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Sarah Pucill
The direction of Pucill's work is dramatically altered by the events of her third film, Backcomb (1995).

In this, the formal composition of the first films provides the starting point for a very different kind of development, one in which their formal values and our expectations as viewers are violently disrupted. The kitchen setting hosts an un-nameable object which moves irresistibly through the others, knocking glasses over, spilling liquid, and destroying the composition. The object is introduced by the movement of the camera, which for the first time creates an active viewpoint. The principle of movement cast upon the still image is drawn into the object itself; and our pleasure in the precision of the image is mixed with revulsion as this bizarre object of hair pursues its own autonomous movement. This is fulfilled with deadpan humour and logic as it moves intimately through the table setting, working backwards, and removes all other objects from us as it leaves.

In several respects Backcomb brings out the surreal qualities of Pucill's films: the striking but distanced quality of the visual image, the startling sound, the strange juxtapositions; as well as the visceral and ambivalent responses these provoke in the viewer. In formal terms, there is a link to Surrealism in the use of collage and montage techniques in editing, which involve rupture, disorientation and re-composition. But her approach to editing also defines her work in contrast to other film-makers. Pucill refers to her construction of film space with the aim of "being situated" - of creating a space where subjective presence is expressed in relation to the environment. This means "using a certain continuity editing;" but for her purposes using it "to the point where it falls apart."

The surreal elements of Backcomb depend partly on the film running backwards - which gives the impression of the hair's inexorable forward movement - and on the framing, through the use of the macro lens, which brings the objects so close to our view as to deny us control over their movement through perspective. The film's surreal quality depends most significantly, however, on 'the juxtaposition of two different realities' which is so much a feature of Surrealist image-making, and on the distance and deadpan humour these discordant opposites often entail. This distancing is echoed in the formally contained quality of the images and their vividness; and in the beauty of the images and yet their visceral associations. It is also present in the sense of a reflective, solitary consciousness that is behind the framing of the work, which is a key factor in Pucill's working method. In Backcomb, the "I"/"eye" behind the camera is strangely other - is estranged from us as viewers - though we also enjoy its intimacy. This allows her construction of the image to reflect the complexity of the subjective position: the fluctuations of consciousness between self and other, and between irrationality and formal composition: "I expect experimental work to be exploratory ...[so it's] not just what a camera can do - it can go anywhere - but ... to go deeper ... go in."

It is valuable, therefore, to see where Pucill's work and that of Surrealism diverges. This is in the evocation of her position as creator of these forms and juxtapositions. In contrast to the anarchic desire of the Surrealists to access the power of the unconscious as their main objective, she goes on from this to formulate her own self-image, and a particular experience of the world conveyed through specific subject matter.

Still from Backcomb by Sarah Pucill, 1995
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