in Critic's Guides | 01 OCT 07
Featured in
Issue 110

Life in Film: Rosemarie Trockel

The Cologne-based artist selects the films that have had the biggest impact on her

in Critic's Guides | 01 OCT 07

Since the early 1980s Rosemarie Trockel’s multi-faceted work has been shown widely around the world. Alongside installation, sculpture, drawing and found material, video has been central to her exploration of the connection between gender difference and imagination. More recently she realized a piece for Sculpture Projects Muenster 07, and an exhibition of her work together with the artist Thea Djordjadze opens on 8 October 2007 at Monika Sprüth Philomene Magers London. Trockel is a professor at the Kunstakademie Dusseldorf. She lives and works in Cologne.

In the late 1960s and early ’70s, the Cologne-based avant-garde cinema group X-Screen was among the first showcases for underground and experimental films in Germany. Their screenings of films by American and European filmmakers such as Kurt Kren, Otto Muehl and Valie Export, amongst others, were rather eye-opening experiences. I was fascinated by the complete absence of any narrative, the more or less random sequences of images and scenes. It was a bit like spacing out without having to take any drugs.

In the 1970s I started renting films from the Institute for Scientific Film in Göttingen, a federal non-profit company founded for the purpose of producing and distributing educational movies. These films were often rather astounding, if not outright frightening, documentations of strange yet interesting experiments and tests. I copied a few by simply filming them off the screen with my camera. Among the films I rented was Ivan Pavlov’s Mechanics of the Brain (c.1932), about his conditioning experiments, documentations on the medical use of X-ray technology and the like. Unfortunately, a change of federal policy led to the closing of this window onto a weird and uncanny world.

Another epiphany of sorts was seeing Rainer Werner Fassbinder as ‘Heini’ in Franz Peter Wirth’s Al Capone im deutschen Wald (Al Capone in the German Forest, 1969) on television. I liked his face, especially his skin or – to be more exact – the way he seemed to speak through his skin; about to burst any second, then totally flaccid from one frame to the next. A little after that I saw Fassbinder’s own Liebe ist kälter als der Tod (Love Is Colder Than Death, 1969). His sense of style was remarkable. His sadness was contagious. I could relate to his pessimism. Besides, I was quite infatuated with his ‘cheese-cake face’. Him interviewing his mother in the semi-documentary Midnight Cowboy (1969). Voight’s acting is superb – unlike that of Dustin Hoffman – although the storyline is a bit odd at times. The psychedelic party scene at Warhol’s Factory is of some historical value though, with cameos of a few of the Factory regulars of that period. Warhol himself would probably have been in that film, had he not been recently shot and wounded by Valerie Solanas.

Il Vangelo secondo Matteo (The Gospel According to Saint Matthew, 1964) is an extremely insistent movie, yet its humour somehow used to remind me of Don Camillo and Peppone from Giovanni Guareschi’s satricial tales, or a synthesis of the two – maybe because of Pier Paolo Pasolini’s own Marxist-Catholic perspective. Filmed entirely with amateur actors – Italian philosopher Giorgio Agamben ‘starred’ as the apostle Philip – it had a rather authentic feel, winning it the praise of Catholic clerics at a screening in the Vatican. Pasolini himself wished for this film to be shown on Easter Sunday in all the parish cinemas in Italy and the Christian world, in order to show a life that could be a model for everyone.

Brian De Palma’s Greetings (1968), with its borrowings from Michelangelo Antonioni and Jean-Luc Godard, was and still is another favourite. Its humour is pretty hilarious at times; it lacks linear narrative and consistent structure; the editing is somewhat sloppy. Nonetheless it is a very daring and ambitious movie about obsession – obsession with sex, obsession with politics and conspiracy theories, obsession with voyeurism, and obsession with film itself.

Another film about obsession and voyeurism, obviously, is Michael Powell’s Peeping Tom (1960). Ostensibly a psychological thriller about a father’s voyeuristic obsession with surveillance passed on to the protagonist and further perverted into an obsession with death, or rather with the fear of death, it is also a refl ection on the voyeurism of the cinema audience itself.

Talking about dysfunctional families, A Woman Under the Influence (1974) directed by John Cassavetes is a riveting study of the way people often desperately try to act according to a script they never get to read in full, always terrified at the thought of having to improvise. This fear also seemes to inform the scripting, the directing and the editing of Cassavetes’ films. They often appear to be improvised, however, this impression is rather misleading as his films were – unlike people’s lives – heavily scripted.

Andy Warhol’s Bad (1977) is a hilariously fast-paced black comedy organized around a wacky household in which two professions are practised: hair-removal and the contract killing of children and pets. Carol Baker is brilliant as the madam overseeing both endeavours. The very young Jed Johnson made his directorial debut with this film, bringing in Perry King to disrupt things in the otherwise strictly female enclave. King’s character, LT, poses a question early in the film to Baker’s dishevelled and distraught daughter-in-law, ‘Bad film?’, which could be the opinion of an unprepared viewer of this film (as could be the title itself). While negating the restraint on content exercised by the Hollywood studios, Andy Warhol’s Bad comes closer than any earlier Warhol production to being mainstream in look and feel. While most turns of fate
in the film suggest a callous direction and authorship, the film also manages to deliver tenderness when LT is unable to kill an autistic boy, as his parents had wished, and recognizes a part of his own childhood identity in the neglected child.

Quite the opposite of fast-paced is Stanley Kubrick’s 2001: A Space Odyssey (1968). In fact its pace is so glacial at times that not a few viewers fall asleep halfway through the movie only to wake up to the most staggering, dream-like images. Its lack of dialogue and explicit narrative cues are usually either perceived as terribly pretentious or hypnotically entertaining. It is true that most of its narrative is rather implicit. Despite the overwhelming imagery of this film, one must not forget it is the unique soundtrack combining contemporary and classical music with the ambient sounds and noises of a spaceship – the static humming of the on-board systems, the hissing doors – which gives the viewer a sense of being trapped inside a tiny capsule fl oating through an endless silence. Another favourite with the Vatican, by the way. Static humming sounds, weird ambient noise and a lack of linear narrative are also key features of David Lynch’s Eraserhead (1977). Overwhelming imagery again, yet of a somewhat differ- ent nature, probably more akin to the educational films I used to rent from the Göttingen Institute, only less instructive.

Translated by Volker Freitag