Jørgen Leth & Alex Da Corte: The Perfect Monster
“I think everybody is an actor, and everybody is wearing a mask sometimes."
Watch the celebrated Danish poet and film director, Jørgen Leth (b. 1937), and a sparkling star on the art scene, Alex Da Corte (b. 1980), talk about the latter’s shot-for-shot remake of – and homage to – Leth’s iconic film ‘The Perfect Human’. Read more …
In Alex Da Corte’s film ‘Slow Graffiti’ (2017), the 52 shots of Jørgen Leth’s short film ‘The Perfect Human’ (1967) are recreated one by one “in terms of where the camera was and what the type of zoom was, and the framing.” Essentially, the actions are similar but with a difference: Instead of featuring a man and a woman, it has Da Corte portraying Boris Karloff both as Frankenstein’s monster and as himself. Da Corte was fascinated by puppeteers and people, who take on transitional bodies, and was consequently intrigued by what it meant to “live in a life that is split in such a way. To be one and to be another at the same time.” When he read an interview with Karloff saying that he felt that Frankenstein was the best friend he ever had, this puzzled him: “How could you fall in love with this thing that seems too distant from you but is actually also within yourself? And you can never experience that thing at the same time? A puppeteer operating Oscar the Grouch can never see Oscar the Grouch, ‘cause he’s just beneath it.” Da Corte finds the separation between those different realities to be very contemporary: “I think everybody is an actor, and everybody is wearing a mask sometimes. We live in a world where it’s super fast and super speedy, and graffiti happens fast and in the night where no one sees it. But I think slow graffiti is a push to say: Let the mask fall off. Let the wrinkle show and embrace that kind of tenderness that comes with acknowledging wrinkles. There’s a certain kind of humility in that.”
“I wanted to use the simplicity of the commercial and aesthetic precision in a new fiction, a new fictional idea, ” says Jørgen Leth about making ‘The Perfect Human’. He had no interest in social-minded, political films – which were all the rage at the time – but rather in the appealing universe found in commercials: “To build a world in an empty room, in a glittering light or a white light. Beautiful people, wearing beautiful clothes, engaged in simple actions. That was my vision.” Using the white room of the film as a sort of laboratory, allowed him to study humans, not psychologically but rather on the surface and its sensuality and tactility: “I find it more interesting to look at the surface of things and see where that brings me. How the surface is expressed.” Leth agreed to be part of Da Corte’s project because he admired his level of originality and because they shared the same interest: “To make a work of art on top of another.” Leth’s voice is in certain passages of the film, echoing the passages originally spoken by actor Claus Nissen, which corresponds to Leth’s own fondness of referring to others. Just as Da Corte borrows from others – in this case, Leth’s film – so does Leth: “I love to borrow and take from others, and recirculate things.” Moreover, Leth prefers to see things in one single perspective and to leave out all that is superfluous. What attracts him to making the type of films he makes is that you don’t have to work from the illusion that there’s always something hidden: “I only care about what’s in front of the camera.”
“When I’m working I let coincidence guide me, and I realised I’m in this kind of path or circle where I have to connect these things – they have to collide. And I thought, it makes sense to pay homage to this person that I care about quite a bit, and this work that I care about so much.” Watching ‘The Perfect Human’ for the first time in 1999, while studying at The School of Visual Arts (New York), Da Corte didn’t quite understand it but was attracted to the dreamlike quality its lack of a backdrop invoked: “It feels like reality, but it also feels like cartoons. It feels like a dream.” He saw the characters as being extremely flat, like stickers, collage or print. In contrast to Leth’s white and blown-out film, ‘Slow Graffiti’ has slime and wrinkles and “respectfully pushes against his film and says: Maybe all of that beauty fetish isn’t necessary and you can learn to love a monster.”
Jørgen Leth (b. 1937) is a Danish poet, writer and film director, who is considered among the leading figures in experimental documentary filmmaking. He has made more than 40 films, among which he is particularly noted for ‘The Perfect Human’ (1968) (‘Det perfekte menneske’), ‘Motion Picture’ (1970), ‘A Sunday in Hell’ (1977) (‘En forårsdag I helvede’), ‘66 Scenes from America’ (1981) (‘66 scener fra Amerika’), ‘The Five Obstructions’ (2003) (‘De fem benspænd’) (which was made in collaboration with the acclaimed Danish film director Lars von Trier) and ‘Erotic Man’ (2010) (‘Det erotiske menneske’). His many books include ‘Sport Poems’ (1967), the poetry collection ‘It Passes Me’ (1975) (‘Det går forbi mig’), the memoir ‘The Imperfect Man. Scenes from My Life’ (2005) (‘Det uperfekte menneske – selvbiografi’) and ‘The Gifts of Chance – Essays About Filmmaking’ (‘Tilfældets gaver – Tekster om at lave film’). Leth is the recipient of prestigious awards such as the 1995 Drachmann Award for his literary oeuvre, the 1996 and the 2000 Danish Film Academy’s Robert Award and the 2009 Honorary Bodil Award for lifetime achievement (for his films).
Alex da Corte (b. 1980) is an American artist born in New Jersey, who lived in Venezuela until he was eight and now lives and works in Philadelphia. He has had solo shows and presentations at e.g. the Institute of Contemporary Art in Philadelphia, Carl Kostyal in Stockholm, David Risley Gallery in Copenhagen, White Cube in London, MASS MoCA in Massachusetts and the Institute of Contemporary Art in Portland, Maine. Moreover, his work has been shown at Louisiana Museum of Modern Art in Humlebæk, Denmark, MoMA PS1, Whitney Museum of American Art and the Museum of Modern Art in New York. In 2012, Da Corte was named a Pew Fellow in the Arts by the Pew Center for Arts & Heritage, Philadelphia. For more see: http://alexdacorte.com/
Jørgen Leth and Alex Da Corte were interviewed by Kasper Bech Dyg in Copenhagen, Denmark in August 2017.
Camera: Jakob Solbakken
Produced and edited by: Kasper Bech Dyg
Cover photo: Still from ‘Slow Grafitti’ (2017) by Alex Da Corte
Copyright: Louisiana Channel, Louisiana Museum of Modern Art, 2018
Supported by Nordea-fonden