Which movie scene made your skin crawl?

"A relatively expressionless close-up of the actor Ivan Mozzhuchin looking out of the picture is successively combined with shots of a dead person in a coffin, a plate of soup and a child, whereupon the test audience stated that they recognized sadness, hunger or paternal tenderness in Mozzhuchin's facial expression." In “Reclam's Sachlexikon des Films” the experiment is described that the Russian avant-garde filmmaker Lev Vladimirovich Kuleschow is said to have carried out with test viewers in the twenties and which made theory history under the name of the “Kuleschow Effect”. Even if it is sometimes doubted that this experiment actually took place in this form, its finding is confirmed in every film: A single shot is not meaningful in and for itself, but only grows through the combination and comparison with other shots Importance to.

Difference, maximum and minimum

The Kuleschow effect for the film only confirms what Ferdinand de Saussure claims to be the basic principle of all semiotics. In language, too, there is nothing but differences without positive individual elements, according to the Geneva linguist in his "Lectures on General Linguistics". Just as each sign in the linguistic system is only defined by how it stands out from the other signs, so does the cinematic syntax work through the more or less pronounced differences between the individual settings.

If this equation of the production of meaning through difference applies to the film per se, it is seldom as impressive as in the radical works of the artist duo Christoph Girardet and Matthias Müller, who in their film collages exhaust the principles of cinematic syntax to the extreme when it does Merges images and scenes from very different sources in a completely unexpected way. Above all, it is the rich fund of film history from which the artists take their material. Found footage This is the name of this genre of experimental film, in which individual images, scenes and sequences are broken out of a foreign film corpus and reassembled. The joints between the individual parts are always of particular relevance. Sometimes the jump from one picture to another is maximal, as in cut, where the artists cut from the bark of a tree, over the ants, directly to the close-up of sweat-covered skin. Then again the gap between the images is infinitesimally tiny, as in Necrologue (part of the Phoenix tapes), in that brief moment from Hitchcocks Under Capricornin which a traumatized and deadly exhausted Ingrid Bergman awakens from her slumber and opens her eyes. Girardet and Müller stretch this literal moment into slow motion lasting several minutes, in which every movement of the eyelids, no matter how fine, and the smallest movement of the eyes hidden behind them can be perceived. You even believe you can feel the calm flow of blood under your skin, but above all that other pulse becomes visible, the pulse of the medium itself. In super slow motion you can see the gentle pounding of the film grain and the imperceptible swaying of the technicolor colors between the infinite shades of color of the face, hair, pillow and the darkness in the background. In what appears to be the smallest distance between two images, a real universe of nuances opens up. The microscopic gap between the images is highly potentiated and overdetermined.

Continuation of the melodrama with experimental means

In a conversation with Isabella Rossellini, the actress and daughter Ingrid Bergmans, the director Guy Maddin mentions this film by Girardet and Müller, only to be shocked to discover that their film experiment apparently accurately depicts the state of exhaustion on the verge of death, which Isabella also experienced Rossellini reports when she describes her memories of the seriously cancerous mother. This is how the apparently completely abstract experiment of Necrologue as a moving as well as accurate portrait of a sufferer, much more shocking than Hitchcock's costume drama, from which the scene celebrated here originates.

The films by Girardet and Müller are not only coolly observed experimental arrangements, but also develop an emotional force in their precision that even narrative cinema, which is much more obviously oriented towards empathy, cannot keep up with. Abstraction and a surge of emotion are not a contradiction, but are mutually dependent. That may explain the two artists' persistent obsession with the melodrama genre. Because the melodramas of classic Hollywood cinema are also captivating precisely because they constantly know how to combine excessive artificiality with excessive emotionality. Nothing is as flimsy artificial as a melodrama and moves the audience to tears anyway or precisely because of it. This complex relationship between deception and feeling is then also condensed in the object of the mirror, the leitmotif function of which has already been described several times in the melodramas by Douglas Sirk, but which is also emblematic of the self-reflective visual logic of the melodrama.

