Acclaimed avant-garde filmmaker Peter Tscherkassky visits Pittsburgh. 

click to enlarge A whole new Entity: from Peter Tscherkassky's "Outer Space"
  • A whole new Entity: from Peter Tscherkassky's "Outer Space"

The cinema of Peter Tscherkassky suggests a language created with borrowed words. For much of his career, the Austrian-born artist has worked with appropriated footage, taking other people's films into the darkroom and re-exposing and manipulating the frames to make something strikingly new -- a practice that's placed him in the forefront of the international avant-garde.

The stunning visuals for his best-known shorts, "Outer Space" and "Dream Work," in fact, were composed primarily of images taken from a commercial horror film: Sidney J. Furie's The Entity (1982).

Tscherkassky will present those two works along with three other recent shorts, all on 35 mm film, on Tue., March 6, at The Andy Warhol Museum. The show is Pittsburgh's first chance to see both these works by Tscherkassky and the filmmaker himself.

"Perhaps one could say that from the outset I wanted to unravel and dissolve the medium," Tscherkassky, 49, told Anthony Wagner in a 2004 intervew.

In The Entity, Tscherkassky found fertile raw material: the story of a young suburban mom (played by Barbara Hershey) inexplicably assaulted by some invisible demon. In "Outer Space" (1999), Tscherkassky's vision suggests a violent conflict between Hershey's character and the film medium itself. He substitutes black and white for the original's color, while retaining its wide-screen format and adding his own soundtrack. The film's double exposures, blurring, and shifting veils of shadows (all carefully wrought in the darkroom) are wed to sounds like machines malfunctioning, hisses and crackles -- with the filmstrip's own sprocket holes and optical soundtrack sometimes invading the frame.

The reworking both mocks and intensifies the original: In reminding viewers of the artificiality of conventional film narrative, Tscherkassky manages to at once distance us from and more deeply immerse us in the experience.

Meanwhile, 2001's 11-minute "Dream Work" (harking to Freud, dedicated to Man Ray) explores more surreal territory. Tscherkassky posits an interior narrative -- another alternative to the original film's story -- by keying on shadows upon Hershey's sleeping face, negative images, flickers and eerie montage; whispering voices, the clucking flutter of a fast-forwarded audio tape; a thicket of ghostly hands, a hail of giant nails. The effect is nightmarish, and unforgettable.

The March 6 program also includes "Happy-End," an 11-minute reworking of someone else's home-movie footage from the 1960s and '70s.

Meanwhile, with the two-minute "L'Arrivée" -- a re-imagined train arrival from a Garbo film -- "Outer Space" and "Dream Work" comprise Tscherkassky's Cinemascope Trilogy. The trilogy is a notable feat: Tscherkassky trades on the appeal of mainstream cinema's widescreen lushness even while forcing us to consider a parallel pathway for the venerable medium we call "film."

Films of Peter Tscherkassky 8 p.m. Tue., March 6. The Andy Warhol Museum, 117 Sandusky St., North Side. $10. 412-237-8300 or www.warhol.org


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