By Claudia Siefen
For me, film festivals are promises.
Thanks to the Viennale I own one metre of a Peter Kubelka film (it is pinned on my corkboard now): one metre of white frames, cut out personally from the experimental short Arnulf Rainer. What can I say, I attended a lecture by Kubelka and he told me to do it! And you can’t sit with Kubelka, watching and listening to Arnulf Rainer and not do what he tells you afterwards, so …
Arnulf Rainer is an Austrian artist who is famous for his repainted self-portraits. Kubelka’s “Arnulf Rainer” (6 1/2 minutes, black and white, optical sound, 35mm, 1960) is composed entirely of frames of solid black and solid white which Kubelka strings together in lengths as long as 24 seconds and as short as a single frame and with that a rapid flicker effect is produced. The optical sound is deafening during the short and there are long sections of darkness. In reducing the film to its essentials, let’s not forget about the fact that this work is from 1960 and its first screening in Vienna forced the audience leave in indignation. Even today a few boys sitting behind me were groaning: “I can’t stand this any longer!”. Kubelka laughed at this.
In 1970, he co-founded the Anthology Film Archives in New York and designed the black viewing space, the «Invisible Cinema». The film was presented on two projectors, with two projectionists working on them, and Kubelka did not tire of thanking them for their specialised handicraft. But that evening promised to be even more special: parallel to Arnulf Rainer, Antiphon was screened, which Peter Kubelka composed of 9216 single frames. First shown one after the other, in the end their visions and sounds were both brought together via the projectors. Black and white, sound and silence, and 50 years after screening the radical Arnulf Rainer, here came Antiphon, its twin. Like Kubelka said “the normal human being is specialised and consumes the works of the professionals, the virtuosos. It is certainly not that ideal. Naturally, one cannot do everything like a virtuoso. But then, virtuosity also becomes questionable”.
Another promise was a short programme by Rosa von Praunheim. The German artist is an icon and paved the way for the queer movement. Born as Holger Radtke, he composed a new name “Rosa von Praunheim”: Rosa like the pink triangles homosexuals had to wear in Nazi concentration camps, and Praunheim as in the district in Frankfurt. To coincide with his 70th birthday, which will be celebrated this November, von Praunheim is working on the presentation of 70 new films; little portraits introducing his “universe”. He introduces his house cleaner and the journey she makes every Tuesday from Poland to Berlin to work, because the money her husband is earning is not enough money to make a living. “Are you happy?”, Praunheim asks her. She looks into the camera: “I don’t think so. But you know what? I never expected to be happy.” He also shows his neighbours, a couple for 40 years, showing their humble flat, humble but fitted out with baroque decor. The two men talk about their love story but also about the mentally ill brother they have taken care of for many years now. Then we have a beautiful and tender interview with the German director Werner Schroeter. The two old friends lark around but also find serious words regarding their long life conflicts, while Praunheim is sitting at Schroeter’s feet. “I was always looking for beauty”, Schroeter coughs, “and that fitted the way I was looking, so spherical. You, Rosa, when you were young you were much too beautiful for that!“ Then there is a portrait of Praunheim by the director Elfie Mikesch called Ich bin ein Gedicht (I am a piece of poetry), where Praunheim on his part is showing his flat, declaiming poets he wrote, smiling straight into the camera with witty humour and witty eyes. And finally he introduces some of the «Sisters of Perpetual Indulgence» in Berlin, how they get themselves ready to go out and how they talk to people and spread condoms. While make-up is applied carefully we listen to several stories that differ in their basic attitude. And humour again. This seems to be the tenor of the programme; life is never easy and sometimes problems seem to burden your days and nights, but humour and a smile is needed more with every single day.
Coleen Fitzgibbon’s experimental shorts capture the atmosphere of the 1970s within a mixture of documentary and lyrical images. Daily News (1976) and Der Spiegel (1975) are both based on micro films of newspapers, edited so fast that reading the headlines becomes impossible. Rich/Poor (1977) is a short documentary shot on the streets of Manhattan. And it rests upon pure … prejudices. Men and women are categorised as «poor» or «rich», depending on the way they are dressed and also the places where they are encountered. So supposed poor people are asked about their opinion on rich people, and supposed rich people are asked about their view on the poor: «What do you think about rich people?» «I hate them.» – «What do you think of poor people?» «Oh I never think of them, maybe I should?»
X Magazin Benefit (1978) documents some gigs of the punk rock bands DNA, James Chance and Contortions. Interesting enough that most of the material got lost somehow until, years later, a friend found the film, called Fitzgibbon and asked if she would be interested in having it back. Mostly in black and darkness during some concerts, Coleen Fitzgibbon leaves it to the audience to imagine a concert, a punk concert you might have visited yourself so many times before? The imagination on the screen feels equal to the imagination of your own experience. Do you remember?
Two Austrian short films also handled the terms of imagination and the gap between spoken words, silence and images, distances. The latest work by Johann Lurf, Reconnaissance (2012), documents the Morris Reservoir in California, which functioned for decades as a military torpedo testing site. As Lurf was not allowed to get close to the area he was forced to keep hundreds of metres away from his object of desire. And images start to swirl, proportions get thrown into turmoil, colours grow unreal. No sound.
Selma Doborac’s short film also works with silence, as we drive in a car on a sunny day, first not knowing where the voyage will lead us. Es war ein Tag wie jeder andere im Frühling oder Sommer. (2012), (It was a day just like any other in spring or summer.) The subtitles tell us three stories, and while reading you have to connect them on your very own. No voice over is helping you, and if you have missed one half line, well, the accurate German titles have already passed, putting the stories more and more together: somewhere in Bosnia and some memories about a dish and its position after grandpa had put it on the car roof. Or where did he put it? Reading the lines you get more and more involved and also touched by the fact that there is no «truth» about the plate. The story, as calm as it is written, screws into something absurd, and outside the street remains sunny.
So let me end with a humanistic promise by Kubelka: «I am absolutely sure that, in the last few years, one will have to start again, to rebuild and continue this form of art which is cinema, so we don’t lose the hundreds of years of humanity’s thinking which is on film».