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PETER TSCHERKASSKY: ATTRACTIONS, INSTRUCTIONS AND OTHER ROMANCES
by Esperanza Collado in Experimental Conversations , 10.04.2013
 
INDEX, the Viennese label committed to making available for private use hard-to-find Austrian cinematic artworks, has just released Attractions, Instructions and Other Romances, a DVD edition compiling a selection of works by film deconstructionist and found footage virtuoso Peter Tscherkassky. The new disc complements the preceding release of his Films From a Dark Room, and features a completely new selection of works by the Austrian author previously unavailable on domestic formats. The DVD compiles recent pieces, such as Coming Attractions (2010) and the stunning Instructions for a Light and Sound Machine (2005), as well as earlier, shorter Super-8 films, such as Erotique (1982, starring Lisl Ponger) and Ballet 16 (1984).

The journey kicks off with the discovery of a witty film, Parallel Space: Inter-View (1992), which undoubtedly resituates Tscherkassky's oeuvre within his filmic investigations around the expansion of perception, the suspension of disbelief, the workings of memory, and the powers of pulsating light in space -both physical and representational space. If the latter balance is a constant achievement in the author's most recent, found-footage 35mm works, Parallel Space: Inter-View fundamentally differs from the others in the presence of the author's own footage. Entirely shot with an analogue photographic camera and skillfully edited in the optical printer along with sequences from Elia Kazan's Wild River (1960), the film presents a condition of rupture on different levels that induces the loss of spatial stability. The exploration of the gaze, the play of dualities it involves, the structural discordances of film/photography formats, and the existing -and highlighted- fissure between perceived reality and the reality of the medium make of this film an experience in its own right.

Tscherkassky's flirtations with psychoanalytical film theory - most specifically with the writings of Christian Metz- are also problematized in Shot - Countershot (1987), an ultra-short piece of 22 seconds that possibly represents the earliest manifestation of Hollywood cinema in the author's work. The illusionist unity of time and space that the shot-countershot technique conventionally produces is ‘respectfully' restored, although not without irony. Two more films, in addition to the aforementioned titles, complete the disc: Happy-End (1996), a found-footage Super8 home movie found in a flea market and transformed into a film about resurrection, the structures and conventions of regularly recurring celebrations, and about looking into the living room of a spirited third age couple; and Nachtstück (Nocturne, 2006) an exploration of passion and sensorial ‘physical cinema', as the author rightly asserts.

The cinema of Peter Tscherkassky is one of mutilated celluloid and violent luminous forces, disjointed narratives and subversive plots against the conventions of fictional cinema. His body of work can be positioned within the critical inheritance of a long-standing tradition of anti-illusion that the radical avant-garde of Austria initiated during the post-war period. The contributions to the evolution of such practice, with the prominent works of Peter Kubelka, Peter Weibel, Valie Export, Mara Mattuschka, Lisl Ponger, Hans Scheugl, Kurt Kren, Martin Arnold, Siegfried A. Fruhauf, and many other outstanding historical and contemporary filmmakers and artists from Austria, have undoubtedly made of this "this tiny country in the middle of Europe" (1) an enormous one. Another recent release, this time by the Austrian avant-garde distribution company Six Pack Film, is the book Film Unframed: A History of Austrian Avant-Garde Cinema which excellently contextualizes this unique radical practice that has had a worldwide influence. This book is the first publication in English to offer a comprehensive aesthetic view of the avant-garde film universe of Austria. As such, it is a perfect companion-piece to Attractions, Instructions and Other Romances.

- Esperanza Collado

(1), Peter Tscherkassky, "There must be something in the water...", in Film Unframed: A History of Austrian Avant-Garde Cinema (Ed.: Peter Tscherkassky), Sixpackfilm, Vienna, 2002.
 
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