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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 3 - The filmmaker and the poet: L’Etoile de mer 113


CHAPTER 3 The filmmaker and the poet: L’Etoile de mer (1928, 35mm, 15 mins, black and white, silent with musical accompaniment) The history of avant-garde filmmaking is scattered with numerous examples of collaborative partnerships, often involving an interdisciplinary dialogue between film and other arts such as painting, photography and poetry. Entr’acte (1924) was the result of collaboration between the painter Fran- cis Picabia and the filmmaker René Clair, just as Un Chien andalou (1929) came into being through the combined artist sensibilities of Salvador Dalí and Luis Buñuel. Germaine Dulac’s La Coquille et le Clergyman (1927), although perhaps not such a harmonious collaboration, was made from a Surrealist scenario written by Antonin Artaud.1 Man Ray’s third film L’Etoile de mer represents a similar combination of personalities, and, in ways comparable to La Coquille, demonstrates the process by which literary ideas are developed through cinema. The film is commonly held to be an adaptation of a poem by the Surrealist poet Robert Desnos and, as such, symbolises a particular relationship between literary and visual Surrealism turning images of poetry into poetic cinematic images. As we shall see, the relationship between written poetry and visual poetry is one of the central concerns of L’Etoile de mer, particularly through its use of intertitles. If Emak Bakia is considered by critics as representing the intermedi- ary stage between Dada and Surrealist expression, with much confusion as to where it should be positioned, L’Etoile de mer, as a result of Desnos’ inf luence on...

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