Programme 1: The Metaphoric Films
Mosaik im Vertrauen (1955)
Experience has shown that the film is meaningful to an impartial observer; yet the intellectual Alpbach audience found that it was ´a sequence of images having no meaning, accompanied by music and noises that do not fit with the imagesª. Some people even expressed the view that it was the decadent work of the devil. It is true that the sequence of images is discontinuous (disjointed) and that the sound and image do not run synchronously, i.e the spoken word does not need to come from the mouths of the performers. The emotional tensions which arise here, and which Kubelka orcestrated with absolute mastery, are incomparably stronger than any ´normalª film. The sequence of images leaps associatively, is sometimes interrupted by secondary events, sometimes unfolds in the reverse order to the way things ordinarily occur, and thus the story is put together enigmatically like the stones of a mosaic. Neither can there be any other film in which the sound has such a powerful autonomous existence as it runs parallell to the image; One has to listen very precisely in order to differentiate between the foreground, middle ground and background of the sound.
Kubelkas motives for making the film lie in his belief that commercial films do not fully exploit cinematic possibilities. He declares that the place of the plot and its ostensibly disparate scenes is the screen, and the time shall be any time at which the film is shown.
(Alfred Schmeller, 1958)
His triumph is really quadruple. First triumph: Pause! is an ecstatic work. Second triumph: With the perfection and intensity of his work he dissolved the audiences swollen-up expectations which had grown out of normal proportions during the ten years of waiting. He enabled us to receive his new work in its newborn nakedness. Third triumph: His dissolving of Arnulf Rainer. Arnulf Rainer himself is an artist of unique originality and intensity. His face art, which constitutes the source of imagery in Pause!, is a chapter of modern art itself. I have a particular aversion to film-makers who use other artists and their art as materials of their films. These films never transcend their sources. During the first few images of Pause! I had an existential fear. Kubelka had to consume and to transcend not only Arnulf Rainer but also and this constitutes his fourth triumph to transcend the entire genre of contemporary art known as face art. A few more images, and my heart regained itself and jumped into excitement: Both Rainer and Art disintegrated and became molecules, frames of movements and expressions, material at the disposal of the Muse of Cinema. I am not saying this to diminish the person and art of Arnulf Rainer: His own greatness cannot be dissolved, in his art. But here we speak about the art of Peter Kubelka, and in a wokr of art, as in the heavens so on earth, there is only one God and Creator.
Unsere Afrikareise (1966)
Kubelkas most recent film before Pause! is Unsere Afrikareise, whose images are relatively conventional ´recordsª of a hunting-trip in Africa. The shooting records multiple ´systemsª white hunters, natives, animals, natural objects, buildings in a manner that preserves the individuality of each. At the same time, the editing of sound and image brings these systems into comparison and collision, producing a complex of multiple meanings, statements, ironies...
I know of no other cinema like this. The ultimate precision, even fixity, that Kubelkas films achieve frees them to become objects that have some of the complexity of nature itself but they are films of a nature refined and defined, remade into a series of relationships. Those rare and miraculous moments in nature when the suns rays align themselves precisely with the edge of a rock or the space between two buildings, or when a pattern on sand or in clouds suddenly seems to take on some other aspect, animal or human, are parallelled in single events of a Kubelka film. The whole film is forged out of so many such precisions with an ecstatic compression possible only in cinema.
Programme 2: The Metric Films
Kubelkas achievement is that he has taken Soviet montage one step further. While Eisenstein used shots as his basic units and edited them together in a pattern to make meanings, Kubelka has gone back to the individual still frame as the essence of cinema. The fact that a projected film consists of 24 still images per second serves as the basis for his art.
This idea has different materializations in different Kubelka films. In Adebar, only certain shot lengths are used 13, 26 and 52 frames and the image material in the film is combined according to certain rules. For instance, there is a consistent alternation between positive and negative. The films images are extremely high contrast black-and-white shots of dancing figures; the images are stripped down to their black-and-white essentials so that they can be used in an almost terrifyingly precise construct of image, motion, and repeated sound.
In 1957, Peter Kubelka was hired to make a short commercial for Scwechater beer. The beer company undoubtedly thought they were commissioning a film that would help them sell their beers; Kubelka had other ideas. He shot his film with a camera that did not even have a viewer, simply pointing it in the general direction of the action. He then took many months to edit his footage, while the company fumed and demanded a finished product. Finally he submitted a film, 90 seconds long, that featured extremely rapid cutting (cutting at the limits of most viewers perception) between images washed out almost to the point of abstraction in black-and-white positive and negative and with red tint of dimly visible people drinking beer and of the froth of beer seen in a fully abstract pattern. This ´commercialª may not have sold any beer in the twenty years since it was made, but I (as someone who hates beer) have vowed that if Im ever in Austria ill drink some Swechater, in tribute to what i consider one of the most intense, most pure, and most perfect minutes of cinema anyone has ever achieved.
Arnulf Rainer (1960)
Arnulf Rainers images are the most ´reducedª of all this is a film composed entirely of frames of solid black and solid white which Kubelka strings together in lengths as long as 24 seconds and as short as a single frame. When he alternates between single black and white frames, a rapid flicker effect is produced, which is as close as Kubelka can come to the somewhat more rapid flicker of motion-picture projection; during the long sections of darkness one waits in nervous anticipation for the flicker to return, without knowing precisely which form it will take. But Arnulf Rainer is not merely a study of film rhythm and flicker. In reducing the cinema to its essentials, Kubelka has not stripped it of meaning, but rather made an object which has qualities so general as to suggest a variety of possible meanings, each touching on some essential aspect of existence.