Films

Althyria (2017)

Ruth Baxter arrives in Reno, searching for her identical twin sister Helen who is an artist obsessed with her dreams of Althyria, a mysterious ghostly world she believes is real.  Ruth meets Steven Gray, a morbid young poet in love with her sister, and together they try to find Helen. Though Ruth is attracted to Steven, Helen's apparition haunts her and she begins to lose her own identity. Helen's dreams and nightmares of a Pale Man stalking her relentlessly become her own, and her only reality is lost within the strange world of Althyria. 

 

A long-standing project of filmmaker/composer William Kersten, Althyria was based on his original story called Night Sisters. The script had been through a number of revisions, but the plot with its dreams and psychological qualities kept veering off on tangents. Associate Producer Phyllis Beverly became involved in story discussions, and helped to keep the story following a single dramatic line, focusing upon the mystery elements as well as Kersten's visual concepts.

 

These concepts were partly inspired by dreams, but also from various visual art: the Val Lewton horror films of the 40s which featured atmospheric black and white cinematography; the enigmatic surreal paintings of Giorgio de Chirico and Paul Delvaux who both created "dream worlds" of their own; and the independent low budget film "Carnival of Souls" (1962) with its images of a deserted, haunted pavilion. Instead of using CGI to create the dream images, extensive miniatures representing the world of Althyria were constructed and photographed on a set with multiple exposures, layered lighting effects, and live action figures inserted into the scene. Visible as well within the dream scenes are some of the "Lumia" abstractions that Kersten experimented with previously. 

 

The live action portions of the film were shot entirely in Reno and Sparks, Nevada, with a cast of local performers including Zakotah Sevon who played the lead dual role; Luke Allen; Maddie Taylor also in a dual role as young Ruth and Helen; and Ryan Costello who created the makeup, costume and performance of the Pale Man stalking Ruth.

 

Kersten and Beverly were the only production as well as post-production personnel. 4K digital cinema cameras were used and locations were entirely within the Reno/Sparks area, including the filmmakers' own house, dressed to become the character Helen's house, and nearby desert locations. The museum scenes were shot at the University of Nevada's Keck museum - the only scenes in the film ever shot with permission from the authorities. All street scenes and exteriors were pirated locations, because any fees or permits were out of the question on the "no-budget" production. This necessitated a "run and gun" approach to the shooting which - in the case of the street scenes - had to be extremely rapid. 

 

The music of Althyria was composed and orchestrated by Kersten, and performed using the Vienna Symphonic Library virtual orchestra. Though performed digitally, it was scored for acoustic instruments with an orchestration for a smaller ensemble matching an intimate psychological story like Althyria: strings, solo flute, harp, celesta, and percussion. Though original in composition, the score used a "leitmotiv" style found in the 1940s Hollywood style of composers like Erich Korngold, Max Steiner and Roy Webb. Webb was the composer of the impressionistic scores of the Val Lewton series, and used separate motifs for characters and situations that were developed throughout the films. A similar style with music cues for "Helen," "The Search," "The Pale Man," etc., was used in Althyria, with the themes gradually expanded or altered throughout the course of the story.

 

 

Disembodied (1998 Remastered 2015)

Connie Sproutz, a young woman afflicted by an alien parasite and forced to keep her brain in a jar separate from her body, moves into the run-down Grand hotel where she is menaced by the sleazy Night Clerk and stalked by a strange man in black who turns out to be Dr. Sigmund Sylvanus, an investigator from Plasmaster Corporation, the advanced technology company where Connie used to work prior to the strange death of her mentor and supervisor Dr. Tourmaline who was mysteriously killed by total bodily disintegration.  Connie's dreams of an alien world start to become real as her strange brain-support machinery breaks down.  Then, when she is out wandering the streets trying to stay awake and avoid dream materialization problems, her brain is stolen by Dr. Sylvanus in a plot to lure her to his lab, where he intends to conduct experiments upon her.  Trixie Turner who lives next door to Connie and has become her friend, reads the brain ransom note left by Dr. Sylvanus and hurries to the lab to confront him, leading to a shocking conclusion.

 

Disembodied, originally titled "Connie's Dream," was a surreal story by William Kersten about a woman on the run from the authorities whose dreams become real. It was partly inspired by the low budget independent feature "Daughter of Horror" (1955) which was a visually striking film of a lonely woman fleeing guiltily in a nightmarish Film Noir world.  The realistic basis of that story was transformed in Disembodied into dreams and science fiction.   

 

The production started in 1994 but stalled when the lead had to be replaced. Production then resumed in 1995 and took a year and a half,  shooting in 16mm on the streets of Reno Nevada and in a rented warehouse on sets built by the three filmmakers Kersten, James Diederichsen and Robert A. Richardson.  Kersten directed and photographed the film, also editing and composing/performing the music score which at the time was recorded with a single Korg O1/w keyboard. Diederichsen, who played the Night Clerk role in the film, was a creative consultant and also responsible for the special makeup effects. Richardson was the co-producer and along with Kersten designed and built the sets representing the run-down Grand Hotel. The actual Grand Hotel, which can be seen in exterior shots, was demolished shortly after the film was completed. The cast, all from Reno, included Anastasia Woolverton in the lead role, Hannah Cooper, Patricia Mathews, and long-time Reno Little Theater actor George Randolph. 

