Fipresci Home the international federation of film critics  
  about us | festival reports | awards | undercurrent   contact | site map 
home > undercurrent > issue 1 > Dream Work  

about the writer

Adrian Martin is a film critic for The Age in Melbourne. He has written books on The Mad Max Movies (2003), Once Upon a Time in America (1998), Raúl Ruiz (2004), and several others. He has won the Byron Kennedy Australian Film Institute Award and the Geraldine Pascall Prize for critical writing. He is also co-editor of the book Movie Mutations (2003) with Jonathan Rosenbaum, and the Internet magazine Rouge.

short films

This section has been edited by Belinda van de Graaf and Adrian Martin.


Man's Favorite Short


by Adrian Martin

"Several Friends" (Charles Burnett, 1969)
by Andy Rector

The Pain of Cinema: "Interior New York Subway" (G. W. Bitzer, 1905)
by Gabe Klinger


Improvised Polemic by Derek Malcolm: "LBJ" (Santiago Alvarez, 1968)

Dream Work (Peter Tscherkassky, Austria, 2001) by Adrian Martin

Short Film Poetry by Jonathan Rosenbaum: "The House Is Black" (Forugh Farrokhzad, 1962) and "When It Rains" (Charles Burnett, 1995)



Dream Work
(Peter Tscherkassky, Austria, 2001)
By Adrian Martin

Dream Work.

The realm of avant-garde or experimental cinema reverses the standard proportions of running times and the cultural values that are routinely associated with them: here it is shorts that overwhelmingly rule, and are better known, while features are the rarity, and often far less successful both artistically, and in terms of gathering an audience over the years. So it is to the avant-garde I turn to choose a favorite short film — and there is a lot to choose from.

Too much English-language discussion of experimental cinema is dominated by the Mount Rushmore of the American Avant-Garde: Stan Brakhage, Maya Deren, Hollis Frampton, Yvonne Rainer, Ernie Gehr, and (token Canadian) Michael Snow. Masters of equal greatness and significance — Stephen Dwoskin in Britain, Len Lye from New Zealand, Marcel Hanoun in France, to name only three with long and extraordinary careers — get shuffled into the obscure background. That is why my thoughts run immediately to the amazing vibrancy of the Austrian avant-garde which lit up world cinema in the 1990s, and continues its explorations today. Even in this select bunch, the choice of an auteur is hard to make: Martin Arnold, Gustav Deutsch, Mara Mattuschka, Siegfried Fruhauf?

Contemporary Austrian experimentalists honor their forebears, Kurt Kren and Peter Kubelka, in the severely materialist attention they pay to the interplay of celluloid and light projection, the action of frames, and the permutation and combination of the smallest units of image and sound — as well as a suspicion of, and need to melt down, the whole racket of figurative representation. But something almost Pop is added to this approach in the '90s: bits of old movies (the 'found footage' of advertisements, genre films), plus an intense approach to the soundtrack that evokes trance-dance music, sampling, DJs and their wheels of steel....

In the case of the great Peter Tscherkassky, the attachment to a not-terribly-known horror film in the lneage of The Exorcist and The Amityville HorrorThe Entity (1983) directed by Sidney J. Furie and starring Barbara Hershey — took two films (and two-thirds of a 'Cinemascope Trilogy') to sufficiently exorcise.

The finale of this set, the magnificent Dream Work (2001) is, like many avant-garde films, impossible to put into words. Pulverising and recombining fragments of the original movie, it works with sensations, intensities, drives. The narrative material of The Entity is simultaneously dissolved into abstraction — strobe-like flashes and pulses of darkness and light, noise and silence — and expanded to infinity, scarier and more meaningful than ever.

Fantastique movies of every kind have always been concerned with the return of the repressed. Tscherkassky's hyper-Freudian films — taking the Master's dream work techniques of condensation and displacement to the heart of the cinematic apparatus via frame-defilement, montage and refilmed superimpositions (or what Thierry Kuntzel called the film work) — turn even the most seemingly banal or innocent sample of American screen entertainment into a formless cauldron of pure horror.

Adrian Martin




bullet. # 7 (1.2011)
bullet. # 6 (4.2010)
bullet. # 5 (5.2009)
bullet. # 4 (10.2008)
bullet. # 3 (11.2006)
bullet. # 2 (7.2006)
bullet. # 1 (4.2006)


issue # 1 4.2006

bullet. Contents
bullet. Marías on Guerín
bullet. Martin on Crowe
bullet. Fujiwara on Tsai
bullet. Klinger on Garrel
bullet. How Critics Work
bullet. Man's Favorite Short
bullet. Amengual Tribute
bullet. Leslie Shatz