Mika Taanila: First of all, how did
you end up making films after studying something else?
Martin Arnold: The thing is I was always
interested in making films, and especially experimental films.
I got interested very early because back then the Austrian Film
Museum in Vienna was very active in showing all kinds of classical
avant-garde works lets say Kubelka, Kenneth Anger,
Brakhage, Michael Snow so you really could see these things
in this town. The only problem back then, and I think its
somehow still a problem, was that the Arts Academy didnt
have any classes for film or media, so there was no chance at
all to study these things so I enrolled in psychology and art
history. I always made films when I was a student, smaller projects,
but essentially I never really liked them that much. So then at
the end I finished the studies and I thought that I would never
become a film-maker because the movies were so bad! I was sad,
you know, but then I came up with pièce touchée.
The film worked well and from that point on I was a film-maker.
MT: You have previously told that
you developed your film-making techniques of looping and stuttering
images and sound while making pièce touchée. Can
you tell more about that?
MA: I was interested in using single
frames, and I think the film-maker who influenced me most in this
approach was Peter Kubelka who was very active in giving lectures
in Vienna and always insisted that film was composed of single
frames, and that we should think of film in terms of single frames.
So thats how I got interested in single frames. Together
with a friend, I built my own optical printer which is a tool
that you can use to re-photograph single images, single stills,
from an already existing film. When I started doing these things
I tried all kinds of structures like running it forwards, then
running it backwards, then I even inserted breaks and worked with
extreme time lapse and also slow motion. So I did all kinds of
things and ended up with this continuous forwards and backwards
movement because I found them the most interesting. I used popular
movies like B-pictures in my experiments and felt that if you
break the continuum if you jump from frame 2 to frame 12,
then jump back to frame 3 and then to frame 16 then this
would insert breaks into the movement of the actors. What I found
convincing in these continuous forwards and backwards movements
was that I didnt actually break the gestures of the actors,
but I could somehow extend them or change them, which means that
I not only got to work in a formal way, but I also got to influence
the gestures and the actions that we can see in the movies, so
I could command somehow what was happening in the image.
MT: Your work is based on found footage.
Do you think there is such a thing as a found-footage movement
in your opinion?
MA: Well Im not sure if its
still going on but of course there was a lot of found-footage
film-making around in the 80s and also in the 90s,
and there are still many film-makers using found-footage. The
problem with found-footage is a lot of it ended up being pure
citation. Very often when you see student films from the U.S.
or films by film-makers, at a certain point they cut in found-footage
and if its pure citation I somehow have already had enough
of it. Its very easy to cite these films from the 40s
and 50s, but Im more interested in getting something
different out of it. This movement of pure citation has become
a little bit too simple. There were already film-makers in the
60s like Joseph Cornell or Bruce Connor who used found-footage,
so it was already there. It became interesting again in the 80s
and 90s so I assume thats why so many found-footage
films were made. This might also correspond with a certain perspective
on things or phenomenae, because in the 60s film-making
was widely concerned with questions like what can be done
with film if I use it in a free way?, what can be
done with film if I use it in the way that a painter uses his
brushes?. This movement was strongly connected to the 60s
and 70s like structural film and all of these things, and
then in the 80s the next generation was more interested
in somehow looking back, in what actually happened in film history.
Its not so much oriented in terms of future concepts or
in terms of the medium, i.e. film as film, but rather what does
film mean in society, what did it mean in the past, not just what
could it potentially be. I think this perhaps provided some fuel
for found-footage film-making.
MT: Your films feel and sound like
music or miniature musicals in many senses. What is your relationship
MA: Im not sure if I have a particular
relation to music. I mean, like many people of my age Im
interested in American music of the 80s like John Zorn and
the people around John Zorn. Im also interested in hip hop,
although Im not an expert. And of course Im also interested
in all kinds of sampling strategies. Although I think in terms
of my films a lot of it comes from film itself. I was always surprised
to find out that running a film backwards all of these
strategies are very old. Thats what the Lumière
brothers did at the Grand Café in Paris at the time when
they first showed their films. And then theres the Len Lye
movie Doing the Lambeth Walk Nazi-Style, where he used
footage from Triumph of the Will. So I think a lot of it essentially
comes from film itself.
