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Introduction
1957

Peter Kulbelka makes Arnulf Rainer, Vienna

"The greatness of cinema is not that you can repeat natural light with natural sound, but that you can separate it. In nature no lightning can occur without thunder, no thunder without lightning, but I can separate it."
Peter Kubelka, The Theory of Metrical Film

'Metrical film', with its connotations of rational organisation, is the term used by the Austrian filmmaker Peter Kubelka to describe his films of the late 1950s. Before making Arnulf Rainer, Kubelka had made two short 'metric' commercials, devising elaborate formal laws to determine the arrangement of frames. In 1958, Kubelka received a commission from his friend Arnulf Rainer, a Viennese painter, to make a colour film showing the artist and his work. Kubelka tried to incorporate experimental camerawork inspired by Stan Brakhage's Anticipation of the Night into his new project, but was unsatisfied with the result. Turning his back on the footage of Rainer, he proceeded to construct an abstract film, named after its unwitting sponsor, from transparent film leader, black film, and two strips of magnetic sound.

Arnulf Rainer combines an image track consisting of black and white frames with a soundtrack alternating white noise and silence. The effect is a flickering screen image and a pulsating sound that is not directly synchronised to the visual pattern, but connects to the visual rhythm by anticipating or referring back to patterns on the screen. As both Jonas Mekas and Stan Brakhage have noted, Arnulf Rainer is a film experience that cannot be switched off by the closing of the eyes; the unique relationship between sound and image means that the viewing experience continues through the soundtrack. The film had a profound influence on the development of structural film in the following decade.

Ingrid Stigsdotter

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Still from Arnulf Rainer

Courtesy of the artist/Lux
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