Room to Dream

Patrick Mueller’s films would be best described as meditative. He shoots on Super 8 and 16mm. Sometimes he soups his footage by hand. His processing techniques are far from exact; imperfections are scattered across his frames, but they are richer for it.

Patrick’s latest film is Croquis de mer. It consists of just a single shot; two takes, each a reel in length.

The film’s title translates to: Sketch of the Sea. At first, the film is just that. The subject is a tranquil shore on the French Riviera. A white sail on the horizon, the tide lapping the beach, the chirp of cicadas… But soon, the serenity is broken by the drone of jet engines overhead.

“When you think about the Mediterranean, you often think of it as being peaceful and quiet,” says Patrick. “But in 2015, it was not. A lot of people died crossing it, trying to escape from their war torn homelands.”

“When I walked alongside the Côte d’Azur, I noticed military boats. At first sight, there is nothing like this in my film: you see several boats and even a sailing vessel. But the sound tells you that there is much more.”

Patrick started making films seven years ago, and already has quite a prolific list of credits. As a film enthusiast, he was inspired by classical Hollywood director King Vidor to shoot his own movies:

“When you are a Cinephile and read a lot, you’ll naturally feel a need to express your own thoughts. I watched a documentary about King Vidor who, due to his age, could no longer find work in Hollywood. So instead of complaining, he decided to go back to the core of filmmaking.”

“He took a small camera and just shot a remarkable short film on his own in complete artistic freedom. This story gave me the courage to try shooting my first film.”

In 2013 Patrick made his first Super 8 film, a short called I Went to the Woods Because…, based on quotations by HD Thoreau.

“I took my father’s old Quarz Double Super 8 camera from the attic, put in some fresh Czech Fomapan film stock, and literally ‘went to the woods’. With the script under my arm, I tried to capture moving images that added something to the beautiful text. I wanted to shoot the film as maybe Thoreau would have shot it if he’d had a movie camera: all mechanic; spring-winded. Like Thoreau who wanted to escape the industrialized mass society of the young USA, I wanted a new kind of artistic expression after years of shooting in digital. It was kind of a liberation to me.”

I asked Patrick what first attracted him to Super 8:

“It’s the grain and the poetic, dreamy atmosphere. It leaves you room to dream. You cannot recreate that digitally. Film is also very honest: First, light exposes a film with silver on it, and then, in projection, light goes back through the film to create the image on the screen. There is something very natural about it.”

Patrick filmed Croquis de mer using Logmar’s S-8; the first Super 8 camera to be produced in over thirty years. Patrick told me about his impressions of the camera:

“It is simply the best Super 8 camera ever made. The build quality is amazing and the biggest benefit is that it accepts c-mount lenses. Also, older Super 8 cameras didn’t have a true pressure plate, so the film didn’t have the steadiness and the sharpness of 16mm, DS8 or Regular 8. The Logmar camera is totally different. It pulls the film out of the cassette and uses a true pressure plate. This creates a rock steady and an amazingly sharp picture not seen previously in Super 8.”

Croquis de mer was shot on Vision 50D and processed by Andec. I asked Patrick why he chose to film the piece in Super 8:

“The film is called Sea Sketch. Like a drawing, it is simple and therefore allows the spectator enough space for their own associations and interpretations. Film, especially Super 8 film, is perfect for that. The grain and the small imperfections add something poetic you can’t plan. Like a impressionist painting that depicts an elusive moment.”

His films, Betrachtung der Zeit (Meditation on Time), Vanitas, Vanitatum, et Omnia Vanitas and I ungdomen1, illustrate this point perfectly. These films are hand processed and so there are inconsistencies in the image; scratches, fogging, colour shifts. But they do not come across as errors. Instead, they affect the picture in other ways. The processing artefacts become integral to the soul of the work.

Patrick made Betrachtung der Zeit in memory of those he had lost during the year. The camera’s subject is a wind swept meadow, its grass gone to seed, the land ear-marked for development. A narrator reads the eponymous poem in German:

No longer are they mine,
The years that have already gone.
And also not mine,
The years the future holds.

Thou moment, thou art mine,
And when I care for thee,
I thus care for the one,
Who made eternity.

At the last line, the frame fills with bright yellow – the film is fogged, a side effect of the hand processing – then, when the fogged frames pass, the image is only partially restored: the last several feet are underdeveloped; blackness obscures the edge of the image before enveloping the entire frame. These inconsistencies in the development enforce the sentiment of the verse. The image, like the moment, is lost. Had this conceit been attempted digitally, it would have seemed contrived.

Patrick has another film in the works, but does not like to talk about projects before their release. However, he still makes films with the same intentions as he did when he first started:

“My initial intention of filmmaking hasn’t changed: I want to say something about myself and the world I’m living in.”

His films are available to watch on Vimeo. There will be a screening of his films – some accompanied by live music – at the Zwickau Spring Festival of Literature (Zwickauer Literaturfrühling) on the 22nd April.

  1. Nominated for Best Experimental at The Great Lakes Film Festival 2015