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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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Notes 255


Notes Introduction 1 In J.-M. Bouhours and P. De Haas (eds), Man Ray: directeur du mauvais movies, Paris: Centre Pompidou, 1997, p. 7. 2 Man Ray’s relationship with photography was complex. Although it was the medium through which he earned a living and gained artistic credibility, he regretted the fact that his painting did not attract equal attention. He particu- larly resented being labelled a photographer and frequently made pejorative remarks about the medium. In a small book entitled La photographie n’est pas l’art (Photography is Not Art), published in 1937 with André Breton he outlines some of the major issues related to the medium, arguing for its inherent artificial- ity. At other times, he attempted to highlight the artistic merits of photography by placing it on equal terms with painting: ‘The problem of similarity between painting and photography has never worried me. As far as I am concerned there is no problem, since photography, like drawing or engraving, is part of the art of painting; only the tools dif fer.’ Quoted in A. Schwarz, Man Ray: The Rigour of Imagination, London: Thames and Hudson, 1977, p. 228. 3 For an overview of how Man Ray’s films are discussed in the context of the avant- garde, see, for example: J.B. Brunius, En marge du cinéma français, Lausanne: Editions L’Age d’Homme, 1987; D. Curtis, Experimental Cinema: A Fifty Year Evolution, London: Studio Vista, 1971; S. Dwoskin, Film is … The International Free Cinema, London: Owen, 1975; R.E. Kuenzli (ed.), Dada...

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