The net is the new frontier of contemporary cinema, and it is through data communication and the digitalisation of information where the future, or rather the present, of the seventh art lives. From the launch of Youtube in 2005 everything has changed (lets hope forever), in the ways and of fruition and creation of images in movement. Bennet Pinpinella is a genial artist: born in 1977, he studied film at the Accademia dell’Immagine in L’Aquila and works steadily in film and TV, and is also the assistant of Vittorio Storaro. Bennet is an eccentric experimenter in images in motion, his cinema, fully visible on his website, is pure glory for the eyes and the spirit. In perfect balance between the analogical paradigm and the digital one, he’s a perfect example of the potential available on the net for the expression of one’s own creative talent. More than making presumptions or critical interpretations for their own sake, I wanted to converse with him to investigate and account for a crystalline talent that is not so well known. A word of caution. The objects of the interview are films by Bennet Pimpinella: it is necessary therefore that the reader watches them, and it is for this reason that, next to the titles I have cited, you can find the links which take you to a good quality audiovisual streaming of them. The main objective of this interview is in fact to offer readers the eccentric and scratched visions of Bennet Pimpinella.
Alessio Galbiati: Partiamo da Romborama (http://vimeo.com/6419834), the video clip that you created for the electronic duo The Bloody Beetroots. What struck me was the technique used, the craft-like method of work used in your films. I would like to know what kind of instruments you built for yourself to get to that result. In other words what is your method of work, starting with Romborama? Bennet Pimpinella:Romborama is the synthesis of ten years of study. All of my previous works were called Studien, they were exercises in style that came from my experience at the Accademia dell’immagine in L’Aquila, a film school that was almost solely concentrated on cinema and that I chose over the DAMS because from the first year it gives you hands on experience. From the first year we were told to create a short film and, when confronted with 30 colleagues, I realised that I had an ironic attitude, an eccentric attitude. Everyone had made love stories, horror films, dialogue upon dialogue, things that are quite predictable in my opinion; I on the other hand animated objects, and I immediately found one of my fixations that I still have many years later and that always finds its way into my work: toilets, bathrooms. I always wanted to make objects move, like for example in Strange pots (http://vimeo.com/6230594), which was one of my first videos with toilets, I began to do stop-motion… I did it in a crazy, unconscious and spontaneous way. At the time I knew nothing, I had never seen anything; I studied the auteurs later, towards the third and fourth year of my studies. My colleagues and friends would watch my work and tell me that that stuff was very similar to experimental cinema of the 1910’s… in L’Aquila I did not have a computer and obviously did not use the internet.
Then I began to study, and I discovered auteurs such as Oskar Fischinger and Hans Richter. The shocking thing for me was when I moved to Rome and I had internet for the first time: I discovered auteurs that made incredible things one hundred years ago with very little means. For me it was a revelation, a stimulus to begin to really experiment.
My first phase was completely dedicated to stop motion: I made anything move. Padre Pio statues, and a lot of things like that; everything had a trashy aesthetic. Then I discovered amateur films in Super8, I fell in love with flea markets and I began to wander into any open-air bazaar to buy Super8, film and cameras. Here in Rome there are gypsies, some time ago there were more than there are today, who recuperate anything from the rubbish and many times I have found, through them, bags full of film, with all the classic amateur films of a family on them; people throw away entire archives of images of their own family without the bat of an eyelid. In other words I bought these films and I took them home to do my experiments. I didn’t even watch these films, I immediately began to work on them without knowing what they contained precisely, I instinctively chose a piece of three-minute film and began to scratch it. After two months of scratching I would run the film through my homemade telecinema.
Obviously everything at the time was limited, in the sense that every film had one technique, compared to Romborama that contains many techniques on one frame. In one frame of Romborama there’s colour, a scratch and four or five elements of elettraset, that are chromolithographic stencils used by planners in the 70’s and 80’s for plans and architectural projects.
I used a different technique on every film, techniques that merge together in Romborama, which is the sum of my very personal journey. It was so difficult to work on Super8 that when I found myself dealing with 35mm on Romborama I could clearly imagine the result that would be projected, something impossible with the microscopic format of Super8, and this opened up narratives that were practically impossible in the abstract logic of the smaller format.
