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A Cinematic Artist

The Films of Man Ray


Kim Knowles

The American artist Man Ray was one of the most influential figures of the historical avant-garde, contributing significantly to the development of both Dadaism and Surrealism. Whilst his pioneering work in photography assured him international acclaim, his activity in other areas, notably film, is to this day both unknown and undervalued.
During the 1920s Man Ray made four short experimental films and collaborated on a host of other projects with people such as Marcel Duchamp, Fernand Léger, René Clair and Hans Richter. These works, along with a series of cinematic essays and home movies made during the 1920s and 1930s, represent the most important contribution to the development of an alternative mode of filmmaking in the early twentieth century. This book explores Man Ray’s cinematic interactions from the perspective of his interdisciplinary artistic sensibility, creating links between film, photography, painting, poetry, music, architecture, dance and sculpture. By exposing his preoccupation with form, and his ambiguous relationship with the politics and aesthetics of the Dada and Surrealist movements, the author paints an intimate and complex portrait of Man Ray the filmmaker.


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CHAPTER 1 - Between chaos and order: Le Retour à la raison 15


CHAPTER 1 Between chaos and order: Le Retour à la raison (1923, 35mm, 2 min, black and white, silent) Man Ray had been in Paris for two years by the time he made his first film Le Retour à la raison. This short period represents one of the most important in his career since it is during this time that he became involved with the Paris Dadaists through his friendship with Marcel Duchamp. Perhaps the most significant detail relating to Man Ray’s arrival in France in the summer of 1921 is that it coincides with the moment at which a series of ruptures between members of the Dada group were to have a lasting ef fect on the future of the Paris art scene.1 Shortly after being introduced to the Dadas by Duchamp, an exhibition was devoted to him at Philippe Soupault’s gallery Librairie Six, which, as Michel Sanouillet observes, allowed the group to momentarily recover a sense of unity.2 Writing about this event in later years, Man Ray stated, ‘Evidently, my exhibition was the occasion and pretext for the group to manifest their antagonism to the established order and to make sly digs at those who had seceded from their movement’3 (my emphasis). This comment serves to highlight the relationship between Man Ray and the Dada movement and focuses attention on the marginal position he occupied in relation to their activities, manifestations and, most importantly, their personal quarrels. As the introductory chapter has already suggested, his association with Paris Dada seems...

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