Invisible Cinema, A Movie Viewing Machine



Known for his ground-breaking structural films such as Schwechater (1958), Arnulf Rainer (1958), and Afrikareise (1966), Peter Kubelka is an Austrian experimental filmmaker, musician, curator, educator, and architect. In 1970, as one of the founders, he designed the movie theatre of Anthology Film Archives in New York-based entirely on the aesthetics of the Avant-garde Film Movement at that time: Invisible Cinema. This avant-garde hall with a capacity of 90 people was used until the Anthology Film Archives changed the venue in 1974. Although it is a small hall that has been used for a short period like 4 years, the hall, which was reconstructed in different places by three different institutions, is planned to be reconstructed in its original form, in consultation with Jonas Mekas and Kubelka in New York’s Whitney Museum.

Kubelka says that the hall he designed is invisible because the architecture and interior design of the auditorium should not distract the audience, the only focus should be the curtain: “The ideal movie theatre shouldn’t be felt in any way, it should not live, it should not be there.” In order not to be associated with anything other than cinema, there are no curtains around the white screen like in the theatre. With the white screen illuminated from the beginning of the movie, the audience can direct their attention to the point where the movie will play from the moment they enter the hall. All audio and visual elements other than the film disappears, and the only thing that determines the audience’s whole world and feelings in the space is the movie. Kubelka explains why he calls the space he designed a “movie-viewing machine”: This revolutionary and controversial design is based on the idea of ​​cameras, movie processing machines, film editing machines and projectors to which the film is attached. The room where the movie is watched must be a machine designed for watching movies.

Invisible Cinema, A Movie Viewing Machine

The walls and ceiling of the living room are covered in black velvet as well as all the seats, the floor is completely covered with black carpet and the doors are also painted black. There are no lights other than the cinema screen and the light directions showing the exit. The audience sitting in the topped armchairs, with a barrier between them and a design like a shell, cannot see the people next to them, nor the people sitting in front of them. The shape of the seats not only gives the audience the feeling of being alone but also has an acoustic function by blocking other sounds outside of the movie. Because in Invisible Cinema, image and sound come from the same place and a single source, from the movie. The most important rule of the hall is that no one is allowed in after the movie starts. Silence is also a rule, talking is prohibited throughout the movie.

Invisible Cinema, A Movie Viewing Machine

In Invisible Cinema, three different feelings that movie viewers use to describe their experiences stand out. The first is the “floating feeling” when the audience felt that after watching a movie, they came out of the concrete reality of the theatre and soared in the dark. Film critic Vincent Canby likens this feeling to looking at a rectangular hallucination by likening it to floating on a ship or through space. Another feeling mentioned is “sleepiness”, while the viewers feel the room temperature higher than they are while sitting, it starts to feel cold when they stand up due to the closed design of the seats, and the effect of sleeping pills is felt while sitting. Again, Canby says “it’s like being on drugs” for the Invisible Cinema experience combined with the hallucinatory avant-garde films of the time. The final effect of the hall is that it creates a personal experience that envelops and surrounds the audience, which is exactly what Kubelka wants to do, and the audience feels drawn into this experience.

We can say that Kubelka’s comments after the hall closed in 1974 were slightly different from the experience of the audience. He says that the seats are very close to each other, that the brackets are not so high next to the obstacles at eye level, and even deliberately left open enough for the audience to touch each other. Saying that he aims to give the feeling of being together as a community while watching the movie individually in the hall, Kubelka states that he wants to maintain the existence of the collective feeling while removing distractions. We can say that Invisible Cinema, which we can call the spatial version of the avant-garde cinema of the period, was far from being invisible due to the sensation it created during its opening period and its impact until today.

Bridgett, Rob, ve Şenol Erdoğan. Avangart Sinema ve Beat Film. İstanbul: SUB Yayımları, 2017.
Hanich, Julian. “The Invisible Cinema.” Exposing the Film Apparatus, The Film Archive as a Research Laboratory. ed. Giovanna Fossati ve Annie van den Oeve. Amsterdam University Press, 2016.