Friday, February 19, 2016

Mechanical Ballet

Ballet Mécanique; experimental silent short, France, 1924; D: Fernand Léger, Dudley Murphy, S: Alice Prin

A woman on a swing. Woman's lips smiling several times by looking at a hat. A merry-go-round. Scenes of clogs in an engine ticking and working. An old woman carrying a bag on her shoulder climbing up the stairway. Several juxtaposed scenes of legs from a mannequin, that seem to be dancing when inter-cut several times. A sketch of a Tramp closes the film.

One of the major, significant experimental silent films from the Dadaist cinema movement, "Mechanical Ballet" seems to have lost its appeal today and fell more into the perspective of abstract, vague experimental films without a point, except as an example of early artistic exercises. Director Fernard Leger, with the help of co-director Dudley Murphy, assembles a subconscious film that plays with the cinematic techniques, and thus abounds with surreal, sometimes inventive scenes (a woman on a swing seen upside down; a ball swinging backwards and forwards towards the camera, which is seen in its spherical reflection; a 'fractured' split screen...), but despite its short running time of only 16 minutes, it drags since it has no plot or storyline, nor characters, and thus seems to move forward only extremely artificially and forcefully. A proto-Godard example of silent cinema, with an ironic jab at the beginning and end (an abstract sketch of Chaplin on the screen), yet a one that seems more like homework for the cineasts than as a pure joy of filmmaking.


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