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Short of the Week: Peter Tscherkassky's experimental 1999 film 'Outer Space'

Outer Space

Austrian avant-garde filmmaker Peter Tscherkassky has gained a worldwide reputation for his startling experiments with the cinematic medium. Inspired by the lectures of film historian P. Adams Sitney, Tscherkassky became interested in the bizarre world of avant-garde cinema and hasn’t looked back since. His works have forced viewers to re-examine traditional definitions of cinema, presenting them with alternatives that linger in their minds for a long time.

His 1999 short film Outer Space is arguably the best example of his undeniable talents. Through disjointed images and distorted sounds, Tscherkassky constructs a haunting work that laughs at the need for traditional narratives and normative depictions of time as well as space. Double-exposures create fascinating juxtapositions which threaten to destroy the medium with their uncontrolled volatility and violent anarchy.

In an interview, the filmmaker explained: “I’m interested in films which have all these levels, from hopefully intellectual, a little bit brainy, up to offering some kind of very physically intense experience in the cinema. That’s part of what I love about cinema. Being in that darkened space, exposed to that kind of an experience which you can only get in the cinema and only get with film.”

Outer Space is a lot of things: a reflection on the role of cinema, an attempt to deconstruct the voyeuristic experience as well as a powerful expression of existential horror. The protagonist (if we can call her that) is a woman whose subjectivity flickers with the flashing images. Although it is intended as a portrayal of sexual violation, the film’s ambitious artistic vision transforms the act into a cosmic violation.

It is also important to note that the film is not recommended to viewers with a history of photosensitive epilepsy. Watch Peter Tscherkassky’s experimental Outer Space below: