Cinema celebrates its birthday. A century which wants to be known as modern and be understood as neither linear nor circular, but accepted with jumps, tears, holes and cavities. The perception that film and its apparatus have offered aid in the formulation of this understanding. Camera lenses are turned on the world and bear witness to its existence, but it is quite another nature which "speaks to the camera as that which speaks to the eye" (Benjamin).
In thousandyearsofcinema Kurt Kren turns his perspective around with a quiet and unsettling irony. The images appear. One eye tightly shut and the other pressed against the viewfinder. This is the standard position which Kren captures in single frames. Uncountable photographers, with their acutely-angled cameras directed at St. StephanŽs Cathedral whizz by. Picture after picture is about to be exposed in a form of collective unanimity. In the decades of his engagement with film, Kren has never conceived hermetically, and never permitted film, history and life situation to be set against each other. To allow the material, technical apparatus or conceptual purity to deflect him from the desire for filmic vision is foreign to his nature. He remains true to precise work and experiment, curious about communication with the world outside.
thousandyearsofcinema is not only bound up with this standpoint, but also shows a new direction. The soundtrack is becoming important, not as a scratched on noise, but as voice, as text. The passages, taken from Peter LorreŽs film The Lost, open up another realm where the element picture grates against that of voice. "I have seen these eyes before." A rapid sequence of images show the allegedly objective lenses of the cameras. On the soundtrack is someone who subjectively believes in the truth that he recognizes his opposite number, only to be curtly repudiated. A space containing Peter LorreŽs eyes is created by implication. A man driven, a lonely man, both before and after HitlerŽs thousand-year empire. A man who cannot forget.
thousandyearsofcinema by Kurt Kren is a small utopia, a witness for the explosive power of the film medium set against the framework of 100 or 1000 years of (hi)stories. (Elisabeth Büttner)
Kren recorded this film within 30 days. For two hours each day he filmed tourists filming and taking pictures of St. StephenŽs Cathedral in Vienna. Because the film was exposed at a rate of two images per second, each person on film was hardly on for more than five frames, and each day no more than one meter of film was used. Because of the fixed length of the film roll, the number of days spent turned out to be one month. The rhythmic changes in the images were not planned, but are a result of how quick the filmed persons were at taking their pictures and conversely how quickly Kren could react to the situation. At the end of the film Kren discloses the object of their labors. The sound Kren uses is composed of dialogues and noises from the film Der Verlorene (The Lost One) which was made by and stars Peter Lorre. Kren does not attempt to make any symbolic connections between the two. (Hans Scheugl: "Die Filme. Eine kommentierte Filmographie," in: (ed.) Scheugl Ex Underground Kurt Kren. Seine Filme, Vienna 1996)
Hans Hurch about Kurt Kren
In an interview with Hans Scheugl about the ideas and techniques behind some of his films, the film-maker Kurt Kren told the following anecdote, which sheds an interesting light on his work. For his film Tree again (1978), Kren used a highly sensitive infra-red color film, a type which usually has to be developed within a very short period of time. However, Kren who has always worked on a very small budget, only had a roll of film which was already five years past its expiry date and, as Kren says, "there was little likelihood of anything turning out on the film." But he still decided to take shots of a large and splendid tree surrounded by bushes and a stretch of pastureland over a period of several weeks, from summer to autumn - a series of individual pictures taken from the same camera position. As he says, "I didnŽt have much hope - (I knew) it was a crazy thing to do." But KrenŽs illogical hope and his unshakeable confidence in his material were rewarded. Tree again became one of KrenŽs most beautiful works - although it is difficult to single out any individual work from a corpus of extraordinary density and variety which spans over thirty years and includes over 40 films. The tree, the field, the sky, in fact the entire picture radiates an unusual, almost eerie artistry, with its rapidly changing blue, green and reddish hues, sometimes brightly illuminated for the fraction of a second like the flash of lightening in a technicolor horror film. Or a sky of deep blue with clouds scudding across it, an airplane drawing condensation trails which fade away imperceptibly, the abrupt juxtaposition of sun and shadow and the strong, gusty movement of the wind amongst branches and leaves, as though an endless and destructive storm were at work. An apocalyptic picture, yet one that is full of a wonderful, quiet beauty - the changing of the sun, and the play of light, how autumn arrives in a matter of seconds and the leaves begin to fall, the shadows of grazing animals which appear and disappear in the blink of an eye.
