Helmut Herzfelde, son of a Marxist and Trade Union leader, had worked as a designer between art school in Munich and Berlin, and during the war contributed to Die Nieue Jugend, an art journal edited by his brother. Drafted into the army for military war service, he meets George Grosz. In 1916 in protest at the war he changes his name to John Heartfield. His contributions to Die Nieue Jugend, begin to include fragments of printed photographs and graphics (type and image). This new style of work in which drawings are annotated with cut-out photographs and magazine reproductions, is later called photo-montage.
Daughter of an emigre Ukrainian psychiatrist, Maya Deren was a talented dancer, choreographer, poet and photographer who became a leading proponent of an avant garde genre of film-making (dubbed Trance films by some) that used the camera as a tool for psycho-sexual self-investigation. Christened Eleanora Derenkowski, she adopted the name Maya Deren in 1943, the same year she made her first and best-known film Meshes of the Afternoon with her second husband, the photographer Alexander Hammid.
With this, and the other films she made in the 1940s, in which she often acted, scripted, and choreographed (as well as conceiving and directing) Maya Deren established herself as a pioneer of the American Avant-Garde, with her Trance films sub-genre influencing a string of counter-culture film-makers including Kenneth Anger (Scorpio Rising 1964), Curtis Harrington (Fragment of Seeking 1946), and Stan Brakhage (Dog Star Man 1961).
This was not only the first real science fiction classic, it was the most expensive silent film ever made, costing approximately 7 million Reichsmark. Fritz Lang had been inspired by a 1924 visit to Manhattan. “I saw the buildings like a vertical curtain, opalescent, and very light. Filling the back of the stage, hanging from a sinister sky, in order to dazzle, to diffuse, to hypnotize.” The film is set in the future (2026), when mankind is split into two interdependent factions: the thinkers who plan and live in luxury but have no technical skills, and the workers who live underground creating the wealth that the thinkers benefit from. The screenplay was co-written in 1924, by Lang and his wife and long-term collaborator Thea von Harbou, it seems to borrow ideas from Capek’s RUR (1921), and echoes themes of HG Wells The Sleeper Awakes and Mary Shelly’s Frankenstein. The film was originally 153 minutes, but was cut for release in USA, and subsequently about 25% of the original has been lost. However, with current releases on DVD (and versions on youtube) you at least get some idea of the immense vision of the original – the dramatic robot and the cityscape sets are spectacular. The spectacular transmutation of robot and woman (Maria) are still powerful optical effects.
I suppose composite portraiture like this is a natural and logical outcome of the 19th century mindset, and its fascination with typologies, phrenology, the science of physiognomy, and the early theories of eugenics (by another influential composite portraitist and eugenicist Francis Galton. The idea that composite portraits would reveal the essential archetype or ur-type of a group of professionals seems fanciful now, but the explorations of digital imagist Nancy Burson 100 years after Bowditch and Galton are still fascinating. These composite portraits are further examples of the emergence of a photographic aesthetic in the 19th century that very much foreshadows modern digital imaging practice – layering images, and compositing special effects.
For many years, the work of the painter, constructor, photographer and graphic designer Rodchenko was under-rated. It is almost as if we had to live through at least part of our current multimedia aesthetic environment before we could fully appreciate the importance of Rodchenko and his other eminent contemporaries, Tatlin, Klucis, Chashnik and Malevich. The Living Badge from 1923 is a parade float extolling the health and beauty of the Russian people.
With choreography by Javier de Frutos, scenography by Matthew Dunster, and an electronic score by the Pet Shop Boys, this is a highly contemporary weaving together of (Hans Anderson’s) fairytale, of classical and modern forms, inspired visually by Russian constructivist graphics and art (especially a flavour of Alexander Rodchenko (see The Living Badge post). Click on the image for the complete BBC4 broadcast of June 2011.
Faber was diagramming the impact of Pre-Viz software on the typical feature film workflow. PreViz is software that combines and replaces several creative stages in Film Pre-Production – storyboard and animatic capabilities to calculate and visualise suitable camera angles, positions, movements, and to sketch the basic mise en scene and actors positions and movements. Nowadays, pre-biz software – easy to use 3d modelling and rendering software based on the production of animatics – such as Frame Forge Studio, Mesh, Moviestorm – point the way to new film-making workflows more in tune with the digital world.
This (offset-litho/paper) catalog was the ‘World Wide Web’ of the late 1960s – a repository of content linked by the zeitgeist concerns of the counter-culture: ecology, environment, counter-culture, anti-war etc… contributions from hundreds of people, edited by Brand (later to write The Media Lab: Inventing the Future at MIT). The Catalog was a mail-order catalogue (note that the civilisation of the American West was based on mail-order catalogues, such as Sears Roebuck (from 1894). But it was a mail order catalog aimed at and created by a younger generation who were exploring a different curriculum – a counter-curriculum – to the conservative, capitalist, military-industrial world of the older generation. Typically the Whole Earth Catalog had sections on ‘Understanding Whole Systems’, Farming, Husbandry,Self-Suffiency, Shelter, Arts and Crafts, Surfing, Sailing, Music, Computing, Philosophy – in fact the whole gamut of areas of interest to the counter-culture. Brand was seminal in the San Francisco counter culture, and after WEC went on to found the first electronic community (the Whole Earth ‘Lectronic Link (WELL) in 1985 (8 years before the WWW really got going). Fred Turner has documented his life and work in From Counterculture to Cyberculture – Stewart Brand, the Whole Earth Network and the Rise of Digital Utopianism (2006).
Svoboda was a brilliant scenographic artist and stage designer. He founded the Laterna Magicka group and the Diapolyekran (multi-screen array) was invented for the Brussels World Fair of 1958, and had a major impact at the Canadian Expo67 in Montreal.
“Polyekran offers the possibility of free composition, a free shaping and creation on several screens. Images of real objects and people are projected, but the relationships among them are not realistic, but rather supra-realistic, perhaps surrealistic. Essentially, it’s the principle of abstract and pure collage, which is an old and basic technique of theatre. “Op art” is perhaps simply a more recent name for it. In any case, the contrast of varied things on stage is basic to theatre; the objects thereby acquire new relationships and significance, a new and different reality.”
In comparison with Polyekran, which is totally a film spectacle and technically a concern of film, Laterna Magika is theatre with living actors, singers, dancers, musicians. . . . On the one hand we used familiar scenographic techniques such as slides and film projection. New expressive possibilities were added by panoramic film and projection with multi-exposure on several screens at once. A second feature is the use of mobile screens that are joined to the performance of a live actor.
(Svoboda, quoted in “O svetelnem divadle,” Informacni Zpravy Scenograficke Laboratore (Sept. 1958), P. 5.)
Of all the stylistically exaggerated Sixties movies (including Losey’s delicious Modesty Blaise) it is Robert Fuest’s The Final Programme that does it for me. Written by Michael Moorcock, Notting Hill Gate’s omnipresent sci-fi author and eccentric, it stars Jon Finch as Jerry Cornelius, Jenny Runacre as Miss Brunner, and a phenomenal cast of the best of British at that time. The film is an example of how the underground – the counter-culture in which Moorcock played a leading role – inspired mass entertainment. Other movies around this time that transmuted sci-fi and comic-book characters to the big screen included Vadim’s Barbarella, Losey’s Modesty Blaise, Michael Elliot’s The Year of the Sex Olympics and McGoohan’s The Prisoner (both for TV).