While the development of the Notes on Film – series is logical, the expansive directions it takes are baffling. Pfaffenbichler’s unique sensibility finds expression in a growing emphasis upon the comic and the uncanny, whereby his avant-garde and often structuralist approach is coupled with an ever-increasing pleasure in playful experimentation. The source material is simultaneously de- and re-constructed, with a considerable amount of Brechtian surplus value, albeit involving a specifically filmic magnetism. It is impossible to come away from a Pfaffenbichler film without an altered and enriched sense of cinema, its history and possibilities.
A face in five different panels, black and white and placed in brackets. notes on film 01 else is a report on cinema’s narcotics: visualization and motion, material and editing, and the riddle posed by a face. Understood as the German woman´s name, „else“ could refer to the young actress gazing from the five fields of the split screen, simultaneously object and subject of our voyeuristic desire. It seems as if a screen test were being made; the arranged images from an audition, shot from several different angles and arranged „cubistically.“ The woman moves, turns, poses and plays with the camera, demonstrating refusal and surrender, with hesitant invitation and sudden retreat. The orchestral music reveals itself to be synthetic, a series of quotations which resemble both epically surging kitsch and modernistic fragility.
Everything is in motion, the images, the sound and the text. A transformation is taking place: The word „if“ begins to disintegrate slowly, to shift and split, and then reform as terms such as „then,“ „or“ and „else.“ A journey into the world of implications, to the subjunctive mood of cinematographic narration, to the Other, foreignness of the filmic, to the present, to the sheer presence of its actors.
At its very beginning this film celebrates, as if in fast forward, the material nature of cinema, quoting avant-garde history, Neue Sachlichkeit and Duchamp’s “Anémic Cinema,” though without becoming nostalgic. notes on film 01 else is in a sense timeless, being equally indebted to early cinema and the postmodern: a screen for projections, black and white and set between brackets, as an incidental remark, a quick note on the bittersweet beauty of the moving image, which preserves time and space.
(Stefan Grissemann, translation by Steve Wilder)
A furious scene, virtuously reassembled, continuously intensifying, yet never moving. A brief excerpt from Charlie Chaplin’s The Floorwalker (1916) serves as starting sequence for INTERMEZZO. Chaplin, fleeing from a monstrous pursuer, down an up escalator, which at the time was the epitome of techno mechanical modernity; on the side, a mannequin as statuary counterpoint. Pfaffenbichler arranges the takes that he has pulled from the original film, enlarged, and in part, set as negatives or alienated in terms of color, according to a special verse scheme: ABABA BCBCB DCDCD, etc., whereby the selected excerpt continually advances to the action and the interlinking of the images becomes increasingly dodgy. At the same time, the accompanying music turns wilder and more impetuous, congenially expressing the frenzied standstill. The specially-composed, guitar-based metal miniature (produced by Sofa Surfers member Wolfgang Frisch) consciously thwarts common silent film accompaniment by means of piano or more contemporary electronics. In return, the elementary movement dynamics: running from, being chased, not moving from the spot, etc., are bestowed with a sound dimension that is that much more powerful. Also furious is the consistently deeper penetration into the course of things, realized by means of blow-up. This goes to the heart, as it were, of filmic optomechanics, which drums pictures as movement and movements as images into our sluggish awareness. The effect of the multiple repetition is just as cathartic as the escalator mechanism’s constant approach toward us over the course of the film is relentless—in the end, all that remains is an abstract frame fibrillation. Captured and yet constantly escaping—could there be a better (or more intense) way to summarize the viewer effect triggered by film?
A one-person piece for the “man with a thousand faces.” Silent horror film icon Lon Chaney was the son of deaf-mute parents, and thus, already as a child, perfected pantomime. He rose to fame as a master of disguise with a penchant for grotesque appearances and torturous contortions. Norbert Pfaffenbichler has remounted the forty-six preserved films of the two hundred that Chaney made into a tribute in A Messenger From The Shadows. A tribute to Chaney’s art, to the uncanny power of the horror film, and to the paradoxical enchantment of cinema: Notes on Film 06.
Atmospheric nightmare piece about the prisoners of a shadow realm, dammed to eternal life through the light of the projector’s beam. The horror film as a refuge of loneliness, intensified in a tragicomic way through the way it is worked out: Lon Chaney does everything alone – battles, conspiracies, the persistent observation, and the conveyed message, all of the deadly (insane-) deeds, ridiculous love stories, and perverse intrigues. Auto-anatomy of a genre: absurd reduction and prismatic multiplication – one person, but the persona multiply fragmented.
The flow of the cut, congenially set to Bernd Lang’s soundtrack, thundering from refraction to film symphony, unites powerful images from master directors, such as Tod Browning, and camera geniuses, for instance, James Wong Howe, from the productions made distinct first and foremost by Chaney into a bizarre tragedy, whose surreal logic offers no escape. Emerging is an overwhelming (meta) nightmare, kaleidoscopically composing the handed-down remains of a magnificent inheritance into a ride on a ghost train through impossible spaces with paradoxical characters, both of which are newly created by, of all things, entirely classical montage techniques. A dance of death whose most diabolic punch line is inevitable resurrection – the definitive Phantom Ride.
(Christoph Huber, Translation: Lisa Rosenblatt)
Hitler Dead or Alive (1942, directed by Nick Grinde) summed things up long ago: le moustache, c’est l’homme, at least in the world of images. That’s why the Allied hit squad doesn’t have to rub Hitler out—a close shave would be sufficient, and the Führer’s lackeys, unable to recognize Adolf H.’s bare face as that of their idol, would take care of the rest.
Adolf Hitler: The 20th century figure portrayed most often in film and on television is for many great actors a dream role, and for some, such as Bobby Watson and Fritz Diez, the supporting role of their life. That’s fitting for a statesman who had postcards made which showed him speaking to crowds in various poses. These images resembled portraits of stage and screen stars for theater lobby cards. Sixty-five actors portraying Hitler make an appearance in Conference. Notes on Film 05, but the original is never seen. However, one has the impression that a little bit of him is present in every one: A toothbrush moustache and side part are all that’s necessary. Or maybe not. All the Conference Hitlers are from after the 1940s, and Norbert Pfaffenbichler filmed them in Super 8 and black and white from a monitor so that they match.
Sixty-five Hitlers: He appears as if from the depths of space, the darkness, and then Erewhon, from beyond the frame. As if through certain gestures, routines and repetitions thereof, variants and variations, a narrative, an essay, a study is created of what’s characteristic about Hitler, and it spans decades. On the one hand this is thoroughly grotesque, because nothing from one Hitler to the next matches. For example, the patchwork Hitler suddenly turns into a crowd of Hitlers engaged in a torrent of debate. Just after that it seems as if we had been watching a film viewed by (still another) Hitler! On the other hand, Bernhard Lang’s music, by means of electronic hissing and pounding and the phrases looped into snags and stutters, is a reminder of all the things done in the name of this face. What’s the effect on the audience? „Stop! Stop!“ can be heard in the prelude, when the final credits roll at the beginning.
(Olaf Möller/Translation: Steve Wilder)