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Kurt Kren: A Revival?

Embedded above is Kurt Kren‘s short film 38/79 Sentimental Punk, which I write about in more detail in the article below.

At almost the same time a Filmsick article on avant garde filmmaker Kurt Kren (1929-98) popped up in my RSS reader, I saw that one of Kurt’s films was playing at this year’s New York Underground Film Festival. I had never heard of Kurt before, which isn’t news, but when strange little coincidences like this happen, I usually like to go investigate. And what really piqued my interest was Kurt’s involvement in something called the International Underground Film Festival (IUFF), which ran in London in 1970.

Since I started covering underground fests about a year ago, I’ve been real curious about the origins of the term “underground film” and what was the first real festival that used “underground” in its name. What I’ve found out will be the subject of a future post. For now, this article credits the work of Kren shown at IUFF as having a strong influence on British avant garde filmmakers (emphasis mine):

The inclusion of the more austere and confrontational expanded films of the Austrian artists Valie Export and Peter Weibel, and those of Peter Kulbelka and Kurt Kren in particular was to make an impression on London filmmakers, foreshadowing the concern with formal or ‘structure’ film which to be a hallmark of British experimental filmmaking later in the decade.

Blurry image of a man walking through a busy walkway

Kren’s short films are structuralist works with, for the most part, repetitive frames looped together by strict mathematical formulas. Kren also worked using a single-frame editing technique, which he first began doing in camera, an example of which is what NYUFF will be showing. Ubu Web describes that film as:

A single-frame process in nature, as shown in 3/60 Baume im Herbst, has no repetitions; each frame holds a new view in store.

Ubu doesn’t offer this particular film online, but you can see four of his other works there. These are some of his shorts chronicling the performances of the Vienna Actionist movement. Naked bodies writhe around on the ground and on tables while artist Otto Muehl pours paint, sand, feathers and other substances all over them. Although the films have full nudity and sexual acts — whether real or simulated it’s hard to tell — Kren’s intense close-up framing and very rapid editing make the films something other than pornography. You know something dirty’s going on, but you can’t tell exactly what. You can’t even tell who or what is male or female. I can’t embed these films here, but I recommend a look-see.

What I can embed, and did above, is the one Kren short available on YouTube (as far as I can tell) (and provided via that Filmsick post). This is a more sedate short than the Actionist ones. 38/79 Sentimental Punk is a washed-out crowd scene film with blurry figures passing by in the distance with some occasional faces in close-up. It’s not a film that really struck me the first time I watched it, but the haunting imagery in it has kept it fairly fresh in my mind and keeps drawing me back for repeated viewings. I find something inexplicably fascinating about it. It’s kind of like a faded painting that I wouldn’t mind hanging on the wall so that I could walk by and dig out some hitherto unseen detail.

A complete Kurt Kren filmography can be found at the site Flicker (not to be confused with the photo sharing site).