It was a mythical spot: from 1949 an abandoned casino in the cosmopolitan Belgian resort Knokke was the venue for five editions of ‘EXPRMNTL’, the film festival that hosted the cream of the avant-garde. On 27 December 1967 Piet Verdonk brought his installation New Electric Cinema to life – tonight he will present the reconstruction for EYE on Art. Director Brecht Debackere will also be here to introduce his fascinating documentary on the legendary festival. Several short films included in the original 1967 programme will also be screened tonight.
Piet Verdonk was one of the participating artists, and for a good reason. On 27 December 1967 he presented his mesmerizing installation New Electric Cinema in Knokke Casino. The installation was based on the idea that there was no need to actually shoot a film; or, in the words of Verdonk: ‘Why make films when heaps of film cuttings end up as waste? Why use a soundtrack when you can make music yourself?’ Working with residual material, with celluloid discarded and chucked out by an industrious editor – it would become one of the tenets of experimental filmmakers of the 1960s and 1970s.
Live electro-pneumatic soundtrack
Verdonk also operated on the idea that a film screening could be a physical experience: his New Electric Cinema provided a total sensory experience. Verdonk’s installation made use of edited 16mm film stock on prepared offset plates, with a live electro-pneumatic soundtrack of interfering sound generated by a number of energetic vacuum cleaners. The effect on eyes and ears is something that can be experienced at EYE tonight, when Verdonk presents a reconstruction of the legendary show in Knokke, which includes the new restoration of the 16mm film. The cinematographic installation has now been added to EYE’s collection.
A gripping story about the avant-garde
It was known as the ‘St Tropez on the Belgian coast’. Between 1950 and the mid-1970s, Knokke was the place where the beau monde, avant-garde artists, members of the bourgeoisie and the political elite rubbed shoulders. The extraordinary, hardly told story of a town that hosted five editions of a legendary experimental film festival (in 1949, 1958, 1964, 1967 and 1974), is the subject of Brecht Debackere’s documentary EXPRMNTL (2016, 68’).
The filmmaker dived into the history of EXPRMNTL and talked to the makers, trendsetters and connoisseurs of the experimental film circuit, such as Jonas Mekas, Agnés Varda, Eric de Kuyper, Peter Kubelka, Jean-Jacques Lebel and Birgit Hein.
EXPRMNTL is a few cuts above the standard documentary reconstruction, though. Debackere regards the film as a ‘search for the principles of the cinematographic experiment and the history of the moving image’. He wove archival footage, interviews, photos and films into a new experimental tale, a ‘reliving of the creative atmosphere, a sixth and purely filmic edition of the festival’.
Also included in the programme this evening are some of the short experimental films originally screened in Knokke in 1967, by filmmakers such as Lutz Mommarz, Koji Kuri, James Broughton, Pim de la Parra and Wim Verstappen.
Documentation of a screening test of “New Electric Cinema” in EYE in November 2017: