PODCAST — Episode 15, recorded
Stefan Ramírez Pérez and BFMAF Programmer Christina Demetriou introducing the film ‘LIQUID STRANGER’.→
Stefan Ramírez Pérez (1988, Germany) is a filmmaker based in Cologne. He studied at the Academy of Media Arts Cologne from 2010-17. His experimental films and video works have been screened at several festivals and art institutions, including International Film Festival Rotterdam, International Short Film Festival Oberhausen, European Media Art Festival (Osnabrück), Visions du Réel Nyon (Switzerland) and Julia Stoschek Collection Düsseldorf, among others. His recent group and solo shows include Artothek Cologne, Kunstmuseum Bonn, Museum Folkwang (Germany), Museum of Contemporary Art Belgrade and Alternative Space LOOP (Seoul). He received the Chargesheimer Scholarship by the City of Cologne in 2018, and the Graduation Award by the Academy of Media Arts Cologne in 2017. In 2018 he was a participant at the residency program Schloss Ringenberg (NRW Scholarship).
Originally from the UK, Christina Demetriou relocated to Berlin in 2015 where—with the aim of organising intimate film events dedicated to dialogue—she founded the screening series LUNAR. While taking place predominantly in Berlin, she has also curated LUNAR screenings in Paris’ legendary Beverley cinema and the Arctic Moving-Image & Film Festival in Norway. Christina also works as the Festival Coordinator for the arthouse sales agent Coproduction Office, and has been a participant in the Oberhausen Seminar (2017) and The Film Society of Lincoln Center Industry Academy (2019).
Hi, my name is Christina. I am part of the programming team at Berwick Film & Media Arts Festival. I’m here on this podcast with Stefan Ramírez Pérez, the filmmaker presenting LIQUID STRANGER which is having its world premiere in the Berwick New Cinema competition. Stefan, thank you so much for joining us for this conversation about your film. Maybe you could start by telling us a bit about what motivated this film work.
Hi, thanks so much for having me. So the film came about because I had a commission for a Feminist Film and Literature Festival at the Center of Literature in Minster, and they asked me to do a short film that somehow has feminist themes. But they really gave me kind of a Carte blanche on what I want to do. And I mean, my films usually have queer feminist themes, but for this kind of festival especially, I wanted to make it, maybe, a bit more explicit in a way. And I was interested in feminist film theory, especially Laura Mulvey’s Visual Pleasure and Narrative Cinema. And that was kind of the starting point for the work. And at the same time, I was at an artist residency in Germany at The Castle, where we had this huge exhibition space. And so I always kind of developed my work with what I have available around me. So that also became from a practical standpoint, a starting point for cinematic space.
I know also that your work has shown in film festivals, but also a lot of the time, art spaces, institutions and museums. I’m curious about how you feel about these different spaces and how maybe viewers interact with the work differently in them.
I mean this film, for example, when I showed it originally, it was within an installation. So I also constructed it as a loop, but I always try to make it work for both the cinema screen and for exhibition spaces. I mean, I think it always comes with pros and cons that you kind of can be in both worlds, but then also you often feel like you’re a bit in between. Which is, yeah, with experimental film, I think, is often kind of in these, sort of, in between spaces, between art space and cinema space. But that also makes it interesting for me.
So you mentioned that feminist film theory is quite an important influence for the work. And I’m curious also, there’s clearly cinematic influences. Maybe you could talk a bit about all these and how these different references come together.
So yeah, I already mentioned Laura Mulvey and Visual Pleasure and Narrative Cinema. I mean, in this text, I think it’s kind of very standard texts for feminist film theory. She talks about the camera gaze, also narrative constructions of classic Hollywood cinema that reinforce patriarchal structures. She takes Hitchcock’s psychological thrillers often as examples. And from that as a starting point, I looked at Brian De Palma’s erotic thrillers of the 1980s, which take Hitchcock’s movies sort of as a blueprint narrative that makes out of the themes of the Hitchcock movies explicit, and kind of almost campy, like violence and sexual content. From there on out, I kind of discovered a lot of films in the genre of the erotic thriller that have similar plot structures, and very often, also, have queer villains. For example, in Brian De Palma’s Dressed To Kill, it is revealed in the end that the killer was transgender. And Brian De Palma’s own explanation of his understanding of a transgender identity, he describes it as a Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde situation. So, something completely problematic.
But, still, you watch it. I kind of love it, I love the movies. So I was kind of drawn also into this ambiguous nature of these movies.
It’s interesting that idea of a kind of remake, I mean, there’s quite a big queer tradition of fan fiction, right? Which is taking something mainstream or recognisable and then reappropriating it.
Definitely. It’s kind of like reclaiming the characters, because I mean, in my movie, there’s not really any characters that are really psychologically motivated characters. It’s kind of, yeah, reclaiming the narrative structures and the visual codes associated with it.
I’m interested in the trope of the body double, which is something that comes up in the film. I guess it’s something that’s been used for a long time in cinema or film in general, both for erotic scenes, of course it’s used in porn, but also nude or sex scenes in general cinema, but also for violence or bodily harm, a body double was used. And I can see that you’re sort of referring to both in LIQUID STRANGER, but also a psychoanalytical aspect of doubleness. But maybe you could talk a bit about what your interest in the body double is.
Well, on a personal level, as you know, I have a twin brother, so he’s also a filmmaker. So, being a twin I think definitely has something to do with it, my interest in doubles and doppelgangers. And as you said, film doubles are often used as the kind of practical solution, if you can’t use actors for stunts or nudity. And, on the one hand, I’m interested in this practical illusion that filmmaking creates, and breaking those up and making those visible. I don’t know if you’ve seen… actually, in the film, in LIQUID STRANGER, I’m also taking the place of the three characters at one point.
