The blog of author Dennis Cooper

Martin Arnold Day


‘Martin Arnold has constructed a cinema machine – not simply a custom optical printer or recycling system, but a kind of mnemographic machine, an apparatus that writes and rewrites memories on the surfaces of film. Arnold’s cinema functions by incorporating exterior forces, an outside source of energy that presses upon the projected images. In turn, the machine exports text, forming a kind of open economy. …

‘Arnold’s cinema, however, is not a smooth machine. The breakdowns, short-circuits and gasps that define his cinema create a violently neurotic machine. (Neurotics, Freud reminds us, distrust their memories to a remarkable extent.) Arnold’s machine stutters and twitches from the moment it is turned on. This is due, in part, to the fact that Arnold’s cinema barely holds together under the strain of a constant tension between its elements. It is a machine that thematizes even as it reproduces the scene of its own breakdown, obsessively and compulsively.’ — Akira M. Lippit, Canyon Cinema




from Avanto Festival


How did you end up making films after studying something else?

Martin Arnold: The thing is I was always interested in making films, and especially experimental films. I got interested very early because back then the Austrian Film Museum in Vienna was very active in showing all kinds of classical avant-garde works – let’s say Kubelka, Kenneth Anger, Brakhage, Michael Snow – so you really could see these things in this town. The only problem back then, and I think it’s somehow still a problem, was that the Arts Academy didn’t have any classes for film or media, so there was no chance at all to study these things so I enrolled in psychology and art history. I always made films when I was a student, smaller projects, but essentially I never really liked them that much. So then at the end I finished the studies and I thought that I would never become a film-maker because the movies were so bad! I was sad, you know, but then I came up with pièce touchée. The film worked well and from that point on I was a film-maker.

How did you develop your film-making techniques of looping and stuttering images and sound?

MA: I was interested in using single frames, and I think the film-maker who influenced me most in this approach was Peter Kubelka who was very active in giving lectures in Vienna and always insisted that film was composed of single frames, and that we should think of film in terms of single frames. So that’s how I got interested in single frames. Together with a friend, I built my own optical printer which is a tool that you can use to re-photograph single images, single stills, from an already existing film. When I started doing these things I tried all kinds of structures like running it forwards, then running it backwards, then I even inserted breaks and worked with extreme time lapse and also slow motion. So I did all kinds of things and ended up with this continuous forwards and backwards movement because I found them the most interesting. I used popular movies like B-pictures in my experiments and felt that if you break the continuum – if you jump from frame 2 to frame 12, then jump back to frame 3 and then to frame 16 – then this would insert breaks into the movement of the actors. What I found convincing in these continuous forwards and backwards movements was that I didn’t actually break the gestures of the actors, but I could somehow extend them or change them, which means that I not only got to work in a formal way, but I also got to influence the gestures and the actions that we can see in the movies, so I could command somehow what was happening in the image.

Your films feel and sound like music or miniature musicals in many senses. What is your relationship to music?

MA: I’m not sure if I have a particular relation to music. I mean, like many people of my age I’m interested in American music of the 80’s like John Zorn and the people around John Zorn. I’m also interested in hip hop, although I’m not an expert. And of course I’m also interested in all kinds of sampling strategies. Although I think in terms of my films a lot of it comes from film itself. I was always surprised to find out that running a film backwards – all of these strategies – are very old. That’s what the Lumière brothers did at the Grand Café in Paris at the time when they first showed their films. And then there’s the Len Lye movie Doing the Lambeth Walk – Nazi-Style, where he used footage from Triumph of the Will. So I think a lot of it essentially comes from film itself.



Martin Arnold Official Website
Martin Arnold @ Canyon Film Cooperative
Sixpack Films
‘To Mock a Killingbird: Martin Arnold’s Passage à l’Acte and the Dissymmetries of Cultural Exchange’
Martin Arnold @ Frieze Magazine
Martin Arnold @ MUBI
‘Wrinkles in Time’: Jonathan Rosenbaum on Martin Arnold
Martin Arnold @ Senses of Cinema


6 films

Piece Touchée (1989)
Piece touchee (1989) is a brief exegesis of a woman reading and a man coming to visit her. This footage comes from an unidentified movie from the 1940s, and opens innocently enough with the woman sitting in a chair enjoying her book. There’s no movement at first, but this is deceptive; an almost imperceptible motion starts to happen with her hand moving slightly up and down, a sign of the slight agitation that eventually explodes as something attempts to open the door. Suddenly this homely scene takes on the feel of a horror film, with what may be a monster repeatedly, terrifyingly straining at the door. Arnold builds on this arid atmosphere of entrapment and incipient chaos to the point where a kind of vertigo sets in. In a literally dizzying sequence, Arnold introduces maniacal flash-cuts and repeatedly replays and interrupts a scene in which the camera pans across the woman rising and the man walking; this will have some viewers holding their chairs.’


