Kurt Kren was a known filmmaking within the Viennese Actionist movement, and this DVD offers some of his experimental short films that he filmed with fellow-actionists Otto Mühl and Günter Brus.
Kurt Kren isn't known as a performance artist as much as he is the known filmmaker of the Viennese Aktionist movement. Being Austrian and interested in making experimental short films as early as in the 50's, it's not surprising he would end up as a part of the rebellious Vienna movement that came around the 60's. He created around 50 films in his years, the last one in 1996, two years before his death. What this DVD offers is some of his earliest and probably most recognized film experiments that were part of the Viennese Aktionist movement.
Kurt Kren shows that even filmed actionist performances can be much more than just repulsive and boring, by using editing. Performance art loses some of its power when you can't see it live, so it's great to see performances on film when it's not just a stationary camera filming in one long take. Kurt Kren simply films the action, he rarely controlled the performances. On this DVD we see his films of actions by Otto Mühl and Günter Brus. My knowledge in the Viennese Aktionist movement is very limited even though I own (and have read) a book on it, and I think that has to do with me not really being invested in understanding. I don't see that as an issue, actually, since a lot of Kurt Kren's films are powerful in their own right, whether you understand the performances or not. Performance art as a whole is usually very driven by having a statement and getting something said, whereas I very often watch them because I think it sometimes makes for incredible art.
Even though I'm not deeply invested in this movement I have seen lots of performances before, but when watching them online (streaming), I never give them the attention that finally seeing them on DVD did. And that's basicly the reason why I wanted to give this one a spin and review it, even though I was sure from the beginning I would've have must of depth to say about it. So I've decided to just go through a few of the performances since many of them share a lot of themes and style, and it would be a boring read if I explained all of them in detail.
The first one is "6/64 Mama und papa". This is an action by Otto Mühl. A set-up of people in mud and red paint, flowers sticking up their butts. Hypnotic, even though it's silence. Eggs, vegetables are also used later on. As with most of the films it's hard to see because of the eccentric editing. One of the earliest actionist films I saw when I didn't know what it was, and a title that is often mentioned in the circles still. Out of the Otto Mühl films on this DVD it's easy to understand why this is the most important one, it's definitely the most appealing in terms of experimentation, style and the performance in itself.
Next up is "7/64 Leda mit dem schwan". This is another one by Otto Mühl. A woman is covered in tar and feathers. And yet again gets covered in red paint. Something moves around that looks like a swan head but my guess is it's a dummy, also in tar and feathers. The naked woman also gets covered in nails, eggs and vegetables. Very much like "Mama und papa", and that's not surprising since they were made within the same year and probably not that far apart either (as seen in the numbers in the title - "7" means his seventh film, and "64" is the year) and of course both being performances by Otto Mühl.
The first performance on the DVD by Günter Brus is "8/64 Ana". A very distinct difference in the performances by Mühl and this one by Brus is that this is all shot in black and white, and has even more hyper editing and camera movements. The performances are also clearly set-up differently, and very likely with different motives. This one features black paint (I say black because it's black and white, might also be red), white background, people covering themselves and the walls in the paint - and throw in a bike in there for good measure. This one is very visually striking compared to the other two by Mühl and parts of it could work as a painting on the wall, which I think made it stand out more because of their performances rather than how it was editing together. The contrasts of the black and white alone is something that makes it pop and instantly catches your attention. But it's very hard to see what the actual performance was, which might've been for the better.
"9/64 O Tannenbaum", or "Oh Christmas tree" brings us back to Otto Mühl. The title refers to a Christmas tree but it's different to any Christmas I've experienced. In front of a shoddy Christmas tree a man lying with a board on top of him, with his cock sticking out of the board. The board is covered with a number of things we saw from the other two Mühl performances - feathers, paint, food. Later a woman and a man are being spraypainted on with red paint. It's very hard to get into detail with these films because so much is happening is such short timeframe. But to sum it up: nude man and woman, and they are covered in either food or paint. Sometimes against a wall, sometimes with body parts sticking out through cut-out holes in a board or bag. And at one point they put glasses on the penis, which is just silly!
One of the films I have always been the most fond of by Günter Brus is "10/65 Selbstverstümmelung". The title for this means "self-mutilation", which will you a gist of what's to come. Or maybe not. I'm not sure if what you expect is a man covered in white mud is what you expect. A man is crawling around in the white mud (looks like dough at times) and covers himself with it. Scissors, razors and other self-mutilation instruments are spread around the floor. I like this one simply because it's not as hyper as the other ones, it takes its time to show you what they have set up, and it's quite an interesting piece of performance art where you can actually sense a sort of meaning behind it. Parts of it could've been taken straight out of a nightmare sequence in a horror movie. Quite creepy, actually. I wonder if it would've been as effective in color.
Next up: "10C/65 Brus wünscht euch seine weihnachten". This is a actionist gathering involving Günter and Diana Brus, Otto Mühl, Kurt Kren and more filming their Christmas wishes, basicly (as seen in the title, which I can't be arsed to translate). I really like this one because it's simple but haunting. The camera stands pretty much still through-out but it's all fast-forwarded so the people in front of it are moving like crazy. They're not doing anything creepy, but still it manages to give you a strange feeling watching it. I guess in contrast with the other performances this was something unique.
If you want to get in touch with the Viennese Aktionist movement then I think this is the DVD to get. This features some of the biggest names in the movement, and it's a visual treat even if what they offer isn't your cup of tea. Kurt Kren's experimental filmmaking makes it all more interesting that I'm sure it would've been had it only been filmed performances with no experimenting. Lots of disgusting stuff in these films, so be warned, but if you have an interest in art movements then this is one of the most infamous ones.