Girardet and Müller radicalize this mirror metaphor of melodrama in its overwhelming way crystal and its clanking dance of innumerable mirror scenes. Just like in the opening credits of Sirks Imitation of Life (which already alludes to the mirror in the title) gradually fills the screen with trickling gems, so in Girardet and Müller's film shards of film and splintered cinematic moments collide with one another, sparkling. Robert Taylor puts in Party girl His Cyd Charisse puts on a jeweled collar in front of the mirror, where Anthony Quinn hits it Portrait in Black Lana Turner's likeness in the mirror, Spencer Tracy tries to recognize herself in the glass, Barbara Steele looks down in front of herself. Girardet and Müller condense what the films, from which the artists have stolen their gems, develop over their entire duration into a few moments. As is well known, diamonds are nothing more than coal that has been compressed under special pressure. Girardet and Müller's crystal images work no differently. While i'm already mentioned Party girl Nicholas Ray only gradually and only vaguely comprehends how this film revolves around the interrelationship between female staging and male impotence, one suddenly becomes aware of this in the adaptation of Girardet and Müller. The foreign film images are reworked by the two artists in such a way that the uncanny shimmer of frustration and satisfaction, lust, fear, violence, failure and melancholy appears more abstract and yet more immediate. But not only that we see how the characters are beguiled, confused and hypnotized by the glittering things around them, Girardet and Müller have copied the images from the films through broken pieces and crystals, so that the quoted scenes alienate one another, the bodies double up and grimace. The reflections shown in the scenes conquer the representation itself. The puzzle spreads from the content to the form and thereby totalizes itself. The work of art becomes the continuation and completion of the melodrama with more experimental means.

The Kuleshov affect

But one does not do justice to these works if one reads them only as an apotheosis of an already familiar cinematic experience. As closely as these works of art are based on the emotional state of the films from which they were used, and as moving Guy Maddin's observation may be that a film like Necrologue reproducing actual deathbed experience - Girardet and Müller still go further. They tap into the emotionality stored in foreign film material, but only to go beyond it and create impressions that have never been experienced anywhere else. That is also what remains too unsatisfactory about the description of the Kuleschow effect cited at the beginning. When it says there that the test viewers have now discovered "sadness, hunger or paternal tenderness" thanks to the combination with other images in the expressionless close-up of the actor's face, this seems all too banal. Isn't it more the case that the interlinking of the images in the images allowed new emotions to be discovered that you couldn't really grasp? Instead of simply depicting a familiar feeling, Kuleschow's combination of images creates new emotions: a new, previously unknown state is created on the screen, less a Kuleschow effect than a Kuleschow affect (a neologism that the Potsdam media scientist Jörg Sternagel apparently also shares already used, albeit with a different interest).

Kuleschow affect - that is also what Sergej Eisenstein means when he writes about scissors as a “means of production” in his famous reply to Béla Balázs. Editing, montage, combining disparate images is not limited to the sheer reproduction of what is already there, but is an independent production, creating something new. In the found footage films by Christoph Girardet and Matthias Müller, this productivity, which stems solely from the editing, is shown in its purest form, because the individual images, their contents and settings already existed; the artists sometimes only add the editing as a new element added. But this changes everything.

In manual Girardet and Müller cut the images of one hand on bare skin together with the images of another hand kneading a silver plastic mattress. But the cuts follow one another so quickly that in the lazy eyes of the beholder, the massage of the body mixes with the massage of the plastic. Meat and plastic melt together - a sight that shakes the viewer to the bowels and causes a special form of nausea that cannot be described at all. The viewer is seized by a Kuleschow affect for which there is no counterpart and therefore no vocabulary beyond this film.

