Christoph Girardet & Matthias Müller • Directors
by Chris Jones - German Films
- German Films met up with experimental filmmaking duo Christoph Girardet and Matthias Müller to discuss their oeuvre, based in ‘found footage’
In the vast array of film genres, from mainstream to experimental, you may be forgiven for thinking that the area of work that uses ’found footage’ could be considered redundant, especially in a post-YouTube world filled with mash-ups, parodies and digital manipulation. And yet, while the work of Christoph Girardet and Matthias Müller has its basis in such a methodology, it has long been recognized as being far more profound and prescient than the mere pick ’n’ mix trappings of pop culture.
With their partnership now in its sixteenth year – long predating the digital zeitgeist –Girardet and Müller’s names have become a common sight in the lists of the prize winners and critically-acclaimed on the international experimental festival circuit. Their films often contain painstakingly edited and researched footage, taken from the vast wealth of 20th century filmmaking and re-contextualized to tease out new meanings and emotions. The co-creators explore these darker or concealed aspects of film language, often unveiling hidden meanings by the random juxtaposition of similar themes such as childhood (Meteor, 2011), sight and perception (Contre-jour, 2009 and Maybe Siam, 2009), memory (Beacon, 2002), bodily mutilation (Cut, 2013), or travel (Locomotive, 2008).
Indeed, it’s important to the duo that the precision and expertise used in compiling these short films never manages to obscure the personal themes and more emotional aspects reflected in the work. Müller says: “There’s a lot of talking before we decide on a theme, and whatever subject we chose is based on the intersection of our personal experiences. No matter how visible they are: those personal issues are more than a backdrop to our artistic practice; they deeply influence any artistic decision made. However, both of us need to be affected and to feel challenged by the matters addressed by us to a similar extent.”
“As long as our work revolves around the dismantling of stereotypes of cinematic representation, there often is a humorous, ironic, sometimes sarcastic undertone to our work. It’s easier for us to laugh about phenomena seemingly detached from us… until we realize that objects in the rear view mirror may be closer than they appear. In our more recent works, the succession of images is pretty unpredictable in part. A motif may pop up so unexpectedly, that this effect may be compared to that of a startling punchline. Such effect makes your synapses work faster. Ideally, this generates both amusement and cognition – which are closely linked in many found footage films”, continues Müller, who regards the sense of playfulness as a necessary outcome of the pair’s working methods.
This humor is always balanced with a sense of loss and longing. The artists’ most lavish work, Locomotive (2008), uses a tripartite screen to juxtapose scenes of railway travel, creating an imaginary journey which calls on some of the duo’s favorite themes once more, as though they were stops along the way: the landscape of dreams (filled with crashing locomotives), the pain of parting, the poetry of motion and the mechanics of travel by rail. In its format this may be their most ’cinematic’ of works. It echoes the widescreen glories of Kubrick or Abel Gance while still performing some kind of alchemical magic that produces more than the sum of its parts. This may be attributable to the pair’s fluid working procedures as outlined by Müller: “Our roles are not fixed; they may shift and even reverse… Over the course of 16 years, I’ve always thought that what I can contribute benefits from Christoph’s influence and that I do not sacrifice anything. In other words: what we talk about here is not a shared, but a doubled authorship.”
This doubling of the artistic input may well be why their work always leaves one with a sense of the profound, drawn from the personal: liberating the poetry of mainstream imagery from the banality of commercialism and back into the realm of art.