Alessio Galbiati:With Super8 you were forced into an abstract logic because of the smaller size of the film. Bennet Pimpinella: Over time my eyes have gotten used to understanding the images on Super8 film, but an untrained eye struggles to try and guess what will happen in on the projection of that little piece of imprinted film. With Super8 I followed the outline of figures, sometimes I followed an arm that in the end I would discover would be a shadow. Alessio Galbiati: Though for example in Sarajevo some other city (http://vimeo.com/5783555), a work that I thoroughly enjoyed (in the Rapporto Confidenziale film collection – http://vimeo.com/channels/cineteca), you created a first block of images composed of scratches on Super8 that follow the composition of the image in a more “narrative” way than other works of yours. Can you tell me the story of this work, which appears to be the most complex of the work you have done so far? Bennet Pimpinella:I was invited to a University in Sarajevo, that I cannot recall, to a workshop dedicated to art (photography, painting, video and architecture) where I was asked to talk about Sarajevo as I saw it with my own eyes. In contrast to other work, with Sarajevo I did something on a 360° scale. I began in Italy with my Super8 projector, I took my tools, my light table and I closed myself in my hotel and I immediately knew what I had to do. I went around the city with a photographer friend of mine (Alessandro Chiodo) and I stopped people with the excuse of wanting to take their picture: at that point I would position the camera with a tripod in axis with the person who was still in front of the camera. I would steal these few little static moments and through portraits in video I told my version of the city; this because I believe that a silent face can tell of a land much more than images that want an effect. For Sarajevo I had recuperated home movies of a Yugoslavian holiday in 1972 of an Italian family. In this case I watched the film attentively; this because of tight time issues with my stay there, so I needed to know what to scratch and could not allow myself any errors.
Alessio Galbiati: In this work you also go back to a narrative: you make characters out of a home movie in Sarajevo in the year 2000. You yourself, wearing a red suit, that draws back to the dress of a woman in the home movies, walking in the contemporary city (always on Super8) that creates a dialogue through alternated editing with Sarajevo of the 70’s in the amateur film.
Bennet Pimpinella:I continued the voyage of that woman in the 70’s in 2008, making an artistic performance – let’s call it that – in the same Piazza as the film, but thirty years later. When I projected it in the University hall, people were crying.
Alessio Galbiati: It’s a complete piece of work.
Bennet Pimpinella: I didn’t want to only use film, but everything. From sound to performance, editing and photography scratches and Super8, and much, much more… with the playful spirit of a craftsman.
Alessio Galbiati: The most banal but inevitable question: why did you chose to use film in the era of digital technology? I ask this question realizing that in your work, digital and analogical tend to converse without any embarrassment, fruit of some kind of analogical orthodoxy…
Bennet Pimpinella: At the Accademia everyone was blown away by the digital elaboration of the image: 3D models and vector graphics; I wanted to take a different path; I wanted to study the origin of cinema, in particular the first decade of the 1900’s. I use digital technology when I need to, I need my film to be digitalised before I can post it on the net, so I make a little telecinema so I can see my work. I do not edit the Super8 films that I transform into digital quality, I mean I don’t do the editing after having digitalised them, I organise them with music but without editing them. Stan Brakhage didn’t even add music…
Alessio Galbiati: Your work exists in digital format. Your concluded work does not remain on film….
Bennet Pimpinella: The finished work is digital, but I always have a film master copy. I have my archive, with locks and all. Working with film changed my life. It took me two months to make Romborama. Two months means that in one night I can do 100 frames and to do so I must have no interference from the outside world. To follow a logic, a sign, I must be c-o-n-c-e-n-t-r-a-t-e-d. I work at night because no one can interrupt me, I work from 3 PM till 6 AM when I do this kind of work on film. I want to keep being a craftsman to be different from other people.
What you can do with a computer in two days, I do in two months and a half and this makes my heart beat, makes me feel different from other people. With After Effects you can do what I do simply by using Chroma. I want to distinguish myself because I do something that very few others do.
When people ask me for advice on photography, I always advise to start with a black and white reflex, to have hands on experience, spend money, wait for the emotion of seeing the pictures. I want to know what came before in order to use digital technology with a more open mind and most of all with greater awareness. When the moment will come I will change, because I cannot continue to scratch film for the rest of my life.
Alessio Galbiati: You fell in love with this technique and with it you are searching for the path to your own individuality.
