By José Sarmiento Hinojosa
18 years after Kurt Kren produced his third film 3/60 Bäume im Herbst [3/60 Trees in Autumn], he shot his masterpiece 37/78 Tree Again.
18 years after I created my third darkroom film L’Arrivée (an homage to the Lumière brothers and their 1895 L’Arrivée d’un train), I embarked on Train Again. This third film in my “Rushes Series” is an homage to Kurt Kren that simultaneously taps into a classic motif in film history.
My darkroom ride took a few years, but we finally arrived: All aboard!
Peter Tscherkassky’s latest masterpiece Train Again (2021) is a magnificent work of synthesis: of the history of cinema, of cinema as a spectacle, of the anxiety of industrialization, of the unveiling of cinema apparatus, of the possibilities and expansion of structural cinema. Dedicated to his good friend and structural filmmaker extraordinaire, Kurt Kren, Tscherkassky shares the same impulses of the work he’s homaging. When Kren made Tree Again (1978) (and several of his first stage films), he shared a concern of what the possibility of reconstitution in the image can declare in cinema: in Kren’s case, it was the possibility of observation, the cycle of restructuring nature’s cycle around the image of the tree, the impending seasons, the frailty of the material. In Tree Again the image often nearly bursts intro abstraction; the flurries of colour and flitters of light present a landscape always on the brink of vanishing. What is perceived on one hand as a whole image is constantly restructuring. This fluctiation of the image means nature appears as becoming something other in the film (Polmeer, 2016:129).
The fluctuation of the image itself is what allows Tscherkassky to build upon images the cinematic spectacle that is Train Again. The Austrian filmmaker makes use of several tools that the dark room has allowed him to master: the overlaying of images, the manipulation of film material itself; the use of analogy and superposition to create a 20 min huge metaphor on cinema. The work feels incredibly dazzling but, when decomposed, it shows the dedication of years for a carefully composed and meditated work: each frame is unequivocally in place, with a pace akin to the experience of the rollercoaster. Is in this particular paradox (the velocity of slowness) where the fluctuation of the image creates the instability that allows Tcherkassky to move ahead with his intentions: of the homage, of the analogy, of the unveiling, of this outstanding phantom ride. Tributes and references are plenty: the filmmaker serves himself with a plethora of films like René Clair’s Entr’Acte (1924) the Lumière brothers L’Arrivée (1895) or Victor Erice’s Spirit of the Beehive (1973), among others, to recreate his ride through history (and the history of cinema).
And, he inserts himself in the tradition of filmmakers that have worked on the image of the train as a physical experience: Siefgried A. Fruhauf with Phantom Ride Phantom (2017), and its immediate reference, Ken Jacobs’ The Georgetown Loops (1996), which worked on the idea of the phantom ride to create immersive film experiences. Or the idea of the train as a metaphor: Gianikian and Ricci Lucci with the opening of From the Pole to the Equator (1988) as a gateway or entrance to the phantoms of colonialism, or Benning’s RR (2007), which puts the weight into the huge symbol of representation of the train itself, in its historical context and part of the course of the idea of the “Americana”. Of course, the idea behind these projects lies entirely on the experience of the machine, but Tscherkassky has gone further beyond this exploration, to, again, synthesize an abundant world of signifiers. And even beyond that exploration (than can carefully be explored by exploring the different sections of the film), the filmmaker bets, yet again, for the cinematic experience as a pivotal element of his films. Each Tscherkassky darkroom film carries within itself the exciting, unraveling, dizzying, spectacular experience of cinema that most blockbusters even dream to possess.
Hands down, the best film of 2021. Peter Tscherkassky has yet again made us believe in the possibilities and the power of cinema.