Symphonie Diagonale by Viking Eggeling

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This early piece of abstract cinema from 1924 is available for viewing in several locations—YouTube and Ubuweb have copies—but the best version can be seen at Europa Film Treasures. The film was originally silent so don’t feel too bad about watching with the sound off or with your own score to replace those which were added later.

Born in Sweden to a family of German origin, Viking Eggeling emigrated to Germany at the age of 17, where he became a bookkeeper, and studied art history as well as painting. From 1911 to 1915 he lived in Paris, then moved to Switzerland at the outbreak of World War I. In Zurich he became a associated with the Dada movement, became a friend of Hans Richter, Jean Arp, Tristan Tzara, and Marcel Janco. With the end of the Great War he moved to Germany with Richter where both explored the depiction of movement, first in scroll drawings and then on film. In 1922 Eggeling bought a motion picture camera, and working without Richter, sought to create a new kind of cinema. Axel Olson, a young Swedish painter, wrote to his parents in 1922 that Eggeling was working to “evolve a musical-cubistic style of film—completely divorced from the naturalistic style.” In 1923 he showed a now lost, 10 minute film based on an earlier scroll titled Horizontal-vertical Orchestra. In the summer of 1923 he began work on Symphonie Diagonale. Paper cut-outs and then tin foil figures were photographed a frame at a time. Completed in 1924, the film was shown for the first time (privately) on November 5. On May 3, 1925 it was presented to the public in Germany; sixteen days later Eggeling died in Berlin. For more on Eggeling see the book Viking Eggeling 1880–1925 by Louise O’Konor.

Previously on { feuilleton }
Mary Ellen Bute: Films 1934–1957
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

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

John Whitney’s Catalog

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YouTube keeps turning up the abstract cinema goods with this great seven-minute John Whitney showreel from 1961. And recent additions include a better copy of Whitney’s Arabesque as well as Permutations from 1966.

Update: Two masterpieces by John Whitney’s brother, James, Yantra and Lapis, are now on YouTube at last!

Previously on { feuilleton }
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

Arabesque by John Whitney

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I made the complaint in November last year when writing about James Whitney’s Lapis that few of the classic works of abstract cinema have yet to find their way to YouTube. Happily, things change fast in the online world and you can now see a clip of Lapis here. Another recent addition is the whole of Arabesque by James’s brother, John, a very early (1975) example of using computer graphics to create animations. This is necessarily crude by today’s standards—coloured lines and shapes—but it was made at a time when computers frequently filled entire rooms and recording their visual output meant pointing a camera at a monitor. Arabesque has a suitably Arabian santur soundtrack by Manoochehr Sadeghi.

Update: link changed to a better copy.

Previously on { feuilleton }
Moonlight in Glory
Jordan Belson on DVD
Ten films by Oskar Fischinger
Lapis by James Whitney
Expanded Cinema by Gene Youngblood