I could describe Salters Cottages as the “book version” of a film, or perhaps a film translated into a book, but that seems to suggest that the film and the book are two mutually exclusive forms whereas “reading” Salters Cottages feels like much more of a cinematic experience than a bibliographic one. The book’s raw material – a mundane yet playfully erotic short film made about a group of friends in a small cottage community on Long Island in the summer of 1981 – has been disassembled into sequences of stills over a number of double page spreads, interspersed with individual frames that appear like sudden flashbacks.
In one of the more straightforwardly upsetting scenes in Sebald’s Austerlitz, Jacques Austerlitz studies an extreme slow motion version of a Nazi propaganda film shot in the Theresienstadt Ghetto, rewinding repeatedly, searching for the face of his mother. When seconds are broken down into increments we can study, movement tends to adopt an uncanniness, and otherwise natural gestures seem strange; awkwardly performed or infused with a new poignance.
It’s not that Salters Cottages is an upsetting book, although within seven years of that summer Peter Hujar would be dead from AIDS along with so many others. Schneider has said that the sequences depicting Hujar – smoking, grooming, dressing, larking – have more presence in the book than the film, and you get a sense that Schnieder, like Austerlitz, might have rewound this footage again and again for a chance to fix something lost. The seaside cottages are almost cell-like in the closeness of their architecture, and even the outdoors is defined by its boundaries – namely, the unknowable “beyond” of the ocean. Salters Cottages is really about the sexual tension of these boundaries; frames, apertures, screens and windows appear on almost every page, slicing up space and creating channels through which to peep and exhale smoke.
Dashwood Books, 2019
Chosen by Lillian Wilkie