MT: What kind of films in contemporary
cinema do you like yourself?
think Ive seen anything in the last one or two years which
has really struck me. But what I like
well there is Craig
Baldwin, who I think is very interesting, and I like most of Mathias
Müllers films, and then I also like American works
that are more oriented towards autobiography for example
Su Friedrichs work. And I also like Peter Tscherkasskys
latest films, the ones that he did with a flashlight.
MT: At the moment do you feel that
you yourself belong to a particular movement of film-makers or
artists? Do you feel a strong connection to any movements or certain
MA: Well not really, and Im not
really sure if there are any movements. Right now Im changing
my work I think. I got an invitation from an artspace which is
called Kunsthalle in Vienna and its a big exhibition space
in a new building. Its an interesting place and they asked
me if I would be interested in doing some installations for them,
and I have a show next October. I already had a couple of concepts
before they made contact, and I decided to stop this style of
running old movies backwards and forwards. What Im doing
now is erasing actors out of feature films. Were working
on a feature film based peoject. The original film is called The
Invisible Ghost and it stars Bela Lugosi. Its a B-movie
from the early 40s shot in the U.S. What we are doing is
erasing the actors, which means that throughout the movie the
actors get lost somehow. So that at the end the camera just goes
through the empty sets. Its a big change which sets me apart
from any groups or styles of film-making. Its a new thing
that will be more gallery based and more technical in terms of
the technology involved. Were working with 3D animation
and also with compositing programs - its very digital compared
to the earlier works.
MT: That sounds like a truly new direction.
Ive never heard of films where the actors are erased. How
are the installations made? Are there several projectors in the
gallery space at the same time?
MA: That has not been totally decided
as yet. As well as the main piece, I will also make some shorter
pieces, but the main piece will be a film which is about 60 minutes
long. What I plan to do is construct a movie theatre like
an old theatre that smells bad, a rather fucked up place! What
I want is to create the impression that the audience is also lost
not only the actors. So what Ill do is put in tons
of rows of chairs, and usually there wont be more than 10
people in the whole theatre. It will be like a cheap, outdated,
countryside movie space, showing an outdated film where the actors
are getting lost. In terms of the movie there is another point
because in the original movie Bela Lugosi is shown as a sort of
madman. In the original shots he is talking to his wife, although
his wife is not there because she died in a car accident. So of
course he is frustrated, and he celebrates the wedding anniversary
without his wife, just talking to nothing. So what Im doing
is spreading [Lugosis] symptoms out to the other actors.
Which means that for all the other actors, just like in the conversation
at the beginning of the original film, there will always be one
part missing. They get the same symptom and start talking to thin
air, and in the end they all get lost. There will also be the
High Noon loop - a short loop of about 3 minutes. Essentially
its a similar thing, the actors are missing, but it will
look very different because I took the big gunfight at the end
of High Noon, which means that there is lot of very fast-paced
editing going on creating a lot of very short individual shots.
Its funny because there is a lot of smoke coming from the
guns but you dont see the guns and you dont see them
shooting, its like firecrackers exploding in the air. And
then there are these very hysteric pans, but the camera pans are
not following anybody, just panning with very hysterical music
and nothing actually happening.
How many people do you have working on this erasing project, or
are you doing it mostly by yourself?
MA: Well, thats also a big change.
On the older films I worked just on my own as a one-person production
team. Now I have producers and a team of three co-workers, with
one person in charge of the technical part of the production,
a technical supervisor. Its the first time Im working
in a team. This is absolutely necessary otherwise I would
only be able to show the film maybe two weeks before I die! Its
so time consuming that it takes forever. Well have an output
of something like five seconds per day per person. Thats
not very much for a 60 minute movie.
MT: What sort of feedback do you get
from the audience after screenings of your films?
MA: That depends on where I show them.
I think that one of the most interesting thins is that they sometimes
attract people who are not really fans of experimental cinema.
I think they are open to very many readings, and sometimes even
people who dont like experimental film especially
the 60s versions of experimental films they still
like what Im doing. So I think theres a certain kind
of openness. I think that people like the rhythm. For example
Fennesz told me that most of the experimental musicians that hes
aware of know my movies because of their musical structure or
whatever. So the reactions generally are pretty good. The one
bad reaction although I wasnt there, I just read
about this was when they showed one of my films at Cannes
before a feature film. And people didnt like it there. The
French were shouting Arnold, go home! which was very
funny because I was home, I wasnt there!