La Furia Umana
  • I’m not like evereybody else
    The Kinks
  • E che, sono forse al mondo per realizzare delle idee?
    Max Stirner
  • (No ideas but in things)
    W.C. Williams
Peter Kubelka remembers his friend Stan Brakhage

Peter Kubelka remembers his friend Stan Brakhage

An Interview by Eve Heller and Peter Tscherkassky

Vienna, 2 November 2020

From left; Eve Heller, Peter Kubelka, and Luise Cibulka-Kubelka

PK. I met Brakhage the first time in 1958, on the occasion of the World Exhibition in Brussels, which included an experimental film competition. Of course, you know I always hated the word “experimental” – because I simply consider myself a filmmaker, period. The organizer was the great Jacques Ledoux, who founded the Cinémathèque Royale de Belgique. He actually had traveled all over Europe, and I think also to America, to personally meet with filmmakers of whom he had heard. There was a nascent movement in the air, especially in the US, whereas in Europe the situation was a bit blurred. The general situation was that in America everything that was not Hollywood and not union was suppressed. In Europe, it was not exactly suppressed. There were people who offered work to young cineastes, for example the producer Silverman, but the filmmakers had to make compromises. The result was neither good commercial productions nor genuine cinema. It was called the Nouvelle Vague. The Nouvelle Vague is neither flesh nor fowl, it is a pseudo-avant-garde commercial venture. So, compared to America in this sense, the situation in Europe was different – as in France. But this was not the case in Austria. Here everything that was not absolutely conservative, a left-over from the Nazi regime or an imitation of the commercially successful Viennese film of the 1930s, was inacceptable. The concept of independent filmmaking did not yet exist. There was some vague idea of the French avant-garde and people who produced film outside of what the mainstream permitted. But these artists had been sponsored by wealthy donors, as in Luis Buñuel’s case. In Austria, private sponsorship of art as it existed in America was entirely unknown. The aristocracy was gone, the Church felt threatened. While the political left was backed up by Lenin’s proclamation that film was the greatest art form of the 20 th century, in the West, the pope had declared film was a source of sinfulness. They would, for example, even censor Tom and Jerry, sinful because it was too violent and could not be presented to the whole family on Sunday afternoons. I always abhorred the fact that a work of art would be censored for the necessity of entertaining the whole family on Sunday afternoons.

In this climate, Ledoux was keenly interested in forms of cinema that were not subject to the laws of film business. He came to Vienna and invited me to this competition in Brussels, as he had already done with the American filmmakers: Stan Brakhage, Kenneth Anger, Robert Breer – not yet including Gregory Markopoulos, nor Jonas Mekas. In 1958, they had not yet made their appearance.

EH. Sidney Peterson?

PK. Sidney Peterson, yes. And Broughton, yes. And, of course, Maya Deren. Ledoux had come upon my films through the fact that Mosaik im Vertrauen had been shown in Paris at the Musée de l’Homme and also at the Venice Biennale in ’56 – as a documentary film, and as a Vietnamese production – because Austria did not want to submit the film. A Vietnamese friend in Rome had taken me to his ambassador who agreed to announce my film: Mosaik im Vertrauen, 1955, Peter Kubelka, Vietnam. A film that uses Upper Austrian dialect billed as Vietnamese!

So that was my situation. I did not represent any nation, whatsoever. And the same was true for the filmmakers who came from America but who also did not represent a nation. They were all absolute individuals, Stan Brakhage and the others. When we met in Brussels, we were immediately drawn to one another. We all despised the bastard films of the Nouvelle Vague.

Another thing was that Brakhage and I both came to Brussels with a very high self-esteem and we both were on a mission. We were convinced that what each of us did was the crest of the wave of cinema – which it actually was.

