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Peter Weiss: The Black Wells

Enligt lag

In According to Law from 1957 Weiss gives a more penetrating documentation of claustrofobia, alienation and absence of sexual life in a youth prison in the fifties, in Uppsala, a small town in Sweden. From unexpected angles he is catching the naked external and gloomy interior. These sequences...

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Studie I

Weiss first film in a series of five shows a man waking up on a very grey morning. The routines of the morning are executed in monotonous movements. The aesthetics of the film are suggestive of French lyrical film of the twenties and thirties.

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Studie II/Hallucinationer

Study II/Hallucinations is constructed around twelve separate dimensions of time and space in succession. Opposites such as obsession and tiredness, eroticism and aversion call up inner images of human bodies at rest and in motion before the darkness of sleep.

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Studie III

A man moves through the world, his alter ego on his back. He encounter surroundings and places that remind him of the prejudices he is trying to shed. His goal is to liberate himself, within art, from conventional and cliched expression and language.

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Studie IV/Frigörelse

Study IV/Liberation was conceived as a new version of Study III. It further develops the theme of the liberation of the self, this time in more stylized and dreamlike forms with surrealistic overtones.

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Studie V/Växelspel

Study V/Interplay is constructed along the same principles as Study IV/Hallucinations. Sequences of photographic abstractions have been balanced against more realistic sections. Study V depicts a surrealistically charged encounter between two lovers, a young woman and a man.

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Ansikten i skugga

Faces in Shadow is Peter Weiss first film outside of home and studio studies. It is a kind of lyrical ‘cinema verite’ describing his familiar surroundings, his neighborhood in the old town of Stockholm. Together with Christer Strömholm, the photographer and soundtechnician who...

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Tagning narkomaner

In a single room, Peter Weiss has captured the environment of two drug addicts, without ever showing their faces in the film.

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Tagning Öyvind Fahlström

Uncompleted portrait of an artist. Fragmentary images from Öyvind Fahlström’s studio, with paintings, collages and Fahlström’s friendship gathered around a table. “I had planned to add music, but I never got around to it.” Interview with Peter Weiss...

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Anna Casparsson

A documentary film about the 99 year old artist Anna Casparsson. She is interviewed by Peter Weiss in her home in Saltsjöbaden. “I shot “Anna Casparsson” together with Staffan Lamm. I had wanted to complete the film, but somehow I did not get around to it and then she died shortly...

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Peter Weiss: The Black Wells


Peter Weiss (1916–1982) was born in Potsdam, Germany, and died in Stockholm, Sweden. His life was conditioned by travels and transitions, voluntary as well as involuntary.

He lived in Bremen, Berlin, Chislehurst and Prague. Right before World War II his family – on his father’s side of Jewish origin – had to go into exile in Sweden. He became a Swedish citizen and tried to integrate into Swedish cultural life. Peter Weiss was trained at the Art Academy in Prague, and he was also a promising writer (inspired by Herman Hesse among others), but neither his visual art, nor his prose in Swedish (a language which he soon mastered) led to success or even acknowledgment in the new country. Instead, it was the avantgarde film culture that became his privileged scene.

In the 1950s he joined The Film Workshop (now known as Filmform) in Stockholm, by then an early avantgarde co-op, consisting of young artists and poets. Few of them had any background in filmmaking, but they were all heavily influenced by continental and American avantgarde film. Together with the other artists in the co-op he made a series of experimental shorts that had some success at the festival circuit internationally. At the same time he was established as a maker of commissioned films (both poetic documentaries and information films). Weiss visited Paris and the screenings of experimental films at the Cinémathèque Française. His critical essays and introductions to these films were published in newspapers and magazines, later collected in the volume Avantgardefilm 1956 (published by Wahlström & Widstrand). These circumstances made him for some years to the leading profile within Swedish experimental film culture. This trajectory culminated – and in a way met an end – with his Surrealist feature film Hägringen (Mirage) in 1959. The film was supported by among others Jonas Mekas, and was an ambitious attempt to create a new filmic language, characterized by the dreamlike logics of Surrealist art in combination with a clear documentary style. The critical reception was harsh, and even though Peter Weiss tried some more filmmaking in the beginning of the 1960s, he soon turned into being an internationally acknowledged novelist and playwright in the German language instead. Most notably with political plays as Marat/Sade (1963) and the Investigation (1965), as well as with the remarkable novel The Aesthetics of Resistance, published in German in three volumes (1975–1981) and soon translated into several languages. He left filmmaking during this period, but there are reminiscences of his love for avantgarde film integrated in the philosophical and political discussions that form the core of this great last novel.

As a filmmaker Peter Weiss was heavily influenced by the avantgarde of the 1920s, but he succeeded in creating a style of his own through his eye for the everyday realities that surrounded him, something which actually makes his filmic dreams even more convincing, though they were produced with low budgets. His visions remain vital contributions to the Swedish – and European – experimental film culture.

– Lars Gustaf Andersson