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CVM's "Research"

story © Michael Betancourt | published August 19, 2011 | permalink | TwitThis Digg Facebook StumbleUpon  |  

Visual Music

This is a response to some misinformation being spread about my work on this site by the "Center for Visual Music."

This could be read as an example of how not to do history if you're supposedly an archive or other historical organization. Read on, and see the absurdity....

There is so much incoherence in statements on their entire "Errata" page, it is almost not worth the time required to read through them. It gives me pause about the quality of the thinking behind whoever is putting this page together.

For example, often it will claim that I make a factual mistake in one sentence only to refute themselves in the following one. Consider these examples:

Re the statement "Fischinger worked in the studio system" and implication of thus not having control of his distribution - of Fischinger's 50 films, exactly one was completed in the "studio system," An Optical Poem.

In this first quote, there is a suggestion that I claim he didn't control his work; which I do not. Either he worked in the studio system, or he did not. If the CVM is so intent on policing implications, theirsthat Fischinger did not work in the studio systemis actually present in their statement quoted above and simply is not true. The one they ascribe to me is a figment of their imaginations.

Fischinger did not use his wax slicing machine to make the film Spiritual Constructions, as stated here. Only brief fragments from his Wax experiments are seen in the backgrounds of Spiritual Constructions.

Either he used it in the film or not. You cant have it both ways.

"Wilfreds work with Lumia was the first variation on visual music to include imagery" - this claim is not supportable.

First, there were no artists making visual music prior to the twentieth centurythe work done prior to that time was all quite specifically color music (often even given some version of that name) based on systems where specific notes were tied to particular hues.

There were no other artists working to create visual imagery projectors before Thomas Wilfred (Mary Hallock-Greenewalt even sued him over this issue, only to lose precisely because her work did not include form; he could also show that he began work on these machines in 1906) simply indicates the lack of research done by CVM into the actual technologies employed for both color music and visual music. (Having personally researched these machines, looked at their technical schematics and prepared several anthologies on them, Wilfreds machines were the first to project imagery.)

There are also, what appear, to me, to be basic English comprehension issues as well, which run throughout their observations. Consider the following:

Fischinger did not sell "his completed film An Optical Poem" to MGM as claimed on this site; the film was originally commissioned and paid for by MGM.

It was made under contract to MGM, for which they paid him a total of $3,000, and for which he as supposed to get a royalty, but did not (as reported by William Moritz). This is not a commissioned work, but a work where Fischinger sold his rights to a studio and received payment. If it was a book, we talk about it being sold. To say "commissioned" means something entirely differentagain the failure to watch their own implicationsand misunderstands what happens in a contract of this type vs. with a commissioned work. [Technically, in the commercial world, in a commissioned work the commissioner would own it; this is whats called a work for hire.]

We also have statements that simply are not true about the content of what I have posted:

The name of Moritz's Fischinger biography is cited here with an incorrect spelling. It is Optical Poetry: The Life and Work of Oskar Fischinger.

All I can about this is huh? I don't know what they're talking about. (This is an imaginary error.) What I have as the title, is what appears on the front cover of the bookand it is spelled as it is written on the book.

a. Re Oskar Fischinger in the Mary Ellen Bute piece (3/13/2011) - This is his only film not owned by Fischinger, who kept the rights and control of his other films and was able to self-distribute his entire life (with the exception of a few advertisements). Though he engaged various distributors to assist, he continued to distribute his own films, as did the Fischinger Archive after his death, for decades. Text here stating otherwise is incorrect.

There is no text that states this on my site, about An Optical Poem or any other of his films. In fact, at no point other than in the posting you are currently reading do I talk about Fischinger's distribution, self- or otherwise. This is a strawman argument set-up by the CVM. Again, this error on my part is actually some fantasy on theirs.

Here is yet another misrepresentation of what I say:

b. Re "Oskar Fischinger's Synchronized Abstractions" - Numerous errors, some corrections/clarifications follow. The "various physical processes" used by Fischinger in his early films were not later used by Jordan Belson, as claimed here; their techniques differ greatly.

Fischinger's Spirals uses interference patterns (a rather obvious, basic technique) which Belson used in his later work. This is a physical technique, which Fischinger used, and Belson later also used.

And another:

c. In "Visual Music and the Paik-Abe Synthesizer" (July 24): Oskar Fischinger does not have "fragmentary work in Walt Disneys Fantasia" as stated here." While his influence can be seen, his actual work cannot.

Given that he did the initial design work and Disney changed it, that would qualify as fragmentary. This kind of objection, made commonly by the CVM "editor" is sophistry, pure and simple.

One more:

Hans Fischinger did not direct or make Oskar's Studies nr 9, 10 or 11 as stated in this article and its various versions.

There are no various versions. There is one version, which was revised in response to what the CVM pointed out. When they initially posted this, my response was to recognize the confusion they identified and rewrite it to be more specific. The CVM response is ill-tempered at best. (Also more sophistry.)

Regarding the statement that Oskar produced, after Kreise (1935) "several more abstract films as 'advertisements' " in Germany - his series of cigarette commercials are technically not abstract.

To anyone who has actually seen these commercials, this claim is more sophistry. By this standard, Komposition in Blau (itself) would also not be abstract. Their claim here indicates a rigid demand about how others see these films, rather than allowing for (and recognizing) the abstraction active in them.