Oh really? I didn’t notice.
It’s very short shots, and like, wigs on. Yeah, but then on the other hand, in the narrative context, this double, the doppelgangers are often associated with kind of a horror or something eerie that’s, you know, it looks like you, but it’s different. Or in these erotic thrillers, also often kind of a plot of assuming somebody else’s identity, it also often becomes a question of identity. And yeah, so these aspects are something that fascinates me.
So you said something about breaking down or breaking apart some of the practical, or the things that hold up the construction of films. It’s so striking the way that all these very familiar cinematic codes or genre codes become really quite strange and unnatural for the viewer. So it’s like costume and the set, but also like language and narrative, of course too. I’m wondering, how do you think about artificiality or authenticity in your work?
For example, if you take these Brian De Palma movies that I’m referencing, they are already quite stylised and campy, but they are always still within the narrative of psychologically motivated characters and so on. So I’m always interested in taking that away and leaving just the surface of props, material, gestures, and so on, and see what they, inherently, sort of the connotations or the meanings that we associate with them, and hide through them through actors in a way. Kind of bring out the camp meaning of these props, and also these seductive surfaces, and these things that are pleasurable to look at.
Yeah, definitely. It sort of gives you the feeling that there is always this camp potential in everything.
Yeah. That’s a conflict I’m interested in, this kind of contradictions and ambivalences.
I’d like to ask you about the set, because we’ve been talking about a lot of the codes in the film, like the costumes and gestures are sort of very exaggerated and also constructed, whereas the set is really minimal and quite unconstructed. Maybe you could talk about why you chose the setting for the story.
Well, as I mentioned before, when I was shooting the film I was at this artist residency where we had this huge exhibition space, and one of the main references that I am working with is this kind of infamous chase scene in Dressed To Kill in the art museum, where the main character, played by Angie Dickinson is pursued by a stranger. It’s in between something that’s threatening or suspenseful, and in between something flirtatious and seductive. So, the setting was one of the main references. I wanted to construct the sort of miniature White Cube museum architecture that’s still, very obviously, made with wall plaster and badly painted. So, to break up this illusion as well and within the space, I wanted to incorporate other spaces of spectatorship like a peep show, or this window front, that’s almost like a theatrical stage of where you can peek into your neighbour’s window and make this a unified space that’s still kind of very blank. There’s no pictures in the museum, it’s just white walls. It’s always kind of more suggested than a real representation. And have the set as a miniature with multiple actions of viewing, and being observed and looking at each other, looking at what can be staged.
One of the things I found also really interesting is that as a viewer, you never really have a safe feeling, like you’re never in this kind of comfortable position that the viewer usually has, which is, I guess, quite controlling because the image is sort of always slipping through your grasp. Is it something that you think about when you’re creating the piece?
I mean, I definitely thought about rhythms of stillness and movement. I wanted it for these almost choreographic chase scenes. Also, the montage, I wanted to have something that’s immersive in a way, kind of seductive and pulling you in. But then, always also counteracted with the script. So I was always looking for these sort of contradictions or contrasts.
Maybe you could say something about the soundtrack to the film… is quite a key element, I think.
Well, the soundtrack was created by Nikolai Szymanski, a musician who also goes by AIRCHINA. And I played him some examples of what I was imagining, and one of the main references we took was the soundtrack for Body Double. The editing and composition wasn’t a parallel process. So I would send him little scenes, or sometimes just really one shot or something. And he worked on different music for themes. So it was created in tandem, it wasn’t like I gave him the finished film and he put a score on it. It was kind of a dialogue. And yeah, we wanted to have this very overpowering score, sometimes you can’t even really hear the dialogue under it, and have this synchy score, that’s reminiscent of maybe eighties cinema, but at the same time, it’s contemporary. Yeah. Kind of have this as also a driving force that propels the plot that’s non-existent in a way. Yeah, propels the action.
I’m really interested, also, maybe if you have anything to say about the last shot of the film, because it’s so striking to me, it’s this point of view shot from the pole dancer.
Yeah. This also comes back, partly, to Laura Mulvey because in the text she also talks about the narrative device of the show girl. And she’s talking about Marlene Dietrich, for example, and Stan Beck, where the view in the cinema, and the gaze of the male protagonist are united in looking at the woman as a sort of spectacle. And so that was the motivation for this scene to flip it around. And I have this GoPro action cam mounted on the pole dancer, which then also breaks up the illusion of the whole space. You see the ceiling, you see the lamps and the construction of the whole set, and also the reflection of the dance and the camera, and the pole. So, to create this really, very literal, reversal and looking back with this very dizzying, spectacle viewing.
Yeah. I like that shot a lot. It was a great ending, I think. And what about your ongoing practice? Are you working on something?
Well, I’m working with my twin brother, Benjamin. We’re working on a feature film together. So at the moment we are in development and writing a script. And yeah, it’s kind of a documentary, fiction hybrid in collaboration with the Canadian writer, Lynn Crosbie. So it’s going to be kind of a long-term project.
That sounds great. And is it also continuing some of the themes about spectatorship?
It’s continuing some things around camp, I would say, around surface and things like that.
Great. Sounds very good. Well, thank you so much, Stefan, for joining for this really interesting conversation, and for sharing your film with the festival, which is a pleasure to present it.
Thank you. Thank you so much.