Bennet Pimpinella: Yes, to find my distinguishable mark. Before I began scratching I tried all animation techniques. I tried pin screens by Alexander Alexeieff (the most famous sequence created by him was for the film Le Procès, directed by Orson Welles in 1962, ndr), I tried animated paintings, rear-lighted glass, stop motion… I wrote my thesis on stop motion! I tried many techniques until I had found my mark, and from there I started to scratch film.
Alessio Galbiati: In these scratches there is the emotion with which you live through your art, your marks are part of your own individuality; for you art seems to really be an identifying instrument, and you even put your body on film. Yourself in your own films.
Bennet Pimpinella: I am in my films because since I found myself doing animation I never had someone who would be my actor; I made all my short films by myself. Nobody stays with you for 10 nights to do something crazy. I use my figure because no one can keep up with me.
Alessio Galbiati: I was expecting this response of course. A real craftsman of the cinema makes everything at home and by himself.
Bennet Pimpinella: Now that I’m having some response I am beginning to find people who will help me, I see people getting passionate about it. I’m an egocentric and I began the project called Double Mask [http://www.myspace.com/thedoublemask] where I wear some striped tights on my head and wander like a crazy man among other people, something to make fun of this series of DJ’s who play with masks on.
Alessio Galbiati: Will you do a series of clips with these two super heroes?
Bennet Pimpinella: Without having planned anything we do performances among people, to play with new cameras that keep on flooding the market. So it has nothing to do with the “scratches”: it’s a game.
Alessio Galbiati: Talk to me about Burning Emina [http://tinyurl.com/ydf6tf7], what is it about?
Bennet Pimpinella: It’s a project that I have yet to finished because there are millions of frames. They had invited me to the Mediterranean Festival in Bari to present Sarajevo, but since I didn’t know what to do I invented this thing to shake the festival up a bit. I drew a cross on my chest with a pen and walked around, with a Super8 and some film, asking people to stand bare chested and allow me to draw a cross on them. The first girl said yes, the second one did too, and so did the third, and so on: at the end I collected a lot of material. But on the trip home my camera broke and from there I wanted to finish the work. In Rome I set out again with my housemate, we went downstairs, always bare-chested with crosses on our chests, and we went to the bar and another two girls joined us; in other words, we walked like a kind of procession toward the centre and a lot of women joined us: white, black, young, old… two twins! All with their tits out! The idea was that I made them undress, I put the tape on their body, and then with the pen I drew the outline of a cross. Now on the film, frame by frame, I scratch the cross. The film will end up with all these crosses on breasts. Breasts, crosses…
Alessio Galbiati:…and Rome!
Bennet Pimpinella: (laughs). Now I’d like to propose this work to Justice, whose distinctive symbol is the cross. This is because I am tired of doing work just for myself and my friends on the net. I would like to get to them to have more international recognition. I’m convinced that Burning Emina will be a very strong piece of work, perhaps no one will even notice it in Italy but I’m sure that people elsewhere will enjoy it.
Alessio Galbiati: your cinema, or if you prefer, your films, have been shared on Vimeo and on your website. I find this interesting because up until a few years ago (Youtube began “transmitting” in April of 2005) for a filmmaker it was difficult to expose one’s work when you were still an unknown. What type of feedback have you had? And most of all what kind of feedback are you getting now that your creation is channelled by the notoriety of The Bloody Beetroots?
Bennet Pimpinella: At the beginning of 2009 I fell in love with the music of The Bloody Beetroots, I contacted them and fortunately Bob Rifo (one of the two Bloody Beetroots, ndr) shared his enthusiasm with me and asked me to do something with them. This synergy made me understand that my technique can become commercial in a certain circuit… I mean appetising, interesting and functional to a certain kind of discourse. If I had made Romborama on my own I would have had 2000 visits! I also did two jobs for Bugo, ROMA [http://vimeo.com/6234734] and Oggi è morto Spock [http://vimeo.com/6237948], but these people don’t pay. I accepted nonetheless but I asked to be given full freedom. Sorry if I’m talking about money, but today no one wants to pay you anymore!
