Saturday, 23 October 2010

The joy of sprocket-holes

OUTER SPACE (Peter Tscherkassky; Austria; 1999)

For some reason, I simply cannot get enough of Tscherkassky's work lately. Especially Outer Space. At a time when impending Halloween brings out the horror-film connoisseur in all/ some/ only-me of us, it seems apt to be obsessed with this film - not simply because this is a creative mauling of an 80's horror film (The Entity), but because when this film truly fires up it almost feels as if the film is eating itself, ripping itself apart in an attempt to mutate and create something utterly new. It's like a celluloidal-mirror to the doppelganger-monster in John Carpenter's The Thing - malleability of flesh is akin to the malleability of cinema itself, mimicked and torn asunder to create new film-flesh.

And it's not simply the violence of the film churning itself up, tearing itself, spitting itself back out, but the SOUND. This film is a sound poem as much as a visually brutal assault. From quiet nervous glitches and flickering pocks, to increasing stutters, then the sound seems to drop away, the calm before the storm. Then all furious hell breaks loose, as shrieks, shattered windows, yelps, battered incidental music, and other crashing sounds seem to fold over and over, creating a layered, bewildering cacophony. The film now has it's own life (I've been tempted on more than one occasion to holler, in my best Dr. Frankenstein impersonation, "it's alive, aliiive!", just at this point in the film, but have suppressed the urge for fear of my girlfriend thinking I am utterly film-fanatically demented).

The startling revelation is when the strip of film seems to unspool itself, and we see a strobing epileptic frenzy of sprocket holes, the strip of film appearing to weave over and on top of itself, wavering from side to side across the frame. This is cinema at it's most naked, the joyful shock of sprocket-holes signalling the medium stripped bare. The images all but disappear, leaving just a negative-imaged trail of weaving sprocket-holes, weaving across the screen like a set of lines in a Len Lye film. (The joy of seeing sprocket-holes also reminds me of Tex Avery's Dumb-hounded, when a cartoon character skids right out of the strip of film, enters the white limbo of non-film, and scrambles like mad to run back into the film-strip).

For me, this film feels like cinema is dying and being born at the same time, and it does this with such force and vigour that you're not left feeling depleted and bereft at the end, but elated and poised for more. It's here, if you're hankering to see to it.

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