The Vienna Cult 48

The Vienna Cult 48

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The “Vienna Cult 48” portfolio depicts the city of post-war Vienna seeking to recover from the ravages and destruction of World War II. The year is 1948 and Vienna is divided into four distinct zones, each governed by one of the victorious allies. This series of photographs is closely based on Carol Reed’s film noir classic “The Third Man.”

The challenge and the stimulus behind this project was to return on site in Vienna 60 years later and reshoot with a still camera in exactly the same locations used in the original film. Hiring some local actors and models to help out in this postmodern documentary update, I was able to retrace the steps of the main hero in this unique cult film classic. Here are the urban fragments re-explored, the illuminated darkness, the architectural ambitions, and their near cancellation. The Third Man’s Vienna is not just another Hollywood set full of fake facades and populated by ephemeral structures, it is the real deal, a partially ruined war zone subject to potential political and urban disintegration.

The questions and the challenge remain: is it possible to cheat time, place and memory? Is it possible to balance fiction, architectural documentary, and history in the same visual essay? Finally, in this “reenactment” and with this “photo performance,” is it possible to make time stand still? Somehow, in this case the answer is yes to all of the above!

“The Third Man,” a novel by Graham Greene and the film adaptation by Carol Reed with the outstanding camera work by Robert Krasker, remains even today an important documentary reference to the Vienna that was, and to the Vienna that is. In 1999 the British Film Institute selected “The Third Man” as the best British film of the 20th century.

The Vienna project began in 2008 and was completed in 2010. The scenes of total “destruction” were made in Montreal at selected locations to emulate as closely as possible the scenes of war time devastation in the original film. The actual photographs were taken with a digital camera and a medium format film camera.

The Vienna Cult 48 portfolio is all about re-imagination. It is about the voluntary act of trying to cheat time (both historical and filmic) and the idea of “reconstructing” an important historical chapter in the life of a city and in the life of a unique filmic effort based on an important episode of urban survival. The film “The Third Man” remains a powerful metaphor concerning the themes of loss, memory, greed, the politics of war, and unresolved histories.

Thanks to:
Brigitte Timmerman, author and historian, Vienna
Gerhard Strassgschwandtner, Third Man Museum, Vienna
Magistrat der Stadt Wien
Wien Kanal
André Ouellet, collaborator extraordinaire
Alix & Gagné