At the time, I had made Mosaik, Adebar, and Schwechater. But I could not show Schwechater because the beer company that had commissioned it as a commercial absolutely hated it. So, I didn’t have it at my disposal, and I couldn’t bring it to Brussels. I only had Mosaik and Adebar. Stan Brakhage came with his psychodramas, which I of course hated because I considered them conventional story-telling cinema. I conceived of film as being born the moment it hits the screen. When he saw Mosaik and Adebar, he was immediately enthusiastic. When I saw Anticipation of the Night, I was enthusiastic because it was a breakthrough in getting away from a literary script and breaking from the concept of the camera glued to the eye of a cameraman. I must also say that, at that time, my position was absolutely radical. I was thinking, “What is film?” The way that came to me was something which was practically refused by everybody. Similar things happened to Stan. So already in 1958 at this experimental film competition, we became close friends. We talked for hours about everything. It was very, very… How should I say? If you talk with somebody who also has this urge for discovery, then everything is useful. Brakhage also saw himself as the avant-garde filmmaker in America. I saw myself as the avant-garde filmmaker everywhere, not just Austria –because that was nothing. We were also united by a deep disappointment when we saw the other films ­– the French films, the German films, horrible, fake avant-garde, and the Spanish films, and then the Polish films.

We diagnosed a closeness and a similarity in our endeavors and in the way we saw cinema. We hated this harmlessness and we permitted experimentation. We despised the attempt to sneak into commercial distribution. So already back in 1958, Stan and I were convinced that either Stan or I had to win the big prize, because our films were the only ones worth considering. And then an uninteresting softcore surrealist film called Dom from the Łódź Animation Film School got the first prize. We were again deeply disappointed. These things also united us. It was a personal feeling for each other, and the fact that we felt ourselves to be in the same trench.

Five years later, in 1963, we had a similar situation at the follow-up festival, now in Knokke-Le-Zoute. Although having been forewarned by our experience in Brussels, both Stan and I hoped and expected to win the main award. Instead a ridiculously stupid film called Die Parallelstraße got the first prize, a German production of no interest whatsoever that disappeared immediately afterwards.

* * *

PK. I met Maya Deren. I did not despise her, but her work for me was a development of the Cocteau experience. This is worth mentioning because in America, the birth of the independent movement was Jean Cocteau’s The Blood of a Poet. They had all seen it and for the young Americans it opened a door to a world of cinema outside Hollywood. I strongly disliked Cocteau. Even when we started Anthology Film Archives, I fought Cocteau’s entry. Stan’s psychodramas smell a little bit like Cocteau, but then he freed himself from that. The real Brakhage for me starts with Anticipation of the Night. There is no Cocteau anymore. I mean there is this one final shot when the person hangs himself – you see the shadow of the rope and the hanging. It is a kind of throwback to where Brakhage came from.


PK. One episode with Stan that might be an interesting anecdote: We were invited to a castle belonging to the owner of the Gifford film factory. We had an absolutely old-style, luxurious dinner, incredible cooking. Then the table was cleared, and we went into the salon. A servant came in and said, “Madames et Messieurs. . . .” and invited us to taste a selection of incredible cheeses. I had an education in the art of cooking, so to speak. I come from a family that included a great grandfather who had a restaurant, and my grandmother was an incredible cook – so I had a knowledge of that world beforehand. But Stan – and this is an interesting thing – Stan was what is called a “hick”. I didn’t know what a “hick” was at the time and I took everything he said at face value. When it came time for him to taste this incredibly rich French cheese, he didn’t understand why people would eat them and especially without bread. He said that real cheese was Kraft cheese and he could get good Kraft cheese at the supermarket in Rollinsville.

Stan had quite a provincial perspective because he lived in Rollinsville, a very small village in the Rocky Mountains behind Denver – really at the end of the world. And there he had established his home with Jane – maybe the driving force was Jane. To my mind, they had a completely new concept of and relationship to nature, inspired by Thoreau. When I came to America in 1966, he invited me to his house in Rollinsville where he had really incredibly graciously emptied his studio in order to give me his whole work space to use. I had brought Unsere Afrikareise to America in order to make a married sound print. I had already finished the sound editing and the editing of the 16mm workprint. Now I needed to conform the original negative to the workprint – as is standard procedure. And this I did at Brakhage’s house in Rollinsville, Colorado. I had not previously worked with 16mm, a format with which I had never wanted to work. I did so out of necessity in the case of Unsere Afrikareise. My cinema is 35mm cinema. But at the urging of Brakhage and Jonas I also made 16mm prints of my 35mm films. They knew that otherwise these films wouldn’t be shown at all. There was not a single cinema in the United States that would show a film not included on the list of officially permitted films. Brakhage was once physically beaten and had to go to the hospital because a projectionist, who was subsequently fired, had projected one of his films in a regular cinema.

