Max Ernst by Peter Schamoni

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The English version of Peter Schamoni’s feature-length documentary from 1991 has finally reached YouTube. I think copyright reasons may have prevented it from doing so in the past in which case the usual caveats apply: if it’s of interest then watch it while you have the opportunity, it may not be there for long. The German version of the film has a longer title, Max Ernst: Mein Vagabundieren—Meine Unruhe, which auto-translates to “my vagabondingmy restlessness”, a reference to Ernst’s peripatetic life as well as to his artistic wanderings.

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I mentioned in the previous post my having spent some time last year watching a number of documentaries about Surrealism. This was one of them, and it’s the film about Max Ernst. Films about Salvador Dalí are plentiful but other Surrealist artists are lucky if they receive a single worthwhile appraisal. Peter Schamoni had filmed Ernst in 1966 for a short, Maximiliana oder die widerrechtliche Ausübung der Astronomie, so was already sympathetic to the artist’s work. Max Ernst resembles one of the BBC’s classic Arena documentaries in being a biographical account threaded with documentary material and pictures of significant artworks. Detail is supplied by actors reading from writings by Ernst, Dorothea Tanning and others.

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There’s a lot of interview footage here, mostly from TV appearances in later life, in which Ernst’s intelligent conversation makes a striking contrast to Dalí’s bluster and evasions. Schamoni interleaves the historical footage with shots of the various locations of Ernst’s wanderings: the south of France, New York City, California, Arizona, Paris. Several of the Dalí documentaries note the degree to which the coastal landscape of Cadaqués informed Dalí’s painting; Schamoni makes a similar comparison between Ernst’s American paintings and the desert landscapes of Arizona. It’s good to see some of the Microbes that he painted while he was there, a series of tiny landscape pictures that books about Ernst don’t always mention, let alone depict.

Previously on { feuilleton }
The nightingale echo
Max Ernst’s favourites
Viewing View
Max Ernst album covers
Maximiliana oder die widerrechtliche Ausübung der Astronomie
Max and Dorothea
Dreams That Money Can Buy
La femme 100 têtes by Eric Duvivier

Maximiliana oder die widerrechtliche Ausübung der Astronomie

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The title of this 10-minute film translates as Maximiliana or the Illegal Practice of Astronomy which is also the name of an art book created by Max Ernst in 1964. The film was a collaboration between Ernst and filmmaker Peter Schamoni, the subject being German astronomer and lithographer Ernst Wilhelm Leberecht Tempel (1821–1889). Tempel’s astronomy was “illegal” because he was regarded as an amateur by other astronomers which meant he was denied permission to name his discoveries. Maximiliana was the name Tempel and physicist Carl August von Steinheil decided on for an asteroid that Tempel discovered in 1861. This was deemed unacceptable so the asteriod was given the name Cybele instead (now 65 Cybele).

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Some of this is related in Schamoni’s film but you’ll need an understanding of German to appreciate the detail. The film is worth a look for other reasons, notably some shots of Ernst filling sheets of paper with the curious hieroglyphs that cover the surfaces of some of his later paintings. These hieroglyphs also feature in the Tempel book, and one of them appears in the film as an animated figure. Peter Schamoni made a number of art films including an excellent feature-length documentary about Max Ernst in 1991. That’s also on YouTube but untranslated so you’ll need some good German (and French) to appreciate it.

Previously on { feuilleton }
Max and Dorothea
Dreams That Money Can Buy
La femme 100 têtes by Eric Duvivier