Meeting Zones of Injured Bodies
by Patrick Bühler | Interview with Michal Kosakowski | Splatting Image Magazine Nr. 85, March 2011
Experimental filmmaker, documentarist and media artist Michal Kosakowski’s collaborators include controversial photographer Oliviero Toscani as well as the director of the Venice Film Festival, Marco Müller. As preparation for the following interview I’ve selected from Kosakowski’s impressive body of work pieces where he deals with the murder fantasies that quite normal people – most of them, possibly, without any notable police record – from Austria, Germany and Poland, indulge in. Kosakowski gave their fantasies cinematic and dramaturgical support. Over several years (1996–2007) this work developed into his kaleidoscopic project ‘Fortynine’, a collection of short films, which has now mutated into the recent documentary fiction ‘Zero Killed’ (2011), for which self-reflexive interviews with the ‘murderers’ were added. My intention was to talk with him about the meeting zones in which bodies are penetrated, be it with murder weapons, genitals, or other implements. It is in such zones that the term hardcore regains its original interpretation: this is about the core of libidinal behaviour patterns which, emotionally charged to breaking point, are released in a consistent and forceful manner that could hardly be more trivial. It is my conclusion that the murders in their violent depictions meet the pornography of extremes, complete with stranglings, beatings, ejaculations, vomiting, and painful anal penetration. And yet it all remains within the scope of what can be found in the commercial sex film business and its availability via video rental shops, mail order, and the Internet – it’s just that bit harder than hardcore, that’s all. And it is precisely this banality of violence and sex that is subject to massive taboos (who talks about it?) and ostensible (?) libidinal sub-complexity.
According to a French saying, orgasm is a small death …
Whether small or big, the sperm that doesn’t definitely fertilize an egg cell after an orgasm, for instance, dies off very quickly. And yet it needs to get out, to avoid causing spasms of the soul, so to say, which can become dangerous and eventually lead to complications or provoke lecherous fantasies that can end in perversion or violence.
Sex murder would thus be rigorously symptomatic for our animal origin, wouldn’t it?
Whenever civilizing mechanisms of suppression cease to work faultlessly we quickly reach the point in which we face the animal in us and, in certain blatant cases, allow it to unleash its (survival) instincts. Yet sex murder per se has nothing to do with the animal kingdom. It is self-hatred that forces a man to subject others to sadism when he fails to reach the goals of his own satisfaction, when he feels he is prevented from loving or being loved, or when he is unable to experience genital lust.
Can murder fantasies have any erotic or sensual aspects at all?
Murder fantasies are a lonely affair. Whether they are experienced as sensual or erotic, well, that’s for everyone to decide, I suppose. It’s a fact, however, that people have the gift of imagining what it is they want and what they are afraid of. Certainly each of us has already found himself in a situation in which aggression had mounted to such a degree as to provoke fantasies of murder and mayhem – at least as a mind game. In most cases, however, these fantasies remain hidden; the majority of people feels rather ashamed to share them with others as this could easily lead to unpleasant situations, due to the cultural and civilizing conventions that determine our everyday life. As a rule murder fantasies also have something trite about them; akin to the sex drive: they, too, are the result of being driven. And the more trite or trivial something is, the easier it gets put under a taboo by society. In a sexual act, one shares the erotic and sensual feeling with one’s partners. Murder fantasies, on the other hand, do not lend themselves to sharing with one’s partner, be it only to protect them.
When I take a look at your ‘Fortynine’ project and ‘Zero Killed’, into which it has evolved, it is quite obvious that it lacks sensual and erotic murder fantasies. What is your take on this absence?