 

The film was briefly distributed on VHS video in 1998, mainly in the American South and in Japan, and received good reviews in Fangoria and Psychotronic magazines. But then it was withdrawn from distribution due to legal difficulties, and went underground for many years.  In 2015, the 16mm negative was remastered in HD and the soundtrack re-recorded with a new music score performed by the Vienna Symphonic Library. It is now available in Blu-ray from Brink Vision Films

 

 

Metaphysical Toymaking (2010)

A living mannikin studies arcane formulae and explores an unknown, deserted but seemingly haunted world with the help of a battered old robot, discovering toy-like mechanisms and ghostly women.

 

Metaphysical Toymaking was conceived as an homage to the style of Giorgio de Chirico, the Italian painter whose subtly dream-like early works were an inspiration to the original Surrealists. But the images of the film, shot in a ocmbination of stop-motion animation and CGI, started to veer away from the de Chiricoesque and into a blend of antique electro-mechanical technology, old-fashioned graphics and contrastingly realistic human figures inserted into the landscapes.  The images of the film are related to the dreams of "Althyria" and comprise an exploration of that world that couldn't be fitted into the narrative of the later feature.  The original film was screened at the International Surrealist Film Festival in Los Angeles 2010, but was in a short version that has been greatly expanded since that showing. 

 

 

Lumia (2003-2019)

William Kersten's Lumia works are inspired by Thomas Wilfred (1889-1968) who coined the term and invented machines that projected ever-changing abstract light patterns of great complexity and beauty.  Even in the day of computer images they have a depth and range of color and form that demonstrate the mastery Wilfred had achieved in an art form he created himself.  These machines are still in existence and a few reproductions of their images are available on video. 

 

Inspired by this process and the brilliant visuals, Kersten experimented with his own attempts at complex light patterns that slowly and everchangingly shift form, deliberately using only mechanical and optical devices of his own construction.  This has resulted so far in nine hours of highly varied videos of the original analogue images that were projected in front of digital cameras and captured then imported into computer software with only a small amount of post production processing to maintain the original visual characteristics.    

 

 

Remember Tomorrow (1986-89)

Composer Paul Stevens dreams of a beautiful woman, Mora Blackwood, walking through a cemetery and then meets her in reality.  She seems disturbed by an unknown tragedy in her past, and Paul tries to help her, falling in love with her and being inspired to write new music for her. But he begins having premonitions involving himself and Mora, seeing instantaneously into what appear to be future events. Mora's suicide shocks him and in his depression he begins to believe that he can travel in time back to the past and stop her death.  He seems to be transported back in a dream, but his own fate tragically becomes the cause of Mora's death.

 

Remember Tomorrow was shot in 16mm over two years time in Reno Nevada.  The cast included Michael Replogle and Brenda Beck in the lead roles of the doomed lovers caught in a time warp.  The ambitious storyline was far beyond the scope of the production and this resulted in a severely compromised film, even though massive amounts of labor by the handful of filmmakers involved were required.  Sets representing several rooms of a downtown hotel, a piano bar, a psychiatrist's office were all constructed in a rented warehouse.  FX using miniatures were all shot with multiple exposures executed within the Bolex camera to depict the mythical seaside city location of Harbour City. The 16mm camera was not properly equipped for sync sound, and this resulted in the construction of a large padded box which the camera man had to stand in to isolate the noisy camera motor from the microphones.  This huge heavy box on casters was moved between locations in order to shoot sync sound, but then the sound sync was not accurate enough anyway, resulting in days of painstaking re-syncing of sound. This was only one of many problems in the long project.  The fact that the film turned out to be unusable made it all basically a "learning experience" for William Kersten.  However, the musical score, which was composed at the same time as the making of the film, turned out to be one of Kersten's most serious works, and  there are plans to release it in some form at a later date with the title "Remember Tomorrow: Film Score in Search of a Film."   

 

 

Warped (1984)

Dr. Marilyn Richardson, a scientist working on a top secret teleportation device, discovers her sister  dead of suicide.  After demonstrating the advanced equipment she has invented to the military, she realizes that the machinery not only allows travel instantaneously through space but also through time. She becomes obsessed with the idea that she can travel back in time to prevent her sister's death.  But when she does so she is only trapped in a tragic time loop.

 

Warped was shot in Super 8mm film in Reno,  and starred Brenda Beck who later was cast in William Kersten's Remember Tomorrow. The locations included a physics lab at the University of Nevada filled with props the filmmaker constructed himself to represent the teleportation device.  As his first film,  running 64 minutes, the entire production was an ambitious but amateurish work with the muddy, grainy colors of Super 8mm Ektachrome and half-successful attempts at silencing the clattering motor of the camera during sound scenes. The story was later re-written into the tragic time travel plot used in Remember Tomorrow.    

 

 

 

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