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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 2 - The light and the lens: Emak Bakia 63


CHAPTER 2 The light and the lens: Emak Bakia (1926, 35mm, 17 mins, black and white, silent with musical accompaniment) Man Ray’s second film Emak Bakia is arguably his most established cin- ematic work – the one in which he engages most extensively with the formal properties of the image in motion. Indeed, as with Le Retour à la raison, the exploration of dif ferent forms of cinematic movement is present throughout. Yet although the two films share many similarities, Man Ray’s formal interests are taken much further in Emak Bakia, demonstrating a wide range of concerns that of fer new perspectives on the nature of cin- ematic representation. The film arose out of a commission by American patron of the arts Arthur Wheeler, who was eager to become involved in the burgeoning art world and saw the cinema as a promising field for the development of creative ideas. Not only did he give Man Ray a considerable amount of money for the project, he also left him with complete artistic freedom. As Man Ray tells us, Wheeler was fully prepared to take the risk of losing money since he would at least be assured that it had gone to a worthwhile cause.1 As it happens, the finished film was relatively success- ful, premiering at the Vieux Colombier in Paris on 23 November 1926 and showing in London, New York and Brussels early the following year.2 The conditions were ripe for its reception: Le Retour à la raison had already demonstrated Man Ray’s...

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