Kurt Kren – 31/75 asylum – 1975

By Mónica Delgado

There’s no doubt that (S8) Mostra de Cinema Periférico, in La Coruña, is one of the most important spaces for exhibition of experimental cinema around the world. Each year, its careful programs, performances, installations and masterclasses, places the festival as a special space for dialogue and enjoyment, in its 8, 16, 35mm or video projections, which transform the film experience in a survivor in the middle of an international crisis of projection, distribution and exhibition of films.

The recent (S8) Mostra de Cinema Periférico was marked by the spirit of Lux Algebra, title of this festival which will permeate all its sessions with a special materiality, where the bet for structural cinema and its components allowed us to establish topical, generational or inspirational connections between different gamuts of works of all caliber, different times and context. These sessions, dedicated to fabulous entities like Kurt Kren or Ernie Gehr, traced the starting point for a journey to cinema’s magic as a science or a method, as a mathematical tangible and cerebral exercise.

This edition dedicated a couple of sessions to the work of the great American filmmaker Ernie Gehr (1941), who because of health motives couldn’t go to the festival, despite the announcement of his participation. However, Gehr sent an audio for both presentations, where he briefly commented about the impulse of creating his works and some motifs that persist in them through the years. “No, this isn’t Orson Welles’ voice”, he said, jokingly at the start of his audio, where he later commented on Shift (1974), Signal-Germany on the Air (1985) or Side/Walk/Shuttle (1991).

Gehr, a self-taught filmmaker and one of the principal minds of structural cinema, put in practice a kind of experience based in the execution of the cinematographic apparatus, to inquire about the probabilities of the recording, optics and perspective, in physical and scientific terms. What Gehr puts in scene is the infinite extension of whatever is recordable in camera and its relationship with space and the production of a sense of time.

Ernie Gehr – Serene Velocity (1970)

In these works, like the indispensable Serene Velocity (1970) or the hypnotic Side/Walk/Shuttle (1991) Gehr poses possible readings of probabilities, something which produces random experiments, patterns and quasi-repetitions, stable and tangible. In Serene Velocity, like in Michael Snow’s Wavelenghts (another fundamental film) Gehr expands the articulation of the zoom with the depth of field, color or distance as incompatible processes, or in the verge of engaging with one another, in the same scene. In Side/Walk/Shuttle, he places the camera in different points of a glass elevator in the Fairmont hotel in San Francisco, to establish a number of vertical and horizontal movements in the building.

Gehr’s registry, accompanied by an urban soundtrack of stations and subway corridors which doesn’t belong to what we see, doesn’t just try to break the laws of gravity by subverting the classic verticality of high buildings, but it also proposes, through 25 shots of a minute and a half of duration, an abstraction of the cities, playing to modify their landscape from different angles and perspectives. Side/Walk/Shuttle, a predecessor film of this recent fad which places random cameras in cranes, ships and elevators as a synonym for the annulation of the filmmaker over the autonomous registry of the camera, offers a fascinating lecture about the decomposition of the panorama, the urban landscapes, and the ambiguous courses of displacement.

In Rear Window (1991), Gehr succumbs to the “Brakhage effect”, and registers a backyard of a Brooklyn house with a soul of a voyeur, submitted to the rules of the movement of hanging clothes, which blocks the possible objects or people that cross it, and builds instants of light and a sort of strange breeze in the middle of the city. Here Gehr translates a quotidian act as a kind of impossibility, where white sheets prevent us from knowing the world. And in Reverberation (1969), which we saw in the second session, a program that also included some works of interior spaces, Gehr explores the textures of a granulated reality, in this, his first film with sound, through a terrific ambiance of construction/demolition of a building and the love relation of a couple in the midst of this chaos.

Other high point of this edition of (S8) was the session dedicated to Austrian filmmaker Kurt Kren (1929-1998), which was centered in his structural works. The projection was accompanied by a brilliant conference by British filmmaker and visual artist Nicky Hamlyn, one of the academics dedicated to profoundly study the works of Kren. A couple of years ago, Hamlyn edited (alongside Simon Payne and Al Rees) a book on the work of the Austrian filmmaker, where they compiled interviews, essays and scores of academics and contemporary filmmakers.

Hamlyn explained that Kren’s cinema adopts different strategies of denial and contradiction by the use of the partial elimination of frames as a “way of cancelling the image and denying its fixation, something which the image depends of because of its representational power”. For Hamlyn, Kren’s cinema also incorporates other variables, like the form in which the focus affects the image’s size, and the elements that constitute it. Or, like the catalog text indicates: “a cinema conceived from formal schemes of mathematical precision, but fed by epitome aesthetics of punk”.