Before we jump to further meetings, I would like to mention some names: Charles Ives, and poets like Charles Olson and Robert Duncan, and the pianist Glenn Gould. These were heroes of Stan. I talked to him about [Johann Sebastian] Bach, because he mentioned Bach as an inspiration for Anticipation of the Night. He claimed that he had tried to incorporate inspirations of Bach into his structuring of Anticipation of the Night, which I could not verify. I learned that Stan had a very impressionistic way of approaching what is called truth or exact facts. He wrote several essays on film people, among them [Georges] Méliès and [Carl Theodor] Dreyer. And in the Méliès’ essay, he talked at length about the experience of Méliès in America, though Méliès never went to America. It was his brother who had been to America. When I showed Stan these errors and asked, “Stan, what will you do about this?”, he replied, “Well, Peter, it’s not so important. We’ll just leave it like as it is.” This way of dealing with facts was characteristic of him. Now I don’t have any difficulties with this, but I did at the time. I have since learned that human thought and the recognizing of reality is sheer myth. Why shouldn’t Stan be inspired immediately by the myth he makes out of things? I mean, apart from the fact that Mr. Trump is one of the most despicable people in the history of the world, his way of dealing with facts is not so far away from what other people do. The writings of theological authors are exactly the same. They wrote millions of pages about angels and souls and God, all of which doesn’t exist. Within our human world, we have so many different worlds interspersed with saints and warriors and fantastic, fantasizing criminals like Trump.

Stan had written these essays about important figures in the history of cinema back when he was teaching film. And by the way, Stan was the world champion in extracting money from people who wanted to hire him. I learned a lot from him in this respect. For me it was all very new. I had not earned a cent doing lectures before I came to America. Lectures were an unknown thing in Europe at the time. The American tradition of lecturing at universities really goes back to [Ralph Waldo] Emerson. Emerson and Gertrude Stein. She also pioneered lecturing at universities. And of course, the tradition comes from church, comes from Sunday school. All universities of the Ivy League came out of theological institutions, and that’s an interesting tradition. I was always a non-believer, so to speak. I was very happy to find that Stan was also not a believer, while I had great difficulties with Jonas Mekas and P. Adams Sitney, with their adherence to Catholicism. Jonas was more vague, which was maybe even worse. I mean, he loved Teresa of Avila but he also let his wife organize a Buddhist baptism for their daughter Oona – I was her godfather. Stan had no religious defect.


PT. So originally you were invited to New York, and then you moved on to Boulder, where you finished Unsere Afrikareise.

PK.My invitation to New York I owe to both Jonas and Stan. Jonas raised money from Jerome Hill, who later became the main sponsor of Anthology Film Archives. Jonas had previously – now I digress – arranged a grant of $10 a week for 12 people then considered the most important avant-garde filmmakers. I was the only non-American on the list. Jonas had said to Jerome: “Don’t bother with big grants. It’s always the wrong people who get them. Give out lesser sums instead, that can be made immediately available.” When I got that grant, there were times those $10 a week saved my life. I had periods when I had nothing. I didn’t know where to sleep. I was homeless. And so, I remember when that $40 check came every month – it was happiness.

