Kurt Kren was a vital figure in Austrian avant-garde cinema of the post-war period. His structural films, often shot frame-by-frame following elaborately pre-scored charts and diagrams, have influenced filmmakers for decades, even as Kren himself has remained a nomadic and obscure public figure. Kurt Kren: Structural Films, edited by Nicky Hamlyn, Simon Payne, and A. L. Rees, brings together interviews with Kren, film scores, and classic out-of-print essays alongside the reflections of contemporary academics and filmmakers, to add much-needed critical discussion of Kren’s legacy. Taken together, the collection challenges the canonical view of Kren that ignores his underground lineage and powerful, lyrical imagery.
- 1/57 A Test with Synthetic Sound (1957, 1 min, 16mm)
"The word test stands at the beginning of Kren´s Versuch mit synthetischem Ton (A Test with Synthetic Sound), which is really a kind of endurance test which Kren poses to the film material and to the eye. The film makes do with a minimum content in its images (a wall, a pan of a cactus) and models chronologically by using a strict, stanzaic montage arrangement, which is supposed, not to push the primary extension of these motives into the imaginary realm of images, but just to leave them in their own "superficiality." The sound, which is directly engraved onto the material, corresponds to this principle, in that it allows only crackling and scratching noises to be audible, exposes itself in unmodeled raw sound and noise spaces." – Michael Palm
- 2/60 48 Heads From the Szondi Test (1960, 4 min, 16mm)
"Kren's second film and the first he cut according to a strictly serial, sequence technique: in various frame sizes, the 48 portraits from the Szondi Test for "experimental diagnosis of human impulses" are shown in pre-specified lengths (between one and eight frames)." – Peter Tscherkassky
- 3/60 Trees in Autumn (1960, 5 min, B/W, 16mm)
"The first embodiment of (a) concept of structural activity in cinema comes in Kren´s Bäume im Herbst, where the camera as a subjective observer is constrained within a systematic or structural procedure, incidentally the precursors of the most structuralist aspect of Michael Snow's later work. In this film, perception of material relationships in the world is seen to be no more than a product of the structural activity in the work. Art forms experience." – Malcolm Le Grice
- 4/61 Walls-Positive-Negative and Path (1961, 6 min, 16mm)
"In 4/61 Mauern-Positiv-Negativ und Weg Kurt Kren uses slides – photographic planes – which show different surfaces and finishes of a wall, which have been eroded by time. Kren stacks the positives and negatives of these pictures quickly one after the other, so that a moving relief-type structure develops through this combination of "two eyes." A mysterious ambiguous image manifests itself before us, surrounded by all kinds of possible mythological connotations. What is there to see? Is it some secret, magical depiction, which we cannot solve; is it a cult cave painting; or landscapes from a birds-eye-view; or could it be satellite pictures from a far off planet; or microscopic examinations of the Turin Shroud?" – Michael Palm
- 5/62 People Looking out of the Window, Trash, etc. (1962, 4 min, 16mm)
"Following early experiments on 8mm between 1953 and 1957, Kren made his first 16mm film, Versuch mit synthetischem Ton (1957), including a drawn soundtrack and began to develop the notions of formal relationships between simple images. But his next three films, made between then and 1961, showed the systematic direction of his work most clearly: 48 Köpfe aus dem Szondi Test (1960) and Bäume im Herbst (1960) being shot according to system, and Mauern-Positiv-Negativ und Weg (1961) being edited that way. It is also evident in these films and is confirmed in his next, Fenstergucker, Abfall etc. (1962), that even if Kren rejected poetic or narrative intention, the images of his work were in no way neutral, arbitrary or convenient fillers for a mathematical system." – Malcolm Le Grice
- 11/65 Bild Helga Philipp (1965, 2 min, 16mm)
"11/65 Bild Helga Philipp is an optical abstraction of an optical abstraction: Kren has simply intercut filmed movements and sections from an Op painting by Helga Philipp – the result is motion opticals." – Stephen Dwoskin
- 15/67 TV (1967, 4 min, 16mm)
In TV, the system is different in kind and pace to that which exists in much of his other work. Instead of operating primarily at the kinetic level, or with rapid perceptual rhythm, this film involves the audience in a conceptual and reflexive process. (...) The significance does not lie in the mathematical sequences as such, but in how the viewer attempts to decipher the structure. This overtly reflexive attitude to structure became important in a number of European films about this time (notably by Hein, Nekes, Gidal, Le Grice), often incorporating image repetition. But none as clearly shifts the structural activity away from the interior construction as does TV (incidentally prefiguring Frampton's Zorns Lemma of 1971). – Malcolm Le Grice
- 18/68 Venecia Kaputt (1968, 4 min, Colour, 16mm)
Hans Scheugl: You used real recordings that you drew on.
