projection 26

Perestroika (2009) by Sarah Turner
'The Train, The Cinema' 
Part 2 of a 3 part programme curated by Daniel Fitzpatrick 
18.30pm / 17 Dec 2012  
Irish Film Institute (6 Eustace Street, Temple Bar, Dublin)

Notes on Perestroika 

“A work unlike any other in current British cinema.” – Chris Darke, Sight & Sound.

 Perestroika is a ghost story that exploits technologies of memory in order to explore what we forget and how we remember. Part psycho geography, part dream, imagery is limited to views from the window of the Trans Siberian train shot in 1987-88, and then again in 2007-8. The re-enactment of the journey is a memory work, a re-enactment of the past in the present through the process of filming. But the return journey is haunted by the voices of two dead friends that dominate the soundscape of the ‘archive’ footage. The film culminates at the equally haunting expanse of lake Baikal.

Perestroika is both environmental allegory & an allegory of how our identities are constructed through others. When that relational foundation breaks down – we are driven to madness. The structure is a road movie or a train (of thought) movie, a psychodrama that becomes a psychological nightmare.
The film explores the relationship between time, photography and death. Equally, it explores ideas of what is ‘truth’, ‘fact’, ‘evidence’ and ‘record’, and in doing so, it plays with some of the ‘facts’ of my life. Therefore, it’s a documentary, which is autobiographical, a fiction which is also an essay, but mostly it’s a poem, which is an extended meditation on the nature of affect, or the ability of the image to represent experience.

– Sarah Turner

Sarah talks about the process of making the film here-

Notes on the curated programme 'The Train, The Cinema'-

You can find my notes on the first part of the programme hereIn that first programme James Benning, seemed, through his 2007 film 'RR' (2007) to be closing the circle on the relationship between train and film. Returning us to the Lumieres' film ‘Train Arriving at La Ciotat’ and the point at which this all began, Benning was offering us a farewell to a disappearing medium. The film would be his last to be shot on the 16mm stock which he had relied upon for the majority of his career and with which his work was so closely associated. The film was often described as a 'landscape film', made up entirely of (43) static shots of trains passing a camera. Through the film we are forced to consider the shifts in these landscapes (actual and external, historical an temporal as well as internal and perceptual) that have occurred since the cinema's invention and those initial Lumiere screenings. Written between the parallel lines of Benning's film was the entire history of cinema to date and if the history of this medium (film) was truly coming to an end, and if this history needed a full stop, this could be it.

The British artist and filmmaker Sarah Turner provides us on the other hand with a train film for the digital age. Unlike with Benning's film here we actually get on board the train and for most of this journey we stare out the window at passing landscapes. The train has often served as a "mechanical double" and reflexive device for the cinema, providing a means by which it could marvel at the miracle of its own processes and the perceptual affinities between the two machines, an uncanny combining of motion and stillness, are contained in the experience of staring out a window of a moving train. The sounds of machinery below and the image of passing power lines provide the necessary rhythms of this journey. These rhythms are mechanical, analogue and find an affinity in the spools and sprockets, the click-clacking of film and the gaps between images. In the absence of this, in a world of digital cinema, Turner locates other rhythmic affinities in the clicks and whirs of her digital camera, granting an equally necessary medium specificity to her digital cinema.   

The cinema, as we know, can function equally as both mirror and window, the shifts in these two modes are contained in the moments in which, upon entering a tunnel or station a train's window suddenly becomes replaced with our own reflection. Nowhere are the particularities of these shared affinities treated with more subtlety and grace than in David Lean's Brief Encounter in the scene in which Celia Johnson reconstructs her own fantasies through the language of more clichéd cinematic romances-

Turner's film is deeply reflective, it is first and foremost informed by the loss of friends now absent. But the film shifts from this point to more global and universal considerations, some ascribed and some a side effect of contemplating these shifting and forever changed landscapes. Like Benning's film it can also be described as a 'landscape film', equally however it is a diary film and an essay piece, its observations always grounded in the artist's personal experiences, experiences that become over the course of this journey our own. 

-Daniel Fitzpatrick

(third and final part of The Train, The Cinema programme due in 2013)