A Trip Through Peter Kubelka's "Unsere Afrikareise" (Our Trip to Africa)

By Daniel J. Schneider
2010, Vol. 2 No. 04 | pg. 1/1

Peter Kubelka’s 1966 “Unsere Afrikareise” or “Our Trip to Africa” is a remarkably unique bit of filmmaking.  Despite a true story to go along with the film’s production (of Kubelka’s distaste for the bourgeois Europeans he was filming), it is very simplistic in its premise: a group of white Europeans go on a hunting trip in Africa; having fun, shooting wildlife, and interacting with the natives.  However, one might already tell that this is not so simple, as the thought of these middle-class whites coming into contact with the indigenous blacks immediately stirs up an entire spectrum of emotions and phrases, with terms such as ‘colonialism’ and ‘ethnocentrism’ having prominence in the mind.  This notion is not so easily translated to film, though.  To do so, Kubelka had to, over the course of five years, use techniques not common in any sort of popular genre this film might have fit into, be it the documentary, the home movie or anything in a similar vein.  While there is no definite narrative in Kubelka’s “Unsere Afrikarese” nor use of subtitles for the non-German-speaking audience, his use of non-temporal cuts in editing (i.e. no definite progression of time or any hint about when in the trip certain shots occurred) and his momentary uses of laughter establish his premise fully when the film is taken as a whole.

A superficial viewing of “Afrikarese” would make the film seem like it had been edited on a ‘Spin Art’ machine.  There is no order to any of the film, no times of day or time relative to the trip is given for any shot; the only thing known is that these are scenes from a hunting trip in Africa.  However, doing so has an immediate effect on the viewer; the mind immediately attempts to make sense of the images shown, which can be difficult because this temporally irrelevant editing has taken out any sort of narrative from the film.  We do not know if the trip is considered successful, if any animals were killed besides those shown on camera and no sort of psychological relationship established with any of those filmed.  It is, in this sense (despite the director’s personal feelings and overall premise) the editing of images in “Afrikarese” which makes for a ‘base mindset’ of objectivity; rather, we become more detached from our predispositions to the notions of black native and white European interaction and are invited to take the images as is.  After all, this was not staged: it started out as a home movie.  But as more and images are shown to the viewer, Kubelka establishes his desire for sense of initial objectivity in viewing this film, and the out-of-order edits do the trick.  This editing makes for no development of any sort of characters (though they all are real people) and says to the viewer “Here is what happened, in no particular order”.  It is most certainly stark in its depiction of this little bourgeoisie foreé into the brush.

Peter Kubelka is no maker of shows; however, in “Unsere Afrikarese”, he has employed a classic sound tactic used for years by dozens, if not hundreds of situation comedies: the laugh track.  Not in a conventional sense, though.  Kubelka’s laugh track is a much more realistically captured one, using one particularly raucous instance of guffawing, on the part of his European subjects, multiple times throughout the film.  However, we do not see specifically where this laughter comes from, or if it is just one track of sound or even several loops of laughter played over each other; all we know is that at some point or points on this trip our Europeans were having a chuckle and Kubleka recorded it for use in this film.  The track is played several times throughout the film, the most notable being in a depiction of the native people’s everyday life.  In two shots, one right after the other that then repeats, the laughter of the Europeans is at full volume with no other sounds to be heard.  This might be a rather perplexing thing: why might Kubelka loop laughter over an activity that is clearly not funny and is even rather mundane in its nature.  All there is to be seen is two people (in separate shots) walking about, carrying objects that are probably to be used for their daily activities with the bawdy sounds of laughter ringing clearly in the foreground of the soundscape.

Together, these things are indicative of a multi-step approach to understanding this film.  While Kubelka’s lack of a straight narrative, using quick, temporally irrelevant cuts, serves to make sure we, as an audience member, fail to emotionally identify with any one character or group of people from the get-go, the laugh track used is meant to do just the opposite: it is used to make us disgusted with the Europeans, and believe that they are ‘looking down’ on the tribesmen they encounter on their trip (something substantiated not only by the use of laughter but by the various shot of them either facetiously or patronizingly watching and interacting with the tribe).   These tactics are not opposing, however: they are complimentary.  Images sans-emotional identification leaves the viewer with a sort of ‘clean slate’ with which to judge the people on screen and leaves the viewer very open to suggestion.  The laugh track serves as one of those suggestions, summoning up immediate dislike for the Europeans who, with their raucous laughter looped over the native ‘daily grind’, seem terribly condescending in all of their interactions with the indigenous peoples.

