R.: Boris Kaufman-Galitzine (?). L.: 340 m. D.: 11’a 18 f/s.
The programme presented by Cinémathèque Française this year is quite intriguing: Six films, five of which are rather mysterious. Their unknown authors are still the object of research, as the identification of their precise filming dates.
Les Halles, in the Cinémathèque archives, is attributed to André Galitzine; it can be dated to the second half of the twenties. The subject, photography and some close-up details seem to link the film, maybe just a fragment of a lost or never completed feature, to the general movement of Brassai’s and Elie Lotar’s urban and Surrealist vision. Some photographs shot by the latter at Les Halles and published in Surrealist reviews, or at least closer to that movement (like “Documents”) recall some frames of the film. This is a good example of the general renewal of vision which took place in the twenties, documentary approach and plastic research. We can assume that it was filmed by cameraman Boris Kaufman; in fact in July 1930 a film titled Les Halles Centrales was screened at Studio 28, by Boris Kaufman-Galitzine. Is it the same film?
Lumière et ombre. Etudes Cinématographiques and Pretexte (also known with the title of Essais Cinématographiques) were made by a filmmaker, Alfred Sandy, about whom information is still rather scanty. These three films all belong to the current of “abstract cinema”, represented by authors such as Henri Chomette, Hans Richter or Francis Bruguière. We know that Lumière et ombre was screened at Studio 28 from July 4th, 1928 onward, while Etudes (or Essais) Cinématographiques was shown from July 7th to August 21st, 1930. Studio 28 participated in the production of the two films. It is deemed necessary to start research on the personality of Alfred Sandy, an author still clad in mystery. His two films should be included among the best works of this cinema current, based on the study of light changes and “crystallisation” (crystal movements and anamorphosis of geometric figures).
Fleurs Meurtries was made in 1930 by a filmmaker, Roget Livet, on whom we do not have any biographical information: he is an isolated artistic figure not belonging to any group or movement. His film seems to draw ispiration from René Magritte’s iconographic elements, and presents in some instances animated illustrations of the Belgian painter’s paintings. René Magritte said to Christian Dotrement that he never saw the film, while Roget Livet denied any influence by Magritte. However, the depictions of the latter’s paintings, which have become Surrealist icons, are many. The first part of the film seems an early reflection on the invention of cinema. The feature was quite popular in the early fifties, as is shown in several ads about its screenings which took place in Paris in 1953.
“Balançoires is a small jewel in the French ‘parallel’ cinema from the twenties. Its narrative, philosophical, and didactic pretext recalls René Clair’s Paris qui dort (1923) where with a similar magic an optimistic view of the world is opposed to a sombre future. In both instances the stand-still or slow-motion are just a way to play with cinematic perceptive effects. In René Clair’s film the character responsible for the escape from the ordinary world is a wise man, while Noël Renard has chosen a fakir. The environment where the characters move does not convey psychological familiarity. The filmmaker’s and his crew’s (which included also young Christian-Jaque) interest is somewhere else, in the documentary and experimental part. The travelling fair offers a scenario and at the same time a pretext for exceptionally modernist views. The Eiffel Tower from Paris qui dort finds its correspondence in the ‘switchback’ and in many attractions inviting people to fly into the air. But in Balançoires the optical virtuosity enjoys a double perspective illusion: the metallic architectures and their revolutions and cavorting. The film depicts the speed of glances and what really catches our interest is the effort to use the crowds as plastic matter. Top hats seem to prevail, thus evoking the rotating ones in Vormittagsspuk by Hans Richter (1928). The editing rhythm is devilish and is based on the alternating speeds combined to other motifs: close-ups of faces, crazy marry-go-rounds, tents, close-ups of feet or other parts of the body picked among the crowd, acrobatic shots, a sea of hats taking up the whole screen, etc. The naiveté of the final moral sheds lights to the reasons why the film has never been considered a masterpiece of Constructivist or simply avant-garde cinema. Although the theoretical project is totally lacking, we cannot in any way ignore this film, which is a very beautiful example of the ‘New Vision’ from the late twenties”.