The Making of Castle Undine

Elizabeth Leakway in Castle Undine

Castle Undine (2013) came about as an experiment with film editing and narrative. The idea was to see if I could construct a film out of many disparate parts pieced together to make sense as a story, even if that story operates according to a logic all its own. Most cinema is roughly based around a similar approach—the scenes of a film are shot separately and often not in the same order as they are presented in the story. The logic that is followed unifies these materials according to the narrative of the script, which acts as a kind of map. In documentary filmmaking especially, hundred of hours of footage are often condensed into a story only 90 minutes long, almost entirely constructed during editing.

In the case of Castle Undine, I wanted to make a collage film in the truest sense: it would be made up of several different films, cut apart and edited together into one. Without a script, the story would be formed through associations, the narrative intent of those films rewritten and given new meaning within a new context.

Inspired by the films of Joseph Cornell and Bruce Conner, the collage novels of Max Ernst, and surrealist games of chance, the story for Castle Undine was constructed through a process of drawing connections between disconnected images. Like these artists, I wanted to construct my collage out of source material that was never intended to be artistic in the first place. I used science education films from the 1960s, a large collection of home movies filmed on 16mm in the 1940s and 50s, and a dozen or so reels I shot myself for a project that never came to fruition. The montage and story were arranged to toy with the inherent illogic of cinematic montage, and create an altered context for the meaning of the separate films merged together into the new edifice I would call Castle Undine. The original musical score—written and performed by Louis Sherman—forms a consistent atmosphere and fuses the parts into a greater whole.

But narrative is not jettisoned altogether in favor of abstract poetic logic. Instead, a new narrative is imposed, the collage film becomes a place where the malleability of a discrete image’s meaning can be transformed by another narrative. The protagonist of this story, Undine (Elizabeth Leakway), has a problem with creating meaning and context out of her own internal narrative. Her memory has been scrambled, she is in mental conflict between a life that she remembers, and the memories of a life the antagonist of the story insists are hers. To create this antagonist, the Doctor (who is also a scientist and a detective), I dubbed a new voice over a character from an innocuous education film about air pressure. Throughout the film he interrogates Undine about her mental state, and even seems to have some control over her mental activity itself, as if he can control her memories—or even implant new ones—through experimentation. In this way, the meaning of images and how individual subjectivities construct meaning is crucial and made central to the film. The process of creating this cinematic collage is mirrored in the struggle between the characters for control over Undine’s conception of reality.

An excerpt from Castle Undine:

Leslie Hodgkins is a writer, editor, and filmmaker who views the creation of work across different media as interchangeable according to needs and circumstances. Materials, ideas, language, narratives, technologies, and actions are all particularized to complex machinations and are often repeated through whatever forms are desired or accessible.