Man Ray was one of the leading photographers and filmmakers of the avant garde in the 20s and 30s. He was a true iconoclast and a key figure in the Dada and Surrealist movements. He is mostly known for his photography but his work as a filmmaker was truly pioneering and he became a leading exponent of the ‘Cinéma Pur’, or ‘Pure Cinema’, which rejected such “bourgeois” conceits as character, setting and plot. Below are four of his films, the longest of which is 27 minutes. I’d love to know what you think.
Le Retour à la Raison (1923)
The title means ‘Return to Reason’ and is basically an extension of Man Ray’s still photography. Many of the images are animated photograms; a technique in which opaque, or partially opaque, objects are arranged directly on top of a sheet of photographic paper and exposed to light. The technique is as old as photography itself but Man Ray had a gift for self-promotion and so he called them ‘rayographs’.
In this film he sprinkled objects like salt and pepper and pins onto the photographic paper. He also filmed live – action sequences of an amusement park carousel and other subjects including the nude torso of his model and lover, Kiki of Montparnasse.
This film contains some of the same images and visual techniques as ‘Le Retour à la Raison’, including rayographs, double images and negative images. However, in this film the live – action sequences are more inventive with dream-like distortions and tilted camera angles. The effect is surreal. As Man Ray wrote about the film:
In reply to critics who would like to linger on the merits or defects of the film, one can reply simply by translating the title ‘Emak Bakia,’ an old Basque expression, which was chosen because it sounds prettily and means: ‘Give us a rest.’
L’Etoile de Mer (1928)
This film was a collaboration between Man Ray and the surrealist poet Robert Desnos. It features Kiki de Montparnasse (Alice Prin) and André de la Rivière. The distorted, out – of focus images were made by shooting into mirrors and through rough glass. The film is more sensual than Man Ray’s earlier works.
Les Mystères du Château de Dé (1929)
This is the longest of Man Ray’s films and follows a pair of travellers on a journey from Paris to the Villa Noailles in Hyères which features a triangular Cubist garden designed by Gabriel Geuvrikain – the owners of the villa were patrons of many of Man Rays film projects.
Made as an architectural document and inspired by the poetry of Mallarmé, ‘Les Mystères du Château de Dé’ is the film in which Man Ray most clearly demonstrates his interdisciplinary attitude, particularly in its reference to Stéphane Mallarmé’s poem ‘Un coup de dés jamais n’abolira le hasard’.