Passsage À L’Acte (1993)
Passage a l’acte (1993) makes a simple breakfast scene from To Kill a Mockingbird look like a surrealist nightmare. The 1950s family is the target here. Those who know the film will recognize the characters as a father, his two kids, and a neighbor woman, but the film transforms them into a crazed version of the postwar family. While “Mother” sits with a frozen smile and Father (Gregory Peck) reads the paper, sonny boy gets up from the table and opens and closes the screen door repeatedly. The slamming of the door sounds like gunfire, hinting at an unnamed aggression occurring somewhere just outside this sacred space of the ’50s home and perhaps at disturbing forces at work within this family. Arnold’s exploitation of these characters is pitiless; like an evil puppeteer he repeats a shot of Gregory Peck screaming words and parts of words to stultifying effect, while the son twitches back and forth with some unknowable frustration and the daughter makes gutteral noises that attain a kind of robot rhythm.’


Don’t (1996)
‘Commissioned for the 100 years of Cinema celebrations in Vienna.’


Viennale Trailer: Psycho (1997)
‘Martin Arnold has adopted a fragment from the shower scene of Alfred Hitchcock’s legendary thriller PSYCHO, rendering and composing it anew with the possibilities of digital retouching. The result is a short yet intense piece of contemporary aesthetics. Devoted mainly to density and omission, it visualizes the cinematic narrative on all its levels as a cinematographic and aesthetic mise en scène. Simultaneously, it reveals that a resolving adaptation of traditional cinematic forms can also create suspense, excitement and pleasure.’


Alone. Life Wastes Andy Hardy (1998)
‘In Alone. Life Wastes Andy Hardy (1998), Arnold stitches together a strange sexual scenario from three of the Judy Garland-Mickey Rooney vehicles. In the opening scenes, Andy embraces his aging mother, but subtle repetitions give this homespun scene an unexpected erotic charge. Arnold brazenly rechoreographs Andy’s movements to make it appear he’s humping the old gal from behind. Meanwhile Judy is singing in another room, but it’s no ordinary song. She’s made to emit disturbing “peeping” noises, sing backwards, and lingers on phrases like a stuck record: “There must be someone waiting … waiting … waiting … waiting …” The effect is both comic and chilling, as she stands pathetically with outstretched arms waiting for Mickey, who, perhaps because he’s just left his mother’s bed, never quite connects with poor, frustrated Judy.’ — Gary Morris, Bright Lights Cinema


Deanimated (Excerpt, 2002)
‘In Deanimated (2002), Martin Arnold subjects a legendary American horror movie of 1941 to radical cinematographic surgery. Actors disappear thanks to digital technology, leaving the cinematic space to become the actual leading actor in a precise and absurdly comical new interpretation. Arnold transforms the original movie The Invisible Ghost, in which a wife hypnotises her husband into a murder plot, into a study in the increasing disintegration of actor movies; at its close the camera’s eye wanders through sets devoid of human life where the lights literally seem to have gone out. Death becomes, in Deanimated, the fury of disappearence which gives witness to an “unbearable transition beyond existence” (Georges Bataille). The madness has been inscribed into the faces. The ecstasy of effacement, the annihilation of being, the hypostatisation of the inorganic, the searching glance, which no longer meets with any species of recognition – those are the relays which prepare the transition to a catatonic rigidity.’ — Thomas Miessgang

The music, by TWINSANITY, is not in Arnold’s film and has been superimposed.



