Ahead of the December Mostra as part of our Meet the Artists series, we spoke to Samuel Hasler (Creative Wales-BSR Fellow) about his research into giallo films… and ghosts at the BSR.
Your research at the BSR focuses on Italian cinema, especially on the genre of giallo. How are you developing the study of this cinematographic style?
I came to Rome imagining that I might make work in a certain way, I had written notes towards a sort of giallo screenplay/novella that I was enjoying working on and I imagined I would develop this here. I also brought some low-grade video cameras with half a plan of making some short videos. Inevitably things have moved sideways a little, but giallo cinema and horror cinema is still an influence on the way that I’m putting the work together.
I came up with a working title for a film or text work I Colori Dei Telefoni which to me sounded like the name of a giallo style film, but also it came about after being told about the Telefoni Bianchi films. This got me thinking about phones and their presence in cinema. Phones in giallo films would of course be all different colours, on those 70s film sets of bold colourful design. In horror cinema there is a very specific way in which phones work. They allow contact between our villains and victims with an unknown distance between them. The voice becomes violent and intrusive. The ringing phone becomes an ominous portent.
For a while I thought I’d make a film based on public payphones in the city. I’ve no idea what that film would be. I wanted to make phone calls to the public phones from the BSR and see who answered, but I don’t think Italian payphones work this way, and I don’t speak Italian.
I started recording stuff with my low-grade cameras at night.
My hands have a natural tremor, it’s very noticeable when recording film. I became interested in the way this would generate a specific quality to the film, and how the autofocus was constantly battling with the jerky movements of the camera. One night there was a tremendous thunderstorm, that went on for hours and I got some beautiful footage of that. I liked the way the camera was struggling to deal with the sudden shifts in light and this got me interested in working with all these limitations. The camera also picks up rain in a particularly clear way. So there was a bunch of interesting textures across the footage I was getting. All filmed at night, mostly in the rain, and as often as possible, in the crashing lights of a thunderstorm.
So I don’t really know if I did any research in a typical structured way into giallo, or if I’ve done lots more than I was doing before I got here. But the aesthetics of vintage horror, and the atmosphere of these things have been important in the way that I’ve made work.
All the footage I’ve made is black and white. I like the idea that I might make a film called I Colori Dei Telefoni, filmed in black and white, and with no telephones in it.
Sometime before the mostra I’ll watch All The Colours Of The Dark which is a giallo by Sergio Martino, and I’m sure like everything here, it’ll start to feed in.
Visiting the archives you found material belonging to a very important personality for the BSR, Eugenie Sellers Strong, Librarian and Assistant Director from 1909 to 1925. How is the story of this woman having an impact on your research in Rome?
When I heard that the BSR had a ghost I couldn’t resist finding out a bit more about it. I love those trashy television programmes like Most Haunted. The wonky film style and the often lone presenters talking to camera. It all clicks into a range of other work that I’ve made. I love the way those shows present our beautiful fears and the romanticism of nocturnal spaces, but through the most hysterical, crude and idiotic lens.
Anyhow, the British School at Rome is haunted (maybe) by the ghost of Eugenie Strong, who was the first Assistant Director and Librarian of the British School at Rome. She was a formidable character and a huge influence on the organisation as it stands today. I’ve been talking with the brilliant archivist here, Alessandra Giovenco, and hatching plans, maybe for some kind of artwork to develop out of the archive material here. It’s early days on this, but it’s such fertile territory; I’m looking forward to seeing what comes out of it.
Sam’s work will be exhibited alongside the six other resident artists in December Mostra, opening Friday 14 December 18.30-21.00.
Opening hours 16.30-19.00 until Saturday 22 December 2018, closed Sundays.
Photos by Samuel Hasler unless stated otherwise.