8 x 8: A Chess Sonata in 8 Movements

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Continuing the Cocteau theme, this fascinating film remains (for the time being) unavailable in a better copy despite its artistic all-star cast. 8 x 8: A Chess Sonata in 8 Movements (1957) can be regarded as a follow-up to Hans Richter’s Surrealist anthology Dreams That Money Can Buy (1947), the directorial credit this time being shared between Richter, Jean Cocteau and Marcel Duchamp. The latter famously quit the art world to devote more time to chess-playing so his involvement with a chess-based fantasy (self-described as “a fairytale for grownups”) isn’t so surprising:

It explores the realm behind the magic mirror which served Lewis Carroll 100 years ago to stimulate our imagination.

The cast comprises famous friends including Cocteau himself, Max Ernst, Dorothea Tanning, Paul Bowles, Fernand Leger, Alexander Calder, Duchamp, and, in the Venetian episode, Peggy Guggenheim in her favourite sunglasses. In places it’s closer to Kenneth Anger’s Inauguration of the Pleasure Dome (1954) than Dreams That Money Can Buy, especially since Anger’s film was another assemblage of unique personalities. One detail I’ve not seen remarked upon elsewhere is the presence behind the camera of Louis & Bebe Barron who assisted with the sound. The Barrons are better known today for their still astonishing all-electronic score for Forbidden Planet (1956). Watch 8 x 8 at Ubuweb or YouTube.

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Previously on { feuilleton }
Dreams That Money Can Buy

Anémic Cinéma

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It’s no doubt up to the viewer to decide what constitutes anaemia in Marcel Duchamp’s 7-minute film. Anémic Cinéma was made the same year as Emak-Bakia with the assistance of Man Ray and Marc Allégret. Duchamp’s Rotoreliefs spin hypnotically alternating with punning epithets in French. The spinning artworks later appeared as Duchamp’s contribution to Hans Richter’s Dreams That Money Can Buy (1947).

Previously on { feuilleton }
Emak-Bakia
Un Chien Andalou
Ballet Mécanique
Dreams That Money Can Buy
La femme 100 têtes by Eric Duvivier
Entr’acte by René Clair

Dreams That Money Can Buy

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Max Ernst.

The posts this week have all followed a Surrealist theme so I feel compelled to draw attention to the DVD-quality copy of Hans Richter’s Dreams That Money Can Buy (1947) at the Internet Archive. As mentioned before, Richter’s film is one of the key works of Surrealist cinema, made at the time when the art movement had been overwhelmed by the war in Europe but was finding a brief resurgence of interest in the United States. Hitchcock had drafted Salvador Dalí to design the dream sequences in Spellbound two years earlier which may have helped Richter to raise the funds for a colour feature film. The budget was low but the production values are a lot higher than other experimental films of the time, and Richter was able to find in New York a roster of world-class collaborators including Max Ernst, Paul Bowles, Fernand Léger, Man Ray, Marcel Duchamp, John Cage and Alexander Calder.

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The seven artists provide (and in Ernst’s case, perform in) the dreams that lead character Joe is selling to cover his rent. Fernand Léger’s contribution is a song sequence, The Girl with the Prefabricated Heart, about love among the showroom dummies, while Marcel Duchamp’s spinning discs are given another outing accompanied by music from John Cage. Dreams That Money Can Buy is a fascinating film that’s essential viewing for anyone interested in the art of this period. It’s also a film to which Kenneth Anger owes a small debt: the sleeping woman in Ernst’s Desire sequence is seen at one point swallowing a golden ball that hovers above her mouth, a trick that Anger later borrowed for Inauguration of the Pleasure Dome.

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Also at the Internet Archive are three further Richter films: two short works, Rhythmus 21 (1921) and Filmstudie (1925), and also Ghosts Before Breakfast (1927), an inventive experimental piece using cut-up imagery, simple animation and trick photography.

Previously on { feuilleton }
La femme 100 têtes by Eric Duvivier
Entr’acte by René Clair

Mary Ellen Bute: Films 1934–1957

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Mary Ellen Bute.

Last week I noted the appearance at Ubuweb of Mary Ellen Bute’s little-seen Passages from James Joyce’s Finnegans Wake. News comes this week of an exhibition of her abstract films at sketch, London.

sketch presents the first gallery survey exhibition of abstract film by Mary Ellen Bute (b. Houston, Texas 1906, d. 1983).

From 1934–1957 Mary Ellen Bute made fourteen short films pioneering techniques with light, sound and the moving image. Her work involved collaborating with artists, musicians, inventors and others who adopted a scientific experimental approach to creating sound and optical effects. In addition to sampling hand processes such as drawing and painting directly on film the work features imagery created automatically by a custom-built, cathode-ray oscilloscope. She can one of the first woman artists to experiment with the medium but unlike contemporaries Hans Richter (b. 1888), Len Lye (b. 1901) and Oskar Fischinger (b. 1900) her work remains largely unknown. This exhibition brings together a complete chronology of her abstract films, most of which have never been shown in Britain and for the first time will present her work as a multi-screen installation using sketch’s twelve projectors. This exhibition has been curated by Michelle Cotton who has included Bute’s work in survey of artist film distributed by the Independent Cinema Office. Essentials: Modernity will be released nationwide later this year.

A publication featuring essays and previously unpublished material will be published by ALMANAC to be launched in September 2008. ALMANAC is curatorial studio and independent imprint run by Andres Bonacina, Victoria Brooks, James Lambert & Anne Low.

The exhibition runs from 26 July to 13 September, 2008.

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Synchromy No. 4: Escape.

For those of us not in London, there’s always YouTube which has a small selection of Ms Bute’s work and in decent quality for once. The two later colour films are especially worth watching; Tarantella was a collaboration with Norman McLaren while Synchromy No. 4 used Bach’s Toccata and Fugue in D Minor two years before Disney’s similar sequence in Fantasia.

Mary Ellen Bute on YouTube:
Rhythm in Light (1934)
Dada (1936)
Synchromy No. 4: Escape (1938)
Tarantella (1940)

Previously on { feuilleton }
Passages from James Joyce’s Finnegans Wake
Norman McLaren
John Whitney’s Catalog
Arabesque by John Whitney
Moonlight in Glory
Jordan Belson on DVD
Ten films by Oskar Fischinger
Lapis by James Whitney
Expanded Cinema by Gene Youngblood