A film by Peter Leiss
Two passages that caught my reading eye inspired me to begin working on Amerikan Peephole. The first of these appears in Richard Sheppard’s study of Franz Kafka’s novel The Castle which happens to be my favorite Kafka novel:
“The two principal characteristics of… The Castle are the absence of explicit comment by the narrator on the events of the novel and the fact that everything that happens in the novel is accessible to the reader only after it has been filtered through the mind of the main protagonist K.”
These characteristics establish the basic structure of the film. It is a film without narration, while, at the same time, it is a personal film that filters through the selection of interviewees by the filmmaker, those impressions that are allowed to reach the audience.
The second foundational quotation comes from Kafka himself. It is recorded in Gustav Janouch’s book, Conversations with Kafka:
“The form is not the expression of the content, but simply the initial impulse, the gateway and the path, which led to the content. If it functions as it should, then the hidden background opens up as well”.
The classic form of The Castle, together with its content and its thematic obsession with the question of meaning has always been of great inspirational value for me. As Mark Harman puts it in the introduction to his translation of the novel:
“The storyline unfolds like a steamroller that is almost serene. Kafka himself could not always tell where his words would lead him: ‘Where, then, shall I be brought?’ he asks himself in the diaries not long before sitting down to write The Castle. That is a question that we, too, constantly ask ourselves. Kafka holds us in thrall through a startling combination of breathless intensity and ironic - and at times even humorous - detachment”.
My reading, then, in and around Kafka, clarified my perspective on how I wanted to proceed to structure the project. On completion a year later that structure remained. No matter how many times I deviated throughout the editing I’d always end up returning to the original concept.
The thing about Kafka’s humour, noted Charles Neider, “is that his laughter is never loud; it is cloudy and inhibited, ambivalent, for it is never far removed from its object. His is Eastern, a Slavic strain of humour, the humour of the underdog, of the Czech, the Jew, the Russian peasant broken by poverty”.
Amerikan Peephole measures itself against Kafka’s ability to bring into clear perspective the mechanized world and the propensity of man to deny the destructive nature of bureaucratization. Whether or not I have come close to emulating the brilliance of Kafka seems immaterial: the challenge itself seemed important because even if the work merely approaches his clarity it might have the capacity to inspire as his work does.
Kafka was a man well loved and respected amongst his circle; a non-intellectual writer given to image making through words. He was at times prophetic but he was never other than interested in our species and he was a shrewd analyst of neurotic behavior because he was a meticulous observer of himself as Everyman. “Neurosis”, he said, “is a societal as well as a personal phenomenon and society must be held responsible for it”.
Franz Kafka’s pungent irony, as well as his stunning psychological insight into the nightmare of reality, where the irrational excesses of society and the fracturing of interpersonal relationships have resulted in widespread suffering, are abundantly apparent in his assertion that “we lead a blind existence upon a planet spinning into nowhere among millions of stars and planets; we are making a trip together and must arrange it as pleasantly for each other as we can”.
© Peter Leiss 2007 All Rights Reserved
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