The Long and the Short of It

The expansive Cinematexas short film festival


Peter Tscherkassky

Austrian avant-gardeist Peter Tscherkassky began his work with "found footage" in the early Eighties, co-opting film from other sources and reinventing it for his own, often startling purposes. These found-footage shorts are often violent -- not in the obvious sense, but in a more unnerving way, manifest in the intensity of the jump cuts, the superimposing of images to create terrifying amalgams, and the repetition of a single frame that can transform a picture from harmless to hellish in a matter of moments.

Culled from grainy, homespun reels of a married, middle-aged couple, Tscherkassky's "Happy-End" (1996) begins joyously. The camera stands at a distance, watching the giggling couple toast one another and the camera, dressed in their finest as a modest Christmas tree perches in the corner and traditional Austrian music plays in the background. Variations on that scene are shown, successive years of the same sweet celebration. But as Tscherkassky quickens the time between edits, the innocuousness of those immediate images mutates into something more sinister. Bottle after bottle is uncorked, a little wine is spilt, the woman's dancing seems less lighthearted, more maniacal. By the last reel, the champagne has lost its fizz, the kindly couple has turned pathetic and monstrous -- and all because of some jump cuts, a few superimpositions, and that damned repetition. It's a thrilling instruction in audience manipulation.


Peter Tscherkassky will present a collection of his short films on Thursday, Sept. 20, 7:30pm, at the Alamo Drafthouse Downtown. The following night, he will introduce a program of avant-garde shorts from Austrian distributor Sixpack Films, Friday, Sept. 21, 7:45pm, also at the Drafthouse Downtown.

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