CVM's Oskar Fischinger pages: Film Notes, FIlm Reviews by others

(in progress)

On Spiritual Constructions

Fischinger conceptualized Spiritual Constructions from the viewpoint of two drunk men in an unstable, unpredictable environment, for which he used many single-frame images, scratch marks on some frames, and suddenly changing backgrounds. Despite the astounding flow of images, a clear story emerges: two drunk men argue and fight, are thrown out of a bar, and make their separate ways home to bed...

Spiritual Constructions itself was prepared with an opaque layer of kaolin spread on a glass plate, lit from beneath and filmed from above. The figures were cut away, added to, or bent between each single-frame shot. Backgrounds were supplied either directly by laying a drawing beneath the light source behind the figures, or indirectly by separately filming other material (such as the wax-sliced abstractions) which was superimposed in the laboratory.

Fischinger's genius in transposing everyday recognizable forms into surreal and abstract ones is irrefutably demonstrated in this incredible film, made when he was still in his twenties. (William Moritz, liner notes for Visual Pathfinders laserdisc; Editorial Supervisor, Cecile Starr).

On Study Nr. 7 (Studie Nr. 7)

Norman McLaren: Fischinger was one of the great formative influences in my life. Around 1935, when I was about 20, in my student days at the Glasgow School of Art in Scotland, I saw for the first time an "abstract" movie. It was Oskar Fischinger's film done to Brahms' "Hungarian Dance No. 5." It is difficult to describe adequately the impact it had on me: I was thrilled and euphoric by the film's fluent kinesthesia, which so potently portrayed the movement and spirit of the music. The experience made an incredible impression on me, excited a yearning in me, and was to have a profound, long-lasting influence on many of my films. (c. 1975)

Len Lye: ...Then I saw Fischinger's Studie Nr. 7 as a short at a regular cinema, and the dynamic dance of abstract light wouldn't go out of my mind....since I didn't have any money for cameras and cels, I started drawing directly on film, in experiments that led to Colour Box. Whenever I had a chance, I would go out of my way to see Fischinger films. He was a true, natural genius. He ought to be sainted, but I guess they don't have Art Saints.

Alexandre Alexeieff and Claire Parker: We actually met at a screening of a Fischinger film. It was the "Brahms Hungarian Dance No. 5," [Studie nr. 7] and it was playing as a short in an ordinary cinema, so it was quite a surprise. We were both so stunned that we just sat there after everyone had left. After a few minutes, we noticed, and silently went out and sat down at a corner cafe. We didn't say much to each other, just things like "Quite wonderful, wasn't it?"...We knew we could never rival Fischinger in his own field of pure abstractions, but his films did make you want to create a kind of Visual Music. (1970) Published in Moritz, Optical Poetry [Note: according to Film Historian Cecile Starr, Alexeieff's daughter claims this is not true."

Jeanpaul Georgen's Studie Nr. 7 page, part of Classical German animation films, on the Society for Animation Studies Europe website. (link to external site).

On Kreise (Circles)

[Kreise] used the GasparColor process, which Fischinger had helped to perfect. The film was subsidized by the Tolirag Advertising Agency....The opening section of the film, synchronized to Wagner's "Venusberg Ballet" from the opera Tannhauser, was created with black-and-white drawings on white paper. These were printed in color by using the positive and negative images as different color masters, since Gasparcolor has three separate emulsions, one red, one yellow and one blue. The backgrounds were filled with circular vortexes borrowed from Fischinger's Spirals of the mid-1920s. When two different color images overlap, they create an optical third color, or white - a kind of color layering which Fischinger used later in his oil paintings.

The last section of the film...was painted with poster-colors on white paper; the colors were then reversed to negative by changing the color-filters through which the drawings were photographed and printed. (William Moritz, liner notes for Visual Pathfinders laserdisc; Editorial Supervisor, Cecile Starr).


On Komposition in Blau

"Animation stripped to its barest essentials: German-born Oskar Fischinger shunts blocks of colour across the screen to form patterns both abstract and Busby Berkeley-like. Fantasia pilfered the exciting bits and rendered them as middle-brow sludge." (rated #5 in Animation category). -- (Sunday Telegraph (London) , February 17, 2008, newspaper article: "100 best films - You'll Laugh, You'll Cry, Or You May Angrily Demand to Know Why We've Snubbed Meg Ryan. In Honour of Next Week's Oscars We Present our Own Highly Subjective, Yet Infinitely Debatable Nominations for the Greatest Films of All Time."


On Allegretto

Allegretto stands as Fischinger's greatest achievement in "visual music," in the strict sense of translating the full complexity of symphonic textures into visual equivalents. Here for the first time he used cels....the cels allowed him to make four and five layers of action for each frame, thus increasing their number to some 100 cels per second of film.

Rhythmic radiating of circles in the background mirror the pulse-like "beat" of the music, while clusters of different forms and colors move about in the foreground, suggesting the melodies, harmonies and tone-colors of various instruments. (William Moritz, liner notes for Visual Pathfinders laserdisc; Editorial Supervisor, Cecile Starr).

