Dance Video #7: ‘Dambala’ with The Academy of SunNovember 18, 2018
Daniel & Clara: An Interview in 12 Parts. Part 9: The Kingdom of ShadowsDecember 30, 2018
A blaze of light flickers in the darkness, and from that spark a cacophony of colours stream forth overwhelming the senses. The disorientating cries of a polymorphous landscape reaches out and smothers me with a melding mesh of dazzling fibres. The whole environment feels like flesh without looking in the slightest like flesh. Every movement feels to my eyes like an overwhelming caress, and my vision succumbs to the pulping of my senses. I follow my ears as my sight whirls in ecstatic intensity. Yet my ears keep me steady. They know where to look. They are going somewhere and I will follow… Follow? Maybe follow is the wrong word. I can no longer merely follow my senses. I am there. I am enmeshed in the world and the world enmeshed in me. I can no longer perceive where by body ends and the world begins. Together we investigate, interrogate, search and explore.
In this eighth part of our interview with Daniel & Clara, Bradley Tuck talks with them about their film In Search of the Exile. Along the way they discuss soundscapes, visual experimentation, influences and audience responses.
In Search of the Exile can be viewed here, and the DVD can be purchased here.
Artists Daniel Fawcett & Clara Pais have been collaborating since 2011 on moving image work, performance and photography. Since meeting they have worked exclusively together seeing themselves as two halves of a single artist. Alongside their work as artists they also publish their own magazine Film Panic. Throughout 2018 they will be collaborating extensively with Exploding Appendix as resident artists and, alongside this interview, will be collaborating on events, screenings and film projects.
BRADLEY: Throughout your films from Savage Witches onwards you have persistently used techniques to change the brightness, contrast and colours of the film. We constantly encounter intense and intoxicating colours that flood the screen and overwhelm the senses. We have seen the bright and colourful gardens of films such as Savage Witches and Splendor Solis. Sacrificium Intellectus pushes this technique further, using it throughout the whole film. In many respects, Sacrificium Intellectus could be seen as a forerunner to In Search of the Exile. Both films use a similar technique to flood the frame with colour.
When we discussed Sacrificium Intellectus, we talked about the fact that this was a film with a narrative, albeit one that was minimal and easily overlooked. Sacrificium Intellectus is simply a person in a paper outfit dancing until the outfit disintegrates. That isn’t a strong narrative in the sense that we might be used to in ‘narrative cinema’, but something happens and something has changed. We are not in the same place as we began. In Search of the Exile is more of a conventionally narrative film. It is a kind of medieval fantasy film where the wanderer seems to encounter a witch, a red knight and lovers. Unlike Sacrificium Intellectus, which was projected in very different venues, In Search of the Exile IS cinema. It would be hard to imagine it projected in another space, or not watched from beginning to end.
Nonetheless, like Sacrificium Intellectus, you can see how it would be possible to overlook the narrative elements. The colours flood the screen in a way that it isn’t always clear what we are watching. Sometimes it is like watching a very abstract non-narrative experimental film where colours move around the frame. At certain points, I realised only part way through a scene that my eyes were creating a picture that was entirely different to what was actually filmed. So it is a film where it is easy to lose yourself in a kind of “inner experience” – it is a meditative, immersive and disorientating experience. It is easy to notice these affective qualities and forget that it is also a story. The affective qualities are not, however, merely there as ‘affective qualities’, as they might be there in a non-narrative experimental film. These affective qualities are there to take us on a journey and tell a story. All these qualities immerse us in an environment as if we are the wanderer and we are on this journey. The strangeness of the sensibilities means that we are THERE.
It is also important to notice the music and soundscape. These are very important to this film, especially because they really helped me orientate myself as I ‘wandered’ through this film experience. Together the visuals and the sounds create an environment as if we are not at the cinema at all, but part of the process of walking around a strange alien land. Suddenly we are immersed in a new brightly coloured world, disorientated in a dreamlike haze and the world is no longer experienceable in quite the same way and we gaze at it, partly in a kind of meditative enchantment.
