Invest in Failure (Notes on Film 06-C, Monologue 03)

An end game that spans a career and a globe (down to 20,000 miles under the sea): whereas previously, in his Monologue series devoted to the horror icons Lon Chaney and Boris Karloff Norbert Pfaffenbichler paid tribute to the actors exclusively with found-footage in which he had them interact solely with themselves, he takes a different path in his equally amusing and abysmal film study Invest in Failure. This time he covers half a century based on excerpts from the 160 works of the elegant Englishman James Mason—in contrast to Karloff and Chaney, an actor who (other than the process of aging), seems almost changeless. As a brooding romantic anti-hero, in the post-war years, Mason made the leap to become a Hollywood star, to then travel nearly all continents and genres as a co-production globetrotter from the 1960s onward.

World(class) cinema, and on top of that, condensed as a disturbingly comical tragedy: with a reliable eye for fantastically bizarre details (from a moving, skewered beetle to the baring of rape-ready underwear with a swastika) and association-rife, paradoxical montage combinations, Pfaffenbichler sends Mason as an eternal traveler through the bonfire of the vanities. His awakening from a forgetful slumber leads into a labyrinth of the screen dreams of his career; the promises of love and fantasies of death of the commercial cinema machinery as dream(trauma) interpretation, with the women opposite Mason´s characters as victim counterparts, who in exchanges of glances, confrontations, and dialogue constructions, some of which last decades, are swept up in the maelstrom of the storm of Pfaffenbichler cuts - until apocalypse descends and leaves behind only a ghostly void. "I found there is no peace […] only loneliness." (Christoph Huber)

Translation: Lisa Rosenblatt

The last part of the Monologue Trilogy condenses the
50-year acting career of British character actor James
Mason (1909–1984) into a surreal fictional story. (production note)

If the history of cinema would add up to one movie, who would star in it? So far in his work Norbert Pfaffenbichler has suggested several possibilities: Lon Chaney? Or Boris Karloff? Their screen qualities are undisputed. But for an actual male lead of said imaginary movie the most recent of Pfaffenbichler´s star examinations would probably seem the most plausible: Invest in Failure (Notes on Film 06-C, Monologue 03) is all about – and with – James Mason. The British actor worked for Alfred Hitchcock and Vincente Minnelli, his career went long beyond the demise of classical Hollywood (or the British studio system) and included controversial titles like Mandingo and, of course, Lolita, where he was Humbert Humbert. Invest in Failure is not a career survey, though. Pfaffenbichler is interested in the inner workings of cinematic story telling. The star persona of Mason is a lead into the mysteries of shot and countershot, of framing and materiality, and of attraction: "You look like James Mason", someone says to Mason at one point. Well, that is because he is (or was) always James Mason, while we was Humbert Humbert, or Rupert of Hentzau (in The Prisoner of Zenda), or General Rommel, or countless other parts of one immense character. (Viennale 2018, Bert Rebhandl)

Orig. Title
Invest in Failure (Notes on Film 06-C, Monologue 03)
63 min
Orig. Language
Norbert Pfaffenbichler
Concept & Realization
Norbert Pfaffenbichler
Supported by
Wien Kultur MA 7, Land Oberösterreich, BKA - innovative film
Available Formats
DCP 2K flat
Aspect Ratio
Sound Format
Frame Rate
25 fps
Color Format
colour, b/w
Digital File (prores, h264)
Festivals (Selection)
Viennale - Vienna Int. Film Festival
München - UnderDox, Festival für Dokument und Experiment
Lissabon - Indielisboa Int. Film and Videofestival
Seattle - Int. Film Festival