But anyway, Brakhage was really instrumental. He wrote me letters saying you have to come to America, it’s here that you can develop, I will help you. I only went because I could not get a married sound print of Afrikareise in Europe. Jonas had raised the money for my airplane, and in 1966 I had a screening at his 41st street Cinematheque. It was very successful. All the people of the New York avant-garde were there – Robert Rauschenberg, Andy Warhol, and all the filmmakers. Then I accepted Stan’s invitation and went to Rollinsville to finish my Africa film. He gave me his studio to use, and we all lived together. I had a great friendship with his wife Jane. She was a very, very interesting woman to me. They kept their five kids in a way like animals, not to say pigs. They sometimes only had a shirt on with nothing underneath, no pants. So, they would be free to shit anywhere. The house would stink. It was an incredible, radical way of back-to-nature. But they overdid this living in nature thing.

Maybe some words have to be said about these new movements. My friends all hated the America of the 1950s, which they called fascist. I was flabbergasted when they said [Lyndon B.] Johnson was an absolute fascist. I asked, what do you know about fascism? I lived under fascism. Soon came the time when people began to have long hair. Brakhage had had long hair at some point, but no longer in 1966. Stan was a real old-fashioned hick. Jane was the avant-garde. And she cared for the animals, a goat, and a dog. I had roots in the country, so I became friends with the goat and the dog. We used to go out together into the Rocky Mountain wilderness. I was amazed when I climbed a rock to sit on high and take in the view. The dog was unable to keep up with my climbing and would simply give up. But the goat would run ahead and stand on one leg, her whole body balancing on one tiny hoof. For her the steep rock was like nothing. The dog would wait for our return and then be ashamed as the goat proudly led us home.

I remember the first outing Stan and I took together in his pickup truck – in the winter it was not an easy climb to his house by car. We went to the supermarket to buy provisions for a whole week. This was an entirely new world to me because in Austria we did not have supermarkets at the time. Stan loaded his truck with all these ultra-conservative foods – crackers and huge steaks, of course burgers, hash, this horrible Wonder Bread and Kraft cheese, plus his favorite liquor, which was Southern Comfort – a mixture of honey and whiskey. Jane Brakhage on the other hand was very much in the avant-garde and prepared all these new kinds of healthy foods. Though Stan did not protest, he remained an absolutely conservative Rollinsviller. I tried to show Jane how to cook, but I came to see how difficult it is to teach somebody something if they live in a different world of experience. I remember I taught her how to cook the traditional Austrian recipe for Roast Beef­ – I’d cooked a Rostbraten for them and they loved it. They wanted to learn the recipe, so the next time I let Jane prepare it while I stood by. She subsequently tried it alone and failed. It was not that Jane was a bad cook, but she did not think of things which for us are elemental. So, I made her a list of every move and action. For example, please bend down and look at the gas flame to see how big it is; it must be the size of a pea – no bigger. Stay at this heat and wait 20 minutes, then readjust…, and so on. Everything was written down. She cooked it while I was away doing a lecture. And then she told me, “Oh Peter, I failed.” I said, “How could you? What did you put in it?” “Well, I put in a little bit of Tabasco sauce.” And I said “Jane, this is a cannon of taste that cannot be varied.” She had added three new components, including marmalade to add a little sweetness. In so doing, she had turned the Rostbraten into a kind of international garbage.

Stan, I introduced to white wine. We went on great expeditions to find drinkable white wine, which was quite impossible at the time. The leading brand was Gallo and it came in gallon bottles. For an Austrian wine drinker, this Gallo was like a headache machine. After extensive research, I found a brand called Fetzer – a San Francisco company that sold a drinkable white wine. I taught Stan about wine in part because I’d also learned a lot from him, and because he enjoyed drinking white wine. Back when we were in that castle in Brussels being served that previously mentioned feast, Stan had said, “Well, Peter, my favorite dish is hamburger. A good hamburger is the best thing you can eat.” I don’t despise such a perspective, but it characterizes Stan’s position. His musical taste on the other hand was very, very educated. He was also highly versed and educated in poetry – his knowledge of course centered on American literature. Stan was very fond of Gertrude Stein. He praised her to me continuously in an effort to try and get me more deeply into her work. I in turn began to teach music to his family. I taught Jane how to play the recorder and I discussed music with Stan. He had no musical background in terms of theoretical knowledge. He did not know what a fifth or fourth was, and other such details essential to classical music.