When we were discussing The Quest for the Cine-Rebis it struck me how strange the interview format is. Well, at least the filmmaker interview. When we make a film there is often an element of not really understanding the strange beast we are creating. In many films, maybe, with the exception of the most didactic films, we rarely have a clear idea of what the film is saying. Even in my own films I say “Maybe you could interpret it like this.” So we tend to experience the process of making a film not as someone who has all the answers, but as someone exploring and someone creating something larger than themselves. Even if we were to have an exact understanding of what the film meant, as directors we would risk demystifying the film and dissolving the intrigue if we were to say it. However, in the filmmaker interview it is easy to overlook this. The filmmaker can easily become the expert with a special insight into the film.
This made me contemplate a different approach. What if we were to imagine an interview where the filmmaker asked the audience questions about the film. This, of course, would decentre the film-maker’s authority, but what would be interesting would be the kind of questions the filmmaker asked. It would reveal what aspects of the film and the film experience was important to the film-maker. The questions that they chose would reveal how they viewed the film, what they valued and what they emphasised. So, I wanted to ask you a strange question, if you were to ask an audience member of In Search of the Exile some questions about the film, what would they be?
DANIEL & CLARA: As you say this film is more of a conventionally narrative film than some of our other films and yet it offers some things that you don’t often experience within that kind of form, that is, it is a film which exists in a closed reality and it has characters that go on a journey that you follow but the characters exist more as images and archetypes rather than psychologically-rounded persons that you identify with, there is no dialogue and the images are much more expressionistic than you usually encounter in a narrative film. The focus here is not on just watching a story, it is on how you experience that narrative, how the film itself can become an immersive and unique first person experience for each member of the audience. We were once present at a screening of this film that was quite fascinating, we were sitting in the back so we could see the whole audience and it was clearly divided in two. One side was totally engaged with the film, you could sense in their body language and in the quality of their attention that they were enthralled by the experience of watching it, we literally felt their attention holding on to the images and sounds coming from the screen. But on the other side of the room most of the people were clearly struggling, discreetly fidgeting in their chairs, bored and finding themselves unable to follow the film, one person seemed to be suffering so much that they even preferred to look at the wall for several minutes at a time instead of looking at the film! But curiously none of them left the screening and everyone stayed for the Q&A afterwards, no one had questions apart from the host but they were interested in hearing what we had to say – the discussion was short but very interesting, it is transcribed and available to read on our website.
Another interesting screening we had was in 2017 when we did a two-week tour showing our films around the country – as a part of this we went to Staffordshire University and presented In Search of the Exile to the first year students of the Experimental Film Production course there, we were invited by Daniel Hopkins, their course leader and a filmmaker and sound artist himself. This was our first screening to a student audience so we were very curious to see how it would go. The course they’re doing there is very practical, the students are encouraged to approach cinema and filmmaking as a ground for experimentation so it’s all about experimenting with all kinds of different technology and actually making films, they also watch loads of films from different corners of cinema and they have regular visits from artist filmmakers who come to share and discuss their work. They had a process they were accustomed to already, we were briefly introduced before the screening then we all watched the film and when it finished, they took a short 5 minute break to have a breather and think about what they’d like to ask us. No one left the room, they just sat quietly and then after a while they were ready and had quite a lot of questions! It was very refreshing for us because they were very at ease with their own experience of the film, they found it very intense and immersive and for some it was even uncomfortable at times, but they trusted their own responses to the film and they related what their experience of the film had been to other things they’d seen and what they’d been exploring in their own experiments. When they questioned us, they shared their experiences as a way of thinking about what cinema could be, and what this could mean for us. So they really wanted to know about our creative process, how the images were created, how our collaboration worked, and they were also very interested in hearing about our investigations of dream and mythological imagery that materialised in the film. Of course thinking about what their future would be like, they wanted to know what our experience was with navigating funding, distribution, screenings and how that affected the work. These things meant something very practical to them, not only was it an insight into our world and the thoughts and processes that created the experience that we’d just all gone through, but also in relation to their own work, these things can become references points against which to measure whatever they think or feel they need in their own paths as artists.