Gilles Deleuze writes of the color in film that it does not symbolize affects (red for love, green for hope), but rather that the film color itself is affect, a new emotional state that cannot be translated into any other medium. The same goes for the cuts in the films by Girardet and Müller: They too do not symbolize, but create new, puzzling affects themselves. In Cut, a film that they made especially for the large retrospective at the Kunstverein Hannover and that doesn't have the cut in the title for nothing, they cut together images of the body with images of nature, the inorganic with the organic, so that a physical experience results that is second to none: Drops of water that fall on flowers are associated with the dripping medicine of infusion, with the drops of blood that run from wounds, and these in turn continue in the water that in Dario Argentos Profondo rosso falls out of the clairvoyant's mouth. The veins in the X-ray of little Regan The exorcist find their analogy in the stunted branches that are in Mario Bavas Maschera del demonio in front of the stormy sky. And if the mad nun from Michael Powells Black Narcissus regains consciousness from her impotence, her gaze continues in that mocking raised eyebrow of Dana Wynter Invasion of the Body Snatcherswhen she reveals herself to be possessed.

In this way, the various figures and objects combine to form a new kind of being inspired by mysterious affects. The bodies emerging at Girardet and Müller's cutting table have lost their sharp contours and instead become what Deleuze calls "organless bodies" - decentered bodies that have stripped their organization and instead become "zones of indistinguishability" where different people meet mix and where technical equipment merges into limbs and vice versa: the close-up of a wide-open mouth, from which breath rattles, responds to the image of a cannula pushed angrily under the skin. The skin is also a stocking that one tears, the carpet is also an epidermis that bleeds. Hair is reeds and the pillow stuffing is guts. A completely new body feeling occurs in images and is transferred to the speechless viewer, who has no choice but to allow himself to be overwhelmed by affects he does not know. "Tell me what you see!" is it called in Contre-jour, and with good reason this is also the title of the exhibition in Hanover. A request of the utmost irony - because it is precisely at trying to translate what is happening in front of our eyes that we fail. The new cutting effects can be seen and experienced, but not described.

What do we see?

But even this vision is unstable. Just as the new affects occur at the borders, the precarious interfaces between the recordings, between human, animal, vegetable and technical bodies, the perception of these affects is also precarious and fragile. When Matthias Müller's short films were shown late at night on the fifth International Short Film Festival in Winterthur in 2001, the lamp of the film projector broke and the replacement bulb that was finally found turned out to be too weak. Müller's films could only be seen shimmering and dim: a nuisance for the filmmaker present as well as for us, who wanted to see these films for the first time and now only almost got to see them. And yet, in retrospect, the defect in the projection apparatus turns out to be surprisingly fitting, as it were, as the anticipation of the film that Matthias Müller and Christoph Girardet years later under the title Contre-jour will do. The flickering and flickering of the projection that was so annoying at the time is in Contre-jour intended alienation. The countless film clips of opening lids, dilating pupils, doctors adjusting their forehead reflectors and shining into their patients' eyes are shown in mere flashes, as shaky light images that only briefly flare up and then go out again. In between there is self-shot material: portraits of people, whose dark silhouettes are gradually illuminated, their faces are lit until they turn away blinded and hold their hands protectively in front of their faces. They are doubles of us viewers who can only watch this film and its crackling recordings with closed eyes. Undoubtedly, the ophthalmologists who tamper with their patients' vision tools are also stand-ins for the two directors mad scientistswho cut films apart and re-cut them at their lighting desk as if they were on a dissecting table. Her operations on the open corpus of film history are also operations on the open eye of the viewer. Just as the new affects are conditioned by new perspectives, anyone who has undergone the optical operations of Girardet and Müller will no longer be able to see films as they were before.

Burned eyes, X-ray vision, fetishism

"Tell me what you see!" - That could also be understood as an invitation to the cinephiles to identify the loaned film snippets. Torn by compulsion, eyes in front of this thunderstorm of light Contre-jour to close, and our desire to take a closer look, we look through our fingers and see the opening eye from the opening sequence by Michael Powells Peeping Tom, the rigid eye of Janet Leigh Psycho, realize that Alida Valli at the operating table Les yeux sans face stands and Ingrid Bergman stands out Spellbound. We try to memorize everything until we have to avert our aching eyes, like the screaming Ray Milland in Roger Cormans The Man with The X-Ray Eyes it can no longer stand having to see everything all the time.