Stan told me his ideal would have been to become a poet, but that he had become a filmmaker after assisting on small commercial productions in Denver. In America, there were many educational film productions. Educational film was a whole industry and Stan had experience in the field. But he eventually could not stand it anymore – just like me. I so hated the film industry that I just could not, under any circumstances, go back. In any case, Stan introduced me to his lab in Denver. After I finished cutting the original negative of Afrikareise, he very graciously drove me back and forth to his lab, and helped me in many ways. He was very enthusiastic about my work. We had a really great friendship and relationship of mutual admiration.

Stan appreciated Arnulf Rainer and wrote a gracious text about the work, in which he called me the greatest filmmaker alive. This is what he always said when introducing me, but he never learned to pronounce my name. He would say, “I give you the greatest filmmaker alive, Peter Kabuki.” He never got around to grasping “Kubelka.” Stan did not speak any other languages, which was also an aspect of his rootedness. He was urged several times by other artist friends to leave his middle-of-nowhere Rollinsville and move to the city. He gave it a try and moved to San Francisco once, but he was horrified by living in a town. So, he moved back and said, “I will not live in a big town ever again”.


I had already brought Stan to Vienna back in 1964, before I’d ever gone to America. We had founded the Austrian Film Museum1 in 1964. My visit to America in 1966 was relatively brief, but in 1967, I accepted a job at the United Nations, where I worked a full year. I subsequently took teaching jobs, traveling back and forth between Austria and America the next 12 years. And I brought Brakhage to Austria. He made a part of his Songs here. I think he made 23rd Psalm Branch in Vienna. I showed him around Vienna and tried to introduce him to Viennese culture. His first impression was that Vienna looked like Chicago. I was initially shocked, but then I thought he’s not so wrong. I mean, I taught in Chicago. I always taught one semester at the San Francisco Art Institute, and I think three or four times for one semester in Chicago. I know Chicago very well and I know all the Polish butchers. They produce sausage in the Austrian style – our sausage culture comes from Poland. When we were in Vienna, Stan and I went to a Würstelstand – where they sell sausages on the street. And we went to Heurigers, where they serve new seasonal wines. Stan loved all of this. And then there was all the Viennese architecture. I showed him the house where Freud had lived. At that time, there was nothing commemorating the place, not even a plaque on the building. This was at a time when psychoanalysis in America was booming. Stan couldn’t believe how this city neglected Freud in such a blatant way.

When Stan was here, I could see Vienna through his eyes. And I could sense his astonishment when he filmed in Freud’s house. This is all to be found in his Songs. There’s so much of my private life in the 8mm film, for example my daughter Marieli and her mother Gerti [Fröhlich]. One thing that impressed me quite a lot about Stan was the way he used his family as raw material – so to speak ­– in the making of his films. And he undertook very little if anything in terms of educating of his children. I mean, he talked about them, and he gave them very exotic names. But in their home, they lived more according to ideals, moving around freely without any constraint whatsoever. In the US I had gone with Stan to graveyards. When I did not find any profession inscribed on the tombstones – just a name – it was strange to me. America was really a foreign world. And when Stan came to Vienna, it was a foreign world to him. We were both able to learn from each other about how to deal with these foreign worlds. And it’s interesting how we both came to stay in our worlds: Stan remained a provincial American. He was of course at the crest of the avant-garde in terms of his films, but in daily life he was a citizen of Rollinsville. We phoned after he returned to America, and he said, “Peter, hamburger is the best food there is,” after I had fed him all kinds of foods Austria has to offer.

EH: Did you take him to the Kunsthistorische Museum?

PK: Of course I did. Yeah. And Hermann Nitsch did a special performance for Stan too, which he started to film but then told me, “I cannot relate to this.” Stan was shocked. Although it was one of Nitsch’s best “Material Aktionen,” as he called them. It involved many colors and liquids, like milk, blood and urine. This was the period when Nitsch was really at his best, but it didn’t work for Stan.

