Chris Petit is in Berlin at the moment, shooting his new film. On his own. Mostly with his Casio high-speed camera which has the ability to run on 1000 frames per second. Everything will get very very slow when later played back in 25 frames per second. Village Voice’s Dennis Limis called Chris Petit a ‚psychogeographer’[i] and his last film UNREQUITED LOVE[ii] „a Chris Marker-like meditation on the metaphysics of stalking.” In UNREQUITED LOVE Petit builds –based on Gregory Dark’s memoir– a dense net of associations, linking stalkers as “the fundamentalists of love” and Alfred Hitchcock, to create “a world lacking any reverse angle because its story is defined by absence,” but at the same time telling a very intense love story.
Chris Petit’s friend and collaborator Iain Sinclair called him ‘J.G. Ballard on foot’. He sees a lot of parallels between the author of CRASH and Chris Petit.
CR: I was quite moved by the love story in UNREQUITED LOVE.
CP: Those in a state of being unrequited or involved in stalking related on a personal level. I wanted to make a ﬁlm which appeared objective but was in fact highly personal.
CR: Even when I guessed that most of it might be her (the stalker’s) projection, not only into the future, I longed for a ‘happy’ ending.
CP: You should be a woman.
CR: I am, and at the same I wanted to be stalked by her.
CP: I tried to give it a happy ending by referring in the last commentary to a dark-haired woman in the location of Zabriskie Point and ‘other stories, other obsessions’… If you don’t succeed at ﬁrst.
CR: Even in ﬁlms like Valkyrie I hoped the other guy would win, just for once. Please.
CP: In BAADER you gave an ending which subverted history.
CR: I tried to end it like he would have ended his AutoBioPic.
CP: I would like to see a ﬁlm in which they blow up Hitler and what happens next.
CR: If – in part 2 of URL- they come together would it seen in reverse still be considered stalking, or just love?
CP: Stalking presupposes an intense projection that remains unfulﬁlled. If it is fulfilled that negates the condition which preceded it. I was interested in the phrase in the book, which called stalkers fundamentalists of love because both states exist outside Western understanding.
CR: Love and fundamentalism?
CP: Both are seen as delusions in a rational civilization, which treats ‘love’ as a business. Nothing seems further from love than the institution of bourgeois marriage.
CR: When she says I LOVE YOU, to whom does she address it?
CR: I know, but in the film.
CP: (laughing) Into the camera…
CR: So she didn’t say it?
CP: (laughing) Yes, she did.
CR: Not to him, but you.
CR: Is the one being stalked creating the stalker?
CP: The man says it was his own twilight motives of which he grew most afraid and the book is clear on stalking as a dysfunctional dialogue in which the stalked rejects something secretly recognized. The power of cinema has also to do with secret recognition.
CR: Was Beethoven a stalker?
CP: Yes, but distance and the time it took to correspond, and to get an answer, gave everything a different formality. In an age of instant communication there is no time for reﬂection and the situation becomes hysterical. If Beethoven had had text and emails the music would have been different or non-existent.
CR: Was stalking before the age of mobile phones considered romantic?
CP: It is romantic to suggest that the most interesting things are hidden.
CR: Or lost. Somewhere in URL he says (or is it you?) that he was stalked before. But then found out that it was a 16-year-old girl, which has disappointed him. Do we want to be stalked today?
CP: No one was stalked by a 16-year-old girl. You have made that up! She was escaping another man by moving to London, or said she was.
CR: Do we want to be stalked?
CP: It is Descartes: I am stalked therefore I am; also I stalk therefore I am. It lies at the heart of modern identity.
CR: How many narrators are there?
CP: Me. Him. Her. You.
CR: Why did you cast the writer then spoke his voice yourself?
CP: The book said everything he had to say about his experience and there was no point in repeating that, which was why I told the story from her point of view and gave her a voice. My own role was as interpreter of the material rather than narrator. Also because the author read the situation of his being stalked in terms of his naivete as a newcomer to the city I related to that as someone who had lived there too long and was about to leave.
CR: So why did you cast him? ‘More cultural incest’, like Stuart Home called it?[iii]
CP: Because he had written the book and by casting him I wouldn’t have to ‘talk’ to him. The job of the director, contrary to opinion, is not to communicate but to release people by not talking to them, thus creating a state of familiarity and insecurity, which is the ideal premise for performance. Stuart is no position to talk of cultural incest as we both live on the same corridor on the same London estate.
