More silent shorts, four in fact, with paragraph reviews and a rating for each. It’s the return of this guy!
Norman McLaren, 2 minutes
This very short film consists of bright green/blue dots and splodges making their way across a red background, set to rhythmic electronic music that matches the splattering of the dots. It kind of reminded me of those geometry shorts that they used to show on Sesame Street – the ones with the amazing Philip Glass soundtrack. For some reason, this short film is quite intriguing. Something about the colour combination and the rhythm of the dots and the music just sucks you in. McLaren was a pioneer in the field of animation, and this film was created by drawing directly on to the film. Simple and experimental. It’s only 2 minutes, so it’s well worth a watch.
Man Ray, 16 minutes
Emak-Bakia translates as “Leave Me Alone” in Basque. This film consists of a number of disconnected images and sequences, and many of Man Ray’s signature images, coupled with his characteristic use of special effects (Rayograph, soft focus, double exposure) to blend them all together and at times separate them. When watching this film, it felt like Man Ray was just having a lot of fun experimenting with different techniques and subjects, and the title might be referring to people who try and make a meaning out of it. “Leave me alone, this film can mean anything and nothing,” is what Man Ray says to his detractors in my imagination. The film is hypnotic and at times it’s difficult to look away. It’s very ambiguous and it’s actually difficult to say what it’s about, or what its central theme is. Lots of eyes, crystals and reflections. It feels like a longer, more elaborate version of Le Retour à la Raison (1923), except this one is more beautiful.
Ghosts Before Breakfast (1928)
Hans Richter, 9 minutes
Also known as Vormittagsspuk, Ghosts Before Breakfast is an avant-garde film that makes use of special effects such as stop motion to create a world that will surprise and flabberghast the viewer. The film shows everyday objects rebelling against their intended use – bowler hats fly away from the wearer, a man’s bow tie refuses to be tied, windows open and close by themselves, guns appear and disappear in circular patterns. All of these objects do their own thing until the clock strikes 12, and it’s time for them to perform properly. The music takes on several different emotional tones and tends to overlap at some points. The overall effect, for me, was that of stunned silence. The film is equal parts creepy and charming, but also fairly comedic. Loved it. It also must be noted that the film with its original music was destroyed by the Nazis due to being “degenerate art”, which is very interesting when you consider the content – objects rebelling against their powerful owners. When you view the film in that context, it takes on a deeper level of cultural and historical significance.
Anémic Cinéma (1926)
Marcel Duchamp, 6 minutes
Duchamp collaborated with Man Ray for this one. Spirals spinning, the occasional French sentence rotating, for six minutes. Different types of spirals, differently sized segments and speeds. My French is patchy at best so all I could understand was that the French sentences were alliterations and seemed to be nonsensical. What does it mean? Is it about the circle of life and/or purposelessness of existence? Or is it just like any other Dada piece and is meaningless for the sake of it? If I’m honest, I thought this one was kind of tedious. But coupled with the nice guitar music, it was also moving as well. I’m not sure if I find spirals and French that emotionally overwhelming so maybe it was the music that evoked the reaction. It’s only six minutes, so I would still say this one is worth watching.
Ah, takes me back to being a film student again. Good stuff. I must check out that Hans Richter. I do love Norman McLaren though (see also: Len Lye, another great early animator and well worth seeking out), and still sad I lost a DVD of McLaren short films when I moved house.
I’m just learning about all of these amazing shorts now because I never studied film! Makes me wish I had studied film in some capacity. I’m going to look into some of Len Lye’s work because he sounds like an intriguing guy. I love the early experimental animation stuff. Thanks for the rec!
Great post! I love seeing these films being highlighted! So much amazing history surrounding these pictures. Ghosts Before Breakfast is a blast. Love the experimental early cinema special effects. Amazing to watch.
Thanks! 🙂 It’s a genre of film I didn’t pay much attention to before writing about film on here. It’s funny because when watching them, you do get the feeling that they’re immensely culturally significant, since they paved the way for so much of what we have now. Really amazing stuff!
[…] More silent shorts, four in fact, with paragraph reviews and a rating for each. It's the return of this guy! Dots (1940) Norman McLaren, 2 minutes This very short film consists of bright green/blue… […]
Nice post. Might try and take a look. Where did you see Emak-Bakia?
Thanks! 🙂 Emak-Bakia is so great. I found it on Youtube, don’t tell anyone!
Ooh excellent. Thanks.
Ghosts Before Breakfast is creeeeepy! I kept thinking the bow tie was going to attempt to strangle the dude, and that the guns were going to shoot him. Or perhaps that says more about me, since I expected it to be a horror film? haha.
I loved Ghosts Before Breakfast! It’s so weird on the surface but the Nazi connection blows my mind. It does sound like it should be a horror film!
[…] that short film. Secondly, from memory I’m not sure that there was any drawing on film in Emak-Bakia (1926). The closest thing to animation would probably be the Rayographs (invented by its director, […]