Maybe we can move on to the founding of Anthology Film Archives? I need to speak in general – not just concerning Brakhage – since the idea of Anthology was developed by Jonas Mekas, P. Adams Sitney, and myself. We had different concepts of what Anthology should be. Before independent filmmaking even had a name to go by, practically everybody who made films outside industry was interesting – because there were so few. Then the situation exploded – you suddenly had thousands of filmmakers. In the late 60s and 70s, everybody was running around with a camera and everybody called themselves a filmmaker. But back when the movement was still small, everybody was interesting. So, Jonas’s concept was to show everything outside the mainstream and outside the industry. Jonas’s idea was more social, you see? My idea was not social but about fighting for the medium of film. What I wanted to achieve was to show how film is more than what the commercial mainstream does with it, to stand up for great works undertaken outside the mainstream. In a way, this is what the cycle later became2. The cycle shows what the medium of film can do. And so it was that in the beginning, we agreed to make two collections. I was for a selection and Jonas was for showing everything. I said, if a musician or a painter or someone who does not know about us comes to Anthology, he or she should receive something important, something of substance, something that demonstrates what film is. They must not be unlucky and see something that is really bad. That was the difference in our concept. In the end, my version was realized, we would make a selection. We set up a jury to decide what later came to be called Essential Cinema, the collection. The jury members were Jonas, P. Adams, myself, James Broughton, Ken Kelman, and Stan Brakhage. We agreed to look at films, discuss them, and reach a unanimous decision if we were to accept the film. Stan was not living in New York. He traveled back and forth. And we synchronized meetings when he was teaching nearby, so Stan could always participate – just like me. I would travel from Austria to New York to participate in our meetings.

PT. How long did it take to set up 100 titles for Essential Cinema? A year?

PK. It’s hard to say. Maybe more than a year. I mean, we opened in 1970. I think the idea started in 1968 or so.

EH. Would you screen the films together?

PK. Yes, we would screen the films together, mostly at P. Adams Sitney’s apartment at 86th and Broadway. It was one of the hardest experiences of my life, because we all had very strong feelings for and against the films. It was incredible. Stan was a bully in trying to get his choices through, and he was also adamant about keeping things out. It was very, very hard with him. I remember scenes of P. Adams Sitney lying on the floor in his kitchen crying and Stan running out into a snowstorm, before eventually coming back. It was really, really difficult. One of the main problems was Cocteau. I advocated for Dreyer. There were many other problems as well, about American filmmakers. We tried hard to really find the essential works that would testify not with words, but with their existence as to what is cinema. The example of this Anthology jury illustrates the difference between then and now. We had so much passion and so strongly believed in needing to do the right thing. We each had a mission for which we stood. So, anyway, Brakhage had his own form of diplomacy, which was a non-diplomacy. When he could not get his wish, he would resign. We would receive his resignation and he would storm off. The next day, he would come back – sometimes it took more than one day – and he would un-resign. I think this went on three times. The third time, we accepted his resignation definitively. We did not take him back.

PT. So it wasn’t about getting a film in, but it was about keeping a film out.

PK. Yeah. I wanted to keep Cocteau out. Some bargaining went on. I think I bargained Cocteau against Dreyer, because in the beginning Dreyer was not accepted.

PT. So you basically finalized your selection in the end without Brakhage?

PK. Without Brakhage, yes. In the end, the selection happened without Stan. And he remained very distanced towards Anthology. It also had to do with his relationship to Jonas. Jonas had a difficult relationship with many of the filmmakers, such as Ken Jacobs, Jack Smith, and also Stan Brakhage. Brakhage was of course sorry that he had resigned once too often. It remained a bit of an unresolved relationship.

EH. But did it affect your friendship?

PK. No, not at all. We stayed friends practically until he died. We met for the last time in Rotterdam in 2002, when Stan was already very sick and and really suffering. But he attended my lecture with Michael Snow and I started walking him home afterwards. When we were halfway there, he said goodbye. He had too much pain.

