Creator's Statement

As the persona who appears in the middle of my film attests, I found Oswald Iten’s vivid account of seeing his first horror movie rather imposing—perhaps too precise and too complete to lend itself to easy adaptation. Certainly, horror wouldn’t be my genre of choice. And, like the speaking persona in my film, I’m not so keen on remembering my childhood. But the confrontation with unwelcome modes and moments allowed for an excavation of experiences and memories I might be unwilling to undertake in less cryptic fashion.

My approach was to perform acts of ambivalent homage—the cruelty of Michael Haneke is paired in my film with the capaciousness of Chris Marker—as a form of memory work embedded in a domestic present. “Angstlust” riffs on the start of Marker’s Sans Soleil (1983) and on a moment from the close of Sans Soleil that reprises the incipit. Marker’s La Jetée (1962) is present in the use of stills, of course, but also in the whispered voiceover. My use of stills doesn’t attempt the constant and beautiful reframings found in La Jetée, because the frame grabs deployed in my piece are derived from the contemptuously restrained camerawork of Haneke’s Caché (2005); the music is from Funny Games (1997): the persona is surely right to refer to this section as a “bad film.” Deliberately not overthinking it, I tried to allow a dream logic of condensation, doubling and displacement to guide the shaping of the whole, which was whittled down from a much longer adaptation of Oswald’s rich account. My narrator is embedded in his own memories. Two male children find their counterparts in the two daughters. A woman appears briefly on the image track perhaps to manifest the female speaker from the voiceover. And so on. 

In any case, the suicide notoriously portrayed in Caché allowed me to commemorate in this piece the suicide of my own father, which occurred in my teens. I imagine the hard juxtapositions of different tones and formats in my film as an analogue for the interruption to the quotidian that is sudden parental death. Someday I too must die and my daughters be bereaved. Meanwhile though, they and I live, loving and annoying each other. The daughters are themselves already at an age when viewing becomes an appetite and screen memories are being formed. As I write, they are rewatching on the iPad (for, what, the fifteenth time?) a classic film they refer to—malapropistically, accurately—as “The Wizard of Was.” I can’t resist responding with the groan-inducing dad-joke, “ah, but what about the Wizard of Will-Be? When are we off to see him?”

May such ruminations not seem too out of place in a scholarly context like the present one. What interests me is how a constraining exercise—such as the set of parameters and procedures that constituted the brief for this iteration of Once Upon a Screen—can generate an excess of both form and content. Keathley and Mittell (2019) have influentially written and taught that “formal parameters lead to content discoveries”; but such parameters can also direct us beyond the text, or invite a mutual contamination of “personal” concerns and scholarly analysis. Writing of Lars Von Trier and Jørgen Leth’s The Five Obstructions (2003), a key text for any discussion of issues like these, Hector Rodriguez asks “whether generative or constraint-based artworks must always comprise tightly closed formal systems, or whether […] formal constraints can also open up the work to the life that is lived while making it” (2008: 39). “Angstlust” answers no and yes, respectively, to these questions. The attempt to satisfy the constraints of Once Upon a Screen forced a breach in my domestic present that allowed salutary if painful glimpses of past and future, and has perhaps something to tell us about the impure character of scholarly activity.

I am grateful to Ariel Avissar and Evelyn Kreutzer, and to Oswald Iten, for challenging me with a brief and with a text I found so tough to elaborate. Additional thanks to Denis Flannery, Marie Hallager Andersen, and to all the members of iVERN, especially Maria Hofmann, for feedback during the making of this film.


Works cited

Keathley, Christian and Jason Mittell. 2019. ‘Scholarship in Sound & Image: A Pedagogical Essay,’ in Christian Keathley, Jason Mittell, and Catherine Grant, The Videographic Essay: Practice and Pedagogy.

Rodriguez, Hector. 2008. ‘Constraint, Cruelty and Conversation,’ in Mette Hjort (ed.), Dekalog 1: On The Five Obstructions. London: Wallflower.



Alan O’Leary is Associate Professor of Film and Media in Digital Contexts at Aarhus University and Visiting Researcher at University of Leeds. He has published video essays in [in]Transition and 16:9and his manifesto for a parametric videographic criticism appeared in NECSUS in Spring 2021. His most recent book is a study of the 1966 anti-colonial film classic The Battle of Algiers (Mimesis 2019).

Memory text

One morning, I was probably about eleven years old, it just so happened that class was unexpectedly cancelled for some insignificant reason I don’t remember. Anyway, we only discovered that when we were already on the school grounds, so one of my classmates asked some of us boys round to his place to watch a horror film from his older brother’s VHS shelf. 

I remember having had mixed feelings at first because I knew that I wasn’t supposed to watch those kinds of movies. But then, I also found the idea alluring, especially since I was invited although I wasn’t always popular with this group of boys. 

Soon, I was intrigued by a story I was too young to fully understand. What did captivate me was certainly the atmosphere of mystery and secret behavior, the tension beneath the idyllic surface. Of course, the feeling that I was doing something forbidden and that there was still a slight chance of being found out might have added to it. 

I also learned – if only in hindsight – how well-presented suspense situations even work when you’re watching a dubbed VHS tape on a small tv screen surrounded by a bunch of noisy kids with sunlight pushing through the partially closed blinds. So although I wasn’t keen on those viewing conditions – even back then, my idea of collective film experience was connected to cinema – I was certainly hooked on suspense. 

Needless to say, what I saw in this movie shaped my expectations of what a horror film was and should be for many years. I specifically credit one spine-chilling revelation (which from today’s perspective wasn’t too convincing or even fresh) with starting my hunger for thriller narratives. Maybe that’s also why I still associate the word “horror” more with “thriller” than “gore”. 

