When Günther Anders cautions Claude Eatherly against accepting the offer from Bob Hope Productions to make a film of the pilot’s life, he claims that he speaks from experience: that he lived in Hollywood for years and knows how the industry works, insisting that it will distort Eatherly’s efforts into something unrecognizable, a falsified copy starring a “smiling, good looking actor.”1 What Anders doesn’t tell Eatherly, however, is the specificity of his experience with Hollywood. Because in addition to writing a script for Charlie Chaplin that never came to fruition, Anders worked in the margins of the film industry, including as a janitor in a costume and prop house called Hollywood Custom Palace. In his diary in March 1941, he notes that, “Even though I am classified as an enemy alien and as an unskilled worker, I have nonetheless found a job. Although the job is rather odd. I have become history’s corpse cleaner.” There, in a “twelve-story colossus, the palace where I spend my working days, a museum of the entire costume past of humanity,” he found himself carrying out a truly ironic labor: cleaning replica “German attack” boots at a time when he had fled Europe to avoid persecution by the Nazis. “We flee the original,” he writes, “and then run the risk, a few years later on the opposite side of the world, to have to clean the duplicates for pay!”2
At once a freestanding work and the epistolary postscript to Straight Flush, Corpse Cleaner exits the empty barracks to descend into the crowded jumble of a working prop house and its arsenal of replicas and leftovers. Swapping Long Island City for Hollywood, the gradual sweep of the camera through Encore/Eclectic Props becomes the occasion to return to what was left unasked by Straight Flush, with that film’s Script Supervisor (again played by Dana Wheeler-Nicholson) picking up loose threads. She composes letters back to Anders and Eatherly, moving through the gaps of their exchange to further trace the logic of the copy and the stand-in, drifting from fake German towns built to be bombed in the Utah desert to contemporary redemptive blockbusters about art historians sav- ing artifacts from Nazi hands.
The film was shot on a hot summer day in the windowless space of the prop house, rearranging the disparate materials found within to construct a path for a continual Steadicam shot. Rather than an edit of archival foot- age cut together in order to sketch a way through these scattered histories, the slow passage of the camera is a montage without cuts, a compression and set of disjunctions, collisions, and echoes assembled in physical space. The inanimate props at Encore/Eclectic
are gathered in loose categories within the prop house: cemetery, Christmas, dinosaur, postal service, safari, arcade, Hollywood, and on from there, mixing together original objects and facsimiles with no distinction between them. Like Siegfried Kracauer’s description of a German film studio in 1926, “the old and the new, copies and originals, are piled up in a disorganized heap like bones in catacombs.”3 They are meant to be seen only to be rented and dislocated to other sets and settings, to help transpose a scene from 2019 in New York to whatever time and place. In Corpse Cleaner, the props become the stars themselves, bathed in lighting set-ups that derive from pulp genres, from erotic thriller to fantasy, horror to noir. And the Steadicam and its oper- ator glide through it all, pivoting and winding amongst the cheap duplicates that themselves require the unseen work of cleaning, maintenance, and upkeep.
1. Anders and Eatherly, Burning, 28.
2. Quoted in Paul van Dijk, Anthropology in the Age of Technology: The Philosophical Contributions of Günther Anders (Amsterdam: Rodopi, 2000), 10–11.
3. Siegfried Kracauer, “Calico-World: The UFA City in Neubabelsberg,” in The Mass Ornament: Weimar Essays, trans. and ed. Thomas Levin (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1995), 282.
Corpse Cleaner is the postscript to Fatal Act. Corpse Cleaner was commissioned in 2016 by La Biennale de Montréal for Le Grand Balcon, curated by Philippe Pirotte. It was screened at Portikus, Frankfurt in 2017, and was reedited in 2019 for the exhibition Fatal Act at 80 Washington Square East.
Written and directed by Evan Calder Williams, Lucy Raven, and Vic Brooks
Voice - Dana Wheeler-Nicholson
Director of Photography - Nicolas Doldinger
Editor/Colorist - Beau Dickson
Assistant Camera - Alex Purifoy
Gaffer - Edward "Al" Roberts
V.O. Recording - Ron Kuhnke
Location Audio Recording - Cooper Campbell
Grips - Gabriel Rodriguez-Fuller, George Rayson, Carbon Therrien
Production Assistants - Ishraki, Irina Jasnowski, Austin Rivera-Greene
Filmed on location at Encore/Eclectic Props Inc.
Special thanks to Luke Absolon, Suri Bieler, Sylvie Fortin, Phillippe Pirotte