Later we talked on the phone, but this was maybe one or two days before he died. It was very moving.

PT. What did you say? Sort of last words?

PK. Well, it was an assurance of friendship and respect. There were people in the background. I think it was his wife and a doctor. I had heard how it took some time for them to reach Stan and tell him, “It’s Peter on the phone.” And then he came to the phone and we talked.


PT. Stan once seemed to have attempted to end his life.

PK. Yeah. Well, I know, though I didn’t know about it at the time.

PT. Only a few people did. Eve‘s one of them.

EH. I happened to be visiting my dear friend, Phil Solomon. Phil and I had also been spending time together with Stan. One day Marilyn called Phil and we rushed to the hospital. I waited outside while Phil visited with Stan in the ICU. He had taken an overdose of some of the medicines he was on. I think they were antidepressants. I think that he felt overwhelmed. This was when they were getting ready to move to Victoria. Stan was relieved the move was happening. He so wanted Marilyn and the boys to have a home in a good place. Marilyn later conveyed that the seriousness of his attempt seemed questionable. She told us that when she came home, Stan was very groggy. She asked him what was wrong. He somehow indicated he had taken the pills. She told him she was going to take him the hospital. They got him into the car. Marilyn described how very carefully Stan put on his seatbelt. She indicated how it was paradoxical, given the situation.

PK. That is very plausible to me. Stan was a great performer of gestures. And I say this without putting him down. He was very theatrical. When I heard about this suicide attempt, I did not take it very seriously. It is a fact that most suicide attempts are not really meant to work. So, it’s quite possible that Stan . . . Also, he had claimed his cancer was due to the chemical colors he used to make many of his hand-painted films. This made him a martyr. Stan worked very hard on his reputation and on his hero figure, which is fine. I mean, he was definitely a great filmmaker who went his own way and pioneered new territory. He was also, as I can say, a very gracious human being. I mean, he could be otherwise as well – but we never had a fallout.


Stan and I had lots of talks about sound film and silent film. He made one sound film which I liked and acknowledged – Blue Moses. And then he got the idea that film should be silent. He went back to silent filmmaking. This was an interesting decision because of his sensitivity toward the cinematographic image. I don’t want to say the moving image, but the succession of images and the fact that these images when they are silent, of course, create sound – a sound event in the brain. Stan was sensitive to this and made a heroic decision to do away with all sound. There were several people who agreed. Stan was one of the propagators of the idea that silent film is a valid discipline. And that’s absolutely true. It’s like graphic art. Drawing is a different discipline. It is a valid discipline. You don’t have to have color. And black and white film is also a discipline. But most of all, silent film is a discipline. Stan very much fought for the discipline of silent cinema, and returned to silent filmmaking, which I think was a very important act, and very important to do.


EH. Phil Solomon and Stan were very close in Stan’s later years. Phil said that Stan had a way of using all the material he would shoot – that he wouldn’t want to waste anything. That he had a concept about how these things were all really interesting and could be used in some way or other, if one could just figure out a way to make it work. I was wondering if you ever talked to Stan about this, because you have a very different way of working. The way you edit is extremely precise and informed by your metric idea. For instance, Afrikareise gets down to the frame, rhythms. I personally feel how sometimes Brakhage can be less controlled and precise.

PK. Yes. I mean, in the early years this was a difficult thing for me to acknowledge and accept. Today I think completely differently. I admired Mothlight. Mothlight was a film hard to envisage – for Stan to understand how it would appear on screen during the making of it. I mean you make choices, but you don’t see the results. This was similar to my making of Arnulf Rainer. I didn’t know how it would look before I saw it on the screen after it was finished. I had no access to projectors. Mothlight is a similar attempt, like sending a sentinel out into another world for which you plan but cannot see. You have ideas, but only when the film hits the screen does it bring you the result. Stan was daring – he did things that were daring. Of course, he was also pompous, like when he introduced his cane, with which he walked for several years. Like General Patton with his pistol, Stan made his cane into an element of his persona – the great old, crippled hero, walking with a cane.


