 1999

The most complex and innately unnerving installment of the CinemaScope Trilogy, the film immediately creates an atmosphere of sinister foreboding in its liminal, transitory images of an amorphous night sky, heightened ambient sounds, and skewed, awkward angled framing of a modest home on an eerily tranquil rural street. Assembled from excerpts of found film from Sidney J. Furie’s, The Entity (1988), Tscherkassky transforms the introductory images of a deserted, seemingly alien landscape into a startling, profoundly fractured (or as the filmmaker suggests in the end credits of L’Arrivée, “manufractured”), and increasingly haunted portrait of human desolation and descent into madness. In addition to creating apparent visual malleability and disjunctions of space and linear time through the manipulation, superimposition, and resequencing of images, what is perhaps the most remarkable aspect of the film is Tscherkassky’s implemented strategy for reflecting the unnamed heroine’s (Barbara Hershey) ambiguously real or imagined assault through the sensorially unrelenting stimuli created by an extended sequence of hyperkinetic, strobing flashes of intense light that seemingly explode and burn out before dissolving into unidentifiable abstraction, leaving in its wake the residual, irreconcilable fragments of a complete psychological rupture of the image and the self.

Dream Work, 2002

The film opens to the static shot of a pendulum-like, window shade pull against the sound of the ticking of a clock, a juxtaposition that seemingly reinforces a (waking) consciousness of time and physical presence, as a woman (Barbara Hershey) eventually enters the frame, slips off her shoes, brushes her hair, prepares for bedtime, and falls asleep. From this fleeting, introductory image of mundane ritual, the film then departs into unexpected and amorphous trajectories of dream state as residual imprints of memories and human interaction fragment, dislocate, replicate, and free associate within the subconscious – while simultaneously infused, reinterpreted, or transformed under the influence of fear, individual will, and desire. The most overtly sensual and tactile of the CinemaScope Trilogy (note that the images of disrobing serve as an apparent metaphor for the nakedness of the subconscious in dream state), the film is an appropriate homage to avant-garde artist, photographer, and filmmaker Man Ray whose early photographs not only represented the human body as a synthesis of malleable, abstract forms, but also pioneered the production of rayographs by placing three-dimensional objects in front of a photographic plate and exposing the composition to light in order to create an indirect, superimposed, composite image (a precursor to the film process implemented by Tscherkassky for the trilogy). Indeed, there is an inherent texturality and voluptuous to the film in the repeated sensorial cues of ticking clocks, personal grooming, massaging of limbs, and breathlessness and involuntary spasms of sexual arousal that are cinematically echoed in the sequence looping and frame stuttering of the physical film itself. It is this organic malleability of recollected images coupled with ritualistic repetitiveness that intrinsically illustrates the reiterative correlation between dream and reality in the film: a representation, not of a soul in conflict, but a mind in tenuous self-reconciliation.

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