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Abstract film

Parent categories: abstract - film -

Related: experimental film - media art

Still from Diagonal-Symphonie (1924) - Viking Eggeling
image sourced here.


Abstract film is a subgenre of experimental film. Its history often overlaps with the concerns and history of visual music. The earliest abstract motion pictures known to survive are those produced by a group of German artists working in the early 1920s: Walter Ruttmann, Hans Richter (artist), Viking Eggeling and Oskar Fischinger. These artists present two different approaches to abstraction-in-motion: as an analogue to music (Ruttmann, Fischinger) or as the creation of an absolute language of form, a desire common to early abstract art.

The history of abstract film is highly contested, with various groups of artists and their supporting critics/historians fighting over which artists to include and which to exclude from its development. --http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Abstract_film [Jul 2006]

The germinative ideas of this film method came from Viking Eggeling and Hans Richter. Their focus completely abandoned conventional narrative accentuating visual expression in "non-real" terms. Psychological nuances are stimulated through the use of these abondoned conventions. Early examples include Walter Ruttmann's "Berlin: Symphony of a Great City" (1927), "Melody of the World" (1929) and Richter's "Rhythmus 21" (1921). Emphases include such things as patterns, shapes, colors, and geometrical lines and shapes. Distortion of images through the use of modified lenses is included in the techniques as well as photographing/filming light patterns on water. More recent exemplary innovations employ the use of computer technology. --Barnes and Noble glossary [Oct 2004]

Abstract Film and New Functionalism

Collective Movements and Solitary Thrusts: German Experimental Film 1920-1990

Christine Noll Brinckmann
Printed in MFJ No. 30/31 (Fall 1997) Deutschland/Interviews One could begin the history of German experimental cinema with film history itself, and search there for moments of self-reflexive observation, or for non-narrative, lyrical, painterly, or abstract passages. Such a quest would certainly result in a collection of examples that anticipate the many varieties of experimental film without, however, depicting its history: neither the actual tradition of this genre nor the specific quality of the films would be revealed. The center of attention here is therefore reserved for the experimental film proper.

The first German experimental film movement began in the Twenties, and it was simultaneously an avant-garde movement. The abstract or 'absolute' films of Walter Ruttmann, Viking Eggeling, and Hans Richter were conceived as pictorial art, without relation to the contemporary cinematic patterns. "Malerei mit Zeit" [painting in time] (Ruttmann); "Bewegungskunst" [art in movement] (Eggeling); "Augenmusik" [visual music], "Lichttonsinfonie" [symphony of light and sound], "zeitraumliche Eurhythmie" [eurythmics in space and time] (Diebold), and "Kinomalerei" [cinematic painting] (Yvan Goll) are all tentative designations to describe the new phenomenon. The artists, all of whom came from painting to film, found their points of departure in the avant-garde movements, in the Cubist, Constructivist, Expressionist, Dadaist, and Futurist agendas. Using actors was initially not a consideration, nor did the expressive possibilities of photography stimulate filmic experimentation. Profilmic reality, if one can apply this term here, was constituted instead by drawn or painted material which only came to life through the camera and during projection. The films were created on an animation table using the single frame technique: cinematic illusion and rhythmic development engendered from the slight shifting of graphic copy between frames, through adjustments in camera distance or light design and through permutations of color. These are films without correlatives in the space and time of reality.

The first abstract film screened in Germany was Walter Ruttmann's Lichtspiel Opus I (1921). In the same year Opus II was presented, followed in 1923 and 1924 by Opus III and Opus IV respectively. Although not as subtle or lithe as Ruttmann's later works, Opus I already contains the essential elements of the new art form. Geometric organic figures cavort, change and metamorphose in virtual space and appear to correspond rhythmically with or in response to each other. Their fluid pace is light and euphoric, the tempo stimulating. Already in his first film, Ruttmann worked with color (unfortunately, the films are usually shown in black and white) juxtaposed with expanses of solid black. He bracketed short sequences in monochrome hues and achieved sculptural effects through gradually changing degrees of saturation and light value. At its premiere, Opus I was projected with music composed by Max Butting, and visual and musical structures alternated in the foreground: the result was "visible music, audible light," as Herbert Ihering wrote in his review in the Berliner Borsen-Courier (1.5.1921). --http://mfj-online.org/journalPages/MFJ30,31/NBrinckmannCollective.html [Oct 2004]

The next interesting way of connecting the music and light dates to the beginning of the 19th century with Italian Futurists. Painter and composer Luigi Russolo was interested in color-sound correspondence in his painting Music of 1911. The Futurist Film Manifesto (1916) written and published by Filippo Tommaso Marinetti, Bruno Cora, Emilio Settimelli, Arnaldo Ginna, Giacomo Balla and Remo Chiti had a series of 14 points. Point 4, entitled Cinematic Musical Research, focused on dissonances, harmonies, symphonies of gestures, events, colors, etc. One of the co-authors of The Futurist Film Manifesto, Bruno Corra, had already published an article Abstract Film - Chromatic Music in 1912 in which he described experiments carried out with his brother Arnolda Ginna, and their work in film to that date. Unfortunately these films have probably been lost and are not available for research. But in his article Corra argues that the chromatic scale consists of only one octave and managed in correspondence seven colors in four octaves. They used a series of twenty-eight colored electric light bulbs (four reds, four greens, four violets etc.) corresponding to twenty-eight keys, to construct their color-organ. Afterwards, Corra and Ginna composed a few color sonatas for their new instrument. --Mladen Milicevic - Film-Music Synaesthesia http://www.lmu.edu/acad/personal/faculty/mmilicevic/pers/exp-film.html [Oct 2004]

Abstract Film and Beyond (1982) - Malcolm LeGrice

Abstract Film and Beyond (1982) - Malcolm LeGrice [Amazon.com] [FR] [DE] [UK]

"Malcolm Le Grice, an important experimental filmmaker from England, film journalist for Studio International, and teacher ... gives us a lucid account, both historical and theoretical, of the main preoccupations of abstract filmmakers....

"Le Grice begins with a painter, Cezanne, to show how his preoccupation with pictorial space is a key to any understanding of the notion of abstraction. He goes on to discuss the Futurists' cinema, the early abstract film experiments by Eggeling, Duchamp and others in Germany and France of the '20s, the West Coast filmmakers of the '40s, and a stimulating view of the experimental film movement after WW II, including the works of Brakhage, Snow, Gidal and Sharits." - Art Direction

"Whether or not one agrees with Le Grice's valuation of an alternate cinema, Abstract Film and Beyond clearly demonstrates that the cinema, that great twentieth-century art, is no mere entertainment, but an event of tremendous importance and implication." - The Journal of Aesthetics and Art Criticism

See also: abstract film - film - experimental film

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