PK. Should we call it a day? Yeah, let’s maybe call it a day.

PT. Okay. Peter Kubelka, thank you very much for your time, for your memories, for your explanations, for your comments. Hope you enjoyed it as much as we did.

PK. Wait. I want to say that in the back of my mind, I have things which I still wanted to say, but which I can’t name now, so to speak. So, I have the feeling there is some more I wanted to say which I have not said.

PT. You know, I was thinking the same thing. I mean, that was a classical remembrance of a huge time span, over forty years. And we could step into every single segment and dig really deep into it. Then there would be, of course, so much more. So, this could be the beginning of a series of…

EH. I think it should be a series of discussions.

PK. Anyway, we did something.

PT. Let’s call it a start. And now we stop recording.

Eve Heller, Peter Tscherkassky, Peter Kubelka

November 2nd, 2020.

Eve Heller:

Born in 1961 in Amherst, Massachusetts USA. Eve Heller began filmmaking at 17, attending the S.U.N.Y. Department of Media Studies at Buffalo and New York University. She received her BA in German Literature and Interdisciplinary Studies from Hunter College in 1987, and an MFA in filmmaking from Bard College in 1993. Her award-winning work has been widely shown in the U.S. and internationally. Eve teaches workshops on analog filmmaking and works as a German/English translator specializing in texts about cinema. She served as translator and sub-editor of Peter Tscherkassky’s book, “Film Unframed: A History of Austrian Avant-Garde Cinema.” Eve is Co-President and Co-Director of the Phil Solomon Project, which she founded in 2019, upon inheriting Phil Solomon’s artistic legacy. She currently lives and works in Vienna, Austria and Hyde Park, New York.

Peter Tscherkassky:

Born in 1958 in Vienna. Peter Tscherkassky started filmmaking in 1979. He earned his PhD. in philosophy in 1986 with a dissertation entitled “Film as Art”. Since 1984 Tscherkassky has published numerous essays on avant-garde film; in 2012 he edited the book “Film Unframed: A History of Austrian Avant-Garde Cinema”, and in 1995 he co-edited the book “Peter Kubelka” (with Gabriele Jutz). Tscherkassky’s films have been honored with more than 50 awards, including the Golden Gate Award (San Francisco), Main Prize at Oberhausen, and Best Short Film at the Venice Film Festival. In 2019 he received The Golden Cross of Merit from the City of Vienna.

Peter Kubelka:

Born in 1934 in Vienna. Kubelka is a multifaceted artist and theoretician who has worked in the art forms of film, music, architecture, cuisine, speaking and writing. Since the mid-1950s, Kubelka has been a leading exponent of international avant-garde film. He was central to the creation of several avant-garde film collections, he founded and participated in the music ensemble Spatium Musicum, and he taught at numerous universities in the USA and Europe. He was Professor in film at the Art Academy in Frankfurt between 1978 and 2000. He has presented countless lectures and participated in many symposia, including “Non-Industrial Film – Non-Industrial Cuisine”. In 1967, Kubelka created his first theoretical work on cuisine as an art form and in 1980 his professorship in Frankfurt was expanded to include his class, “Film and Cuisine as Art”. In 1958, Kubelka created the first draft for his concept of the ideal cinema, known as The Invisible Cinema. It was built in 1970 for Anthology Film Archives in New York, which Kubelka co-founded. A second Invisible Cinema was realized nineteen years later for the Austrian Film Museum in Vienna.

1 Peter Kubelka and Peter Konlechner founded the Austrian Film Museum ( Österreichisches Filmmuseum) in Vienna in 1964.

2 “The cycle” refers to Essential Cinema Repertory, a selection of films that attempted to define the art of cinema. It consists of 110 programs and 330 titles assembled in 1970–75 by Anthology’s Film Selection Committee. As Peter Kubelka notes, the committee included himself along with Jonas Mekas, P. Adams Sitney, James Broughton, and Ken Kelman. Anthology Film Archives opened on 30 November 1970, and moved to its present home at 32 Second Avenue, New York on 12 October 1988.