Q&A: SCOTT BARLEY

Werckmeister Harmonies, 2000, Béla Tarr

As a way of introducing you to some amazing people working in the fields of artist moving image, experimental film and alternative cinema, we have concocted a short questionnaire. Today we speak to filmmaker Scott Barley.

1. Who are you and what do you do?

My name is Scott Barley, and I’m a filmmaker. When the right ideas permit, I also paint, write, and make music. Sometimes I combine them all together into one piece of work.

2. What was the first film you remember seeing as a child?

I can’t remember. I don’t really remember the films I saw until I was in my early teens. Hitchcock’s Rebecca was one of the first that I truly remember, I suppose. None of them up to that point really left an impression. My memory is very deep, but extremely narrow. I’m awful at remembering anything unless I’m fully interested and passionate about it.

But the overall essence of childhood, being curious, feeling more, sensing the warm earth beneath your feet, and with eyes wide open, in awe of the blueness of the sky, and considering all the things that are unseen, beyond us; simply being open to the world is cinema to me.

3. What was the last film you watched and what did you think of it?

When I am in the midst of working on something of my own, I can’t watch films by others. I find it counter-productive; a film that is strong (that is to say, more often than not, a film that allows itself to be vulnerable) can sometimes unknowingly interfere with your own ambitions for your own work, so I try to avoid all of that. I think the last films I watched were by my late friend, Phil Solomon, at his remembrance in Colorado. Nobody made films like Phil. Works of art like The Snowman, Rehearsals for Retirement, or Remains to be seen are painfully intimate, so, naturally, they carry the trill of the entire cosmos within them.

4. How did you become interested in working with cinema/moving image?

Before film, I was studying fine art, and I was very influenced by artists like Frank Auerbach, Leon Kossoff, and Anselm Kiefer; how they “sculpted” with the paint and other materials, applying textures in such thick applications that the work gains a sculptural relief. I think now, working with digital video, and using iPhone footage in many layers, I am trying to figure out a method that brings back a sense of texture and tactility that I loved from painting in a sculptural way, where I was painting with my hands with large amounts of oils, ash, spider’s silk, stone, and tree bark…

…To bring back a bit of that pleasure in the messiness of making, and then finally reaching a point where the disorder becomes an order in itself… I’m interested in trying to encourage a process and manifest those things which digital lacks – due to its flatness, and facsimiled qualities.

Along with painting, music and poetry are more fundamental to my work, these days, but my ongoing search, my reason to continue making, has for a long time been to find a film within, where every image is as real, and yet as spectral as the wind; utterly present, but mercurial, immaterial in itself; it can only be seen or felt through its manipulation on that which it passes through.

5. Tell us about a film that has had a profound effect on you?

Although I haven’t seen the film since I was studying fine art, Werckmeister harmóniák by Béla Tarr and Ágnes Hranitzky is perhaps the most profound film experience I can recall.

The final surreal shot of the film: gargantuan, lifeless, the whale in the foggy square; the most majestic creature of the ocean, perhaps of all creatures, rendered pathetic, ridiculous, nothing more than a circus attraction on land, dead… It felt like witnessing God dying. I don’t believe in God, but I believe in things beyond us, and I felt something beyond me in this ending.

I had an out-of-body experience. I surrendered something within me. Something was released, forced out of my chest, and I saw it rise, and I saw my body turn black, charred and withered, like a dead tree. Then I no longer had a body. I was nothing but this vision and these paroxysmal sensations I felt. I was staring at my true self outside of my body. There was this huge white light—mercurial and blindingly bright, and I felt so fragile, so weak… utterly and physically stunned. The force of this light was so physical upon me. I was a shell, a skeleton, a husk shaking uncontrollably in the presence of this unknowable, sublime white fire. I could hear the music as if it was my own song. I shook violently and cried for hours. I find it hard to talk about, because it was so violently powerful. I’ll never watch it again.

6. Favourite books about cinema/moving-image/filmmaking?

It would have to be books that have inspired my own cinema, and/or work that has really resonated with me personally, and in almost all cases, these have not been books strictly about cinema or filmmaking.

Fable, by Robert Pinget
Any poetry by Georg Trakl
Any poetry by Anna Akhmatova
Any poetry by Octavio Paz
Thomas the Obscure, Maurice Blanchot
Sundog, Scott Walker
“The Last Messiah”/On the Tragic, by Peter Wessel Zapffe
Anything by Emil Cioran
Not I, Malone Dies, The Unnamable, by Samuel Beckett
Anything by Georges Bataille
Most books on mythology, mysticism, and cosmology.

7. What would be your dream double-bill, two films you’d love to see together on the big screen?

The idea of a double-bill has always been tedious and frustrating to me; the destruction a film can cause to another, simply by playing immediately before or after it. When it comes to any double-bill, however magnificent both films might be, I think I would rather sit it out, and instead go outside, near some tall cliffs, under the tent of stars, double-billed with the moonlit tide beneath me.

8. Which filmmaker/artist are you most obsessed with, the one whose work you return to again and again?

That’s too difficult. I become incredibly obsessive about art that I admire, but it is often in fits and starts. There is never just one, but many who come in to my mind.

Today, it’s Octavio Paz, yesterday it was Georg Trakl, tomorrow it will be Scott Walker again.

9. What are you currently working on/what projects do you have coming up?

I have just finished the remaster of my first feature, Sleep Has Her House for Blu-Ray release, so I hope to get that out soon. I’ve also been working on a follow-up feature film, The Sea Behind Her Head since October 2017. It’s still a ways away from being ready. There are some other films coming, and a few other projects outside of cinema that I feel quite excited about, but will share more about closer to the time.

Find out more: scottbarleyfilm.com & vimeo.com/scottbarley