CR: For me the image, which brings it together in URL, is the close-up of her phone in this video-style.
CP: The rest was possible to think of in cinematic terms (Douglas Sirk, Robert Bresson) but with the texting shots you had to confront a kind of modern nakedness. As you say, they are very digital — the texts, her ﬁngers — compared to the rest of the ﬁlm.
CR: It’s smart that the Voice Over tells us that Gregory (HE) lost his mobile phone and didn’t get her messages. Would they have changed something?
CP: Each time the possibility of changing everything and nothing. Beethoven must have felt the same.
CR: Are these the real surveillance cameras? The spatial relationship is kind of lost.
CP: Real in the shopping mall. A love story in long shot. Camera, and ﬁlmmaker, as stalker. Stalking and surveillance are both forms of foreshortening.
CR: (Gilles) Deleuze called it a space of virtual conjunction, ‘grasped as pure locus of the possible’. Is this what you intended? That we are geographically and emotionally lost?
CP: Bresson quoted a French general saying that all great battles are waged in the interstices of military maps. The same with cinema. We create our own emotional and superstitious maps of the town or city, as BLUE VELVET showed, that conjunction of non-places, which deﬁne so much of modern life, and what the Surrealists called the terrible suburbs of the heart.
CR: Was W.G.Sebald a ‘psychogeographer’?
CP: Personally, I find him a fraud, which is a heresy because many regard him as a literary saint. Let’s call him a pseudo-psychogeographer. Frauds are always interesting, more so than saints.
CR: Being stalked is ﬂattering, but is being under surveillance of vital importance?
CP: There is a shift away from thought (and being thought of) to being seen and the necessity of needing to be seen.
CR: “What we call past is somehow similar to what we call abroad,” the
Fictional narrator says in (Chris) Marker’s THE EMBASSY[iv]. “It is the passing of a boundary.”
CP: Deleuze read history as lines of migration. In an age of instant
communication distance recedes to be placed by more boundaries,
internal and external.
CR: I think C.G. Jung said that the unconscious has no sense of time or space.[v]
CP: Time and space are being redeﬁned but they also create new
CR: What does the Internet tell us about the spatial and the temporal?
CP: The Internet is interesting for its uncensored quality, from email upwards, but it means that everything is unedited and as an example of a stupid sentence[vi] Rick Sanchez’s is exemplary. I have said it before: I want to be degoogled.
CR: As a ‘psychogeographer’, would you say the unconscious nowadays is outside?
CP: Cyberspace has become the unconscious.
CR: Is BIG BROTHER still real?
CP: The strange genius of BIG BROTHER is that it appears to be a technological tour de force and a fulﬁllment of Orwell’s vision but is inspired by an older fear of the Gothic romantic nightmare. Everyone wants BIG BROTHER to work but it never does. I am disturbed by the show’s general obedience: some individual rebellion but never any collective revolution, which of course would be censored, which takes us back to Orwell.
CR: But nobody is watching it anymore.
CP: In England more young people vote in BIG BROTHER than in political elections.[vii]
CR: I wonder if some people were disappointed not have being monitored by the Stasi in East Berlin.
CP: But equally a lot of people must be disappointed at no longer being able to inform.
CR: Do you have the Jungle Camp in England?
CP: Yes, but I haven’t read anything on why such programmes might be beneﬁcial. People only write about what is wrong with them instead of why they might work or what kind of anthropological function they perform. I am always surprised at how sophisticated a lot of popular television is, not in terms of content, which no longer exists, but how much thought has gone into the format.
CR: In Germany the integration of immigrants works best in DSDS, which is like POPSTARS in England.
CP: Yes, such shows are evidence of a multi-cultural society, more than most television, which is only politely integrated on grounds of political correctness.They may be questionable in terms of their business practice but they are interestingly aspirational, and extraordinary for the way they show (and exploit) people who believe they can do something when they can’t.
CR: THE SHIELD or THE WIRE?
CP: Not a question. Only THE SHIELD.[viii]
CR: In PRÉNOM CARMEN[ix] UNCLE JEAN asks his niece (Maruschka Detmers) if she needs his new camera to shoot her film. And we see him with a huge Boom box on his shoulder. ‘It makes music’.