Much has been written about the abstract, serial, musical, structural or mathematical nature of Kurt KrenŽs films, their affinity to painting, poetry or twelve-tone music; but too much concentration on their structure and rhythm has eclipsed the filmsŽ objectivisation, their almost documentary quality. The compact and artistic interweaving of the fragments of reality being expressed - which may be glimpses out of a window, paths, trees, walls, the changing of the seasons, faces or the human body in motion - as well as the way they are filmed, processed and arranged can often go unrecognized even if each film is seen several times. The methods used by Kren range from extreme multiple exposure, individual shots, time-lapse, the use of filters and masks, alternating between positive and negative film, blurred images, imposing scratches and drawings on soundtracks and complicated cutting rhythms based on specifically pre-formulated diagrams to a variety of technical experiments and inventions which he has evolved over the years. And yet, appreciating Kurt KrenŽs films is not a question of dissecting his technique, recognizing their richness of innovation or analyzing their rhythm. To understand these films it is not necessary to see through them but to feel and perceive them as real.
One of the most simple and at the same time most mysterious of KrenŽs works was produced in 1967 under the title TV. It begins with several frames of black film followed by the view from the depths of a dark room, through a large window, onto a seaside promenade and the sea beyond it. In the foreground are the large black silhouettes of people sitting and standing, covering half the picture. Behind the window, sitting on a short, thick pole used for mooring ships, is a young girl looking out to the sea. All this is only visible for a few seconds, until the picture disappears and the screen is again covered by the darkness of black film, which, after a few moments, begins to reveal the picture again. Gradually it becomes clear that it is not the same shot, that something has changed. The girl is no longer alone, and one of the figures in the foreground is in the act of getting up. Later a ship appears, one of the black shadows has started smoking a cigarette and outside, a woman and child stroll through the scene. In the meantime the girl has been joined by two more girls. They wear roller-skates and move clumsily in an effort to retain their balance. Kren recalls that these images were taken from a café in the port of Venice, almost without deliberation and out of a sense of boredom while he was waiting for some friends. They consist of five different sequences, each one and a half seconds long, which he then had copied 21 times. The 21 copies of each of the 5 sequences, explains Kren, were then put together in a particular order, similar to a nursery or counting rhyme.
This contrasts with KrenŽs earlier films, such as 48 Köpfe aus dem Szondi-Test (48 Heads from the Szondi Test), Bäume im Herbst (Trees in Autumn) or Mauern...(Walls...), which create an almost abstract graphic impression by virtue of the objects depicted, the frequent use of stop-motion shots and strict adherence to the principle of serial montage. TV is also unlike the cycle of "documentary" films made between 1964 and 1966 which portray the happenings of the actionists Muehl and Brus as a condensation of naked bodies, movement, blood, food, colour and a cornucopia of material into a rapid, flickering picture sequence, at once offering and depriving the viewer of its content in a wild filmic play. TV differed from all these works in that for the first time, small, apparently storylike fragments were brought together in a sort of reflexive montage. "The great influence and significance of this film," says Malcolm Le Grice, "lies in the fact that it redistributes the structuring process from the film-maker and how he organizes the subject of the film to the viewer and his/her perception of what is presented." Between the abstract montage rhythm of the individual segments and the concrete, real picture content, the viewer is offered a spectrum of potential connections, movements, structures, shifts, repetitions and faces. And while one is still trying to establish the relation between the short sequences, the repetition of the little girlŽs movements take on the aspect of a graceful dance.
Someone once said, "the greatness of film-making lies in being modest enough to realize that one is confined to taking photographs." Kurt KrenŽs films are neither paintings, nor poems nor music; they are not even typically filmic, as the term is used in the degenerate rhetoric of most modern film artists. It is this self-awareness which constitutes their greatness. (Hans Hurch, 1989)
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