William Moritz: The figures work themselves up into a brilliant and vigorous conclusion, bursting with "skyscrapers" and kaleidoscopes of stars and diamonds, and Hollywood art-deco of the 1930s. It is a celebration, plain and simple, of the American life style, seen fresh and clean through the exuberant eyes of an immigrant.

On Radio Dynamics

William Moritz: I believe this to be Fischinger's best film, the work in which he most perfectly joined his craftsmanship with his spiritual ideas into a meaningful and relatively faultless whole. No music distracts from the visual imagery which moves with sufficient grace and power of its own.

On Motion Painting No. 1

William Moritz: Oskar worked for nine months on Motion Painting No. 1, finishing his painting August 1947. He painted on one board for several months, before he noticed that the thickness of paint was beginning to catch reflections from the lights, so six times he placed a sheet of plexiglass over the painting and continued on the fresh surface.....

...As an exercise in the painter's art, Motion Painting demonstrates a mastery of a variety of styles, from the soft, muted polymorphous blossoming of the beginning, to the hard-edged color rhythms of the spirals (at one point in six distinct shades of blue), to the intricate geometric architectonics of the central section, to the inevitable sweeping gestures of the parallel wedges at the end.

The film, as the title suggests, is also a painting of or about "motion" itself, and the element of motion is exploited in many forms and variations. During the opening sequence, we see the literal motion of the comet-like bodies ascending in the spiral sequence, we see the impressionistic motion of changing colors, which seems to speed up as it draws toward the right center of the spiral - the variable dynamic tension of music and painting; in the central geometric sequence, the appearance and placement of static objects becomes an instrument of manipulating the motion of our eyes - the motion of sculpture, happening and pageant; and the final dramatic sweeps of the great wedges, motion by accretion, forming the climactic mandala, are rendered more exciting by the relative static scenes that precede them - theatrical motion of dynamic duration in time."

(excerpts above from Moritz's 2004 biography of Fischinger, Optical Poetry)

Susan Ehrlich: ...With a camera trained on his easel, Fischinger filmed each application of paint on a separate frame of the [film] reel. Because we never see the brush on screen, the painting seems to be self-generated. Magically, the forms build and transmute into changing designs, moving in rhythm, although not in synchrony, to Bach's Brandenburg Concerto #3. As the lens follows the work's maturation, tracking lines as they swell into planes, and planes as they build into complex structures, it gives filmic translation to Klee's famous adage of a dot developing into a line, a plane, and space over time. (excerpt from Turning the Tide exhibition catalog, Santa Barbara Museum of Art, 1990)

Richard Whitehall: "Motion Painting" is Fischinger's most daring and most original work, yet the sheer audacity of it has hardly been appreciated on any level but that of the technical. Yet the film presents, in visual form, a unique statement about the process of creation. No! It penetrates even deeper to the center of the mystery than that. It is the process of creation in its rawest and most immediate state...."Motion Painting" is devoid of dramatics. It is about conception and growth, the birth and realization of a form and an idea. With other films the creative impulse is something glimpsed at one remove, something encountered when it has already passed from the immediate present into the historical past. "Motion Painting" is about the shaping of an object, an event, a glimpse of actuality isolating artist and spectator both together in the center of a moment of creative truth. Animation is a process of action, painting is a process of thought and, in "Motion Painting," we watch the concentrated thoughts and emotions of the painter rendered into visibility before us. "Photographed and Painted by Oskar Fischinger" it says on the opening titles of the film. Then the first two words fade to leave the declaration of the rest. A testament and affirmation from a man who began as a filmmaker and ended as a painter. (excerpt from Bildmusik: Art of Oskar Fischinger exhibition catalog, Long Beach Museum of Art, 1970)

Harry Smith: That great film Motion Painting makes the process seem deceptively simple - and it was simple for him: the images really did just flow from his brush, never a ruler or compass, all free-hand - but you can't see all the obstacles he had to overcome in order to even work at all. Something so wonderful happened in that film, and in those paintings, something so much better than all the Pollocks and other stuff that the museums fight to get hold of. (1977)

Lorser Feitelson: Motion Painting No. 1 is unique, not only in abstract cinema achievement generally, but in relation to Fischinger's own previous accomplishments. In this work, which is acclaimed by many his masterpiece, the mechanical devices and the nature of the content are unprecedented and, as a new concept will undoubtedly exercise an impressive influence on future developments in abstract cinema.


On Early Experiments and Tests (DVD special feature)

William Moritz: The most striking film fragments from the early Berlin period are a series of time-drawings signed "O.F. Raidon" and dated July 1929...These half-dozen time-drawings are charcoal sketches on white paper printed in negative like the black-and-white studies (which Fischinger began to devote himself to full time about then). Each is only about half a minute long, and shows one scene growing in detail. Some are abstract, but one shows the words, "Geld! Geld! GELD!" [gold or money] grow into, or rather get covered over, by a giant "FIEBER"...Another two-part image entitled "Der Unternehmer aus Verstandeskraft" shows a man whose brain projects out of his eyes a complete range of modern technology - planes, cars, boats, sextant, etc. (from Moritz's 2004 biography of Fischinger, Optical Poetry)



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ImImage courtesy Elfriede Fischinger Trust, all rights reserved