Kubelka, in his use of quick, timeless cuts and a carefully used ‘laugh track’, very neatly does away with our preconceived notions of either the native Africans or the European bourgeoisie interlopers and then promptly uses that momentary objectivity to see the hunters and their posse as he saw them.  It is, in this aspect, a very effective piece of persuasive filmmaking that utilizes both sight and sound in unconventional yet effective ways.


More Information:

Fred Camper on "Unsere Afrikareise," http://www.filmreference.com/Films-Tw-Vi/Unsere-Afrikareise.html

Watch "Unsere Afrikareise," http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=SATUUtoipuc

Suggested Reading from Inquiries Journal

In fact to Bazin, reality and everything that can support it such as sound, deep focus, and invisible editing, define what film should be. Although he admits that “it was montage that gave birth to film as an art”[2], he is apprehensive of anything that supports “the creation of a sense or meaning not proper to the images themselves but derived entirely from their juxtaposition”.[3] He feels that any manipulation of the image... MORE»
Advertisement
In the penultimate scene of Fritz Lang’s M (1931), mentally-disturbed child murderer Hans Beckert (Peter Lorre) falls to his knees before a kangaroo court and cries out, “I have to roam the streets endlessly, always sensing that someone’s following me. It’s me! I’m shadowing myself!”  Beckert’s monologue conveys that a disparity exists between his shadow and his self, and it becomes apparent... MORE»
A pesar de la variación en material sujeto, las películas largometrajes del Pedro Almodóvar contienen elementos que contribuyen similares al fórmula del éxito que lo ha sostenido Almodóvar como al cineasta estreno, el creador del altamente aclamado reciente trabajos La Mala Educación y Volver, confían pesadamente en desarrollar producciones multigéneras, junto con el exhibir el negocio... MORE»
The development of motion picture complexity has been driven by a continuing technological evolution, ignited and manipulated by human initiative and inventiveness, which has afforded filmmakers the opportunity to practice a more complex craft to tell more complex stories. In concert with societal attitudes and proximity, this evolution... MORE»
Submit to Inquiries Journal, Get a Decision in 10-Days

Inquiries Journal provides undergraduate and graduate students around the world a platform for the wide dissemination of academic work over a range of core disciplines.

Representing the work of students from hundreds of institutions around the globe, Inquiries Journal's large database of academic articles is completely free. Learn more | Blog | Submit

Follow SP

Latest in Film & Media

2020, Vol. 12 No. 10
This paper argues that film is a medium defined by its relationship to memory. Building upon aesthetician György Lukács's temporal theory of cinema, I contrast film's inherent relationship to memory with the “eternal present&rdquo... Read Article »
2020, Vol. 12 No. 10
In this essay, I provide a content analysis of commercially and critically successful films that perpetuate popularized Islamophobia, which is often masked as irreconcilable religious and cultural difference although it has in fact been consistently... Read Article »
2020, Vol. 12 No. 09
Often regarded as the glorious palace showcasing contemporary world cinema (“Press Conference”), the Cannes Film Festival epitomizes the roles of an accreditor, an archaeologist, and a political activist. It jumpstarts the careers of... Read Article »
2020, Vol. 12 No. 07
At Disneyland’s Magic Kingdom, light cascades across the night sky before spiraling down through the stars. The castle that towers within the dark shines bright amongst the fireworks’ sparkling ceruleans and violets. Once the night show... Read Article »
2019, Vol. 11 No. 10
Jean Baudrillard’s essay ‘The Precession of Simulacra’ from Simulacra and Simulation (1981) is a key postmodern text to understanding the contemporary technological Western world. ‘The Precession of Simulacra’ explores... Read Article »
2017, Vol. 9 No. 11
“Disney perpetuated a male myth through his fairy-tale films,” argues Jack Zipes (1995, p. 37). He writes that Walt Disney framed “women’s lives through a male discourse” in his films (p. 36), and that he reinforced... Read Article »
2013, Vol. 4 No. 2
Film authorship has been a topic of debate in film theory since the Cahiers du Cinema critics first birthed auteur theory. Andrew Sarris used this theory to categorize directors based on their level of artistic authorship, solidifying the idea that... Read Article »

What are you looking for?

FROM OUR BLOG

7 Big Differences Between College and Graduate School
Writing a Graduate School Personal Statement
How to Read for Grad School