Speaking of naïve assumptions: since the story alluded to biblical myths that were completely new to me, I accidentally took the antagonist’s name – which I hadn’t heard before – for a biblical reference as well. Isn’t it funny how as a child even random pop culture tropes can seemingly change the way you look at the world or feel like you’ve been let in on an exciting secret? 

When I was recently rewatching the film, I was surprised how precisely I memorized the architectural layout of a terrifying set piece which I had mixed up with a more famous scene from a later movie. I definitely didn’t remember what had happened in the scene and who got hurt, but the railing that was involved looked exactly like I remembered it. 

Come to think of it, it was also the first movie I saw that didn’t end happily. At least not for the designated protagonist. It did for another character who became the “hero” of the sequel which we started to watch afterwards. Unfortunately, after a few minutes into the first sequence, we heard someone approaching from the stairwell. Whether our host’s mom came back early from work or whether just we forgot about the time, I cannot tell. 

Yet, our host’s reaction made it immediately clear that we somehow shouldn’t have been in that place and that he certainly didn’t ask his parents about inviting us. So there was a payoff to that creeping fear of being found out. And like in a good screenplay, it came from a different direction than I expected. It wasn’t my mom that would be the problem. Well, not yet at least. 

As our friend restored the living-room to its former state, we attempted to escape over the balcony. Suddenly, I found myself climbing over a railing. Thankfully, the apartment was only on the raised ground floor so that even an extremely clumsy kid like me managed to jump off the ledge unharmed. Looking back now, I’m not even sure it would have been that much of a problem if our friend’s mom had seen us. 

Strangely, I remember her as a dark silhouette in a door frame. However, this was impossible to see from the balcony. In fact, I did not see her at all. Funnily enough, I remember that rather ridiculous escape like a tightly edited Hitchcock sequence (no Herrmann music, though). In my mind’s eye, I see a close up of the opening door revealing a shoe entering, cut to me looking back from the balcony and so on. 

But my story didn’t just end there. Although I was home right on time for lunch and I decided to keep the whole affair a secret, I almost instantly told my mom that I had just watched my first horror film at a friend’s place without any adults present. Despite not being able to conceal my excitement and pride – especially because I knew my brother envied me – I couldn’t shake the feeling of having done something awful. 

There were no consequences like revoked tv privilege or anything like that. But my mother who wouldn’t watch anything gory was not concerned about my well-being which was punishment enough, most likely for both of us. Part of that uncomfortable feeling only subsided when my dad asked some specific questions about some preposterous details of the plot and I realized that he had also seen the film in question. 

It dawned on me that talking about it in this matter-of-fact way was not only possible, it also freed the experience from its uncomfortable secrecy and forbidden aura. After all, looking at it from a distance, it was not some conspiratorial monstrosity but a not too realistic mainstream movie. On the one hand, this normalization was a relief, on the other hand, it disappointingly reduced an overwhelming emotional experience to something really mundane. 

But not completely. There was something more complex about it. Although I’ve never had nightmares because of horror scenes, there was one thing that kept haunting me every now and then: a rather graphic decapitation was seared into my memory. I certainly knew it was not real. There was not even blood which I don’t think I had noticed back then, to be fair. But it felt like I’d experienced it in slow-motion. 

As I’ve recently looked at that scene again, it turned out to be actually filmed in slow-motion. Overall, it’s drawn out so long that you could close your eyes and still see it once you’ve opened them again. Now, part of me never wanted to see something like this again, yet at the same time I was somehow drawn to that kind of thrill. It took me some time to discover that this tension between being attracted to and repulsed by the same thing is part of experiencing suspense. In German, there is even a word for it: “Angstlust” which combines the words “fear” or “anxiety” and “pleasure”.


Author’s reflection on the video

Initially, I was reluctant to watch the video that was made from my cluttered text I had later come to feel ambivalent about. What if someone had adapted it in a straightforward way? So that Alan O’Leary’s multi-layered approach has been a relief. As a fan of Italian cinema, I also love the Italian title and whispery voice-over narration which make me see the American film I was writing about in a whole new context. Besides compressing the main statement of the text into a more palatable form, O’Leary also put himself on the line by implicating his own family (history) in the video. The video seems to be as much about his own “relationship to cinema.” At the same time, the reliability of all the narrators and personal revelations remains ambiguous – the essayist refers to his own audiovisual presence as a “persona” and the scripted opening monologue spoken by his real-life partner challenges much of what that persona says later on. 

Choosing to work with a film called “Caché” seems only appropriate in that context. I was still surprised by it because I never think of Haneke as a director of horror films. But since Caché – unlike many of Haneke’s other works – is a film that I could not appreciate either, I was amused by the premise of “making a bad film” out of it in an act of “revenge.” Overall, O’Leary’s reluctance to engage with my text, the horror genre or his own childhood seems to be mirrored by everyone involved: his partner’s voice informs us that she was “annoyed” and “hardly listened,” whereas the children are reluctant to participate in any staged scenes. With its overall tone fluctuating between sincerity and irony, “Angstlust” may not be as emotionally accessible, but ironically, it affects me in a way I associate with certain Haneke films. What lingers on in my mind are the freeze-frames of a sweaty Daniel Auteuil in bed contemplating graphic violence, torn between “Angst” and “Lust,” leaving me with a more complicated feeling of unease than the slick occult thriller the text was based on could ever have elicited.



Oswald Iten is a Swiss film scholar and video essayist with a practical background in hand-drawn animation. Currently, he works at the Lucerne University of Applied Arts and Sciences as teacher and a PhD researcher as part of Johannes Binotto’s project “Video Essay: Futures of Audiovisual Research and Teaching”. He is particularly interested in the relationship between sound and image, as well as colors and editing. He also works part-time in a cinema.