Cinephilia - as one becomes clear with Girardet and Müller - is a kind of X-ray vision that penetrates through the films, divides and disintegrates them in search of those moments that are worth preserving. Like in the first shot of Contre-jour Hissing acid drips into the lens and thus also into the spectator's eyes, so for the cinema-obsessed individual moments of film history burn into his retina and memory. This allows him to catch moments of the sublime even in the most obscure films. That moment from the German B-movie lasts just two seconds The invisible, in which Ellen Schwiers armed with a camera stares into the camera. But Christoph Girardet stretches in Delay this moment to the three-and-a-half-minute scene and thus intensifies the hypnosis that only the obsessive artist had previously felt in this fleeting moment. That exposes the term «found footage», which is used for these films, as actually misleading. Talking about the “material found” implies that these finds just happened by chance.In fact, the films by Christoph Girardet and Matthias Müller are based on extensive archaeological research, which is also identified as such, for example when they list the films used in the credits. In Phoenix tapes Ultimately, Girardet and Müller have taken on the oeuvre that, like no other, has piqued the cinephiles' eye-candy to this day. In six chapters and for a total of over forty-five minutes, the artists sift through Hitchcock's films, their image and sound tracks, their places and objects, faces, signs, hands, gestures, colors and sounds. But unlike the Internet project “1000 Frames of Hitchcock”, in which every Hitchcock film is summarized in a thousand screenshots, what is attempted here is not an overview, but rather an X-ray-like review of Hitchcock's work, in which the visual obsessions and fixed ideas of the Master of Suspense crystallize: the hands, for example, that reach for things, the weapons, slips of paper, rings, keys, knobs, buttons, cords, buttons, switches, and then clench, tremble and twitch, frustrated by the futility of all these gestures. Or all the helpless, hopeless, unstoppable, listless men who talk to their mothers, implore them, start at them, adore them, accuse them, their tired, tired, bored, grim, greedy, gruesome, grinning, blasphemous, laughing mothers.

This creates a cabinet of pathologies. At the same time, however, cinephilia is recognized as such. By dismembering films into favorite scenes, the Cinephile is similar to the murderers and surgeons who cut open and cut bodies with their knives and scalpels. The living, running film must be stopped, interrupted, divided and killed so that its individual images and individual scenes can be snatched from it. That is what the cinephile does in his memory with the beloved films. Girardet and Müller only execute on the cutting table what we are constantly doing in our heads. The desire for the cinema turns out to be a fetishism that excites itself on partial objects, on individual scenes and is no longer interested in the film as a whole. In crystal there is a sequence in which an empty bedroom is reflected in a mirror, but a jewelry chain hangs in front of the mirror. As the camera moves, the incidence of light changes, and suddenly a reflex appears on one of the gemstones on the necklace, a glow, a shine hits the eye. It is a wonderful moment, literally an epiphany and at the same time an exemplary case of the fetishism celebrated here. The sheen on the chain is reminiscent of that special "sheen on the nose" with which one of Freud's patients was so obsessed and with whose case Freud opened his 1927 essay "Fetishism". When Freud found out that his patient had an English nursery, he realized: «The fetish from early childhood was not to be read in German, but in English, the“ gloss on the nose ”was actually a“ look at the nose ” (glance = look), so the nose was the fetish, to which, by the way, he gave that special highlight at will that others could not perceive. " The glance creates the shine of the fetish. It takes the special eye of Christoph Girardet and Matthias Müller to track down that highlight in the film material which - as Freud puts it - «others could not perceive». But the look that detected this moment was never neutral in its meticulousness. Rather, it is himself who first makes the shine shine. What we see shining in the shine on the chain is the shimmer of our own fetishistic gaze.