Alessio Galbiati: I do these kinds of interviews because I like to get to know the trajectories of people who are trying to make a place for themselves. When we talk about cinema, images in movement, we often have the tendency to abstract this field from the rest of our time, when in fact cinema is in society and in time in the same way that any other aspect of life is. The professions in cinema have the same problems as other professions. The Italian cinema is in crisis?! I would say that Italy is in crisis, not so much the film industry. But considerations aside, I would like to know, bearing in mind the fact that your cinema is visible online, visible so that people can get to know you, can watch, can take notice, how do you relate to the spectator?
Bennet Pimpinella: I am not interested in what people watching my work will think. I have never thought about the audience.
Alessio Galbiati: I ask you because your videos are full of provocations. Is the taste for provocation spontaneous in you, or is it a sort of game, or a deliberate choice in order to capture people’s attention?
Bennet Pimpinella It is absolutely spontaneous in me, I am like that! If I leave the house I am like that: a terrible guy (laughs). I’m an egocentric person. In all my work there’s always something terrible. Even in Romborama… I sat on the toilet. I made a video clip that has been seen by 40000 people and the person who’s cleaning his arse with toilet paper is me! I do it because that’s who I am! Like Hitchcock who always appeared in his films, even I – in my own little way – want to be in my work. I must be!
Alessio Galbiati: When you aren’t doing films, what do you do? I see that you work in film, do you want to talk about it?
Bennet Pimpinella In real life to find money to live I am a camera operator for TV and since I came out of the Accademia I collaborate with Vittorio Storaro. I work for him, I’m camera operator, I load and unload 35mm cans. I’m the classic person who works his way up: obey, don’t answer back, but that’s another story.
Alessio Galbiati: I find it really interesting that you do experimentation. Usually those people who gravitate around the world of film find it difficult to pursue that path…
Bennet Pimpinella: I walk my own very personal path. This summer they asked me to work for a TV series for six months and they would haven given me 1000 Euros per week to do this crap TV series; I refused despite the fact that that money would have been sufficient for a long time. I refused it in order to make Romborama which is a job that I did for free! I prefer to make my own cinema, the canvas, my studio. I left Lanciano, where I was born, because I didn’t want to work in a factory, then what do I do? I come to Rome and work as a labourer in film. Film is a wicked machine because they give you 700 to 800 Euros per week, a figure that everyone is attracted to: but the people always want more money. I worked on the reality show The Mole: if I can work on a reality show that allows me to travel and do interesting things, I’ll do it, but if I have to be a labourer in Rome then I’ll keep scratching my film. This is what makes me feel good.
Alessio Galbiati: Who are the artists who have influenced you, in the past or in the present?
Bennet Pimpinella: I am madly in love with the surreal cinema of Stan Brakhage and Zbigniew Rybczyński, whereas among contemporaries I believe there is only one true genius, Blu. On the Internet I see a lot of interesting stuff, but I can never remember people’s names. One that I can remember is VIDEOGIOCO (loop experiment) by Donato Sansone [http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=lcBSEbhWAfk]. Another author that I love is Jan Svankmajer: when I saw him for the first time in the year 2000 I thought that that kind of stop motion was the kind that I would love to have done.
Alessio Galbiati: He also worked for MTV. Regarding your style, have you found other people who work like you?
Bennet Pimpinella: Fortunately very few, but in the same exact way, I have never found anybody. For Romborama I worked on 15000 frames, as I have already told you, and with a vast gamma of techniques: colour, elettraset, fire, scratches. As of today I have never found anything similar on the internet, and this is also why I keep doing it, because I am one of the few who uses this technique, that I want to become increasingly recognizable. At the beginning I did festivals but no one really paid much attention to me, nobody understood my work, they told me I was an intellectual… I can be anything but intellectual. For example for Studien N°8 [http://vimeo.com/6231820] people saw poetry in it, but for me that was just an experimentation of technique, just as all the others were. Nothing ever happened with the festivals; before having started using the net and before having made this video for The Bloody Beetroots nobody had ever (really) given a shit. Now I get comments from Australia and all over the place. All the feedback is from abroad, just one Italian commented and said my work was terrible!
Alessio Galbiati: Let’s say that with this interview I will raise the Italian level up a notch!
Bennet Pimpinella: When I received your email, where you said you were interested and you told me you liked my work, I was really happy. Those are things that give you relief and make you happy. Because most people see Romborama, which has difficult music as well, for “young drug addicts”, and don’t understand what kind of work has been done. For this reason I created a backstage (of which I am finishing the editing with a friend), so that they can understand how I work, how much time is needed to get those results.