The ‘Fortynine’ project grants us insight into people’s inner lives and allows us to experience and share their intimate murder fantasies. To then be able to translate these fantasies into short films, with their creators actually acting out their imagined roles of perpetrators or victims – this has an enormously pleasant, even voyeuristic, element that has fascinated me very much. I didn’t find it mandatory to amplify this by adding the depiction of sexual murder fantasies, especially as the violence genre is already massively dominated by misogynist sexuality and sexually motivated humiliations of all kinds. Besides, almost none of the protagonists referred to the sexual aspects explicitly. Especially for the ‘Zero Killed’ film I found it more important to grant viewers access to murder fantasies in order to demonstrate that such fantasies also exist in the minds of so-called non-criminals. Simultaneously, it was also important to get to know the protagonists of the various short films – all of whom come from highly diverse strata of society and sundry professions – more closely. I interviewed them about their views on subjects such as revenge, torture, war, the death penalty, violence in the media etc., and juxtaposed their replies with their performances in their respective murder fantasies. Both the ‘Fortynine’ video installation and the ‘Zero Killed’ documentary drama that it became thus act as mirrors for the viewers and give them the possibility to immerse themselves in their own universe of murder fantasies, to find and reflect themselves in it. I generally have the impression that the depiction of violence in movies is dealt with in much too casual a manner. Most of the time one is left alone with uncommented acts of violence, and that goes for adults as well. ‘Zero Killed’ stands for the imperative necessity of a tabooless and merciless dealing with both violence and its depiction in and by the media.
Isn’t there a sort of analogy between today’s hardcore sex genre, produced, as it is, in extremis, and murder fantasies? When taken to its logical conclusion, this genre‘s extreme fantasies first propel towards an emotional climax and, in sexual acts, penetrate bodies not unlike murder weapons. Simultaneously, it appears quite trite in its actual execution and leaves behind a feeling of depletion, of emptiness – or even a bad conscience towards the protagonists, i.e. the victims of a brutally sexualized world?
A feeling of emptiness – that’s a good point. This emptiness originates in the moment one is left alone with the act of violence or sex depicted, which has just been consumed. The installation, the mirror cube ‘Fortynine’, is an attempt to counter this inner emptiness with a confrontation of the self, so as to avoid falling into conventional patterns of viewing, in which we go round in circles and allow our senses to be dulled. The protagonists’ willingness to consummate their own murder fantasies via filmic interpretation is rewarded with an act of self-emancipation from the imperatives of TV consumption, without directly reducing, reinforcing, denouncing or even condemning it. As one protagonist said in an interview: ‘A fantasy devised, a fantasy realized, is a fantasy discarded. I’m feeling better now.’ It is the banality of the act of murder that constitutes the appalling element we fear so much, possibly because it’s just what could happen to us, too, at any given moment. The stabbing of a helpless person, the orgiastic throttling of a spouse, the random shooting of visitors at some exhibition … all of these are scenarios whose amateurish-looking execution by the protagonists robs us of the illusion that our neighbours might be quite nice people after all. At the same time we find it difficult to resist the pull of the act of violence depicted – which, incidentally, is certainly comparable to that of a sexual act – or even to distance ourselves from it. The reason for this is that many people are pre-conditioned to react in such a manner to the addictive image material so precisely pre-processed on TV or in films. This vicious circle appears expedient to us. ‘Zero Killed’ takes a decisive step further by attempting to decipher and de-mystify the well-known clichés and patterns of violent imagery through the protagonists’ immediate and direct comments. Thus it compels the protagonists to adopt a self-accusatory, self-defamatory, quasi-expired position and makes them perpetrators, victims, judges and executioners all in one. It seems to me that it is becoming increasingly rare that self-reflexive behaviour is demanded, or even tolerated in a sexualized world. As for the bad conscience towards the protagonists that might affect me, it is put into perspective for me as a filmmaker by their passion to freely interpret their own murder fantasies and stage them with my aid. It goes without saying that I never lose sight of my responsibility for the project as a whole.
Is love the logical and only answer to murder and hardcore pornography, the antidote, so to speak?
No. I believe the most stringent reply would be a serious discourse that would open up spaces through creative thinking processes. Film, as a medium, can act as a pathway through which alternative ideas can infiltrate the prevalent void. The interplay of powers against tabooing could generate suggestions for solutions without excluding minority groups and without allowing censorship to implement arbitrary decisions. Murder and pornography have always existed and will continue to do so – no, I don’t think that’s the problem. It is love for oneself and the responsibility that comes from it that is my only instrument to cope with everyday life, and also the only one that makes sense to me. This is what satisfies me most.