The presentation of their errata should be a "red flag" to anyone reading, especially when the preface is worded thus:

Michael Betancourt, Cinegraphic blog. Numerous errors, particularly continued and repeated errors regarding Fischinger.

Given the errors they claim I make (by my count they claim seven, however, only a few are actually present on my blog, and I have broken them into smaller pieces to comment here) the statement of "numerous" is excessive, especially since their collection of "errors" is full of mistakes and misrepresentations of what is actually here. However, what is troubling is the assertion that these are "continued and repeated errors" when in fact I have avoided Fischinger's work consistently because there is little of interest to me to say about these films that someone else has not already said. The question this provokes to me is how are these "repeated" if they only appear once; in a grander sense, these "errors" are all taken from published research, or checked against it--primarily the Moritz book.

And then there are things that are just not factually, historically true. Take this for instance:

d. "Walther Ruttmann's Lichtspiel Films" (February 27): "This collection of fims by Walther Ruttmann, Hans Richter and Viking Eggeling are the oldest fully abstract motion pictures still to survive." This statement ignores the early films and experiments of Oskar Fischinger.

The films by Ruttmann, Eggeling, and Richter are older than Fischingers work. Ruttmann showed his first; Richters and Eggelings are documented in period-publications and in period exhibitions. All three of these men were in the process of making their films by 1920; Fischinger was not. How is this a problem to understand? But I guess since the factual mistakes in whatever resources CVM uses to make their claims are extensive, their confusion should come as no surprise. Consider this issue:

Richter's first abstract film was not exhibited in 1923, as stated here; see Richter section below, in Section D.

Again, this historical, factual claim of CVMs is simply not true.

Richters films Rhythmus 21 and Rhythmus 23 were shown to other artists (Moholy-Nagy discusses them in his book, Painting Photography Film); they are extensively discussed (including film strips) in Richters magazine G; but as to being screened in 1923 in particular, these films showed in Paris at the Soiree du Coeur a Barbe Dada salon, along side Ballet Mechanique and Retour a la Raison.

If they mean his first attempt, abandoned, then this statement is simply more sophistry. If we go and look up the Section D what we find, instead of some source that could be checked, is a short reference to a private email that argues for Richter re-editing and reworking his films:

As Goergen has explained to CVM via email, The only film by Richter that passed the German censorship and was shown officially and in public was a film called "Film ist Rhythmus" (not preserved under this title) presented at the second screening of the matinee "Der absolute Film" in Berlin, 10. 5. 1925. Thus the claims of 1921 or 1923 for a Richter film are incorrect. It may even be finally in 1951 that these early Rhythm films were edited and released, according to Goergen.

Which again raises basic English comprehension skills, or perhaps geography, but definitely (basic) historical knowledge: Paris is not in Germany. This makes me wonder about the reliability of their other materials posted on the site.
As to the exhibition or not of these films, there are many references to the existence of three films; they were in existence by the time he fled to the US since Hilla von Rebay purchased copies of them and screened them in New York along side other abstract films she purchased from Richter shortly after his arrival. (Also, the film preserved that is connected to the title "Film ist Rhythmus" is Rhythmus 21. Yet another basic, well documented piece of information that CVM gets wrong.)

More troubling, perhaps, is the sense that this page is not produced as an act of "good faith," from the assumption that others who are writing and working are doing so out of a desire to get the history right. Instead, it suggests that the "errata" is instead produced by someone who is neither an historian, an academic nor interested in the free exchange of ideas and the discussion/analysis of this history. If anything, this errata page could have been something useful, but isn't.

Theres so much more that could be discussed, but why bother?

So Im going to finish with one final observation. Much of what is claimed by CVM, if read carefully, indicates basic problems with understanding what constitutes scholarship and what does not. Very rarely do we find actual sources that can be checked by anyone but those allowed access by CVM itself: many of the documents cited (when any are cited at all) are not publicly available. This means we must take their word for what they claim, but as these examples show, perhaps their word is unreliable or motivated by other issues than having a correct history available. Never mind that all history is a matter of analysis and construction. Too many of their corrections fall into either misrepresentations, what seem to be intentional misreading (Im being generous and assuming they do read above the 6th grade level), or just pure sophistry.

When this page first appeared, I was happy to see they were actually trying to contribute to the scholarly discourse, even if my own work was targeted by their corrections. I now see this initial hopefulness may have been misplaced since even though the ambiguities they pointed out been clarified in my text, their response has been to double down by not fixing their page, but rather adding more material that is factually dubious, entirely incorrect, or just simply sophist, (which for me is simply a sign of intellectual weakness, or maybe intellectual dishonesty?)

Update: (December 23, 2011)

It seems my criticisms have had an impact on the content of their "errata," including quoting my initial hope that their page would be a useful source of information for scholars; unfortunately, my initial hope and enthusiasm has quickly faded.

Me feeling that the "errata" continues to be highly questionable based on my reading remains, unfortunately, unchanged. If as much effort were put into addressing issues in published texts as they put into policing their "branding," the page might actually be useful. Bu until I see that actually happen, I'm not taking it or this organization very seriously as scholarship.


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