p.s. RIP Scott Walker, a true genius. ** Wolf, Yeah, I know, what a mindfuck. Didn’t see that coming at all. Love to you, bud. ** David Ehrenstein, Reza was great, yes. A massive loss way, way too soon. I’m glad you like ‘Cecil B. Demented’. People rarely talk about that film of John’s. It’s beyond ripe for rediscovery. ** Nik, So happy you liked it! Thanks about the script. We found a translator, and the Frenchifying will begin today. Re: the TV script, it’s all things that give no pleasure (to Zac, Gisele, and me), i.e. make things more dramatic, create more anticipation in the viewer, connect all the dots more clearly, … Blah. Coventionalizing, yes, and, as has been the case for a while now, we have to try to do that just enough to satisfy them while trying to preserve everything we want to do. Great about Maldoror. Yeah it hit me hard too. Oh, gosh, I read it when I was pretty young, in my teens. I still haven’t dipped into East River Pipe, believe it or not. Which speaks to the devouring work. But any hour now. I only saw the first night of the concerts because I fucked up and thought the second one started hours later than it did. The one I saw was good, fun to be there, mixed bag on the performers, but a great set by William Basinski and Lawrence English, which made it fully worthwhile. ‘School brain’, yeah. Oh, man, if someone(s) had started a film series like you guys are doing when I was in college I would have lost my mind. Heck, even if you guys did it right now in Paris, same deal. That’s so fantastic! I’ve curated screenings a little, usually as part of a large art-related show, mostly recently at the Pompidou maybe 6 years ago. It was a blast to do. ** Dominik, Hey, D!! Very cool, I’m glad it excited you. Yeah, I don’t think you need to stuff the SCAB feed with things, but it’s not a bad idea to occasionally post things related to SCAB or not, or related to your/its interests. It’s only a boon for followers of the page, to discover things. So just once in a while is probably enough. If you decide to activate it. Yes, the funding thing should be similar. As with PGL, we start with some funding we got from a US foundation, so that’s good, but then we have to apply for whatever grants are possible and hope we get accepted. Since the new film will cost a bit more than PGL, we’ll probably need to get two or three grants, whereas with PGL we were able to make the film with just one grant plus the foundation money. We’ll see. It’s time to be diligent and patient, which is hard. Me too, about the 16+ rating. It’s not looking too good, but we’re trying. If we can’t overturn it, it will really hurt us. So cool about the great weekend with Anita! What are you up to this week? Have the best one possible. ** _Black_Acrylic, Hi, Ben. Cool. Yeah, hard to tell based on that photo of the show. It doesn’t look wildly interesting, but … ** Misanthrope, Hi. I fall back on ‘great’ constantly. The word ‘great’ is like breathing. Very American lazy but enthusiastic use of language. Good luck with your non-shitty novel. And thank about the post, man. ** Jeff J, Yeah, it’s truly horrible and really out of the blue. Obviously, I too am thinking about the almost opera project we were going to do — and would have not been able to do in any case, I guess — with him. No news on what happened with him. Stephen might know something, but he’s on tour. If I hear anything before the media does, I’ll let you know. A week from today! Holy shit! Eyes on the prize, man. Can’t wait. ** Steve Erickson, Hm, I see. I hope your ruminating coalesces. I don’t think there’s transparency in the sense that you’re saying. If they decree something, that’s it. No bucking the decree by theaters, etc. I’m hoping to find out what if anything has happened today. ** Joshua Dalton, Even I, Mr. Transgressive, used to get queasy at Bob and Sheree’s shows. Man, yeah, three acceptances so far is really good! Keep your confidence and drive up as best you can. Thanks about the ratings board. I don’t know. Looking bad, but it’s not over yet. Or I don’t think it is. Take it easy, Josh. ** chris dankland, Ha ha, they are, right? Yeah, they were actually pretty famous for a while, or certainly as performance artists go. The LA art scene definitely began its transformation from sleepy art outpost to its current status as a major art center in the 80s, but it took until the 00s for it to become a total hot spot. No, I wouldn’t say the influx of money, power, attention had much or any impact on the performance artists there. Mike and Paul’s growing fame was around their visual art, and their performances were just considered the ‘live’, less saleable part of that work. There really isn’t any way to make performance art a commodity unless the performer decides to make their work more conventional and/or spectacular and recontextualize it for large theater spaces. It sounds really pretty where you are, yeah. Nice. I still really love Paris. Who knows longterm, but for now I have no interest in living anywhere else really. Have a great Monday morning, afternoon, and evening! ** tyler murphy, Hi, Tyler. Yeah, when I was just in LA, almost everyone I know was bemoaning the encroachment of the blue chip. Of course Frieze was happening at the time, which probably pushed that to people’s frontal lodes. Wow, great on your friend Eric. Human Resources is a really crucial place. Oh, right, about Provincetown. You didn’t bug me at all. I apologise for my spaceyness and whatever else on my end. I have a bad email/ tangent focus problem. ** Corey Heiferman, Hi. Vaginal is a genius. Great, great about the positive noises from the university! Fingers heavily crossed on my end if needed. That Katy Perry cover is terrifying. Oh, well, that’s cool about your attraction to women. If it’s happening, that’s that. Self-identification should always be fluid, I think. I had a serious girlfriend years ago, and I thoroughly enjoyed it. It just didn’t stick for me. So, yeah, see what happens. ** Okay. Today I offer you the great pleasure of watching some short films by the wonderful Martin Arnold if you so choose. See you tomorrow.


