Tom Chomont: In Kopf Motor Kopf, Sad Sack and Afterbirth there is a conscious performative quality. What is your interest in this theatrical element?
Caspar Stracke: I think Kopf Motor Kopf is the only one which has a direct connection to theater. It primarily features a backstage theater scene. Here are three actors just before their performance--which we never see--and my only interest in presenting a theater-related story was to expose the slightly schizophrenic process of slipping into someone else's personality. To show this metamorphosis. Because my characters rarely speak, they express themselves through their actions, which gives them a theatrical feel.
TC: Of all your work Kopf Motor Kopf uses make-up most liberally--and the film plays with these changing appearances. The actors regarding themselves in the mirror is also a way of seeing themselves in the camera. Or through it. Since you're in the film yourself, you share in this self regard. Were you thinking of the face as a mask whose revelation relies upon what's being concealed?
CS: The face is the most complex surface of the body to reveal emotional states and character. The title Kopf Motor Kopf (Head Motor Head) is to be understood as an interchange between these people's heads through an extra-human element, in this case a motor. My own appearance between two professional actors creates an unusual situation between theatrical acting and the attempt not to act in which this film is happening. The alteration of the face by make-up and costumes can be seen as a metaphor for radical changes -- as exaggerated as shaving the hair off my head, but also as the simple prerequisite of an actor to start altering the self. But it's not just the film which sets the staging. The actress Monika Schubert insisted on painting her hair before shooting. Ironically, she alters herself to be fit for acting out an alteration. So there we are, the three of us in a tight psychological and physical relationship with emotional and sexual interferences of every kind. In a way we pass beyond sexuality, which fades itself out.
TC: Kopf Motor Kopf's sexuality builds into a frenzied fighting. The erotic gestures are intermixed with hitting and slapping so that sexuality and aggression become interchangeable. The self regard in your films has an element of narcissism--which it shares with an actor's preoccupation with appearance. Even if you don't appear in them, do you feel your work shows this self regard?
CS: In personal cinema narcissism is one of the most powerful elements which enables one to jump through the screen and reach the viewer's most intimate self. But it is dangerous at the same time. Mostly in the eighties the experimental film was dealing with nothing else but this self search, and the self reflections of the maker. But if you can't identify with the person you're going on a bad trip. I think nowadays we are coming back out of our caves to bite others again.
TC: What is the influence of Artaud in Kopf Motor Kopf? He insisted that the divide between artifice and reality was preserved only for the middle class theater goer. He wanted to break through that and perform real executions as parts of plays. You seem to share that ambition.
CS: Perhaps Artaud's influence is less than it appears. But the film does try to push the parameters of editing and processing--it glimpses its own limits. Artaud's genius thoughts in Theater of Cruelty are introduced in the story merely as hints, for instance using a passage of the text as the rehearsal monologue for one of the characters. And even in my film experiment so open to real life I am confronted with the absurdity of staging or faking forms of cruelty. In terms of assault on the theater-viewer, I was always aware of the limits of presenting those forms of aggressivity. At the same time fascinated to let the viewer be emotionally moved by this conglomeration of brutal energies.
TC: The second thing that struck me in looking at the films altogether was the theme of circles and the circularity of the films' structures and shots. It denotes variously: completion, wholeness, enclosure and infinity. This circling is a burden in Sad Sack when Pascal enters the room as Atlas with a large wire globe on its back, or the burdens of obsession in Silvery where the protagonist Trakl is writing at his desk and the camera circles him over and over.
CS: I'm glad you recognize this figure in all its various forms. I'm obsessed with circularity. In my earlier days I saw it as an attempt to overcome the square film image, I wanted to transform or distort it into a round frame like a fish-eye lens. In performance film projections I composed images for a circular screen. In Sad Sack for the first time the circle finds an opponent in the globe, which is a circle's three dimensional unfolding. An argument about a globe and a record reflects the shaken medieval world view when Kepler questioned that we all live on a flat disk. Silvery continues with circular camera movements describing 'mean circles' or Catch 22's in the thoughts of the character Trakl. And film itself is a medium which can be circled by splicing the beginning and end together to form film loops. For many years I've collaborated on multi-projection loops. Right now I'm working on a circular, episodic project that could be seen as a giant film loop. My films narrate this gesture of the circle, all of us caught in the habits of performing ourselves, of recognizing the world in patterns. Like a circle.
Caspar Stracke Filmography
Bump and Bump 1986
Chewing Gum: Open/Close 1987
Kopf Motor Kopf 14 min 1989
Sad Sack 14 min 1992
Silvery 19 min 1993
After Vanyusha 32 min 1994
The Captured City video 1994
Afterbirth 17 min 1995
Everyone His Own Soccerball video 1995
Printed in MFJ No. 30/31 (Fall 1997) Deutschland/Interviews