March 6 to April 10, 2014
Don't speak too soon, for the wheel's still in spin / and there's no telling who it is naming. (Bob Dylan, 1964)
Circling around a single year in the calendar of cinema, this retrospective is a large-scale attempt at portraying a specific cultural moment, a very rich one in terms of film and general history. For the purposes of the show and its film selection, “1964” – the year when the Austrian Film Museum was founded – is being extended in both directions: to the fall of 1962 (when Peter Kubelka and Peter Konlechner got to know each other) and to the fall of 1965 (when the Film Museum took residence in the Albertina building, where it is still housed today).
In retrospect, the creation of this museum in February 1964 was neither an accident nor an isolated incident: starting around 1960, movies and cinema rapidly developed new modes of self-reflection. A multitude of festivals, film archives and cinephile magazine were founded, the first film schools were established, and there was a sudden blossoming of books about film. Taking up the example of the French New Wave, a young generation of filmmakers and critics loudly demanded a "New Cinema" in other parts of the world, artists and writers found a wealth of attractive material in the pop world of movies – and the history of the medium became widely available for the first time, partly via TV. In many ways, it was a high point of cinephile culture, joined by a feeling of crisis at the film industry level. With the film generation of the early and mid-1960s, cinema finally accepted its role as a socially relevant expression of the zeitgeist, while the real basis of the consumer society became more and more dominated by television.
Some of the films in this retrospective are energized by the glamour of a new cosmopolitanism (fly PanAm to Rio!), others suffer from the provincial, but still prevalent rule of censorship. Some deal with mad men, frustrated by the results of the economic boom in the West, others with women who lose themselves in the industrial wasteland of the Po Valley or in the memories of recent catastrophes. Some films represent the crest of the New Wave and the first flickering of renewal in Sweden, Poland, Brazil, Czechoslovakia and Germany. Others are the last hurrahs of a “thaw” in the East (in 1964, Nikita Khrushchev was removed from all of his posts) and the dying embers of Western masters who, in their eighth decade, are widely considered "old-fashioned" by 1964. Some films engage with the unending Cold War and the just-ended war in Algeria, while others are content with being called educational, advertising, or underground films. The Man with the X-Ray Eyes sees through all of them: Otto Muehl, JFK and deputies of the Bavarian Christian Democratic Party caught in the glare of movie spotlights. Taken together, these films supply us with documents of an era in which irony and earnestness, high culture and camp, political engagement and the liberation of the self could still be held in balance.
In total, the retrospective will present 75 works from around the time of the museum's "birth", when the city of Vienna began to emerge from the drab and restrictive climate of the post-war era. Along with the new Museum of Modern Art, which opened in late 1962, the Film Museum was one of the first cultural start-ups hinting at a type of “modernization” in Austria that could perhaps mean more than just progress in the fields of technology and public transport. Globally, too, the years around 1964 mark an “in-between constellation” of new beginnings, but with such a concentration of momentous events that some historians see a distinct rhythm in the “Short 20th Century” (Eric Hobsbawm) – 1914, 1939, 1964, 1989. The era of passivity and acquiescence had nearly evaporated, but '68 was still far off. "The Times They Are A-Changin'" (1964) does not indicate that a new order has taken hold, only that your old road is rapidly aging. In 1964, the global economy reached its highest annual growth rate to date (7.3%) and saw the birth of the Ford Mustang, but at the same time two books of cultural critique turned into best-sellers; Herbert Marcuse’s One-Dimensional Man and Betty Friedan’s The Feminine Mystique both reflect a growing skepticism about the consumer-capitalist "consciousness" and the soon-to-come denials of this worldview.
Nevertheless, in 1964 it is still possible for different streams to inhabit the same conversation, at least within film and pop culture. "The Movies are a Revolution," Taylor Mead wrote in late 1963, but in the course of this (perceptual) revolution, the underground and the establishment were not yet separated by the chasms that would appear in the years after '68 – or in the heavily segmented film culture of the present day. The (European) film magazines of those years lend proof to this argument: hipsters like Kubrick, Godard, Skolimowski and Warhol were weighed on the same scale as the noble old-timers (Dreyer, Ford, Hitchcock, or Romm). And while there may have been no direct dialogue between David Lean and Sergio Leone, their films existed in the same discursive space as the Direct Cinema, the eastern European and Oberhausen short film makers and free radicals such as like Straub/Huillet, Glauber Rocha, or Emile de Antonio.
The flashpoints igniting across the globe made it clear, however, that there can be no true unity under imperialist conditions. 1964 is a year of many major and minor "world exhibitions", still clinging to images of a Family of Man (the New York World's Fair, WIG 64 in Vienna, the first Olympic Games in Asia), but it was also – to name just five key moments – the year of the military coup in Brazil, the founding of the PLO, the life-sentencing of Nelson Mandela and the Gulf of Tonkin incident, which enabled the new U.S. President to bring on the Vietnam War. Five weeks earlier, Lyndon B. Johnson had signed the Civil Rights Act – but neither this law nor the Nobel Peace Prize for Martin Luther King, Sidney Poitier's Academy Award (the first for a black leading actor) nor the new heavyweight champion of the world, Cassius Clay, could prevent the confrontation between white and black America that intensified sharply in the following year.
1964 views the film cultural landscape of an era, partly by microscope, but also in a more sweeping manner. And it tries to sample a historical mood – a situation that is perhaps not so distant from that of 2014. The German social psychologist, Peter Brückner, summarizes his notes from the summer of 1965 as follows: "The consequences of a ‘bourgeois lifestyle’ were palpable: a development of leading nations towards barbarism. The gap between private wealth and social poverty grew wider; the desire for ‘brotherhood’ retreated to emotional idylls (the family unit, the private sphere) and (repressive) tolerance, but among the population aggression and conformity increased simultaneously.”
Lectures, a panel discussion and accompanying university courses complement the retrospective. Guests include Natacha Laurent, director of the Cinémathèque de Toulouse which was founded in 1964, Jurij Meden, program director of the Slovene Cinematheque in Ljubljana, Olaf Möller of Cologne, critic and consultant to the retrospective, P. Adams Sitney, film historian and envoy of the New American Cinema which he brought to Europe in 1964, Gavin Smith, editor-in-chief of New York’s "Film Comment" magazine (first published at the end of 1963), and Tanja Vrvilo, Zagreb-based writer, curator, and founder of the “Film Mutations” festival.
Projects in the framework of the Film Museum’s 50th anniversary are supported by the Austrian Film Institute, the City of Vienna and the Austrian Federal Chancellery