The session opened with his 60’s works, characterized by their numeric titles and a formal inquiry of the positive and negative of film, filmed in different speeds, and from a structural montage proposal that he would keep through the years. The intensity of films like 2/60 48 Heads from the Szondi Test (below is a photo of one of his scores, which reflect his way of working) or how on one of his best works, 31/75 Asylum the film generates a fragmented and diffuse landscape from the view of trimmed masks.

From “Cinema on Paper” expo, in Luis Seoane foundation.

Here at Desistfilm we boarded with a particular interest the sessions dedicated to Scott Stark’s cinema, an American filmmaker whose work is developed inside a kind of structuralism where patterns and the stroboscopic effect -with a raw sense of humor- are primal. His The Realist (2013) was one of the top moments in this edition. Also enlightening where the sessions dedicated to Canadian filmmaker Philip Hoffman which allowed us to approach the different nuances of auto-biographical and anthropological documentary that he’s being working in from the seventies. Our favorites were his impeccable works passing through/torn formations ( 1988) and Kitchener-Berlin, both about the familiar memories as part of a social construction of a migrant generation, of a Canada as a space of shelter and a process of relocation.

The section Interference Patterns, programmed by curator and investigator Albert Alcoz, gave us a wide panorama, disperse in moments, of the extensions or affiliations to structural cinema through the use of sound. Among the most outstanding works were Ryszard Wasko‘s 30 sounds situations (1975) (which reminded us of some of Scott Stark’s works like Urban Archeology #1), and Robert Darron’s Feng Huang (1988) which provoked a sound experience derived from the celluloid intervention, through animation.

The celebration of Canyon Cinema’s 50 years made possible for us to watch a gem like Nathaniel Dorsky’s Sarabande (2008), where we could detect the usual resources of the filmmaker from the progression and observation of nature and its subtle quotidian transformations, or a classic like Bruce Baillie’s Castro Street (1966) that could easily be inside the program of Interference Patterns, since it’s a film that was worked as a subtle sound composition in the registry of an industrial zone of a refinery in California.

Frames of Sarabande (2008) by Nathaniel Dorsky

Point aside is the betting of (S8) for film performances, inside its Desbordamientos (Overflows) section, that this year included the post-modern and interactive phantasmagorias of Ojoboca, (already commented in Desistfilm), and the projections by Pablo Mazzolo and his Ceniza Verde, or Galician Tono Mejuto, who, from his Relieves (2018) proved to be one of the most representative filmmaker of today’s experimental cinema in Spain. Mejuto came back from Canada with the result of his stay in the International Artist’s Cinematographic Creation Residences –BAICC, a project realized thanks to the support of AC/E and LIFT, from Toronto.

In Relieves, Mejuto turns to steroscopics to make a traditionalist walk through some city parts of an old Toronto, frozen in time, which brings to mind a film made almost one hundred years ago like Manhatta (1921) by Charles Sheeler and Paul Strand, evoking this kind of city symphonies, or Montparnasse (1929) by Eugene Deslaw, also boarding some home movies’ imaginaries of the fifties, in its use of color, which is transmitted in a lively way with the 16mm stock, together with the stereoscope.

We were witness of a fantastic edition, which also had the visit of Austrian filmmaker Friedl vom Gröller, who gave a film-conference where she established some parallels between her eagerness with photography and the most important motifs of her way of filming and capturing her “victim-models”.

Following this text, a list of the top moments/films for us in this edition, which recovered works in carefully executed projections, something that has allowed the exchange, discussion (with workshops, seminars, conferences) and the keeping alive of the different expressions of experimental cinema from Galicia and other parts of the world.

In order of intensity

  1. 31/75 Asylum(1975, 16mm) by Kurt Kren
  2. Reverberation(1969, 16mm) by Ernie Gehr
  3. The Realist(2013, video) by Scott Stark
  4. Sarabande(2018, 16mm) by Nathaniel Dorsky
  5. Saint Bathans Repetitions(2916, 16mm to 35mm) by Alexandre Larose
  6. Vulture(work in progress, 2018, 16mm) by Philip Hoffman
  7. Erwin, Toni, Ilse (1978, 16mm) by Friedl vom Gröller
  8. Confort Stations(2018, 16mm) by Ojoboca
  9. Ceniza Verde(2018, 16mm) by Pablo Mazzolo
  10. Pezas imposibles(2018, digital) by Lara and Noa Castro