Paul Clipson (UK, 1965), english independent filmmaker naturalized american. His career begins in 2004, now has more than sixty works shot (always in experimental field), including about ten video installations and only one feature film: ‘Hypnosis Display’.
Cinepaxy: We would like to start with a general question about the way your work is being felt. Your films seem to represent an idea of present extremely melancholic, as if landscapes and metropolis were hiding below reality layer, an escape from reality sort of foisted by its own. So, how do you reflect on the present? And why live this relation through Cinema?
Paul Clipson: I think there are many impositions. One on all is history of cinema itself but also personal taste, as well as obsessive pursuit of beauty in the image. The research process on these images is weird, it works on time. When I reflect on the word “melancholy” I think it is present relative to an emotional register. My films do not come out from an idea. What you feel is the response to an emotional impulse: a light, an object, a space, a landscape. Now, I’m actually attracted to landscapes and probably what drives me to film is being able to feel the space to understand it, its perspective on environment, being able to capture the essence through film, through camera.
CP: So there is a strong link with the surroundings and indeed most of your works are shot on urban background. Then streets, semaphores and lampposts acquire a primary role. We can say camera focus on them, or rather, on the vibe they give off.
PC: I’m very fascinated by urban landscape. I’ve worked many times close to limitations such as buildings. In those cases, I’d rather more not to focus on physical subjects, indeed I appreciate a lot Antonioni’s work as well as that of other artists who analyze space and its entity. It’s important to be aware of objects since space is composed by many factors: society, institutions, medias, environment itself. The city has a great importance in my movies, I live in a city and shooting in the absence of people make people more present. I am very interested to architecture (Giorgio De Chirico influenced a lot myself) maybe that’s why I’m so attracted by the city. I feel also very close to Chris Marker, his idea of film as journey, film-diary, I’m very fascinated by this intimacy with camera. In a certain way camera is director’s eye and director is camera’s eye: it’s a wonderful means of analyzing space.
CP: Analyzing space in order to perceive it, underline all the emotions connected to it.
PC: Experiencing space involves a certain predisposition, there’s a complex impact and describing the place where you leave in leads to a critic question. Filming allows to reappropriate of space, simple gestures are enough: a walk (I think about Guy Debord, his idea of free space). If you don’t walk normally through a city, this won’t ever be normal. Narrative Cinema lives off production’s logics and this subverts everything around it since a shot of a city, in a narrative film, is functional to the storytelling but the way you live the city is different: actually, a film that lives the space where it’s immersed in is ‘Zabriskie Point’, another one can be Christopher MacLaine’s ‘The end’.
CP: And how does that make possible, how do you realise the abstract?
PC: I start with the principle of images, I try to recognize myself in what I do and I care a lot about this, that’s why I shoot everyday: I’ll shoot tonight, tomorrow and again the day after. While I’m doing that, I have some ideas in mind but I try not to start from them to allow the unforeseen to interpose and let images communicate. It is necessary to start from a blank page. I’m not interested in subjects, screenplays, I try to get the natural response and let the subconscious work. I never think about a meaning, this is very important to me, whatever it is I don’t wish to give one, I’d rather to stimulate a purely subjective reaction.
CP: About the implementation of this process, perhaps it’s not proper to speak of representation of reality, rather than projection of the same with a distorted perception, intensified and often schizophrenic. Where is this act coming from?
PC: Good question. I always felt obliged to work on camera’s mechanic, sometimes I feel like I’m doing a sort of documentary on it. I’m very fascinated by the latter, it encourages me to experience on the means, analyze it and discover its limits, that’s where my camera’s choices come from. The effects’ intensity is due to my fondness for macro photography whereby I can shoot tiny little details like eye surface or an insect, that’s how I started to find out camera’s properties; in this way it establishes every conduct. A plot can be totally abstract in experimental field, it’s not a commercial film storytelling; I’ve always thought camera could help study the mind, so I started to get means consciousness. You know, when you focus on the eye by way of macro photography distances are canceled, infinite comes true. Earlier I’ve talked about surface, in many of my films I wanted to shot the surface, of the sun as well as the ocean, so to summon emotions giving an honest reaction. There is never a precise meaning inherent to the scene. I like a lot the idea of performance during the work, my movies are this, a set of mistakes and randomness, this means the acceptance of the act. That’s the notion of camera’s metabolism how Brakhage has tought: images come from thought but at the same time they precede it.
CP: Cinema as a go-between for living the reality.
PC: Yes, exactly.
Made of air (2014)
CP: Regarding macro photography, what spurs you to apply such technique on insects?
PC: I’m interested in many things. Through this technique I can feel the whole dimension and my proximity with the subject. On one side it directs the gaze but on the other it returns strong dynamism, which is what I look for; insects are very dynamic and thanks to this means I can focus on details very difficult to notice. Georges Franju, one of the directors I appreciate the most, he is able to represent well the dynamism of emotions: aesthetically fascinating movies that at the same time strike fear. His is a very sensitive approach, and mine tries to be too. I film insects because they are in a sense invisible. When we go to the park we kill thousands of them without even knowing, we look at the city but not to the insect, that’s why they interest me.
CP: We can say you had to undergo influences from other settings apart from the experimental one.
PC: I take inspiration from a certain kind of Cinema but I reinterpret it with a different style. I think it’s possible from an author to take something from narrative Cinema without transforming his movie at an expressive level. Godard, for example, loves very much ‘Scarface’: this movie has inspired him a lot.
CP: It seems to transpire a sort of ascendancy with the image of the woman, often seen in your works, for example ‘Union’ and ‘Love after love’. In such cases it’s prominent a keen emotional fervency.
PC: In those cases the subject is my stepdaughter, Anya: I never film people I don’t know. I decided to shoot ‘Union’ without people, only figures, inspired by Eadweard Muybridge’s work on moving images. Then I studied the figures in a landscape, a greenwood. The feeling of love is perceivable as you say but it is not enforced, is there because of reality. Concerning ‘Another void’ and ‘Other states’ I also wanted to shoot the heart of San Francisco at two a.m. and I considered necessary to work with friends, with people I get to know quite well. Capturing common places such as brasseries, banks and luxury stores I intended to catch city lights, explore it and create a final paste-up to form a new one.
CP: Colors and light hold a significant role, almost a primary role, in your movies. So, how do you suggest the sensory perception process of the movie through them?
PC: The only reason I make movies is to live for the stimulants of everything around me. An infinite series of impulses act in the environment, so that sometimes is the camera itself to pick the subject. I love to work on colors because is something honest and pleasing, in particular the red one: when you see it in the background you think of a sort of pervasive depth. When I let the movie itself speak the language of colors I feel like I’m a painter who’s working on a white canvas and lets his hand just flow and flow.
Light year (2014)