CP: My theory is that Godard was a musician and poet who stumbled into the wrong medium and confused the destiny of cinema. I am suspicious that you quote the actress’s name: it suggests the unrequited and that you might not be a woman after all.
CP: The abiding crisis of his career, in which there have been many, is one of image. In his case he relates that back to the fact that the visual record of the Nazi exterminations, which he is positive existed, have been lost.
CR: Is our love for the cinema unrequited?
CP: Cinema is an unforgiving mistress.
CR: The last two titles in WEEKEND[xii] say ‚End of Film’ and ‚End of Cinema.’
CP: The genius of Godard is that he has made a career of apotheosis and of asking but not answering the question.[xiii]
CR: I recently saw Verneuil’s WEEKEND A ZUYDCOOTE[xiv] from 3 years earlier. Not only the convoys of broken cars reminded me of the other WEEKEND. But there is one big difference: While in WEEKEND the disregard for the individual is obvious, Verneuil and Belmondo create a character, which doesn’t interact with the background. He only wants to get out. This very ‚Delon’-like[xv] character doesn’t really exist anymore, does it?
CP: Background and foreground still exist but the middleground has gone, which is the space previously inhabited by ‘character’, so you are right.
–Chris Petit, Martin Müller[xvi] and myself went to Auschwitz in January this year to research for Chris’s next film. Not only didn’t we know that January 27th, the day we arrived from Berlin was the anniversary of the liberation by Soviet troops in 1945, we also didn’t find the SS resort ‘Solahütte’ 30km from Oświęcim on the Sola river where Josef Mengele, Rudolf Höß and Josef Kramer spend their weekends. We asked around in the area but everybody sent us somewhere else, up the hills, down to some Hotel Annas or Viktorias. But we were told the site still existed, albeit rebuilt. In the end the only thing we found was a pub called ‘HATE’.
CR: At last the 4 forbidden questions: 1.) What’s your new film about?
CP: Fuck knows.
CR: 2.) Why Auschwitz?
CP: If you have been to Disneyland then go to Auschwitz, which, if not an education exactly, is a surprise for its location, not in some faraway place as in an evil fairy tale, but, in the context of the town, situated where the retail park would now be.
CR: 3.) Are you ready for this hardboiled gangster movie without voice over and basically no dialogue?
CP: I want to make a love story with deaf mutes, maybe combined with a gangster story.
CR: 4.) Do you believe in André Bazin’s words: ‘better films=better world’?
CP: In theory.
[i] A Psychogeographer is in Spiritualism a medium who produces psychographs, and Psychogeography for the Situationists: “the study of the precise laws and specific effects of the geographical environment, consciously organized or not, on the emotions and behavior of individuals.” Guy Debord, 1955.
[ii] Unrequited Love (2006) With Rebecca Marshall, Gregory Dart, Vibeche Standal.
[iii] Shamen of Discontent or The Revenge of The Mirror People: A Detective Story In Four Acts by Stewart Home http://www.stewarthomesociety.org/luv/sinclair.htm
[iv] 1973, 21minutes. Dissidents seeking refuge in a foreign embassy after a military coup d’état. Shot on 8mm.
[vi] “I watched the Obama speech on a treadmill after getting home late from my daughter’s softball practice” texted CNN’s Rick Sanchez on ‘Twitter’.
[vii] The real money is made from viewers’ phone calls.
[ix] 1982 by Jean-Luc Godard. Uncle Jean: „You have to close your eyes not open them.“
[x] 1998, ECM Records, Munich
[xi] 2007 Gaumont Video
[xii] 1967 with Mireille Darc, Jean Yanne, Jean-Pierre Léaud
[xiii] Jean-Luc Godard’s greatness is not in doubt, says Chris Petit, but are his films any good?: http://www.guardian.co.uk/books/2008/aug/09/film.jeanlucgodard
[xiv] 1964 by Henri Verneuil. With Jean-Paul Belmondo, Catherine Spaak, Georges Géret. Set during World War II, and stuck on the beaches near Dunkirk, Belmondo tries to join England by boat with the English Army.
[xv] 1990, Alain Delon is ‘L’homme’ in Godard’s NOUVELLE VAGUE.
[xvi] MM is an old friend of us, at the moment he works on the sound for Peter Weir’s new film.