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Peter Kubelka Presents His Metric Cinema

Austrian filmmaker Peter Kubelka, one of the cinema’s few great purists, will make a rare Chicago appearance to screen his three “metric” films in their even rarer original 35-millimeter format. Kubelka has made only six films, and these three are his shortest. They’re called metric because Kubelka strips away much of the associational subject matter, creating complex rhythms through a precise timing in which each frame is essential. In Adebar (1957), originally commissioned as an ad for a cafe, a few figures appear in faceless silhouette and in positive and negative, sometimes in brief, fragmentary movements and sometimes in stills, coming together without really touching, trapped in a dance that might go on forever. Schwechater (1958) was commissioned as a beer commercial; instead Kubelka shot some indifferent footage, including a woman drinking beer, and then spent many months editing it. The one-minute film is ecstatically powerful, paced so rapidly that it’s almost abstract, its rhythm producing an almost unfathomable organic complexity. Arnulf Rainer (1960) began as a film about the Austrian artist of the same name but evolved into a work whose only “images” are solid black and solid white frames, whose only sound is either white noise or silence. Like all Kubelka’s work, it does more than explore cinematic materials: as sound and image flicker on and off, coordinated or mysteriously out of sync, Kubelka conjures up thunder and lightning. As a child Kubelka was trained in music, and because of their precision his films have been likened to the music of Webern; Bach’s music, with its complex, almost spatial structures, is an equally apt comparison. Some of the films will be repeated, and they deepen with each viewing. Museum of Contemporary Art, 220 E. Chicago, Sunday, October 12, 2:00, 312-397-4010.

— Fred Camper

Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): Schwechater film still.