A negative image of a man's eyes in a car's rearview mirror. The countershot shows a smiling woman, and her wholly unambiguous facial expressions call our attention to the image's left-hand side, where film clips take shape in a flickering split screen. They show models, cups and various types of vehicles, which are then worked over thoroughly in the next 25 minutes: Coming Attractions. The title refers to both the nature of advertising films and early cinema, the 'cinema of attractions.' The initial visual contact juxtaposes the two genres through editing, and together with avant-garde film they represent the basic troika for 11 chapters in which Peter Tscherkassky examines the varying relationships between these three worlds of moving images. His film, a look at cinematic history through the rearview mirror, has been enriched with references in the carefully worded headings, to painting, music and film theory, in the form of wordplay. At the same time, what is being shown is fairly obvious.
Using screen tests for commercials that were not meant to be preserved, Tscherkassky, the master of found footage, composed Coming Attractions in minute darkroom work. He adopted a variety of approaches in the individual chapters and, understandably, reveled in the absurd character of his raw material. Associations and cross connections are created, some of them mischievous and others with a deeper meaning: from the 'Ballet monotonique' of the daily grind at work, inspired by Léger, and actresses in advertising films who are doomed to mechanically repeat the same actions again and again, to the downright surreal scene of a model with an inflatable hood drier and a saxophone, not to forget a farewell scene in which two seemingly bewildered Pasolini actors encounter a sheepishly grinning tractor driver from a dumpling-mix commercial. This amusing cinematic cross-section presented as a cryptic visual poem, or poem of visuals, showing (un)conscious missteps is amusing, lighthearted and playful.
Coming Attractions and the construction of its images are woven around the idea that there is a deep, underlying relationship between early cinema and avant-garde film. Tom Gunning was among the first to describe and investigate this notion in a systematic and methodical manner in his well known and often quoted essay: 'An Unseen Energy Swallows Space: The Space in Early Film and Its Relation to American Avant-Garde Film' (in: John L. Fell [ed.], Film Before Griffith, Berkeley 1983).
Coming Attractions additionally addresses Gunning's concept of a 'Cinema of Attractions'. This term is used to describe a completely different relation between actor, camera and audience to be found in early cinema in general, as compared to the 'modern cinema' which developed after 1910, gradually leading to the narrative technique of D.W.Griffith. The notion of a 'Cinema of Attractions' touches upon the exhibitionistic character of early film, the undaunted show and tell of its creative possibilities, and its direct addressing of the audience.
At some point it occured to me that another residue of the cinema of attractions lies within the genre of advertising: Here we also often encounter a uniquely direct relation between actor, camera and audience.
The impetus for Coming Attractions was to bring the three together: commercials, early cinema, and avant-garde film.
english print version