The Glasshouse filmmaker Danielle de Picciotto on the destructive power of fear
courtesy Steve Forker Alexander Hacke and Danielle de Picciotto at the Berlin screening of The Glasshouse
We recently spoke with de Picciotto and Hacke about the film and its exploration of the fear that de Picciotto feels is pervading the world:
Westword: What was the date of your last night in New York City in 1987, and can you discuss the "bizarre and shocking" events that transpired that night?
Danielle de Picciotto:I can't really tell the story because otherwise I would be giving away the punchline of the movie. I had been living in New York studying for five years. I left because I couldn't stand being scared all the time anymore. New York in the '80s was extremely dangerous, and I had teachers being shot and being mugged and raped. It was a constant, non-stop situation of violence.
At one point I was like, "I can't take this anymore." My mother was living in Germany, and I had been to Berlin. And Berlin was basically like New York except there was no crime at all. I decided to try that out and get a break for a while. So that's what the movie is about. My last night was kind of symbolic. All the violence peaked in a completely strange goodbye dinner. I don't know the exact date, to be honest, but I do know it was in October.
Of all the significant things that have happened in your life since then, why did you feel you wanted to revisit that night in film now, some 25 years later? Did it have anything to do with how you've seen how society has developed since the September 11, 2001, terrorist attacks in the USA?
DD: Yeah. Fear is something I grew up with. My father was in the Army, so we were moving around the U.S. until I was twelve. When I first moved to Europe, in Germany there was no fear at all, and in Berlin I was never scared. But in the last couple of years, somehow, I think the rate of fear has risen again everywhere. I find that worrying.
I find that fear is something which is...I don't know. There's a saying that says, "If you're scared, you're doing something wrong." Which goes a bit further than just walking down the wrong street. People all over are scared of terrorism, they're scared of losing their jobs, they're scared of what the economy is going to do. We tour all the time, and we can really say we encounter it everywhere. I think it's time we all think about what we're scared of, how can we change something to stop being scared, because being scared is very destructive. That's kind of what the whole movie is about.
You worked with Paul Browse of Clock DVA for this project. How did you meet him and come to work with him? What do you feel he brings to the project?
DD: I met him in Berlin in the '90s. He came over attracted by Berlin's creative scene, and he became a pretty prominent figure in the Berlin electronic and techno scene. He worked together with a very good friend of mine, Johnny Klimek, and they did a couple of albums together. I did a track with him years ago for a compilation of a friend based on tarot cards. We did a song together, and I never forgot that experience, because I loved the sounds he came up with. He's a real sound-lover. He loves unusual, weird sounds. I thought I would always really like to do something else with him.
When I was speaking to Alex about whom to invite -- because we were inviting different musicians in different places -- Alex was, of course, interested because of the sound experimentation. So we asked him to participate in the European shows that we're doing.
Prior to the showing of the film, you have an art opening in Denver as well. What sorts of work is that exhibit at the Hinterland Gallery showcasing?
DD:This time I am showing a new body of work that I've just finished, Invisible. I thought that would be an interesting subject for a drawing. In a way, it also has a theme I've been kind of contemplating for a long time, about what is invisible and what isn't. Not necessarily to the eye. I think that a lot of things that influence us in our lives are actually invisible; you know, if we're being manipulated, or the emotions that make us do certain things or a thought. Basically the drawings are about that. The invisible things. The things that we're surrounded with or have within ourselves.
It's a really fun subject, and it's a theme I think I'm going to be working with longer. Because when working on it, more things come to you, so it's a theme without any real borders, and once you start going into it, it becomes more and more interesting.
Maybe there's a resonance there with Ralph Ellison's novel The Invisible Man.
DD: Yeah, exactly.
How was the film received when you debuted it in Berlin?
DD: I think that most people in the audience didn't expect the ending to be as shocking. It was sold out, and everybody was pretty quiet at the end. I mean, they clapped, but they were all pretty pensive. It is a shocking story, but I don't think they expected that. I think they expected more of a fun dinner-party story, and it is in parts. But it has this strange turn.
Alexander Hacke: The format is obviously pretty new and uncommon because it is a silent movie with a live reading and live performed music. So it gets you, because it's not like you can hide in the darkness of the cinema, but you have someone who is sitting right in front of you who tells you a story to your face. The music is obviously a little more intense when it's performed live than if it's just coming from the movie itself.
DD: It's an experimental movie, so it has a lot of symbolism.
AH: It doesn't have a straightforward narrative. It's a combination of the story that Danielle tells, the pictures that you see and the sounds you'll hear.
DD: It gets compared a little bit to David Lynch and to Luis Buñuel.
Are you familiar with Laurie Anderson's work?
AH: Well, we do work with language as well; her work is based on language. But there's a more obvious surrealist, psychedelic bent to what we do, and it's a lot scarier than what Laurie Anderson usually comes up with.