Anemic Cinema: experimental film of spirals wears its welcome out quickly

Marcel Duchamp, “Anémic Cinéma” (1926)

Here’s an intriguing 7-minute animated film that consists of a sequence of spiralling patterns, either of actual spirals or concentric circles around a central sphere intercut with three-dimensional phonograph disks with various cryptic messages of a tongue-twisting, alliterative or punning nature circling on them. The accompanying music consists entirely of a looping melody played over and over on a solo stringed or keyboard instrument. The steadily whirling patterns appear to bounce up and down and sometimes give the impression that viewers can see right into them; they may also appear to speed up or slow down, brighten up or reduce the light. The effect of both images and music soundtrack can either be hypnotic or frankly boring and monotonous depending on whether the viewer suffers a sudden attack of attention-deficit disorder where s/he never experienced it before while watching the film. The film does start wearing out its attention halfway through. Needless to say there’s no plot or other linear narrative device to speak of and the film could either have been made in one hit or have been a cut-and-paste job. Duchamp refuses even to speed up or slow down the sequencing of images to cater for his target audience (most likely himself and a few friends).

The film is credited to Rrose Selavy which is a pseudonym Duchamp frequently used for his creations. It does suffer from being filmed in black-and-white, colour not being available in the late 1920s as the use of colour could have extended the film’s life and maintained audience attention to the end. As it is, the film is an interesting exercise in Dadaist film-making and encourages viewers to see the art of film-making as something beyond story-telling.

 

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