Dead spots

So the two artists celebrate in a way folie à deux this fetishistic pleasure in the cinematic detail and at the same time reflect this pleasure extremely critically and with great irony. Because often enough it is precisely the inconspicuous, the supposedly meaningless film passages that the two of them target in their found footage works. Movie-crazy cinema operators have iconic moments in the past, such as the kissing scenes Casablanca cut out of film copies, Girardet and Müller, on the other hand, are not interested in such obvious highlights. In Scratch Christoph Girardet has collected a lot of film moments in which records spin. The only thing that can be heard on the sound track is the crackling of the empty groove. The mini-sequences, which are repeated again and again in the loop, are themselves like a hooked record that does not progress. An endlessly rotating loop, just like the one made up of nothing but recordings of clocks 60 secondswhere you can watch the second hand go around and through sixty films in the process. Also in the joint effort Play these are the dead moments that Girardet and Müller insist on. The eponymous play on stage can never be seen, but always different auditoriums and an audience that claps, then frenetically applauds, stands up, sits down again, moves forward on the seat, leans back, is excited , indignant, shocked, bored and waiting. The amazing thing, however, is that the stringing together of such dead moments results in a real drama. The performance that the audience puts on before our eyes is more mysterious and exciting than the scenes on stage could ever be.

Just like the shine of the pictures from glance originates from the viewer's gaze, so here the viewer turns out to be what actually needs to be looked at. What happens beyond the performance, as it were in the blind spot, is what is truly exciting. Also in the enigmatic tableaux, this time not from foreign film material, but self-made tableaus by Mirror one seems to have gotten into that limbo that opens up between two actions. A man, a woman, she in a cocktail dress, he in a suit and tie, stand lost in empty rooms, waiting for something to happen or reflecting on what has just happened. But what you see is just the dead time, the dead space in between. There is nothing but this space. In contrast to their found footage works, the artists here did not have to cut away the actual actions to expose the dead spots. You staged this yourself and nothing but this. The in-between is the only available attraction. Gradually, when looking at this film, the viewer realizes that a hair-thin line opens up in the middle of each picture, a crack like a mirror axis. In their collages, Girardet and Müller allow strange images to collide in order to produce new Kuleschow effects. Now here is the edge on which the pictures rub against each other as their center and main point in the picture. Ultimately, the most extreme visualization of such a dead intermediate realm are those images that aren't really: all the many black images with which Girardet and Müller repeatedly chant their films. There are pauses in which the breath of the images is held, a black abyss opens up like once in the breaking earth from Matthias Müller's early days From afar - The Memo Book or that crack in the ground Sleepy Haven.

In such black non-images, however, the Kuleschow affects teem with particular zeal. As a result of the after-image effect, what has just been seen still reverberates in the dark and the anticipation projects onto the black screen what will still follow, as in Maybe Siamwhere at first we only get to hear a lot of film scenes with blind people, before we then - but now silently - also get them shown. Above all, however, all those images unfold in the black pauses that one has not seen and will not see, but which haunt the cinephile in the head. In a kind of optical phantom pain, the black screen visualizes the absent members of the film. In all the recordings of body wounds as you get them in Cut to see, you will not find all the famous pictures that one might expect: neither the knocked out eye from Eisenstein Armored cruiser Potemkin still the cut eyeball of Buñuel and Dalí; neither the knife from Hitchcocks Psycho nor the opening body from the Cronenbergs Videodrome. The artists know that we have always carried these phantom images around with us anyway, etched into our eyes and brains, which have been contaminated by film history. The refusal to take these pictures becomes the final coup for Christoph Girardet and Matthias Müller. At the latest here, where we cannot help but project our own found footage onto the black screen, these films have us completely under their control. They even incorporated our memories. We find ourselves sewn hopelessly into the gap between the pictures.

Used literature:

Gilles Deleuze: The moving picture: Cinema 1. Frankfurt a. M. 1989
Gilles Deleuze: Logic of Sense. Frankfurt a. M. 1993
Sergej M. Eisenstein: "Béla forgets the scissors." (1926). In: Helmut H. Diederichs: History of the film theory. Frankfurt a. M. 2004. pp. 257-264
Sigmund Freud: "Fetishism" (1927). Collected Works, XIV. London 1948, pp. 309-317
Thomas Koebner (ed.): Reclams Sachlexikon des Films. Stuttgart 2011
Ferdinand de Saussure: Basic questions in general linguistics. Berlin 1967

Christoph Girardet: A Stolen Life. Found footage 1991-2003. Freiburg i. Br. 2003
Jens Hinrichsen: Christoph Girardet. Hanover 2012
Matthias Müller: Album. Film, video, photography. Frankfurt a. M. 2004

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