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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 4 - Film, poetry and architecture: Les Mystères du Château du Dé 163


CHAPTER 4 Film, poetry and architecture: Les Mystères du Château du Dé (1929, 35mm, 25 mins, black and white, silent with musical accompaniment) Les Mystères du Château du Dé is the least discussed of Man Ray’s cinematic oeuvre. Unlike Le Retour à la raison, Emak Bakia and L’Etoile de mer, which are often deemed the most important avant-garde works of the period, there exist very few in-depth analyses of Les Mystères du Château du Dé, leading to its placement on the margins of Man Ray’s involvement with the moving image and of experimental film practice more generally. As the introduction points out, many descriptions and short surveys of Man Ray’s cinematic period only mention his first three films, reducing the status of Les Mystères to that of a forgotten finale, a seriously undervalued conclusion to a unified body of works. Despite their resistance to straightforward categorisation – an aspect to which the previous chapters have drawn attention – these earlier films are often viewed within the theoretical frameworks of Dada and Surrealism. Les Mystères, on the other hand, demonstrates a rather more problematic positioning, one that seems to have cut it of f from the rest of his cinematic work. However, as this chapter attempts to outline, this is a rather false perception that stems from the over-reliance on Dada and Sur- realism as guiding factors in the interpretation of Man Ray’s filmmaking. This final film in fact brings together a number of formal concerns...

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