  1. Bill

    Lovely LA performance gallery yesterday, Dennis. I wish I could have caught more of this work back in the pre-internet days; I’ve seen Vag and Ron Athey quite a few times, but I don’t think Johanna Went, the Kippers, Paul McCarthy etc went up to the Chicago area that much. I do remember playing some fabulous, more sound-based pieces by the Kippers and Went on my radio show.

    No, one doesn’t come to Hong Kong for the mystery, haha. I did have a pleasant time yesterday on one of the little nearby islands, hanging with a friend and discussing possible projects.

    I’ll check out the Strickland film on Sunday; will report. I love his earlier films (Berberian Sound Studio, Duke of Burgundy).


  2. David Ehrenstein

    Though he cites Kubelka, Martin Arnold operates in regions of cinema similar to Ken Jacobs and Bruce Conner in his own original way. “Life Wastes Andy Hardy” is particularly amusing.

  3. TellMeWhyIDontLikeKeatons

    As scared to death as it makes me you are getting me interested in the cinema spaces. It’s making me think of how my characters move around in my novel. The lead guy kind of looks like you as far as I can see. I think he likes the Offspring. Im using a space I know and a tragedy I know and theres a little ghost fucking me up. Its almost my birthday, my horns are coming out. Moving to a place where the Death Metal and Horror movies will play endlessly. The boys are coming to their senses. Life is good. Hows things in Paris? All the fascination and love in Florida.

  4. Robert Siek


    Thank you much for mentioning Bad Dog and including a link to the first issue. Very kind of you. And my god, I really need to start keeping a list of artists, writers, filmmakers, etc. that I’m introduced to on your blog and interested in exploring further. Your blog has always been a learning experience. And BTW, thinking back on your comment regarding being reminded that Stanya was in Userlands, that caused me to think about how long ago that book was published and therefore how long your blog has been up and running. It has been a long-ass time. So insane how fast time goes by. When the blog makes it to 15 years, we’ll have to celebrate by lighting a computer from 2006 on fire or something batshit and monumental. Did the blog begin in 2006, or 2005? Anyway, I’m also thrilled that Cecil B. Demented is being discussed on the blog. It is a classic for sure. I still chuckle every time I think of Melanie Griffith running up to the movie house ticket booth yelling something like “Patch Adams doesn’t need a director’s cut. The original was long enough!” And who can forget her shouting “Family is just a dirty word for censorship!” I so wish Waters would do one more film; although I do adore the books, performances, and art he’s created since Dirty Shame. Oh well. I’m going to watch some Martin Arnold films when I get home tonight.

    Hope you’re having a kick-ass day.


  5. _Black_Acrylic

    The Scottish artist Douglas Gordon made 24 Hour Psycho back in 93, I wonder if that informed Martin Arnold’s film. Not that it’s a competition but the MA version is my favourite by far. And I love his Passsage À L’Acte, he makes it sound like a Thomas Brinkmann tune.

  6. Kyler

    Hi Dennis, finishing my Louis Malle retrospective here at home. Mostly wowed by everything. If it makes you feel any better, Murmurs of the Heart, which I loved seeing last night – wasn’t expecting such a comedy! – but the trailer showed a rating of 18 + or whatever you call it, so no one under 18 was allowed to see it. I guess all good filmmakers get this kind of obstruction, so try not to feel so bad. It’s a compliment in disguise! Tonight I’m going to give Zazie dans le Metro another try…the one film I had a little trouble with, but maybe it was my mood or something. Hoping to like it better tonight. Doing a reading of my book soon in NYC. I’ll invite you, but I’m sure you won’t be able to make it, unless you happen to be here…early May, I think. (!!)

  7. Misanthrope

    Big D! Well, speaking of posts…I really like this one. This is another example of my “art is the extraordinary perception of the ordinary.” This is what artists do. Different perspectives, different ways of looking at things and the world. Me likey.

    Scott Walker’s death is sad. I know how many of my friends love him. Me, I’m not really familiar with his work. I did listen to some things last night and liked them.

    I just finished reading Kyler’s novel, which I really liked, and now I’m on to Sypha’s. This should be fun. After that, I’ll finally read Mark’s.

  8. Corey Heiferman

    Never heard of Arnold. “Passage a l’acte” was a pure joy. Looks like it was made yesterday rather than 25 years ago. He was really onto something. I couldn’t glean how he did the sound from the interview. It sounds like he just kept whatever bits of soundtrack happened to be attached to the frames he was looping?

    Wow so sorry to hear you’re getting censored on both ends, pre and post production. Best of luck with that. I pity people who work as censors. Seems like a terrible combination of circumstances and life choices to end up in that job.

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