We’re living in a time now when we are constantly surrounded by images, they occupy our space and our mind to the point where certain aspects of what the image is become invisible. This is very different to the experience even just a couple of centuries ago when images were more rare, they were created very purposefully and their power was much more evident. Most of the images that surround us nowadays have been created for some purpose but most of them not for artistic purposes, a great deal of them are used for carrying information and that is a very different thing, the processes for creating images that carry information are different to those that an artist needs to develop to create their images. So as artists, now more than ever before, we have to make even more of a point of asking ourselves how to create images that are purposeful and meaningful to us, that are an experience in themselves, and we have to develop ways of doing this in the midst of a chaos of imagery and image-making. This is one of the reasons why for us it is so important to talk about the process, and why every detail of our process and of the way in which our work is presented matters to us, because all of it really affects the experience in ways that might be imperceptible to others but it is our job to understand and work with this accurately.
As to what we’d ask an audience member after watching In Search Of The Exile, we don’t really know what to say, every audience is different and every audience member is different. When it comes down to it all that matters is the film and whatever each viewer experiences when they are watching it. If our films can be an opportunity for a kind of experience in which each viewer’s imagination can be activated somehow, become aware of themselves, of their perception, their expectations, their thought processes, their feelings, their senses – and in that moment to be alive, engaged and creating their own meaning – then we’re happy. This is what we look for as viewers, and also as creators in our process of bringing these films to life – it’s truly what we hope to offer.
In respect to the creation of In Search Of The Exile, this was actually an unexpected project and the way we did it was at this point a breakthrough for us. The whole film was completed in just two months, we filmed, processed and edited the images in the first month, constructing the narrative as we went and filming most of it in or around our house with just ourselves. As our starting point we had a loose story based on some poems we’d written about an exile trying to return home, we also had some footage that we’d shot for The Kingdom Of Shadows that didn’t quite fit the film but that we wanted to do something with, and the third ingredient was that we wanted to create an entire feature film exploring a technique that we’d developed in Savage Witches, which was about abstracting images captured on DV and VHS through a process of projecting and refilming. This technique produces intense colours in a dense, watercolour-like texture, the forms of figures, objects and landscapes lose their definition and merge into each other creating a kind of disintegrated, ungraspable, shape-shifting universe. This was very appealing to us, the substance of visual reality becoming plainly fluid. It was also the first time we created the whole soundtrack completely by ourselves.
BRADLEY: Your answer to the question of what you would ask the audience is interesting and revealing. It speaks to the fact that you seem less interested in either your own, or their own, interpretation of the film, and more interested in the film itself as a kind of portal capable of creating a particular kind of experience. What exactly they experience, and what exactly it means, is not particularly important to you. What seems important to you is that the audience go on a journey. Aside from shaping the cinematic experience, you don’t seem too interested in the exact nature of that journey.
So far I have avoided talking about psychedelia. References to drugs, trips and the counterculture of the late ’60s seems to bring with it many tired references that aren’t particularly useful for analysing the film. Describing every surrealist or experimental film as if it were a drug-fuelled trip gets rather boring, and entirely reductionist. Aside from this being an intense, immersive experience, there is little use comparing it to the experience of taking drugs. Nonetheless, if we turn to the etymology of the word ‘trip’, we notice a more interesting connotation (i.e. a short journey or voyage). This speaks to the fact that for the experimenters of the ’60s, drugs, along with art, music and the exploration of spiritual practices, was a way of ‘going on a journey’ and that journey, in turn, became a journey towards a new consciousness. This notion of a journey towards a new consciousness has more in common with Arthurian quests, pilgrimages, religious ecstasies and meditations. This, it strikes me, is there in the film. This is a journey, whose intensity offers the possibility of reconnecting with experience, reconnecting with images and sounds on a different level, and potentially entering a process of self-transformation.
Finally, I want to talk about the sound. As I have already said the sound is integral to the film. Much of the narrative is contained in the soundtrack and soundscape. If you were to remove the soundtrack it would be much easier to simply see it as an entirely abstract non-narrative visual experiment. Maybe you could tell me a little about the process of making the soundtrack. I think it would also be really interesting and useful if you could tell us some of the music and sound art that has influenced you. What sort of music do you tend to listen to in your spare time?
