Avant-Garde Shorts (1960-2002)

Jimmy came over for an unexpected evening of avant-garde shorts which I kicked off by fast-forwarding through Michael Snow’s Presents to show off its wackyness. Then we skimmed the Index DVD catalogue and I watched some others after he’d left.

Structuralist Films By Kurt Kren
I kinda know what structuralism is, though I’d have trouble defining it… so I defer to P. Adams Sitney, who says a “tight nexus of content, a shape designed to explore the facets of the material,” and the films render content “minimal and subsidiary to the outline.” Sounds a lot like Presents.
37/78 Tree Again – stop-motion of a tree, sometimes with cows, sometimes without.
2/60 48 Heads From The Szondi-Test – I liked this one best – heads cut out of newspapers or magazines rapidly edited into a time-montage.
17/68 Green-Red – a meditation on green and red bottles. Not too exciting… hardly up to the meditation standards of Lemon, for instance. Not just green/red, I saw some yellow in there.

Christoph Huber, when asked “What is the greatest movie ever made?”:

“Why, Kurt Kren’s 37/78 Tree Again, of course.” – which usually just raises eyebrows. So then, it’s my pleasure to expand on how a film they’ve never heard of, by a filmmaker they’ve never heard of, embodies the beauty and contradictions of cinema in its essence – and does so in less than four minutes. Kren’s film has an additional advantage, not always the case in that grey zone we shall term for purposes of straightforwardness “avant garde:” It can be described quite vividly in words, and its genesis makes for a good story. For about two months Kren returned daily to the same spot in Vermont to shoot single frames of a tree (using a roll of infrared film well past its expiration date). The succession of frames was not chronological, but Kren rewound the film according to a prearranged plan. The result is intoxicating, miraculously and mysteriously capturing time out of joint. In split seconds, seasons change and leaves are flashing in different colours, animals and clouds rush by, light and weather mutate constantly. In capturing decay and renewal of (and around) this tree Kren communicates the perpetual flux of the entire world, and a central paradox of cinema.

Actionist Films By Kurt Kren
A contemporary of Peter Kubelka, who made the irritating short Pause, Kren is also known for his “actionist” films. Actionism was an Austrian movement of artists who rejected “object-based or otherwise commodifiable art practices. The practice of staging precisely scored actions in controlled environments or before audiences.” (wikipedia). A precursor to performance-art, this mostly meant that people like Gunther Brus and Arnulf Rainer stripped naked and threw paint on each other, and people like Kren and Kubelka filmed it. Not as exciting as the structuralist works.
7/64 Leda and the Swan – Leda is covered in goo and acts as the main course in a feast, but the actionists stopped short of actually eating her. Eli Roth might’ve seen this before filming Thanksgiving.
10b/65 Silver Action Brus – Brus is in a tent, painting the walls, I dunno, looked like something high school kids would do as an art piece (because of the cheapness and easy shock-value) then edited to bits by Kren.

Leda and the Swan:

Peter Tscherkassky
One of my new favorite people! His “Cinemascope Trilogy” (first three titles below) is mindblowingly awesome. I hope to watch it over and over again… it joins the ranks of Heart of the World and Life Wastes Andy Hardy and Dog’s Dialogue in my short-film hall of fame.
2 minutes, train arrives and happy woman disembarks, film itself “arrives” on the screen too after fluttering about for the first half.
Outer Space
10 minutes of terror, as a girl in a haunted house movie gets brutally attacked by film editing and multiple exposures.
Dream Work
11 more minutes of sheer awesomeness taken from the same film as Outer Space, but not as terrifying.
Super-multi-exposure remix of some TV ads.
Motion Picture
All light/dark white/black flicker with no distinguishable image, short
Get Ready
A trailer for the 1999 Vienna film festival using PT’s exposure techniques


Outer Space:

Dream Work:

Today (1997, Eija-Liisa Ahtila)
“Today my dad’s crying. Last night a car drove over his dad who died instantly.” First part, Tanaan, a pretty girl tells us about her sad dad. Second part, Vera, an older woman, says some stuff but it doesn’t last long and before I’ve gotten my bearings we’re on to Third part, Faija (dad). First we see grandad lay down in the shadows of a dark road, then the pretty girl’s dad talks about being a dad. Movie wasn’t what I was expecting after sitting through all that Kurt Kren, but it’s actually pretty good, really nicely shot, some kinda associative pondering of three generations (going from the girl to her dad to vera/grandad, back to the dad and girl) maybe? Music by 22-Pistepirkko! Ahtila is Finnish. I found art gallery websites spouting off about her methods, but it’s all fancy-talk for “she tells stories about people.”

Alone. Life Wastes Andy Hardy (1998, Martin Arnold)
Mickey Rooney, Judy Garland and Fay Holden are trapped in the moment, rewound, slowed down and turned into robots, their every subliminally sexual movement revealed. I can not watch this enough times… so happy to have it on DVD now.

Le Film a Venir (1997, Raoul Ruiz)
Yay, more wacky short fun from my man Ruiz. Black and white and mysterious, once more about hidden meaning and light sources and repetitions, abruptly shifting mood and plot, either surrealistic or beyond my comprehension. I’ve watched it twice and I’m pleased to say that I can’t manage a plot description. More play with narrator voices and narrative shortcuts, like in Hypothesis and Dog’s Dialogue. And Ruiz has a hundred movies – a hundred movies! – to explore. I could not be more excited.

Letter to America (1999, Kira Muratova)
Disappointingly not half as wacky as the Ruiz. A dude is being filmed by his friend, sending a video message to new york, but the dude has nothing to say. So dude goes to the place he rents and tries to get some rent money out of the woman staying there. She’s being a jerk about it, but gives him a little money. He wanders back to his video friend and recites a triumphant poem before the camera. Apparently had some Crime & Punishment references I didn’t catch. J. Taubman: “Muratova’s film is itself a letter to America. One of its not so hidden messages is an ironic self-commentary on Muratova’s own situation, an example of what talent can do even in poverty.” She won a $50,000 award in Berlin, which helped fund her next feature. I liked it alright, but rather than seeming like a new cinematic voice, it kinda seemed like an american indie short that speaks Russian.