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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 5 - Collaborations, experiments and home movies 213


CHAPTER 5 Collaborations, experiments and home movies My reaction to the hectic Twenties began in 1929. My excursions into the film world had done me more harm than good. People were saying that I had given up photography for the movies, few sitters presented themselves for portraits. The magazines shunned me […] It was time for a complete change in my life … I sold my professional movie camera and my swank car which I had been a slave to for six years. These things no longer had the romantic appeal for me as in the beginning; they appeared just as prosaic to me as a sewing machine.1 This description of the period following the making of Les Mystères du Château du Dé raises important issues about Man Ray’s perception of himself as an artist, where his filmmaking pursuits are perceived as being detrimental to more serious professional activities, such as painting and photography. Whereas Man Ray had, in the early days, embraced film as a new form of artistic expression to be explored and conquered, this enthusiasm seems to have waned significantly by the end of the 1920s. The critical success of Buñuel and Dalí’s Surrealist film Un Chien andalou, as well as the relatively unfavourable responses to Les Mystères, such as that by Léon Moussinac, may well have dealt serious blows to Man Ray’s ego. If this were the case, it seems only natural that he would reject the cinematic medium and use it...

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