It seems like only yesterday when the work of a handful of filmmakers exploring new mediums was simply referred to as digital. Analogue was a given, but we all know how quickly it's become an anomaly. In the space of only a few years, Peter Tscherkassky's forays into the physicality of celluloid, its sprockets and optical soundtrack strips is now quaintly labelled as 'analogue' work whilst digital has become the norm. Yet for all the associations with retro or nostalgic fetishism the analogue term conjures, Tscherkassky remains steadfastly forward-looking, enraptured by the kinetic forces the physical medium of film can still unleash. To paraphrase fellow Austrian filmmaker, Otto Mühl, Tscherkassky's films are pure material aktion. The material of film is as much a subject as any of the found footage that Tscherkassky has culled.
I first discovered Tscherkassky's Outer Space in the early part of the millennium. Its use of found footage is radically different from the films of Bruce Connor, Martin Arnold or Bill Morrison, who all employed that process to very different ends. Here was a convulsive spell of a film that truly came to life only in the dark given that the camera was bypassed in favor of the dark room to conjure a cubist fever dream of multiple exposures. It feels crass to describe Outer Space as a remix of Sydney J. Furie's The Entity, but as with the most innovative music remixes, the power of Tscherkassky's film lies in its ability to fragment the familiar and reassemble into a wholly new form. As Guy Maddin put it in The Village Voice, Tscherkassky in Outer Space is "condensing the original imagery of the feature and displacing it into a new narrative." Seeing Outer Space on the big screen not only feels like a diffusion of genre, but also of film itself, as it warps, cracks and splits under its own voltage.
Tscherkassky's dismantling of genre was a big influence on me, but also the tactile obsession with the materials one uses to bring genre to life was something I had rarely seen done before in such a unique manner. Tscherkassky's films are as much about light and darkness in their purest physical forms as they are about any of the action one sees on screen. Rather, it's light and darkness that interferes and intrudes into the lives of the characters on screen.
When I first worked with 16mm, Steenbecks and optical sound in the mid-'90s, I remember the efforts I and fellow filmmakers would go to in order to erase unwanted glitches. Outer Space positively celebrates those glitches and uses optical distortion to drive the nightmare logic of the found footage. Its deliberate use is sensual, fully immersive and utterly other worldly. With the dying gasps of celluloid, the haunted optical crackles and distortions feel almost like a death knell.
Despite its short running time, I listed Outer Space in my 2012 Sight & Sound ten favorite films poll, as I believe it to be an aggressively cinematic work of askew beauty and terror. Tscherkassky is that rarest of directors—an alchemist who can summon an electrical charge by his interrogation of a found image. The process is slow and painstaking, yet the results are always electrifying.
There is always something new to be gleaned from the film and all of Tscherkassky's work with each viewing.