My celluloid adventure started in June 2013. After years of filming with DV and DSLR cameras, I was tempted to try something completely different. One day I came across the interesting Lomokino crank camera for 35 mm film. Filmmaker Apichatpong Weerasethakul had previously shot with it the stunning experimental film Ashes – the result inspired me and encouraged me to try it myself.
The opportunity presented itself on my vacation in the unusually sunny Dinard, a seaside resort in Brittany. Contrary to my custom, I left everything digital at home and only took the Lomokino camera with me. In a bookstore I also found the right poem: L’Éternité (Eternity) from 1872. Arthur Rimbaud wrote it in his happiest time, when he wanted to leave behind everything old with youthful verve. Poetry adaptations quickly pose the danger of falling into the illustrative. That’s why I always choose texts that can still be loaded with pictures and associations. By placing pictures and text in completely new contexts, the viewer has space for their own thinking. In doing so, I always search for poems that have something to do with me and that I would like to have written myself if I could write poetry. As soon as I am convinced that I am familiar with the poet, I start.
Hours of walking along the beautiful promenade “Clair de Lune”followed, where I could shoot thematically appropriate motifs. Contrary to my concerns, adjusting the exposure was easier than expected, and new film rolls could be conveniently bought at the beachstore. Here I also found a monopod, which proved to be a good help. Lightweight and portable, it has stabilized many shots. Because the Lomokino camera also has its pitfalls: The inserted film could not always continue to turn clean and the construction itself is quite shaky. Nevertheless, the shooting was a lot of fun. It was so different, so strange and the limitation to 144 pictures per movie makes you creative. At home, however, there were more than 30 rolls of film in front of me, which, although developed quickly, now wanted to be painstakingly scanned.
Fortunately, to get the best results, I was lucky enough to be able to use a friend’s Nikon Coolscan 4000 scanner, which can scan entire film strips and remove lint by using infrared. Nevertheless, the scanning of over 4,000 frames took almost a whole week and cost a lot of nerves. But always, when the picture appeared magically, one was compensated for this effort. With Final Cut Pro X, I then mounted the frames, in which only by the right rhythm the mute pictures become music.
In reactions to my film I read again and again: “Why Lomokino, if you can shoot small format film?” I remembered my dad’s old Quarz DS8-3 camera, which had been on the attic floor for 25 years, bought Fomapan R100 film stock and went to the woods on my doorstep. A good opportunity to realise a long-cherished project: The filming of excerpts from Walden by H.D. Thoreau. Thoreau went to the woods for a few years. By immersing himself in nature, he hoped to gain a more objective understanding of society through personal introspection. Very suitable, because with the completely metal spring camera I felt similar. Back to the roots. At first sound was planned, but it would be useless because of the nearby highway. But just that day everything was in motion, the wind in the leaves made the music without sound. But again disillusionment with technology: the footage, thicker than the ORWO material of yore, did not always run clean through the camera. Through my involvement in the local cinema club, which shows only analog film, I knew the right person: Schmalfilmtechnik Berger in Flöha, Saxony. By simply changing the suspension on the metal pressure plate, the film now runs through completely again. Also in the search for a good scan, I came across a real insider tip: the Spanish company Ocho y pico. Uncomplicated, affordable and with excellent results, the material was scanned there in HD.
However, the work on the resulting film, I Went To The Woods, Because …, was only a test for a much more difficult project: I filmed Melancholia, after a poem by the New Latin scholar Jacob Balde from the 17th century. Balde was once praised as “German Horace” and is today almost wrongly forgotten. He is absolutely up to date: in essence, he reports on the narrowness of his time and a possible escape to the spiritual, into poetry, literature. For the different states of mind I show analogies in nature and architecture. Since Balde was a professor in Ingolstadt, I also shot the film there, in places where he may have gone for a walk himself. The film should look as if the film camera had been invented in Balde’s days. The biggest hurdle this time was not technical, but linguistic. In my film poems, I always use the original language, as well as in Melancholia, written in Latin. But how should I design the credits, since there are no clear terms for modern words such as scanning, development, etc.? Help came from the industrious e-Lateinforum, where a true competition for the correct translations of the film vocabulary flared up for the credits. Nice that you can find so much help on the Internet. In the Filmvorführerforum I got always help with technical problems, too.
Next, I was on a study trip to Rome, and of course my camera was also with me. This time it was a modernized, very handy Nizo S2. Christophe Goulard of Re: Voir had installed a dial for selecting the film sensitivity on it. Exciting was the not so dramatic security check at the airport: No one bothered by the unusual hand luggage. As a poem, I had selected Goethe’s Tell Me, Ye Stones before the trip. Very suitable, because in it the love is more than all art pleasures. Since the love needs color, I shot with Ektachrome 100D color film from KODAK, which already belongs to the past. Of course, Rome is full of wonderful motives. At one point, however, I also commented on the decline of Italian cinema. Especially for a filmmaker and cinephile it is sad when you pass again and again at closed cinema temples.
For me, filming with analogue material was and is a challenging, exhilarating thing, or as Antonin Artaud said:“The cinema involves a total reversal of values, a complete revolution in optics, perspective and logic. It is more exciting than phosphorus, more captivating than love.”
This article first appeared in the journal Cine 8–16, Nr. 29, March 2014.