DANIEL & CLARA: The effect of sound is very physical and, in cinema, sound can be even more effective than the image in grounding our experience, it has an immediate visceral impact that tells us where we are, what the space is, and how things are spatially related to us. We like to experiment with this and have been exploring the various possibilities of how image and sound can interact. With the films of this period we were interested in using sound to create a first person experience for the viewer but not always one where they are entirely sure what they are hearing, we like to create unexpected associations between image and sound, disruptions and discontinuities that make the audience feel something that goes beyond an experience of just eyes and ears, it is activated in their bodies then expanded upon by their imaginations.
In Search Of The Exile was created over two months, the first month was spent entirely on shooting, processing and editing the images, once we arrived at a full edit we began work on the sound and music. As we have said before we always shoot our films entirely silently and add all sound effects afterwards, this includes all foley sounds, music, atmosphere sound as well as voices that are either dubbed or recorded as voice-overs. The reason we do this is because we want to be able to compose with sound in the same way we do with images, we want to be able to alter anything about the sound that we wish to, things like the spatial relationship of each element. For example maybe we want footsteps to start quietly and become loud and the sound of breathing to do the opposite, things like that, so each element of sound has to be a controllable track that we can mix and process. When recording in a studio we are able to choose the particular microphone, the distance from the mic and various other things that all play into the possibilities of how to process the sound and how it interacts with the image.
For In Search Of The Exile we wanted to treat sound effects and music in an equal way, sometimes approaching sound as music and music as sound. As you point out much of the narrativity is orientated through the soundscape and in some ways this gives the sound an authority that frees the images up to move in and out of representation.
The three films of this period, In Search Of The Exile, The Kingdom Of Shadows and Black Sun are related in our approach to sound but there are also some clear differences between them in the way the sound relates to what is seen. In The Kingdom Of Shadows much of the sound is foley and atmos sound that directly relates to what is seen on screen, when someone walks you hear their footsteps, when an object is placed on a table you hear an impact sound but at the same time there is an artificiality to it. It was all recorded very close to the microphone, too close for comfort in some ways that it becomes more surrealistic than naturalistic even though what you hear is often the actual sound that the object would make. In Black Sun we take things to another extreme as this film has almost no onscreen images, the audience is plunged into darkness and what they see is seen in the mind’s eye and evoked through the soundscape. In Search Of The Exile exists somewhere in between these two, the images are mutating and transforming like liquid and the sound orientates us, sometimes the images meet with the sound and seem to be existing together and other times drifting apart and feeling like two worlds existing side by side.
In regards to films that have influenced our approach to sound and music, most significantly would be the work of the Czech New Wave, particularly films like Vera Chytilová’s Daisies and Fruits of Paradise, and Juraj Herz’s Morgiana. Also the films of Alejandro Jodorowsky, Jan Švankmajer and Derek Jarman (particularly The Garden and The Last of England). What all of these films have in common is that the sound is constructed in a studio after the editing is complete. They have an air of artifice that only comes from studio recording and all of them approach the use of sound creatively rather than functionally. You could say that they deal with sound in a conceptual manner, that their technical approach to recording and mixing significantly impacts on the meaning of the film.
Something we personally respond to when watching a film like Jan Švankmajer’s Alice or Vera Chytilová’s Fruits of Paradise is the physical sensations that the films have on us. Certain sounds seem to reach right into the body and you can feel them on your skin or in your hair. When researching what this was, we came across ASMR (autonomous sensory meridian response), which refers to a physical reaction some people experience from certain sounds such as crackling and whispering. This was on our minds when we were recording and even though we weren’t specifically attempting to create ASMR films we were seeking to use certain sounds that we could feel and that maybe the audience would also have very physical responses to.
As for the music, neither of us are trained musicians and in a way this limitation became the framework to how we made the music for this film. We used a selection of instruments that we had around the studio and approached working with them as if they were sound machines, combining notes and layering musical tracks in the same way we would with sound. We were helped along by listening to some of our favourite musicians such as Meredith Monk, Brian Eno, Tony Conrad, the Incredible String Band and Throbbing Gristle. What we maybe got from these artists was a certain liberation and confidence to experiment with personal and conceptual formulas, chance encounters and expressive uses of music as opposed to a strict adherence to convention.
