More comments:Kurt Kren: Structural Films
This is a fantastic set of films, and it gives me a much better sense of Kren as a filmmaker than the Action Films set did. The best films in this collection exhibit the great strengths of structural film: elegant conceptual simplicity that resonates with complexity and depth. Kren brings to the table a certain hyperactivity of means - extremely rapid cutting, intensive multiple exposures – that add a powerful tension to what are essentially contemplative works. 2/60 48 Heads from the Szondi Test
so furiously cuts between a collection of faces that no one face is recoverable: everything melds into an identikit nightmare, without ever losing its coherence as a face. 3/60 Trees in Autumn
doesn’t have the same compositional coherence, but it has a textural one, as it’s a trainwreck of bare branches in single frames, vibrating with artificial life. The film gives the impression of frantic motion without containing any conventional filmic motion (i.e. movement of an object within the frame or movement of the frame itself). In the single-shot 15/67 TV
, Kren condenses his hyperactivity into the mise-en-scene, by capturing a view with multiple distinct planes of action.
The most impressive film in the set for me was 31/75 Asylum
, which manages to make all of the energy and activity of the foregoing films perfectly placid and pastoral. A landscape is shot from an asylum window, but although it’s something of a classical composition, and it’s quite still, it nevertheless accommodates a seething complexity, as Kren has partially masked the image, then rewound and reshot the landscape multiple times (one frame at a time) with different, ever-changing masks, so we end up with an effect as if we are watching the landscape through a rain-spattered window, with every raindrop that falls showing us a different view of the landscape. And over time, we see a fascinating, pointillistically imperceptible transition between the seasons. It’s an incredibly ingenious idea for a film, and more importantly it works beautifully in practice.Peter Tscherkassky – Films from a Dark Room
This set is basically the Cinemascope Trilogy plus a couple of other (lesser) related works.
I’d like to think Outer Space
needs no introduction, as one of the great experimental films of the last twenty years (and Barbara Hershey’s finest moment on film?). It doesn’t get stale, and I still find it incredibly intense every time I see it. Dream Work
is very much Outer Space Redux
, and goes straight back to the same found-footage well. It’s a brilliant film, but it inevitably suffers in comparison. The first part of the trilogy, the brief, kinetic L’Arrivee
, is more impressive.
All of these films are non-anamorphic, so you have to zoom in to fill your screen. But since the film image is already degraded, and the impact of the film is so percussive and visceral, the lack of resolution doesn’t harm the films particularly.
There are four other films on the disc. One is ensconced as a “bonustrack” and is explicitly marginal and Motion Picture (La Sortie des Ouvriers de l’usine Lumiere a Lyon
is maybe the Platonic ideal of a piece of conceptual art where all of the interest lies in the concept and none in the execution.Martin Arnold – The Cineseizure
Another disc, another trilogy, and it’s a doozy. I’ve long been a champion of Alone. Life Wastes Andy Hardy
, and it’s as hilarious and creepy as it’s ever been, but re-seeing piece touchée
has hugely elevated that film in my esteem.Piece touchée
, like the other films in the trilogy, takes a brief stretch of Hollywood footage (here a husband coming through the door to his waiting wife) and distorts it mercilessly through ‘scratching’ (of the Terminator X rather than the Len Lye kind) – moving incrementally back and forth in time to turn the actors into malfunctioning dancing androids. This technique offers obvious opportunity for easy amusement, as when a simple entry through a doorway is transformed into a ridiculous dance, but Arnold goes much further, and in this film he taps into some fascinating formal and psychological territory. In addition to the expected temporal manipulations, Arnold also flops the image laterally and vertically, and in doing so creates some strikingly bizarre and comical movements. The effects he generates depend on the fact that we’re hard-wired to decode human movement – it’s a fundamental survival mechanism – so even when, rationally, we understand that an action is artificially manipulated and even spatially disjunctive (as when a movement on one side of the frame gets flipped to the other), it’s almost impossible not to read continuity of movement into the disrupted gesture, and, once we’ve perceived a particular movement (even if it’s been cobbled together from obvious disjunctions), it’s almost impossible not to impute intentionality into it – another survival mechanism: our default position is to read gesture as an expression of intent, so if it looks as if somebody is doing something we react accordingly. Which, in this case, tricks us into perceiving extraordinary sweeping gestures running across the screen and frantic flitting back and forth when in fact we’re looking at nothing of the kind. Unlike the later two films, which bring the original soundtracks along for the ride – to great effect – this film is backed by very effective industrial throbs.
The middle film of the trilogy, Passage a l’acte
, transforms characters from To Kill a Mockingbird
into a malfunctioning family of hip-hop robots, but it doesn’t have the formal or narrative invention of the other films. Alone
shows Arnold’s control becoming very precise as well as using the technique to imply a (perverse) narrative.
The “bonustracks” are brief and comparatively minor, but they do at least give us almost all of Arnold’s extant (non-installation) filmography in one place.Jozef Robakowski – The Energy Manifesto!
This set was a real mixed bag for me, both in terms of the quality of the films and the quality of the transfers. Dealing with the latter first, as I suspect is the case with a lot of releases of extremely marginal experimental film, it looks like Index was constrained by what transfers were already in existence, but for a couple of films here, the quality of the transfers completely ruins the film.
The main culprit is An Attempt (Test II)
, which – I guess – consists primarily of alternating red and black (or, given the shitty transfer, possibly dark green) screens. However, the transfer of what looked to be a rather worn print (or maybe that
’s the film – who knows?) is so heavily compressed that the most dominant visual elements are the digital artifacts. In fact, they’re so dominant that in a very real sense you can no longer see the film at all. Somewhat more ambiguous in its compromised status is Video Kisses
. If it was made on video, then the shimmering edges to the imagery and the pink chroma may have been intentional, but if they weren’t, they definitely skew the minimalist imagery in an unfortunate direction because they’re so prominent.
And there are a number of dud films as well, I’m afraid. Attention: Light!
is supposedly a reconstruction / construction of a film originally devised by Paul Sharits, and it’s dedicated to his memory, but the finished thing (coloured screens timed to a piece of music) was incredibly underwhelming, about on the level of an overenthusiastic old-time projectionist playing the lights on the curtain before the film. The kindest thing I could say about Videomasochisms II
is that it prefigures YouTube by a decade or so. It’s a kind of vanilla parody of Kren’s higher-stakes 10/65 Self-mutilation
, so it falls between the twin stools of arid in-joke and dumb prank.
Beyond the middle ground of a half-dozen or so vaguely interesting films, many either under-conceptualised or under-realised, there are, however, a couple of excellent works. The biomechanical recording I Am Coming
presents a kind of demotic apotheosis – and, indeed, given the wintry landscape, a demotic Apotheosis
– and works straightforwardly and brilliantly. The most complex and longest film on display, From My Window
, is very fine. It’s a compilation of footage Robakowski shot of the square visible from his apartment window over a number of years, complete with narration of the people and events we see. (In a sense it’s a cousin to Victor Kossakovsky’s Tishe!
, though it’s quite different in its effect.) The film’s conceit neatly collapses the structuralist, architectural and biographical impulses of his other films while also being richly informed by the historical and political climate of the years inadvertently chronicled. The square quite naturally becomes a site for both performance and surveillance, with Robakowski himself completely implicated on both sides of the transaction.