Non-Objective Film: The Second Generation - Excerpt

by William Moritz

(Oskar Fischinger excerpt)

....Of all the early non-objective films, Ruttmann's have the clearest lineage of direct influence, although his films, even in their currently-known fragmentary and inauthentic (as to colour and music) state, were generally unavailable. The 'medium' for the transmission of Ruttmann's achievement was his younger compatriot, Oskar Fischinger, who was so impressed by Ruttmann's Opus I that he immediately set about making his own abstract films. Of all the early pioneers, Fischinger alone pursued non-objective film-making until the post-World-War-II period, and since he emigrated to America in 1936, he brought the living force of abstraction to a younger generation that included the Whitney brothers, Jordan Belson and Harry Smith.

Though certainly never a pupil or co-worker of Ruttmann's (as Richter claims), Fischinger chose to develop many of the themes and styles implied by Ruttmann's Opus films. Fischinger loved to work with rich, intricate images, and used his fascination with technical innovation to produce, in dozens of different animation media, some forty films in which the articulation of imagery and dynamics is remarkably fluid and complex. Like Ruttmann, Fischinger treated the screen alternately as a flat, canvas-like surface and as an arena for magical illusion. Like Ruttmann, Fischinger chose painting, music and drama as his triple aesthetic role models, mixing the three together to form very enjoyable and abidingly successful theatrical entertainments.

One of the new elements we find in Fischinger's films (though since Ruttmann animated sequences for Wegener's feature Lebende Buddhas, perhaps not entirely new) is a continuing interest in eastern mysticism and western hermetic thought something Fischinger shared with Kupka, Kandinsky, Mondrian and other non-objective painters. From at least the late 20s, Fischinger focused the romantic drama in his compositions on mystical, contemplative, and speculative-scientific icons, transforming Ruttmann's erotic interchanges into Tantric encounters, and filling his best films (e.g. Study No. 6, Liebesspiel, Komposition in Blau, Radio Dynamics, and Motion Painting) with non-objective suggestions of galaxies, comets and rockets, cells and atom splitting, and mandalas, yin-yang swirls and third-eye images.

Fischinger began to use tight synchronization between his visuals and musical soundtracks as a helpful analogy for audiences who, in the 20s and 30s, were still somewhat astonished by and antagonistic towards abstract art. Fischinger never intended to illustrate music, but rather hoped that the viewer, reminded that music is really abstract 'noise' with a 1000-year artistic tradition behind it, would more easily be able to relate to his graphics. Unfortunately the plan backfired, and his films became widely misinterpreted as illustrations of music. While his silent films (including Liebesspiel and Radio Dynamics) were never screened publicly in later years, his pop-classical shorts played frequently and became identified with the sort of kitsch culture of Disney's Fantasia and Mary Ellen Bute's Radio City Music Hall novelties. The younger generation of West Coast American film-makers, while deeply impressed by Fischinger's visual and technical mastery, was offended by his soundtracks and hence overlooked the mystical wisdom discussed in his films. Ironically, the best three film-makers of this group, James Whitney, Jordan Belson and Harry Smith, are all deeply mystical themselves, and each privately re-discovered much of the spiritual territory Fischinger had already explored.


(later section)

It seems likely that Oskar Fischinger's earliest films, the Wax Experiments and Orgelstabe, were conceived as series since half-a-dozen different versions of each survives, and certainly the 16 films in his later black-and-white Studies group constitute a formal series, each one tackling a slightly different visual issue (e.g., Studie No. 7 illusion of deep pictorial space, Studie No. 9 streaking afterimages, Liebesspiel the eye movement of the viewer in relationship to the frame-edge, etc.) while the basic imagery and format remains largely the same. Fischinger also planned to make a full series of colour Lichtkonzert films (of which Komposition in Blau was the first, and perhaps An Optical Poem can be seen as a second), and a full series of Motion Painting films. Fischinger may have derived this idea from Eggeling (whom he idolized as much as Ruttmann) since it seems basically antithetical to his own effusive and droll personality.



-originally published in Film as Film, Formal Experiment in Film, 1910 - 1975. London: Hayward Gallery/Arts Council of Great Britain, 1979.

The entire article is available at the CVM Library

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