Experiments In Film: Karel Appel, Composer (1961)

From the opening scream in this rather sound oriented experimental documentary film, one is jarred by the realization that they are given a film whose sound, is unusually dominant within the space of the frames.  Despite having a considerably striking set of visuals, this work by Ed Van der Elsken is surprisingly oriented towards what can be done with sound, as opposed to what is shown on the image, as loud screams, grating sirens and a slew of other industrial sounds drown out the voices of everyone within the film, including Karel Appel, the painter turned sound engineer who is the featured subject of this unusual work.  Of course it is no surprise that Appel's paintings also fill the screen, in both moving images of him at work on a particularly abstract piece, as well as still frames of him mid stroke on a canvas, in what is perhaps some of the greatest chiaroscuro I have witnessed in an experimental black and white film, aside of course from Chris Marker's La Jetee.  While I could find dozens of individuals hard pressed to call this short work a documentary, it essentially takes the subject matter of the film a painter turned composer and considers his transition, using the filmic space as a means to reemphasize these ideals.  The film is frantically composed and seems to capture the madness we are to assume correlates to Appel, particularly scenes in which the reels of soundtrack stack up around him, at points consuming himself and the floor he works on, in cinematic terms, this brief film captures the identity of a mad artist, so succinctly and accurately that its obvious obscurity is a surprise to myself, especially since it seems so brilliantly post-modern as to suggest my love for it.  Such a jarring piece of experiment film has never looked so beautiful.

I have not had the opportunity to see some of Godard's documentaries, particularly the ones concerning the labor unions in Britain, as well as the history of cinema, but from what I have read it appears as though he is equal parts concerned with the role sound plays into cultural output, as to that of its visual appeal.  An incredibly deconstructionist thought in its emergence, one cannot help but attach similar notions to Van der Elsken, who clearly wants to consider the tumultuous relationship between sound and image and how merging the two can lead to madness.  However, the film also reminds those who watch it that an initially confrontation combination of two separate artistic endeavors can often coalesce into something perfected.  One only needs to pause the film to realize that the image detached from the sound remains stellar, or close their eyes to hear a glimpse of industrial rock coming into existence to realize that if a viewer/listener combines their senses they will be provided with something truly profound.  Of course the separate moments are nice on their own, one only needs to check into some of Appel's artwork to realize this, experiment film, however, always allows for these boundaries to be tested.

To find out more about filmmaker Ed Van der Elsken or to view Karel Appel, Composer click on either of the images below:

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