Monday, January 5, 2009

Ballet mecanique (1924) Fernand Leger - Part 1

"Cinema, it is the age of the machine. Theatre, it is the age of the horse." Leger fascination with film was deep-seated. He belief that "the lens of the motion-picture camera was the eye of the truly modern man". Leger explained that "cinema turned my head around" and I wanted to make a film at any cost and I made Ballet mecanique. The title alone suggests that, like the Purist, Leger was striving to combine the contemporary and the timeless, in this case the energy of the machine and the elegance of the classical ballet. Leger in Ballet mecanique firmily rejected abstraction: "This film is objective, realistic, and in no way abstract". The film -which, though not abstract, is certainly not narrative- opens with images of a marionette in relief (based on Charlie Chaplin and related to an earlier, unrealized film project of Leger's) and soon moves into images of a girl on a swing (Katherine Murphy, wife of Dudley Murphy also composer of the film), followed by images of a woman's lips and teeth as well as ordinary household objects (wines, bottles, a straw hat, etc.), isolated in space and photographed in close-up. The film explores notions of rhythm (both fast and slow) and of the integration of man and the machine; as in Leger's paintings, "the machinery becomes anthropomorphized, the figures mechanized". For example, a washerwoman is shown climbing a flight of steps from the Seine carrying a load of laundry on her shoulder. As soon as she reaches the top step, she reappears, Sisyhus-like at the bottom. This sequence is repeated in the film a total of twenty three times, interspersed with imaginery of a machine piston in motion, suggesting a parallel between the two repetitive actions.

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