This month Light Movement is extremely delighted to host Karl Kels, who will be presenting in person a selection of 16mm films from 1981-94 plus a very special 35mm screening of Sidewalk from 2008.
To look at the films of Karl Kels is to discover anew the extraordinary potential of cinema as a visual language. Educated at the arts academy in Frankfurt, Kels soon chose a solitary path in developing his unique methods of filmmaking as he decided to direct, produce, shoot, and edit his films by himself. Wanting to be in full control of the creative process, he even develops his own films in a laboratory he built exclusively for this purpose. The result is film material of an exceptional quality, in color as well as in black and white.
Kels is interested in the unstaged world, in the 'real' if you like, yet studies the reality he finds in a way which questions both its authenticity and the fictional character of our perception of that same reality. He creates fiction himself, yet unmistakably draws from a situation he has no control over apart from the way he decides to film and edit it. Whereas more traditional filmmakers use all possible means to create a cinematic reality that, in its synthetic unity, eventually masks the separate elements it consists of, Kels is fascinated by the independent quality of those elements and in his hands they take on a new meaning. He sets himself limits in order to be able to bring this about.
Kels films the 'unstaged' world. He goes to a place, sets up his camera, observes, and, in so doing, anticipates some action or movement. He chooses a world which, by its very nature, would be hard to stage: haystacks in a field, a flock of starlings in the air, alcoholics on the street, rhinoceroses and hippopotamuses in the zoo. Most of the time he films at a fixed distance. He does not move his camera. Instead, either the anticipated movement appears only within the single shot (giving a wealthy sense of time to some of them despite their short duration) or movement is created in the film's sequences at the editing table. The immobility of the camera, which often takes a frontal position towards its subject, presents a constant frame and in this sense establishes a meaningful framework for much of his work. Through this immobility, every frame (and every part thereof) seems to be 'energized' in its natural composition, leaving none of its visual possibilities unused.
The filmmaker's interest focuses on the fragmentary and, more precisely, on the single frame as it, being the smallest filmic unit, contains a complete world in itself while remaining indivisible. His films are made out of very few shots, or even a single shot, yet often every single frame of each shot is used, exactly once, and always in an inventive and unconventional setting. Rhythm and movement are the keys to Kels' editing. Independent frames interact in precise choreographies. The absence of sound and music only underlines the powerful play between movement, intervals and unconventional duration and makes the musical qualities of cinematic language all the more tangible.
While editing Kels seeks the point at which the material and what he wants 'come together.' Fascinated by the paradox between the seeming randomness of movement in nature and the repetitive process that seems to characterize much of what takes place in the world of animals and human beings, Kels, in some of his films, imposes a metric scheme upon the non-staged events he shoots. Far from remaining simple schematic experiments or becoming overly mannered, his films become intelligent plays with order and chaos, repetition and change, expectation and the unforeseen, the old and the new. Worlds of contrast, tension and dialogue emerge as much on a symbolic level as on a cinematographic one, evoking a wide range of references and emotions, and often showing a subtle sense of humor.
Kels consciously conceives major parts of his films in his mind, far away from the editing table. Although he keeps a Steenbeck at home, he feels it can become a dangerous and unproductive machine if used too extensively. The unusual character of his work stems from his ability to dismantle conventional filming and editing methods and from his talent for building a provocative non-narrative work in which frame, shot, and sequence deliberately refer to both reality and themselves (as more or less composed filmic entities) in an artful play with real and condensed time. He is in full control of his art and knows his material by heart. It is exactly his individuality and complete mastering of the creative process which allow him the necessary freedom to constantly develop his unique way of filmmaking. Having seen Kels' films the paradox of fiction and reality becomes all the more intriguing.
Text: Miryam Van Lier - The Films of Karl Kels (Milenium Film Journal No. 30/31 (Fall 1997) Deutschland/Interviews)
- Heuballen, 1981
- Kondensstreifen, 1982
- Schleuse, 1983
- Nashörner, 1987
- Little Eddy, 1986
- Stare, 1991
- Barbor Shop, 1986
- Ofen, 1994
- Prince Hotel, 1987/2003
- Sidewalk, 2008, 35mm, 30 mins, black & white, silent
For four months of winter, Kels aimed his camera at a stretch of sidewalk in New York City and within this clear-cut frame, he recorded what happened on film. Sidewalk is made from this material, comprising 49 shots that have been liberated from the chronological burden of observation. In silence, the fixed frame comes to life in thirty minutes.?The many fleeting protagonists who walk in and out of the frame, the cars crossing, the snow flurries: all these elements seem to fit into place. Sidewalk is a beautiful cinematographic painting, portrayed in realistic black & white.