A “tsar of found footage”, as he was rightly described in the introduction of an interview, Austrian filmmaker Peter Tscherkassky, creator of wondrously intelligent and wondrous sensually-intelligent films such as Outer Space, Dream Work, Shot-Countershot delivers once again an utterly compelling cinematic work. His latest short film shows an exquisitely feverish orgy, the actors of mostly forgotten soft-core films seeming to get sexually aroused primarily by the way in which the film material is handled. As always, Tscherkassky delivers his work – which deals essentially with the materiality of film – on film material, this time employing 35mm, which lets you touch the screen with your eyes.
As a sequence of a hand sliding between a woman’s thighs is repeated countless times with the hand advancing millimetrically each time and as multiple exposures of faces screaming in pleasure’s agony unfold, it becomes apparent that the title bears an at least threefold meaning.
The exquisite corpus refers firstly to the surrealist technique of art making called exquisite corpse, which one might say finds an equivalent in a film which employs footage from several sources, in this case twelve, a personal record for the Austrian director so far. The exquisite corpus refers as well to the bodies of the actors of the soft-core films, and, most importantly to the bearer -and not only- of these bodies, the film material itself.
A search of an naked couple on a shore sets a sort of frame to the feverish dream that is to follow, and even the search in itself encompasses some sort of distortion: the couple embarks on a sailboat and he and she look from there searchingly towards the shore. Was the footage Tscherkassy used already cut like that? The sought object is ultimately found, a naked woman sleeping on the beach. As the other naked woman leans toward her the wet, multiply exposed and multiply rewinded dreams begin to unfold.
In The Exquisite Corpus erotics are a matter of rhythm and orgiastic confusion caused by the techniques of multiple exposure and repetition – more hands, more mouths, more teasing through delay of an actual act, which actually never appears. Eroticism lies in the pulsation of the images.
As the film evolves, the film material itself becomes ever more visible, the film reels bearing the scenes we have seen lined next to each other, peculiarly, with movement to be seen within the frames of each image. Meshes of paper are scattered over them, the film commenting on its own organic quality and increasing it. The soundtrack also comprises meshes, found bits of sound, for example extracts from the soundtrack of Maya Deren’s Meshes of the Afternoon.
The Exquisite Corpus reflects on itslef provoking sensual delight. Ultimately, all gathered erotic film bits, most of them shot in the ‘60s or ’70s, come to a long awaited orgasmo-cinematic fulfilment only many decades later, through Tscherkassky’s dexterous work.