BRADLEY: I also wanted to ask you about painting. There is something about the images that seem closer to painting and animation than to the moving photographic image, even though the reality is the other way around. To what extent were the visual arts an influence on the film?
It also strikes me that this film shares a lot in common with experimental video art and non-narrative art films. To what extent was this an influence too?
DANIEL & CLARA: Painting is a major influence on us, equal to cinema. We don’t see cinema as separate from the other arts, it is of course different in its specifics but it stands on the same bedrock of everything that has existed before it in all the arts. Art is about dealing with the visual reality of existence, the way things look, the way we imagine things to be – it is a play of forms, colour, texture, light, rhythm. We both have loved painting and cinema from a young age and often think about them in tandem, all our films have been influenced by the works of painters, both what they create visually and the ideas opened up by their work. For example, Savage Witches has much of painters such as Henri Matisse and Paul Klee in it, but also the influence of collage, the cut-up and other modernist painting techniques; The Kingdom Of Shadows draws heavily upon the various traditions of Christian painting; Black Sun has Ad Reinhardt, Mark Rothko and Franz Kline in mind as well as tantric painting and medieval alchemical illustrations. In Search Of The Exile wasn’t made with a particular painter or painting style in mind but we wanted a feeling that the film was a living watercolour, that the images moved and bled into each other as if each colour was liquid paint transforming as it moved across the texture of the page and mixed with the colours around it. One of the starting points for the film was the colour red and at first we even envisioned that the film would be completely red and black, it was then constructed very much by responding to the colours and their movement, which we manipulated by processing the footage we shot through refilming in VHS, DV and HD, and the colour palate expanded. It was very close to painting in this sense, the decisions about the figurative and narrative content emerged hand in hand with decisions about the visual and formal aspects of colour, texture and the whole sensory experience that the film would be – but in truth, all these aspects are always completely inseparable in the conception of our films.
In regards to your question about “experimental video art and non-narrative art films”, this needs unpicking a bit because the terms are somewhat unclear and commonly misused. Experimental film, video art and art films are all vague terms that are used in different ways to mean different things depending on the context at different times over the course of the last 100 years or so. Historically speaking for each of those terms it is possible to have a rough idea what kind of work is being referred to, but they certainly don’t all point to the same thing so it can be confusing to put them all together.
Very roughly speaking, experimental films refer to films and video that are formally experimental and created to be watched in a cinema or screening room from start to finish.
Video art, on the other hand, refers to work made on video that is most often presented in an art gallery and plays on a loop, the viewer can enter and leave at any point during the piece.
Art film is equally a very wide and vague term, generally it seems to refer to what used to be called the art house but at different periods and in different places it meant different things. Historically the term has been used to include anything from filmmakers like Bergman, Pasolini or Fassbinder to people like Andy Warhol, to Ken Loach or Gus Van Sant, and even D.W. Griffith or Francis Ford Coppola, so it’s one of those terms that is too wide to be particularly useful. From around the ’60s to the ’90s it was used more to refer to the type of cinema venue rather than the kind of work it was, art house cinemas, at least in the UK, which would mostly show foreign and independent films. In recent years the term art film is used a lot less as many of the lines between the different levels of production and exhibition blur to the point of irrelevance.
The term non-narrative is also hugely problematic, particularly for us because we believe that all cinema and all moving image work is narrative. That doesn’t mean that it all tells a story in the novelistic tradition of mainstream cinema but all films to varying degrees have a narrative form, they have a start and an end and between those two points we experience time and movement. Non-narrative as a term is usually used for films that have abstract or non-conventional narrative forms, but this really is still a type of narrative experience rather that the absence of one so it is a misleading term. Throughout all our work we are concerned with the possibilities of narrative in moving image, how it has been traditionally used and what forms have been less used and even never seen before, we feel that the narrative potentials of cinema have barely been explored, there is so much that could still be done. Each of our films can be seen as an investigation of a different narrative form, we have never used exactly the same form twice, we are interested in testing how narrative is constructed through the relationship between sound and image, the interplay of rhythms and associations. One thing we are particularly fascinated by is the fact that audiences today have been taught the language of moving images by a lifetime of viewing, everyone today has actually been exposed to very sophisticated imagery for the whole of their lives. But this creates habits and expectations, and impacts on their relationship to what they see. We like to play with this, sometimes indulging expectations, sometimes disrupting them, often doing both – somehow this feels essential to what our job is as artists.
