1935 Review of Oskar Fischinger
story © Michael Betancourt, November 14, 2013 all rights reserved.
The Last of the Mohicans: Oskar Fischinger’s “Symphony in Blue”
Rough translation of review originally published by FilmLiga, 15 November 1935, pp. 314-315
(314)That the avant-garde as “movement” is dead no one will dare to doubt. They broke with confidence that a good-death are venturing with all sides the staff about her, and more or less officially has her first partisans agree “with the grave of the filmmaker” the deceased commemorated in FilmLiga. For us, that the avant-garde movement very dear have stood, falling from the contradiction of the judgments to ascertaining down two basic facts: first, that the “movement” within the limits of its experimental nature so useful and invaluable services has proven to aesthetics of the film that we miss only considering her labor at the stage of sound film. Second: that its continued existence, independently, was impossible purely due to reasons of the sound film at least, so it seemed. . . .
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But to everyone’s surprise, one of the Mohicans appears to have survived the Massacre of St Bartholomew by tenacious determination alone. Oscar Fischinger periodically releases new works: the absolute film, the sound film, now again the color film. Thanks to an original technical process he has once again demonstrated an ability to bypass the cliff of the “pricey” expense of the sound film, and he even went on to surpass Ruttmann and Richter who blazed this path. And with a remarkable success! Because while these two pioneers received an unrelenting rejection outside the circle of FilmLiga theorists, there it appears Fischinger has been a hit. Not only that, his movies are liked by programs in ordinary cinemas (and that win the hearts of the crowd), a miraculous fact in itself, this outright descendant of the avant-garde also enjoys the rare commerical privilege of “open screens” in Holland.
The question of how this is possible can be quickly and conclusively resolved. If without thinking about it, the crowd instinctively has the strength to hold on, then it is because of: the music! How more entrancing and catchy the music, the greater the success—just as the popular especially “Hungarian Dance” by Brahms in the Fischinger-style has proven the fact that this art is indeed in an overlap of film and music: both are so strongly affective, it is difficult to decide where the main focus actually is. Personally, I am strongly inclined to bet on the music dominating.
That public curiosity about the absolute film extends only so far as the music goes, seems to me beyond all doubt and also confirms the already suggested proposition that Fischinger mainly owes his popular success to the musical element. Yet, in the last resort, the moving figures follow the melodic swell, their rhythmic excitement and their construction are all composed as primary reactions to the music. They take into account the internal response to the sound of music every musical person has that music needs “motion to live.” You can see it even in the performance of a Strauss waltz in an auditorium—you can see the comfortable, barely restrained movement of heads and hands, and (last but not least) the exuberant people who to put aside all decorum linking arms and legs to join the dance. . . and you understand the urge that Fischinger’s films answer! They satisfy a mental and physical need for movement shown on the projection screen, which they themselves would not dare to make (for reasons of social convention and fear of being thought insane). It might offer the same satisfactions, which the worshiper of dance enjoys when La Argentina dances a waltz by Chopin . . . the only differece you might see is one of setting musical standards.
What makes this work as film finally still so is important is the abstract form was chosen by Fischinger. (315) In this respect, the animated film has been celebrated as the purest expression of the cinematic but—on strictly on principle—Fischinger has, I believe, greater merit. Because consider the figure of “Mickey Mouse” and in the “Silly Simphonies” things are always caricatures of known living forms: men and animals. . . or hybrids of both, as one wants. In other words, they remain, anyway, related to and derived from the dance and in the final evaluation Fischinger should receive greater credit. After all, only in Fischinger’s films do we find the essence of movement—movement pure and simple. And behold what this work is for the expression of an original film art, his great abstract film drawings, demonstrates their importance for the whole cinema.
In this regard, it seems to me Fischinger’s recent work provides a remarkable confirmation: the color film “Eine Symphonie in Blau.” It is central to this film that color as such still does not feel necessary to strengthen the effect . . . which can be a matter of experience, and the coloring certainly presented unsuspected possibilities. More interesting is that Fischinger has exchanged the the two-dimensional expression for a three-dimensional one. Instead of the geometric surfaces, arcs, stars and stripes of his earlier films this time he also used plastic figures: cones, cylinders, cubes. Following the movements of Nicolai’s “The Merry Wives of Windsor,” the forms glide, pile up on top of each other and scatter. But the force is. . . dissipated! It’s as though these physical, solid forms’ attention is diverted—or its compulsion is lost. They lack the substance of the two-dimensional figures and do not have the same character as the simple, graphical representation of a movement-essence. Thus, one could also say that they are excessively disconnected from the music, and too much of their strength as film-expression has relied on it. . . a confusion, which also immediately appears and becomes obvious when in the second half the author returns to the flat figures. No sooner do the familiar arches, stripes and deliquescent areas shoot down the screen, following the music—the source of life for all these movies!—is restored.
Meanwhile, Fischinger’s work remains a creation that we can not appreciate enough. Not so much because they are openning up new perspectives—as with the rest of the former avant-garde they remain within the narrow confines of established forms. Indeed, Fischinger’s films will never be anything else than variations on the same theme: the graphics, visualized music. However, in a world so completely dominated by commercial practices, these last, lone expressions of the independent l’art pour l’art—art for the sake of art—remain a shining beacon. And as the best of the old avant-garde unaware of the technicians whose work was inspired by these new ideas, so will the Last of the Mohicans will remain a source of commercial fascination for the relationship between sound and movement.
L. J. JORDAAN
Copyright © Michael Betancourt November 14, 2013 all rights reserved.
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