Thorsten Fleisch is a filmmaker born, educated, and working in Germany, who has made a name for himself in the international experimental film community. His films have shown all over the world, gaining him awards and recognition from various film and arts festivals, including Best Experimental Film for HAUTNAH (SKINFLICK) at MCF 2002 and a Special Jury Award for BLUTRAUSCH (BLOODLUST) at MCF 2001. Thorsten received the Ann Arbor Film Coop Award for BLUTRAUSCH in 2000 and a grant from the Filmbüro NW to finish HAUTNAH. Recently, he was awarded a grant by the Museum of Contemporary Cinema.

For the third year in a row, MicroCineFest is honored to be showing Thorsten’s films. Since we can’t afford the cost to fly him to Baltimore to have him present his films in person, we thought we should feature an interview with him in our program book. The interview was conducted via email.

Jen/MCF: Thorsten, how did you first become interested in film?

Thorsten: through a friend of mine in high school. we both had super 8 cameras from our dads and were having a go at filming, trying out things you could to do with a camera like pixilation, animation, time lapse or just jerking the camera around while filming. we were also making plans for a weird narrative film which never happened.

I have read that you studied film at the Städelschule in Frankfurt. What was it like to study under Peter Kubelka?

when I applied there I didn't really know what to expect. it seemed to me like a church that preached avantgarde film. on one hand I enjoyed listening to peter kubelka who has a very precise mind and eye and also a lot of interesting stories to tell but on the other hand I didn't feel to fit in at all. somehow I didn't feel too comfortable there and ditched classes sometimes (and we didn't have a lot of classes). basically studying under peter kubelka meant watching a few hours of your classmate's films and listening to his analysis of them. if he didn't like a film he could tear you to pieces - always an event not to be missed.

Do you have a favorite Kubelka film? Which one(s) and why?

I like arnulf rainer and unsere afrikareise the most. they are both totally different and thoroughly thought out. it's hard to imagine art to be more to the point and coherent. they are both so dense and neatly tailored, I admire that a lot. I still haven't seen mosaik im vertrauen and pause.

Would you consider Peter Kubelka an influence on your film/video work? In what ways?

probably not a direct influence since my films fall into a different category, except for más fuerte which is as close as I came to the post-unsere-afrikareise-style that was popular at the städelschule at that time.

Would you explain the link between film and culinary arts that Kubelka taught? Was he a good cook? Are you?

I once heard a lecture on his idea of the culinary arts, in a nutshell he stated that like with film or any other art men always expressed their culture through cooking using what they had at hand in a particular region/country. in cooking you can create metaphors as well, like age (young or old cheese for example), soft or hard consistency in food, etc. combining the ingredients in a skillful way by using your resources to the fullest extent makes a good dish. himself he was into stuff like wiener schnitzel. can't say if he was a good cook, I'm definitely not. I mainly cook preprocessed food.

Your bio mentions that you did community service at an institution for the mentally ill. Was it your choice to work there? If so, why and what was it like?

yes it was my choice. I absolutely didn't want to join the bundeswehr (german army) which is compulsory after finishing school. as an alternative it's possible to do community service. I found it interesting because it deals with the pathologies of the mind. people there had a very original way of thinking. I had nice conversations with a man who told me about his inventions. he was researching flying cars and perpetual motion machines. he made technical drawings for them since he was an engineer originally. the drawings were fascinating.

I have read that you have worked in quality control in the automotive industry. What is you current day job?

argh, none at the moment I'm afraid. the last one I had was testing drugs for pharmaceutical companies.

I was first introduced to your work when you entered BLUTRAUSCH into MicroCineFest 2001. Being a microbiologist, I was initially alarmed that you had sent us a piece of film with your blood on it (we are all bio-hazardous in our own ways!), but I was also thrilled to see a film so personal that it included projecting your own blood. Were BLUTRAUSCH and HAUTNAH inspired by some medical moment in your life? What gave you the idea to get under your own skin for your films?

medical moment, I like that one. reminds me of 'it was a medical morning', tom waits' line in coffee and cigarettes. anyway, I had a couple of massive medical moments involving ingrown toenails. I had an infection at an early age where I had to undergo surgery which was quite painful afterwards when the drugs wore off. several years later I had another ingrown toenail this time on the other foot and I kept it a secret from my parents since I didn't want surgery (=pain) again. so I tried curing it myself using devices such as a compass with which I tried to scrape of the bad infected flesh. but that only made matters worse so when they finally did find out they rushed me to a doctor who first cut deep into the mess of a nail to let all the pus get out and the next day I got to meet my friend the surgeon once again. the pain and the hassle aside it was quite an interesting experience bodywise.

Would you tell me about the process used to make HAUTNAH - like, how did you get the effect of depth, of moving into the skin?

sure, I first had the fingerprints on clear leader strip with which I wanted to start the film. after that I used computer prints of b/w images of my skin and skin prints scanned into the computer. I wanted to have a maximum of flicker but still with movement in the abstract. for the flicker I had pairs of positive/negative prints. in order to have movement you have to have at least two corresponding images that differ only slightly. with the pos/neg pairs I had two corresponding images. to achieve the zooming-in illusion I left the pos image alone and changed the size of the neg image (blew it up about 10%). that was enough to have the illusion of zooming into abstract, flickering skin prints. to get some rest for the eyes I then had some close-ups of my skin. I let the camera explore the texture with some calm only to unleash it afterwards with single-frame assaults of the maintained skin-theme for which I took single-frames of extreme close ups of my skin with a makro lens.

