(Our Trip to Africa)
Director: Peter Kubelka
Production: Color, 16mm; running time: 12½ minutes. Released 1966. Filmed 1961 in Africa.
Photography: Peter Kubelka; editor: Peter Kubelka; sound recordist and editor: Peter Kubelka.
Sitney, P. Adams, Visionary Film: The American Avant-Garde , New York, 1979.
Jutz, Gabriele, and Peter Tscherkassky, Peter Kubelka , Wien, 1995.
Sitney, P. Adams, "Kubelka Concrete (Our Trip to Vienna)," in Film Culture (New York), Fall 1964.
Mekas, Jonas, in Village Voice (New York), 13 October 1966.
Bodien, Earl, "The Films of Peter Kubelka," in Film Quarterly (Berkeley), Winter 1966–67.
Mekas, Jonas, Interview with Kubelka, in Film Culture (New York), Spring 1967.
Sitney, P. Adams, in New Cinema Bulletin (New York), May 1967.
Téléciné (Paris), June 1973.
Wide Angle (Athens, Ohio), vol. 2, no. 3, 1978.
Masi, Stefano, "Peter Kubelka, scultore del tempo," in Bianco e Nero (Rome), January-March 1984.
Sterritt, David, "Kubelka Makes 'Music for the Eye,"' in The Christian Science Monitor , vol. 81, no. 115, 10 May 1989.
* * *
In 1961 Peter Kubelka was asked to make a documentary about a group of Europeans on an African hunting trip. He accompanied them, recorded many hours of film and sound, and then spent five years editing this material into a most unconventional film. The result, Unsere Afrikareise , is one of the most densely packed 12½ minutes in film history, and makes truly extraordinary use of the creative possibilities of sound.
Kubelka bases his use of sound on the notion that accompanying an image with its own synchronous sound adds little, and merely imitates nature; rather, he weds an image to a sound recorded elsewhere. These combinations, which he calls "sync events," are often matched quite precisely in timing and rhythm, as when a gunshot appears to shoot a hat off a man's head; or when white and black men shake hands to the sound of thunder. By combining disparate elements, Kubelka makes "articulations" (his words), which fuse separate pieces both rhythmically and thematically in a manner possible only in film.
Kubelka's juxtaposition of images in Unsere Afrikareise follows similar lines. Images taken at different times and places are cut together, often on matched movements, to create momentary illusions of continuity. The images are disparate enough, however, so that the viewer is never fooled. A hunter shakes an African's hand and we cut to a zebra's leg, shaking similarly, as if the hunter were shaking it , but the hunter is nowhere in the shot. When the next shot reveals that the zebra is being skinned, we understand that while the hunter was not literally causing the zebra's leg to move, there was a deeper causal connection between the two shakes. Kubelka's juxtapositions are anything but arbitrary; they reveal truths inherent in his material.
The intensely concentrated quality of Unsere Afrikareise stems in part from the multitude of connections between image and image, sound and sound, and image and sound that Kubelka orchestrated into a unified whole. There is often a temptation to read direct thematic statements in many of the film's articulations. Editing connections are continually made on the white hunters' gazes, hand gestures, and gun-pointing, linking those actions to suggest the Europeans' aggression toward their surroundings. Kubelka's cuts often suggest that a European has just "shot" an African, or the forest itself. The Africans, by contrast, appear as part of nature, rather than separate from it.
It would be a serious mistake, however, to limit one's perception of the film to such themes. What is most extraordinary about Kubelka's achievement is not the specific connections he establishes between elements, but rather the system that the entire network of connections form. Repeated viewings of the film reveal it as too multiple in its implications to be resolvable into a single interpretation. Thematic results of specific articulations are merely a few aspects of many in the film. Kubelka's almost musical form establishes a grand relation between virtually every image and sound and every other across the entire film. The resulting multitude of connections is expressive of many, rather than a few, possibilities. The viewer is ultimately led out of time, to contemplate these connections in memory, and to regard the film as if it were a monument erected as a record of civilization, not as a statement on it but as a kind of totem for it.