Le dauphin
Excerpt from an interview with Stephan Sachs

by Mike Hoolboom
The Independent Eye Vol. 11 No. 2/3 | Spring 1990 | Toronto

MH: These films are all a year apart, they mark a very regular production. The next film is Le Dauphin.

SS: It’s in two parts. It starts very slowly, beginning with a wink, the creation of the image, with the deep sound of the cello, and then a small orange spot that grows. It’s a film in itself. When the image is nearly white you see a bit of a palm tree and a bad zoom backwards, and then you know where you are – a standing palm tree in orange with an aura of light around it which changes to blue before moving, intercut later with images of the sea. Water and wind move towards the spectator in a dramatic circular movement, a small hurricane which grows louder as it draws closer. Then it breaks into a movement like flying through green leaves, penetrating a green tunnel, interrupted occasionally by fish appearing silently. Then we return to the images of the wave very large on the screen, but it’s cut just before breaking, a little like the motion in Fa(h)r (weit), where you stop breathing when there’s images coming. It returns to a long, silent passage of sea and jungle, this forward looking movement which gives way to flowers not mixed in with the jungle any more but solo, one species and then another. In this artificial jungle setting they’re reminiscent of Rousseau’s pictures, with long stamens flowing from the ovaries, they look quite wet, quite obscene. Over these pictures sounds a piece of Bach played by Karajan, very slow and sentimental, much too sentimental. This is the end of the first section.

Then you have the tropical environment but taken in another way, there’s no more moving through space, it’s very flat, they’re really images, they’re slowed down, worked on the printer, they’re quite still, like wallpaper. In the second part you have drums – because we’re in a tropical rain forest and there you have drums, in a very repetitious way. (laughs) In the final part of the film we see the sea again in the moonlight, with very heavy music. It’s Bartok though you can’t tell. And then there is a palm tree, you see this three times in alternation in a triple ending, and then that’s not the end, you have a very decorative fireworks with certain dramatics in it. Usually with fireworks you have Baroque music. But this pathetic music makes the fireworks pathetic as well, and that must be the end. The film begins to smile about itself, it can’t stop. Satie has a very nice piece like that.

MH: What does Dauphin mean?

SS: In French it has two meanings – the dolphin and the successor to the throne. There is a dolphin in the film, but only for 24 frames, between the first and the second parts, at this border.

MH: Le Dauphin seems at least in part to be about the relationship of humans and nature, an uncommon and exotic nature. The relationship between camera and Other is ecstatic in the first movement. It’s a male movement of penetration which is interrupted by fish and flowers. At the end it feels spent, having had its way with nature. It’s like you’ve had an orgasm and they’re you’re limp at the end.

SS: This picture of the flower brings to a point what the jungle reflects in the preceding sequence. But it’s brought too much to a point, it’s so much sown that it’s not erotic, you laugh about it. If you want, the summit is over, it doesn’t go on, especially because I don’t show one, but several. I show one flower after another, you begin to count and this isn’t an erotic feeling.

MH: There’s a certain reversal of shape because the movement I the jungle is like an arrow, but when photographing the flower the camera withdraws, so it mimes a dramatic curve.

SS: Yes. And what you asked before about the surrounding… I’ve never been to the tropics, but I have images in my mind about it which I like. It’s not nature itself, but the image of nature. This longing for the exotic was expressed in colonialism, and again today in our travel pictures. They show a western view of the south, with these strange ideas about an open sexuality. I also have a longing for this exoticism, but on the other hand I have to laugh. Most of the tropical pictures have been taken in Germany’s greenhouses. I created this other world right here.

MH: Why the fish? They’re contained in an aquarium like the plants are contained in a greenhouse. But you don’t show this containment of the plants, With the fish it’s very obvious.

SS: It’s a very close situation with an aquarium, as if you’re in front of a screen. The wild movements of the first part are like diving, but then you meet these fish and it isn’t strange at all, it’s quite normal.

MH: The fish are rest stops, punctuation for the continuous movement of the camera. They are also an image of terror and chaos, these flesh-eating piranhas, but contained now in a small tank, they become beautiful. After hearing the Bach, which is the most pointed connection in all your work between sound and image, the most didactic…

SS: I often use sound and image together to create an atmosphere. But there I break it. I make an atmosphere but it’s too obvious, so it flows into its opposite. In Paramount I use it in the same way. It’s like a re-make; it takes another direction. It was always a question: can I go on after these flowers? It feels closed, it could be the end. I didn’t want the end there because it would have been too easy. In the second part I work out a certain theme. There’s nice pictures as well, but with the drums it gets only to the surface, no deeper. The second part is a variation. It shows where these pictures are coming from: palm trees, blue skies, drums, water by moonlight, these things come together in such a familiar way that they’re flat, there’s nothing more, they really reduce themselves.

MH: There is a tension between the lyric moving camera and the essayistic impulse, it’s a film that contains its own analysis.

SS: Yes, at the beginning the source is always the libido. But I always end up with another view o what I’ve done, and finally the film ends up with both in it. This thinking on the view is never at the beginning.

MH: Is this the split between shooting and editing?

SS: At the beginning the atmosphere of the shooting, its circumstances, is so strong I can’t really feel the image. It takes a long time to get rid of this, then I can bring another view to what seems like images made by somebody else, and then I can work with it. You shoot something with a certain intention or fascination, but when you look at it later this has no importance at all. If there’s no other view then it has no use.