Wednesday, May 6, 2009

Films I Love #30: Asyl (Kurt Kren, 1975)

The structural films of the Austrian avant-garde filmmaker Kurt Kren are each based around a single technical conceit to which the film rigidly coheres, and around which it is structured. For Kren and the structuralists he inspired, the technical craft of cinema is in fact the whole of the cinema, and the themes and ideas in his films arise directly and solely from the methods of their contruction. Asyl is one of Kren's most formally ambitious works, an experiment in time lapse photography, multiple exposures, and segmented images. When he moved to a home in the country, Kren set up a static camera nearby, and over the course of 21 non-consecutive days, he fed the same strip of film stock through the camera once per day. In front of the lens, Kren also placed a masking board with holes in it, the placement of which was varied daily so that each time the film stock went through the camera, different areas of the image were exposed. The result is a film in which, within a single frame, time and space are made to overlap and coexist in unusual ways, creating impossible landscapes composed from footage shot on different days throughout the year. Sometimes, most of the film is exposed and the image becomes a collaged landscape, in which a snowbank runs directly into a grassy springtime meadow, or in which rain falls through the top half of the frame only to disappear when in reaches the bright sunshine of the lower half. At other times, the image is more pointillist, with distinct areas floating in the black frame like pieces of a puzzle that needs to be assembled.

The seasons run seamlessly into each other in this way, and time becomes hazy. Occasionally, a person will walk along the road in one part of the image, disappearing at an invisible border where the image fades into a different day, a different time. Kren is here reconfiguring film as a medium in which time and space cease to be linear in any sense. The film is instead about totalities; it invites the viewer to think about the progress of time and the way it generally works in cinematic images, and by contrast to process the multiple layered times implicit in each frame of Asyl. This short is Kren's finest work, with a conceptual purity and inventiveness that are unmatched even in his consistently intriguing oeuvre.


Sam Juliano said...

Oh my God Ed, this is really FANTASTIC! I just logged on to respond to the Lewton and I am struck by these utterly magnificent screen caps, which are a veritable feast for the eyes. With the 70's poll coming up next month, I also feel a sense of urgency to look at Kren, whom I confess I know nothing about. But leave it to your impeccable taste to rectify that gap from my end.
The 'seasons running seamlessly together' and the haziness of time is a fascinating cinematic concept. Your final paragraph is extraordinary, and it contains the crux of the film:

"Kren is here reconfiguring film as a medium in which time and space cease to be linear in any sense."

I will get right over to Amazon. Thank You, Sir.

Ed Howard said...

Thanks, Sam. Although you'll have to avoid Amazon and head over to Erstwhile Records, the US distributor for DVDs from the Austrian Index label, who have released several compilations of Kren's films. This particular one is from his Structural Films collection, which to me is the most interesting one, packed with his formalist experiments.

Sam Juliano said...

Indeed Ed, thank you! Erstwhile Records it will be!

Dean Treadway said...

An incredible article, Ed! Thanks for turning me on to Kren! I'll be looking out for his work; I love your frame grabs, and I'm on my way to YouTube to see the work for myself!

Ed Howard said...

Thanks, Dean. Your post of that Sid Laverents film naturally reminded me of this one, which uses similar means towards *very* different ends. Hopefully you're able to track down some of Kren's work as well. He's a very interesting filmmaker.

Matt said...

Thanks this was very enlightening.