A MASQUE OF MADNESS

by Norbert PFAFFENBICHLER
2013 / b&w / sound / 1S / 80' 00

For film scholar Noël Burch, film history begins with a “Frankenstein-like dream” of control: the film medium dismembers animated life into dead fragments to then assemble and reanimate them under its own power. Norbert Pfaffenbichler has put together his own found-footage monster from all of the accessible film appearances of the actor Boris Karloff, who rose to fame in 1931 as Frankenstein’s monster. As already in the previous partner work, A Messenger from the Shadows (starring Lon Chaney), Pfaffenbichler’s re-montage of a film life radiates both analytical interest and a nimble pleasure of association. A Masque of Madness follows the path through five motion picture decades of Karloff—as supporting actor in silent films, star in talking pictures, and television host. The film gathers, in the necessary glory, the ever same rituals of horror film and gestures of exotic danger. But it also exposes the tracks that history has left behind in them—especially the two world wars, and the technological advances.

Time after time, Karloff has to work through the Frankenstein-dream of synthetic life—as Promethean creator and enslaved creature in one and the same person. In this way, Pfaffenbichler reports on not only the career of an outstanding actor, who never managed to escape his most iconic creation, but also his own lab studies on film syntax: The alchemy of continuity editing creates a mirrored gallery of Karloffs stalking one another, which is just as counter logical as it is visually plausible. After the work on silent movie star Chaney, in this film, also the play with the original sound is pleasurably shaping. Rhythmic cuts allow diverse film machines to make music with one another, and Frankenstein’s monster dance to the instrumental accompaniment of a host of Karloffs. “They won’t come to learn, only to stare,” complains the mad scientist after another horrific experiment. Also in this entry in his Notes on Film, Pfaffenbichler decidedly leaves behind the distinction between staring and learning.
(Joachim Schätz)

1 PRINT IN DISTRIBUTION


distribution format Digital file on server (PAL)
screen 4/3 (single screen)
speed 25 fps
sound sound
rental fee 200,00 €