INTERVIEW – BACKROOM / SALLE OBSCURE
Salle obscure mixes more than 150 films. After La Banlieue du Skeud (FID 2018), you keep on exploring the mash-up technique. Where does your interest for it come from?
First, I am not a filmmaker, but I really enjoy exploring the capacity of sound to wrap images. Mash-up allows me to get a direct access to that process. Second, it is the ideal film practice when you are poor. It takes such a long time to get funding and make a film that it dries up most of my creative energy. So, I started to play directly with the film material itself to make cinema. There are also political reasons. Film directors just keep processing elements of their own lives which they have absorbed, including by watching other films, to create a distorting mirror of the world. They continue the line of films that were conceived out of others. For each film, there is not a single author but several. The ideas of artistic property, authorship protection and copyright are mere nonsense, they are just ways to put pressure on artists, to submit them to a norm and keep a stranglehold on distribution venues. Making mash-ups means accepting that cinema might be bursting with uncontrolled manipulations, scattered consultations, crude distortions; it means shaking a certain anti-filmic concept that only the law of market forces could have implemented. Cinema has been really slow to catch on with this idea of recycling, as opposed to other media, like music with sampling, poetry with cut-up, etc.
Salle obscure is a film in the form of an investigation that goes on without really revealing the plot. What was your initial take on the script?
I never set out to make a film with a script in mind, but rather with aesthetic propositions. For Salle obscure, I wanted to work in response to Barthes’ writings on the death of the author, and insist on the will to make a “scriptable” film by stealing from other films. I also wanted to offset my previous film, that was too wordy, by working in an almost mute fashion, which allowed me to develop the gestural and sensitive nature of sound. There was a series of very funny, crazy recordings. For instance, the rain was made out of a concerto of crisps bags, phone rings became accelerated melodies on a saxophone, repeated honks were recorded in the middle of the night right in the city center, and microphones were installed on a balcony, at a distance from actors/foley artists who were barking like dogs! Crime film seemed the best choice to justify such research.
The soundtrack and sound effects so do not belong to the film clips that you used, you devised it all, in a humorous fashion. Can you explain this choice?
I always try to pull apart the world I am immersing myself into. My favourite magic tricks are those that still bewilder me, even though I know how the illusion works. In Salle obscure, I like that the audience plays along, all the while knowing that it is all just a colourful jumble, made of shabby sounds sometimes recorded in a slapdash way. I like it when you can feel all the works, it creates a contrast with the perfect images. When used wisely, this feeling brings out comedy. Back when I managed the bad film festival, I enjoyed feeling how, even with limited means, some films still tried to make the dream machine work. This is what I try to reproduce when the sound messes with the fourth wall, only to remind us that there is something going on behind it.
Can you tell us more about the language that you made up for the film?
This invented language refers to lettrist poems, to the zaoum of futurist Russian poets, but above all to the only band in Moselle, where I live, whose singer sings in the Platt dialect. Nobody ever understands a word he says in each concert, but he screams so loud that you just know that pure rage is coming out of his mouth. Whatever words one chooses to put on such a rage, the important thing is to make the audience feel it. At the end of each concert, the catharsis leaves everyone dazed, and you find yourself bare-chested, even if you haven’t understood a single word. By the way, on night, I went to see the singer, who is often much too smashed to remember the lyrics, and he confessed that he had sung gibberish. I realised that I wanted to reproduce that in a film: gibberish that you don’t understand, but that you experience intensely anyway… So, I invented this idiom that I call Zcwil, a jumble of languages, like a baby playing rattle with its vocal cords.
How long did it take you to make the film?
It has been a two-year creative process. The first year was exhausting. I sorted through images and assembled them to make a film (it was supposed to be a feature film, with a selection of more than 350 clips), and I organised sound shootings at a radio station in Bourges called Radio Radio. The first year I worked with the support of the Art and sound creation post-graduate programme in Bourges. The second year, I finished the film with the help of Wrong Films production and some lovely technicians. I really enjoyed working with such high standards. The film wouldn’t amount to anything without their support. And since we had limited funds, we had to make a few pauses, which gave us time to see things more clearly and later get back to the project with a new angle and renewed conviction. After The truth about the year 2000 and La Banlieue du Skeud, Salle obscure is ending the mash-up trilogy I have been working on since 2014.
Interviewed by Marco Cipollini