But in reply to whether any of the above has been an influence on us the answer is most certainly yes! We have been inspired by all the possibilities of moving image, everything from cinema from all countries, all periods and all forms including video art, experimental film, mainstream and arthouse movies and all in between. It is all interesting to us, all exciting and all seeps in and impacts on what we do.
BRADLEY: I find it interesting to think about how this film might be said to co-exist with your other films. As we have already said, the technique of projecting and re-filming to create these intense colours was used in Savage Witches and Sacrificium Intellectus. The importance of the soundscape would seem to link it to Black Sun. There are also parallels in the titles. The Quest for the Cine-Rebis and In Search of the Exile are both concerned with a quest/search. The ‘Kingdom’ in The Kingdom of Shadows doesn’t so much suggest a quest/search, but a place. So there is something quite spatial about each. All of these titles, it strikes me, might be said to refer back to your interest in Arthurian quests and alchemical transformations.
There are a number of actors that overlap in both In Search of the Exile and The Kingdom of Shadows, and The Kingdom of Shadows and Black Sun. The Kingdom of Shadows seems to be the place where these two other films especially overlap (at least in terms of actors). Maybe this is another respect in which, as you mentioned earlier, these three films could be seen as being part of a particular period. To what extent did their production overlap? In what respect would these films differ from your other periods?
DANIEL & CLARA: These films were all made back to back, the footage for The Quest For The Cine-Rebis was shot first while we were preparing The Kingdom Of Shadows, which was shot in November/December 2015.
In February/March 2016 we took a break from editing The Kingdom Of Shadows to finish The Quest For The Cine-Rebis and then went straight onto making In Search Of The Exile, which took two months from start to finish, then in the summer we shot Black Sun.
After shooting Black Sun we spent the rest of the summer editing and making the sound and music for The Kingdom Of Shadows, ready for the premiere in October. It was one year of really intense work which resulted in three feature films, one short film, two issues of Film Panic and three performances. It was an amazing time, an exciting burst of creative energy and expression.
Looking back at that period we can see that all these projects overlap, they are a lot more connected than we realised at the time. We probably wouldn’t have considered them such a related body of work back then but as we have now moved into a new phase in our work and are concerned with slightly different forms and themes, we can see a bit more clearly what that period was about.
As we have discussed in an earlier part of this interview, before these projects we had a long period of being cut off and working in isolation, this body of work is the result of what we were thinking about and going through in that introverted time. The making of these films became a catalyst for us coming out of our shell and connecting with other artists and beginning to find a place where our work could exist. This period really only concluded with the completion of Black Sun, which we finished editing a year ago in September 2017. After that the focus of our work shifted and a number of the themes we were dealing with then, such as dreams, alchemy, mysticism, family history etc, have become less of a central focus, they haven’t gone completely but they are less on the surface.
BRADLEY: Yes, these themes certainly seem present in all these films, although I am curious about what you mean by ‘family history’. Maybe you could explain that one a little.
In these films the characters are very archetypal. In In Search of the Exile we encounter The Wanderer, the Witch, the Red Knight and the Lovers. To what extend do these characters have a particular philosophical resonance for you?
It also strikes me that these are also all films about cinema and the history of cinema. This might seem surprising to some, because, at first glance, In Search of the Exile seems a long way from conventional Hollywood film, but if you look at the titles and credits you see that they are like the titles of an old Hollywood movie. The same goes for The Kingdom of Shadows. This is true even more so in The Quest for the Cine-Rebis. The Quest for the Cine-Rebis has constant references to the history of cinema. However experimental these films may be, they, nonetheless, share an almost nostalgic admiration for movies of the past. How, for you, do these themes come out in In Search of the Exile?
