Sufferrosa's plot centres on the cult of beauty in contemporary society. For some, aging is an act worse than death itself. It unquestionably looks the part; the work feels big and looks serious, although Marcinkowski is keen to point out the amount of humour that the work contains.
It is also chock full of references. Marcinkowski's favourite film Alphaville is referenced throughout; indeed, the three main characters in Godard's work also surface as the three protagonists in Sufferrosa. Ivan Johnson is looking for Rosa Braun, finally finding her in a "rejuvenation clinic", where customers can look 50 years younger. It's scattered with humourous cultural references such as the Bride of Wildenstein. There are multiple entry points to this immersive world, allowing the player to start on one of three levels in order to understand the sheer scope and complexity of the work.
It was Alphaville that provided a new cinematic context for Marcinkowski. "As a teenager, I realised that I could create a futuristic movie in the here and now. That's why Alphaville means so much to me; Everything is on more than one level. After the film, you think about the links between the different movies [as reference points in the film], its actors, and reality. Alphaville really is a labyrinth. It's a simple story, but becomes much more complex." The character names are shared: protagonist Ivan Johnson is carried forward into Sufferrosa, with Marcinkowski's figurehead Rosa von Braun inheriting the character of Professor von Braun, the creator of Alphaville, whose name in turn is inherited from Nazi rocket scientist Wernher von Braun.
Sufferrosa also makes stylistic references to the visual opulence of Film Noir, in particular Dark Passage, Kiss Me Deadly (loops of which appear in Sufferrosa), and Robert Montgomery's Lady in the Lake. Dark Passage and Lady in the Lake is of particular inteest to Marcinkowski, as they are shot with first-person perspective; Lady in the Lake invites the viewer to solve the mystery. "... basically, it looks like a modern advertisement or a computer game: 'you will solve the story with me'. Those movies were a big inspiration. Sufferrosa is first-person too. You never see the protagonist."
It is clear in Marcinkowski's mind that digital does not dilute the potential of the auteur, or the chance of developing a stylistic "force" such as New Wave or Noir. The key is to continue the unrelenting ethos of the auteur to deviate from the norm – because being part of conventional wisdom doesn't create new cultural forces. "You don't play according to pop culture, where everyone wants to be popular and influential. Making that kind of decision is very important. I love Bunuel, but there are only a few directors who are as controversial now. They need to be in their own worlds and to not be afraid."
Sufferrosa is very much Marcinkowski's vision. As he says, the medium is less important when the idea is profoundly creative and crystal-clear in its vision. Even when the auteur works with many different people, as was the case with Sufferrosa, it comes from Marcinkowski. Retaining that vision is as much about people management (in terms of the crew) as having that commanding vision over the look and feel of the piece. The idea needs to spread, it needs to be clearly communicated, and the actors, crew, and everyone involved with the piece need to take it on and embody the vision. That's applicable, irrespective of the medium.
The genesis of Sufferrosa occurred much earlier than the production. Marcinkowski developed the idea in his Warsaw kitchen, late in 2000; at the time, he was directing music videos. His intention was to provide a massive, interactive construction that was akin to a cinematic experience. It was not until later in the decade that the delivery technology could catch up with what Marcinkowski wanted to achieve. It wasn't until the early 2000s when Flash became a springboard for online creativity, that Marcinkowski could see how Sufferrosa could be executed. "Suddenly, I saw the first Flash-driven websites: the link between interactivity and the moving image and sound... I was totally amazed. These were simple ideas, but the creativity was so fresh, so brilliant."
A part of Sufferrosa began when, in 2001, Marcinkowski made a short piece about the von Brauns. It was a simple, interactive music video with hotspots. Lasting 25 minutes and only 800k in size, it could be sent on a floppy disk to digital media festivals across Europe. It's rather surprising to hear Marcinkowski talk of how digital media festival organisers didn't fully understand the medium at that time, responding with a "thank you"-letter which noted the submission of the entry form on paper, along with a question as to where the work actually was. Finally presenting this work enabled Marcinkowski to move onto larger productions, such as Someday on The Misty Island, an interactive music video featuring 10 actors and produced in 2003. This piece in particular gave him the confidence that Sufferrosa could be delivered in accordance with his vision; he confesses that every work leading up to the production of Sufferrosa was essentially a satellite, somehow connected by characterisation or references to the big idea that was yet to be delivered.
In 2008, Marcinkowski took the plunge and left his job at an advertising agency to work on Sufferrosa full-time. When it launched in 2010, it took Marcinkowski by surprise. "There are still just a few really big, interactive, storytelling experiences. I am surprised that in 10 years, there are so few immerse, interactive universes. Sufferrosa is one of them. Of course I would like to make some things even bigger, but it's [already] a huge interactive storytelling universe. I wanted to create an interactive world and to tell a story."
Although the work has few peers in terms of scale, this is a curse as well as a blessing: attention spans are now much lower. After Sufferrosa, Marcinkowski returned to commercials, believing that consumers are now looking for shorter stories with a more rapid construction across multiple devices, such as tablets and smartphones. Clearly, that wasn't the case for the majority of the last decade. So impressive Sufferrosa is in terms of its scale, one wonders if and how it could be re-engineered for the technological context it now finds itself in. His current project The Trip, co-developed with photographer Kasia Kifert (the pair work together as the Kissinger Twins) is an immersive, relaxing, ambient experience: a short road movie which lets the viewer switch off and gives them space. In media parlance, it's much more lean-back than Sufferrosa's lean-forward means of participation.
Marcinkowski is hesitant about the possibility of another production on the scale of Sufferosa. Audience attention spans have unquestionably shortened, which disappoints and excites in equal measure. An immersive world which features many levels, as the work does, harks back to an era of less sophisticated computing (Marcinkowski cites Jet Set Willy as a particular influence) where the currency of attention was less susceptible to disruption. Showing such an extraordinary work at onedotzero clearly provides such an environment for the viewer to jump in and explore; it will be interesting to see where Marcinkowski goes next.
You can experience Sufferrosa for yourself at the Sufferrosa website.
Dawid introduces Sufferrosa as part of the onedotzero adventures in motion festival, 25/11/11. For further information visit the onedotzero website.