Pasi Väliaho, Stills From a Film that Was Never Made, 2014 // (Too see this video in HD, please click here.)
I came across the photograph this video essay begins with by accident, whilst browsing through the Yad Vashem Digital Collections online. Ever since this unexpected encounter, SS Obersturmführer Gemmeker’s gaze has been perplexing me and, to use a worn metaphor, haunting me – and so has Frau Hassler’s response to his apparent seduction. Was I being a witness to a secret love affair in a concentration camp?
Surely, such stories are not unheard of and I find it difficult to articulate what actually struck me at the moment of realisation. The ordinariness of their gestures, or, as I later found out, the performance of what appears to be a generic and banal film script within an utterly abnormal setting? The almost tangible realness of the SS officer’s and his secretary’s feelings, whilst at the same time the lovers seem nothing but mere puppets of history?
This is not the kind of image we ordinarily associate with the Holocaust. The victims of the persecution are missing, the reality of the genocide perhaps being, from the viewpoint of the perpetrators, a matter of duty and of the everyday one wants to forget momentarily during an evening of celebration. The photograph seems to want to cancel the world it comes from, emanating from a psychic space where one can act out one’s dreams and desires, no matter how absurd and horrific the circumstances.
So I was questioning the photograph’s ways of showing and telling, and how we might see the scene today. Here, a detail caught my attention, a fragment raised some questions, leading me to search for other images, to zoom in onto other fragments, which then triggered some new questions. Whilst creating this montage, a thread of a story started to unfold about how we turn ourselves into beings capable of the actions we make: a story about the power of fiction.
But I wasn’t able to put these flights of thought into words. Instead, I’ve ‘written with video’, a medium which allows for a different expression of imagination. Editing has let me guide the duration of perception as well as the direction of associations; the intertitles have let me direct the interpretation of images while zooming has permitted me to explore the frame’s limits. Perhaps, in this sense, moving images indeed do constitute pre-conceptual material of thought, as film theorists have asserted for a long time. There is a rhythm to thinking, just as there is a rhythm to images.
Pasi Väliaho is Senior Lecturer in Film and Screen Studies at the Department of Media and Communications at Goldsmiths, University of London. He is the author of Mapping the Moving Image: Gesture, Thought and Cinema circa 1900 (Amsterdam University Press, 2010) and Biopolitical Screens: Image, Power, and the Neoliberal Brain (MIT Press, 2014).