Kurt Kren: There was already a rumour that Venice would come to an end one day. And then there was an American battleship in the background. I had fun destroying the image.
- 17/68 Green - Red (1968, 2 min, 16mm)
Hans Scheugl: They say you were drunk when you filmed Grün - rot. Is that right?
Kren: I'm not sure if it was that film or not. Grün - rot was not filmed in one day, but in the course of many days. It wasn't that easy. The whole thing was filmed in single frames while I was moving up and down. It was physically very exhausting to make this film. The lighting changes from artificial light to sunlight, which causes a change in the colours.
- 31/75 Asylum (1975, 8 min, Colour, 16mm)
"The camera with a sun shade is mounted on a heavy tripod in front of a window. Over 21 consecutive days the view outside is filmed from this perspective. The same three rolls of film (totalling 90 m) are used one after the other each day while the mask in front of the camera lens is changed every day. Each of the 21 masks made of black cardboard has four or five small rectangular openings: all these openings together would clear the full view." – Birgit Hein
- 32/76 An W + B (1976, 7 min, Colour, 16mm)
"I took a photograph of the view out of the window and had a very large negative made from it, which I fastened to the lens hood attachment in front of the camera. I tried to bring the negative into alignment with the real landscape which I could see through the camera. Then I filmed for months, changing the focus from near to far and then back again." – Kurt Kren
- 33/77 Keine Donau (1977, 8'16 min, Colour, 16mm)
"Here there were several attempts. The first attempt was in Munich, which is why the title is: Keine Donau (No Danube). We had a problem there, my camera got stuck. Also, with the multiple exposures, I had closed the aperture too tightly; the film was meant to be exposed at a different place each time, going through the camera thirteen times. That was difficult to calculate, of course. During the second attempt in Munich still, there was a sideways incidence of light. Then I came to Vienna and took recordings from Trude Rind's balcony with Ernst Schmidt's Bolex. Something was wrong with the automatic there. I think it was the fourth attempt when it finally worked. The film went through the camera thirteen times, each time at a different distance setting: infinity, 8, 6, 5, 4, and 3 meters. And the one-meter sequence with a colour filter." – Kurt Kren
- 37/78 Tree Again (1978, 3 min, Colour, 16mm)
"For his film Tree Again (1978), Kren used a highly sensitive infra-red colour 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 didn´t have much hope – (I knew) it was a crazy thing to do."" – Hans Hurch
- 42/83 No Film (1983, 3 sec, B/W, 16mm)
"It was a time when I was pretty upset because I wasn't making anything, no more films. That is why: No Film. Wilhelm and Birgit Hein once recorded a newspaper photo and said that although the picture is not moving on the screen, it is still a film. I recorded a writing – "No Film" – which also does not move and is still a film. That is why: No Film. Question mark." – Kurt Kren
- 49/95 thousandyearsofcinema (1995, 3 min, 35mm)
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. Stephan's Cathedral whizz by. Picture after picture is about to be exposed in a form of collective unanimity.
- 50/96 Snapspots (For Bruce) (1996, 4'12 min, Colour, 35mm)
"Having shown us the dance of photographing tourists in 49/95 Tausendjahrekino, in Snapspots Kren shows us countless visitors to Vienna, who photograph each other, or have their photo taken by the local stranger, Kren, in front of the statue of Johann Strauss jr. – either as individuals, in families, or by the busload." – Thomas Korschil
Nicky Hamlyn is a writer and filmmaker based in the United Kingdom. He teaches at the University for the Creative Arts and the Royal College of Art in London and is the author of Film Art Phenomena. Simon Payne is a filmmaker, writer and programmer. He is Senior Lecturer in Film and Media studies at Anglia Ruskin University, Cambridge. A. L. Rees (1949–2014) was a critic, historian, and research tutor at the Royal College of Art, London.
Kurt Kren: Structural Films will be available at a special discount price.
For details of the publication see: http://www.intellectbooks.co.uk/books/view-Book,id=5204/#chapters
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This programme is kindly supported by the Department of English and Media at Anglia Ruskin University and the Austrian Cultural Forum.
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