Sticking to the essentials: Peter Kubelka

I just spent 4 rewarding hours in the company of Peter Kubelka, courtesy of the filmmaker Martina Kudlacek. He is a Viennese man absolutely sold on his own ideas, so eager to share them, and so charmed by their endless possibilities, that we must dispend any skepticism. Martina Kudlacek, who made the 2002 documentary IN THE MIRROR OF MAYA DEREN, begins her film with Kubelka with a nervous hand. The camera movement simultaneously makes us feel the vulnerable presence of the listener and illustrates Kubelka’s comment about our restless eyes. After that wary start, we settle in for an extended visit with Kudelka, a "metric artist," musician, gourmand, collector of objects, a visual artist with the spirit of an adventurous scientist.


Born in 1934 in Vienna, Kubelka did not see any movies, except propaganda films, until his late teens. He discovered the cinema essentials - silence/sound, black/white - as a child when he caught a promotion film about a new pudding. He had followed a herd of women into a dark hushed room with all eyes focused on an enormous white screen. It was an ecstatic experience for him that seemed to shape his life.  Cooking loomed large in his family. The process of choosing, cutting, stirring the elements, and staying alert to minute changes is akin to filmmaking. As a young filmmaker who came to NYC to join Jonas Mekas and other experimental filmmakers in the opening of Anthology Film Archives, he convinced Channel 13 to give him a cooking show in 1970,  an ingenious platform for a downtown artist. “When the butter starts to hiss, it’s protesting,” he reveals when we see him cooking and then eating his breaded veal at the end of Kudlacek's documentary.


“Everything is a dance, everything dances,” says this legend among the Avant Gardists. But, he adds, film does not move. Our mind sees the motion between 2 static images. He points out the importance of recognizing repetition and metaphor. “Metaphor is so important in all the arts.”


He won’t have his films shown in a digital form. Too much is lost. For his first commission for a restaurant in Vienna, he scandolously shot only 2 minutes of film – all he could afford. With 2 dancers, and only 2 lightbulbs, he created their silhouette in black and white,  added some red for accent, the beer logo. A style was born.

He demonstrates how his arm is the length of 24 frames, 1 second of film, an easy way to measure/cut his films which must always look well nailed as a unit on the wall.

For more on this fascinating artist, see his installation of MOMUMENT in NY Film Festival, and

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