Projections: Catch The Velocity [July 2008]

This is a text I wrote for Projections, the Ann Arbor Film Festival newsletter. Some thoughts on one of my next projects called ‘Dromosphere’ on which I’ve been working on and off for about three years now. Damn, I’m slow.

Filmmaker Focus: Thorsten Fleisch

The AAFF is committed to championing bold, pioneering, artistically-inspired filmmakers and connecting them with audiences. For this edition of Filmmaker Focus we hear from Thorsten Fleisch, whose electrifying film “Energie!” created some memorable shockwaves of cinema at the 46th AAFF.

“Dromosphere is the name of the film I’m currently working on. It’s a film about velocity, sports cars, four-dimensional space-time and the limitations of human perception. The title is borrowed from Paul Virilio’s book ‘Polar Inertia’. With the help of machinery that I build myself I want to investigate a phenomenon that is over as soon as it is perceived. I try to capture the moment as an object in fast motion passes the eye of the observer, freezing it so it becomes a sculpture of speed. Originally the idea was to experiment with representations of four-dimensional space-time. I’ve made a film before called Gestalt in which I worked with four-dimensional geometry and now I thought it would be interesting to contrast the idea of pure four-dimensional geometry with the application of four-dimensionality in physics in the concept of space-time. I will not go further into the matter of space-time and four-dimensionality as probably 98% of you readers will be bored by it and for those 2% who are interested in these topics I know you can handle google to find more information.

So my first intent was to get a visual representation of space-time. In capturing movement in the frame in a long exposure I also capture time. At that stage I was still working with 16mm film and built a dolly for the camera. The dolly would move perpendicular to the direction of the camera. On the tracks were two switches. The first opened the shutter of the camera and the second shut it. The two switches were about 30 centimeters apart on the tracks. So the camera captured a long exposure of the camera moving 30 centimeters. For the next shot I moved the dolly with the camera towards the direction of the camera, perpendicular to the tracks. Steadily I was scanning the room where I was shooting and exploring it in space-time vision. The problem was it didn’t look all that interesting as I thought it would.

My next approach was now to put an object on the dolly and leave the camera on a tripod directed towards the object in motion. After each shot I moved the tripod. I used model sports cars as the object as they best represent men’s fascination with speed. I was also thinking about using planes and/or rockets but although they move faster as sports cars there the velocity serves a specific purpose (defying gravity). For sports cars it is an end in itself. So conceptually I moved away from space-time towards the phenomenon of velocity and men’s obsession with it (although there’s actually still a grain of space-time in it as the speed-distorted object still serves as an abstraction of the concept of space-time). Also the slowness of human perception was interesting for me in that context. And I moved away from 16mm film. I now used a digital still camera. In order to experiment with my machinery it was and still is important to get a quick feedback. I need to know what works and looks interesting and what doesn’t.

Also now with HD I think the image looks good enough, especially for this project. So what I get now is a sort of frozen moment of a sports car in fast motion. It’s distorted from the speed and transparent like a ghost. With the help of the dolly that’s synced to the shutter I get very precise ‘velocity distortions’ so that when I move the camera after each frame this frozen moment becomes almost sculptural and I can explore it’s ghost shape by moving around and into it when I play back the individual frames. It looks like the energy of the velocity becoming matter. So far I like the shape it’s taking. But I’m still quite far from finishing Dromosphere.”