DANIEL & CLARA: Hand in hand with our dream study we were investigating the psychological patterns of our families, looking at what reoccurring traits and conditions are present through our ancestors and how these have affected us personally. Through our dreams we came to realise that the stories of our ancestors (told and untold) really affect us very deeply and manifest even in the smallest day-to-day tasks, and they may be positive or negative influences. And when we feel that certain patterns are negative, for example some conditioning or belief that was holding us back or was against our individual nature and desires, then we have spent some time trying to understand what they are, how they are holding us back and how we can change them. This investigation is much more directly present in The Kingdom Of Shadows but it’s also there throughout the other work, In Search Of The Exile included.
It’s really important for us to try and understand our own behaviour, why we like what we like, why certain things scare us, why certain things activate a particular response etc. Human beings are strange and complex creatures and we often act in contradictory and confusing ways. We find the nuances and factors of behaviour really fascinating, and in some ways we are investigating this stuff in ourselves because we want to feel better, we want to be in a harmony with ourselves and we want to overcome our fears and limitations, but this study is also driven by sheer interest and fascination.
In the history of art, storytelling, painting and cinema you find characters that are distilled down representations of human conditions. These characters, like that of the knight or the witch, don’t represent the full human psyche – they express just one part of it, certain aspects constellated into a single image. All the historical and cultural associations that are connected to these images are clues to what they are about, but it is important to remember that they don’t represent external things or people, they are single parts of ourselves. For example, the knight in this context represents that which is in service to a higher good, a code of conduct, bravery to face fear and to take action in the face of danger, and strength to hold your ground. It stands for all that is heroic within us but that might not be about heroic action in the world, that heroic action might simply be about facing up to aspects of yourself which are terrifying you or holding you back.
The witch here might be of particular interest to discuss, this is a reoccurring character in our work but the witch in In Search Of The Exile is not quite the same as the Savage Witches, she is still in service to the magical, natural forces of creativity but in In Search Of The Exile she is more of an old crone, closer to the image of witch that has historically inspired fear of the irrational and fear of nature, because she is closer to the body and more open to death and the processes of change, like decaying and breaking things down. At first these things might be experienced as terrifying, ruthless and inhuman, which contributes to the frightening aspects of the witch image as she so often appears, but on closer look these are simply processes of transition that are inevitable and if we open to them they can also bring surprising and beneficial things. Transformation is the rule of nature, the more we resist the more we make it worse. We could say the crone witch represents the hard and seasoned wisdom to let go and submit to change without fear, to realise that everything has its time to germinate, to flourish and also to wither and pass away. In fairy tales, encounters with a witch are often initiatory stories about passing from one stage to another, like from childhood to maturity and so on.
You are right that all our films are in some kind of dialogue with the history of cinema. In everything we make we are thinking about how our own image-making relates to the entire history of image-making, particularly that of moving-image-making. We don’t feel any nostalgia for cinema’s past and our use of elements from silent cinema or golden age Hollywood isn’t for nostalgic reasons but to speak with it, to understand what it is and how it still influences and affects what we are today. We love Hollywood movies, we love all movies truly, but the American films of the ’30s and ’40s are really a miracle. A great number of global conditions came together to create the films of this time, economic and political conditions and also the war that sent so many great European artists to Hollywood, it’s fascinating how it all came together and created these remarkable works of art. When you look at these films they are all about being human. Whether comedy, melodrama, westerns, sci-fi, horror, historical epics or crime films, they all boil down to being about human beings dealing with human nature but they do so in a way that exists in a mythic dimension, with a great clarity of form and elements that operate on the imagination. Our films are the same but they don’t conform so tightly to pre-existing genres and forms, maybe they have less power for this reason but it is also necessary for us personally to dismantle the genres and make films that are beyond genre but appropriating some small elements from them. We could say that In Search Of The Exile takes a few elements of adventure and fantasy, whereas The Kingdom Of Shadows has horror and melodrama. Genre is archetypal too really, it’s similar to the characters, they are distilled down forms that represent certain kinds of human experience, they can’t say it all but they focus in on one area and express a certain truth of an experience.