The experimental short films of Matthias Müller occupy the space between iconoclasm and affection — primal yet poetic, his stream-of-consciousness montages draw heavily upon Hollywood clips and found footage to exploit the cinema of the past while at the same time suggesting radical new meanings and possibilities for the medium’s future. The Bielsfeld, Germany-based Müller originally studied to become an art teacher, shooting his first Super-8 short subjects during the mid-1970s and subsequently founding the Alte Kinder collective; the projects which bookend the “Memory Works” retrospective, 1990’s “Home Stories” and the 1999 video series “Phoenix Tapes,” reveal him to be a disciple of Hitchcock, although in his typical fashion both films are as much a critique of the master as a celebration. “Home Stories” comprises footage from 17 different Hollywood films, some directed by Hitchcock and some not, hypnotically assembled to lampoon the recurring narrative patterns and damsel-in-distress stereotyping endemic throughout postwar melodramas; meanwhile, “Phoenix Tapes” — a six-volume collaboration with Christoph Girardet commissioned in honor of Hitchcock’s centenary — manipulates footage from 39 films (including “Psycho” and “North by Northwest”) to explore the psychological extremes and sexual obsessiveness of the director’s oeuvre, boasting a bleak comic edge reminiscent of Hitchcock himself. Many of Müller’s other films capture lives and cultures in transition — 1997’s “Pensao Globo,” perhaps his finest work to date, orchestrates an unsettling cacophony of multiple-exposure images, lap dissolves and overlapping voices to evoke the fragmented memories of a man slowly dying of AIDS, while the following year’s “Vacancy” incorporates amateur travel footage (as well as quotes from Samuel Beckett and Italo Calvino) to slyly eulogize Brasilia, the onetime “ultimate utopia of the 20th century” which now exists as little more than a postmodern ghost town.
What sets Müller apart from most other experimental filmmakers is that his work impacts emotionally as much as intellectually — juxtaposing the conventions and repressions of Hollywood’s past with his own memories and passions, he articulates the cinema’s collective unconsciousness with uncommon eloquence and power.