Alessio Galbiati: What new projects are you working on?
Bennet Pimpinella: From the 23rd of January I will shoot the new video for The Bloody Beetroots, it will be the story of an anarchic general and for the first time I will find myself working with actors, with a crew, electrician, grip, hair and make up. It will be my first experience as director. It will be a new challenge, I’m curious to see what will come out of it.
Alessio Galbiati: The world of videclips is complex, it difficult to get paid if imposing a very particular style, obviously before becoming renowned at a certain level. I think that the technique could be ideal for the creation of film titles and credits, that are often anonymous and flat, what do you think?
Bennet Pimpinella: In Italy a person who worked in that direction is Gianluigi Toccafondo, the guy who did the Sambuca advert or the Fandango theme. He works with retro-lit glass and animation on paper, and has done most things in Italy. I have been asked to do these kinds of things, but they don’t realise how long it takes. A while ago a director contacted me as he wanted to do a documentary about Negroamaro (an Italian band) and asked me to do 10 videos, mostly the live session, in scratched Super8, without even realising how long that would take. It would take three years, I would become blind and crazy from exhaustion!
Alessio Galbiati: So the requests are to a digital standard without understanding the nature of your technique which is absolute craftsmanship.
Bennet Pimpinella: If I’m not motivated I won’t work.
Alessio Galbiati: Have you ever projected directly from your film, without passing through digital post-production?
Bennet Pimpinella: I can’t do that because the Super8 that I use are old and ruined. When I do the telecinema these films get ruined, and the moment that I put them in a Super8 projector the perforations on the side of the film tend to break. I cannot allow myself to ruin them like that. The first works I did broke into pieces during the telecinema, and I keep them but they are all broken. At the beginning I used spray and I realised that the film would get distorted and would lose its focus during projection…
Alessio Galbiati: All in all yours is a great job, and what you have achieved up until today is quite impressive. The more you can work with 35mm film the easier it will be, because you have gained experience with an almost impossible method of working.
Bennet Pimpinella I only worked with 35mm in Romborama and the story of that production is incredible: I got the film in an unconventional way that I will not say because I think it’s illegal. I got hold of it and I managed to basically get it printed for free, otherwise I never would have managed. Thanks to friends who work in cinema like me, I managed to use a 35mm camera and we shot in a very short space of time, wearing masks and doing everything quickly. I don’t know if you noticed but we shot in a warehouse of a film studio. Film, print, development, shots, all in 35mm at zero cost! it was all perfect, otherwise I would have spent at least 7000 Euros. I shot and developed a can of film: 11 minutes with 12 cuts! So the shots weren’t planned in advance, I did everything instinctively; for this reason it was incredible to discover that the aesthetic of my video was very close to that of The Bloody Beetroots, so close that their cover is a drawing, of Tannino Liberatore, where there is a masked man sat on a toilet. The same as in my video! If you think that I did the video without agreeing anything with them, I would say that it’s something quite miraculous! When Bob Rifo had told me that they wanted me to make a video I left and did everything without asking them, without them knowing that I had even started. Two months later after the first contact he called me and said it was time to think about the video. I said, “I have already done your video, I’ll finish it and send it to you!”. I shocked them!
Alessio Galbiati: Fantastic! What is your relationship with film? I mean as a spectator. And most of all what was your cinematic culture prior to beginning at the Accademia dell’Immagine in L’Aquila?
Bennet Pimpinella: It took me seven years to become a surveyor, I hated studying, I didn’t like doing anything. When I began the Accademia I had only seen Rambo 3 and Sliding Doors at the cinema. I don’t go to the cinema, I have never gone and still don’t go. Then at the Accademia I got passionate about film, about this medium, this language. When my professor saw my first short film, the one I talked about at the beginning of the interview, which was a love story between a toilet and a bidet, when all my other colleagues had done more common stories. he said, “You are stupid!” This comment and the disoriented reactions of my colleagues made me understand that this was my path.
http://www.bennetpimpinella.com http://www.myspace.com/bennetpimpinella http://www.vimeo.com/bennetpimpinella http://www.myspace.com/bennetpimp http://imdb.com/name/nm2895305 http://www.burningemina.com http://www.mammam.org