Kurt Kren: Structural Films Review

The second of Index DVD’s Kurt Kren compilations, Structural Films is less immediate, perhaps less immediately satisfying than the first. That disc, dubbed Action Films, compiled ten of his collaborations with the actionists Günter Brus and Otto Mühl and as such was far more intense, far more likely to garner a reaction. Here, however, we have Kren on his own, experimenting and feeling things out as though trying to understand film and its properties, material or otherwise. The title of the first film on this collection 1/57 Versuch mit synthetischem Ton (Test), or 1/57 Experiment With Synthetic Sound (Test), points this up immediately. It finds Kren attempting things, in this case the relationship between sound and image as well as the construction of sound; there’s no definitive outcome to pieces, even if the circumstances in which they’ve been made have been highly calculated or controlled.

As such the structural works may in fact be more interesting than the action films. There’s a greater range of possibilities and as a result more to attract the attention. We don’t feel compelled to a reaction quite as we did with the Brus and Mühl pieces, but rather are allowed to explore and consider. That said, and as the disc’s title suggests, there’s also a unity to these fifteen shorts – key to each are their editing structures, their rhythms. Oftentimes Kren has considered their construction first (frame counts, number of exposures and the like) whilst the image remains unprepared. 15/67 TV, for example, was filmed solely as a result of some friends being late to meet him and he became bored as a result. 28/73 Zeitaufnahme(n) or 28/73 Time Exposure(s), on the other hand, serves as a portrait of fellow filmmaker Hans Peter Kochenrath, yet clearly Kren is more concerned with the various lenses he is using and, of course, the various exposures.

If these makes the films sound dry and academic, the kind of thing which Peter Greenaway would later parody in his 1978 short Vertical Features Remake, then this would be a mistake. Whilst the imagery is generally secondary, we’re nonetheless forced to give it a great deal of consideration. Rendered abstract more often than not (tree, a beer bottle, a cactus – all become objects of great mystery) we’re asked to look more closely, to search for connections. Indeed, during the pieces which are more hectic in their execution – the furiously edited likes of 2/60 48 Köpfe aus dem Szondi-Test (2/60 48 Heads from the Szondi-Test) or 3/60 Bäume im Herbst (3/60 Trees in Autumn) – it is only these interconnections which we are able to rely on. As a result, and this is the important thing, we almost chance upon a terrific beauty; 17/68 Grün-rot (17/68 Green-red) being a dance of its titular colours, whilst 37/78 Tree Again (the film was shot in the US, hence the English-language title) offer its subject in the most stunning of fashions, all the more remarkable given that Kren shot for 50 days without knowing the outcome.

Moreover, there’s also a texture to this beauty and it makes a number of these films more greatly resemble animations (17/68 Grün-rot, for example, recalls the hand-painted films of Stan Brakhage, Len Lye and Norman McLaren). The pieces on this disc are often unattached to conventional filmic practices, but instead share an affinity with non-cinema methods of the moving image. Time and again we find Kren attempting to give the image some kind weight, generally through the fast cutting and/or multiple exposures. Both 28/73 Zeitaufnahme(n) and 37/78 Tree Again present an almost 3D representation of their subjects, as you’d expect from a holographic image or the like. Meanwhile, 38/79 Sentimental Punk, though silent, attempts to grab the essence of a San Franciscan punk concert by using such methods on a portion of the crowd. In truth such aims don’t always come off (or at least not fully), but then on each occasion Kren is stepping into a virtual no man’s land. Crucially, they each succeed on enough levels to keep us interesting and to keep us coming back. As said, they are less forceful than actionist films, as we should expect, but in their own way prove equally important. Indeed, 15/67 TV and 31/75 Asyl (31/75 Asylum) are as integral to an understanding of Kren’s works as 12/66 Cosinus Alpha.

The Disc

Structural Films arrives on DVD in identical condition to Kren’s Action Films. Once again, we find that the soundtracks and aspect ratios have been adhered to (in the case of the latter these are either non-existent or rendered in DD1.0 or PCM) and that Index have done their best to ensure fine presentations. There are no technical flaws to speak of, rather we have to take into account each short’s filming conditions when dealing with issues of contrast and clarity. Indeed, it seems more than likely that each is appearing just as Kren would intend and as such there really are no complaints. As with Action Films we also find a 20-page bilingual booklet (English and German) full of notes, interview excerpts and the like. We could perhaps ask for more on the extras front than this, yet the inclusion of fifteen films seems more than sufficient.

For further information on Index DVD and details on how to purchase their releases, please visit their website at www.index-dvd.at.

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Last updated: 19/04/2018 06:40:23

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