The sound you created for HAUTNAH, touching skin to phonograph cartridge, worked so well with the images. In the process of making a film, what do you work on first, the visual aspect or the audio/sound aspect?

thank you, I work on the images first but may use soundbits already recorded / made before.

Is picture more important than sound, or vice versa?

it's both equally important. of course you can do a film without sound if you want to focus on the visual side or you can do a film without image to focus on the audio aspect. it depends. I try to give special attention to sound in my films. sound is a very strong and often neglected element in film.

Would you explain how you created the sound for BLUTRAUSCH?

I first wanted to create a metaphor using the sound of boiling water - I'm glad I didn't. what I eventually did was using the optical soundtrack it produced (the blood covered the whole filmstrip so I just had to turn the sound on to hear it) because I liked the sound it made and the concept of having the projector interpret my blood audiovisually rather than only visually. it's more coherent that way.

Did you fix the blood on the film leader or just let it dry? How many times have you projected the original - does the blood wear off?

at first I tried to fix it with splicing tape. it was in a liquid state for several days but eventually dried. I then put it on without anything and it stuck perfectly. I only projected a very first short sequence with my projector but later looked at it only on a steenbeck where some of it came off. but that goes only for the non-clotted blood sequences. I also used clotted blood which looked very different and stuck better.

The visual effect of blood flickering in BLUTRAUSCH is reminiscent of Stan Brakhage’s film, MOTHLIGHT, where moth pieces were adhered to clear film leader. Was Brakhage or MOTHLIGHT an influence? If so, please explain.

yes, I'm a big fan of brakhage and mothlight. the fact that for mothlight he just stuck organic stuff on clear leader was definitely an influence. but also a big influence was goh harada a friend of mine whom I met in kubelka's film class. his film weissfilm (whitefilm) where he put silicon on clear leader was also very influential for me for making blutrausch. the fact that he maintained but varied the silicon theme which results in a very calm meditative film despite its flickery motion.

Most of your work seems to have been using film, but you also work with video - do you prefer film over video? Why?

yes I started with film but now I'm also very interested in computer generated films. I'm also curious about developments concerning hdtv. I hope it will be available in the future at affordable prices. it's the perfect format to fuse computer generated imagery with video imagery, something I'd like to explore in the future. but every format has its advantages and disadvantages, my preferences tend to change, everything is in constant flux. the versatility to alter moving pictures with computer graphics, nonlinear editing and digital filters might cause more confusion and may make it difficult to focus on important aspects of what you want to express. less choices can increase your freedom.

MÁS FUERTE seems a departure from your other films in that it features entire humans interacting (not just blood or skin!). What inspired you to make this film? Was it based on a liberating event in your own life?

some of my early super 8 movies also feature / document human interaction so it wasn't really a new thing to do for me. it was inspired by the fact that I got this car very cheap. so I wanted to crash it and make a film about the 'happening'. crashing the car filled me with satisfaction. originally I wanted to burn it but the others were against it and talked me out of it. I still regret that. it would have been even more satisfying.

Tell me about “liberating” the car.

liberating it from it's purpose as a means of transportation and fetish / status symbol. making it glass, metal, cloth and plastic again.

GESTALT is highly mathematical. Would you describe your process of making the animation?

I was reading about the geometry of the fourth dimension at that time and trying to grasp it when I discovered quaternions which are four dimensional fractals. in order to visualize them they are projected into three dimensional space. I was immediately attracted by them. it was a whole new world of interesting, bizarre shapes that I wanted to explore. there is a freeware called quat that I used to create my own fractals. unfortunately it's only generating single images so I had to write a little program to be able to make sequences of images that could be easily processed by quat. the rather complex calculations needed a lot of processing time - up to several days for just a few seconds. after many different test sequences and transformations I had to render the final sequences in full 720x576 resolution. that really took an eternity. luckily my family and friends helped out donating computer time to speed up the process.

I have read that it took you several years to complete GESTALT. How did you stay focused on the project for that length of time?

all in all it took almost two years. about a year I was exploring the shapes and transformations and the final rendering took almost a year as well. the first year I was all excited about the resulting sequences that came little by little - that fueled my patience. but the final rendering was hard, it was just stupidly processing images after images after images. when I had all the images I had to motivate myself to edit it all together at first since I was a little fed up by it but when I started with the sound design I was into it again very quickly.

How did you come to be on the board of artistic directors for the International Experimental Cinema Exposition?

chris may the festival director liked blutrausch very much and asked me if I was interested.

What are your duties as a board member?

oh not much, I'm just there when needed.

What are you working on next?

I'm upon finishing my next film friendly fire. if everything works out it will premiere at this year's international experimental cinema exposition in telluride. it's a 16mm film made with my self-made optical printer. it's based on an expanded cinema piece I did shortly after blutrausch called feuer frei (open fire) where I burnt several filmstrips. the other one I'm working on is kind of a follow up on skinflick where I try to get more under the skin. I'll use the scars of my mother to go into the flesh using endoscopic video material at the same time trying to dissect the film material itself by focusing on splicing taped cuts, grain, color, etc. it will also be a 16mm film. it'll hopefully be a ride into the more molecular world of flesh and film.

And finally, a question from Skizz: If you could be any vegetable, which one would it be?

the vegetable that made frank zappa write 'call any vegetable' but since I don't know which one it was I'd probably be an eggplant... or leek?

Thanks so much for the interview.


(interview with jen talbert. reprinted with kind permission)