Academic journal article Canadian Journal of History

Dada, Surrealism, and the Cinematic Effect

Academic journal article Canadian Journal of History

Dada, Surrealism, and the Cinematic Effect

Article excerpt

Dada, Surrealism, and the Cinematic Effect, by R. Bruce Elder. Film and Media Studies Series. Waterloo, Wilfrid Laurier University Press, 2013. x, 765 pp. $85.00 US (cloth).

In this companion volume to his earlier Harmony and Dissent: Film and Avant-garde Art Movements in the Early Twentieth Century (Waterloo, 2013), experimental filmmaker R. Bruce Elder counts Dada and Surrealism among the vanguard movements that heralded cinema as the ottima arte or "top art." In his formulation, Dada and Surrealism were dissident movements whose activities sought to discover conduits that would convey the powerful "pneumatic" effects of their age, a "vital, life-enhancing, occult irrationalism" (p. 15). The goal was less to create modernist aesthetics or experiment with forms, than to explore the variety of ways in which an objectively heterogeneous world imposes itself upon the human psyche. In this regard, Elder's conception is similar to Breton's notion of passer le pont, whereby phantoms cross the bridge to greet the wayfarer in the same way that projected celluloid images illuminated upon a movie screen force themselves upon the theatre viewer. For Elder, this makes cinema the most powerful pneumatic art. His book is not limited to film studies, however, and Elder more broadly examines a wide range of "cinematic effects" across Dadaist and Surrealist art, literature, and criticism.

The formidable size of Dada, Surrealism, and the Cinematic Effect, organized into three chapters and with several appendices that constitute the final third of the book, produces its own circuitous and imposing journey. Before delving into considerations of Dada and Surrealism, Elder opens with a brief chapter on the crisis in the "authority of reason" engendered by the proliferation of mathematical systems, pluralities of physics, and the modern rediscovery of "primitivism" in the early twentieth century. In the chapter on Dada, Elder moves beyond its historical contextualization in response to the traumas of the Great War and its characterization as an anti-art movement, to emphasize its vital "life principles" in the construction of new art and literature. In keeping with the emphasis upon cinematic effects, Elder weaves Dadaist collage and "paracinematic" performance art (such as the Lautgedichte sound poem) together with film as related expressions of pneuma or "induced" thought. The third chapter addresses various ways that the Surrealists sought out hallucinatory aspects of reality that could be formulated into poetic images of a sur-realite ("higher reality"), through such notions as the occult, objective chance, the marvellous, the uncanny, and psychic automatism. In these chapters, Elder analyzes and provides commentary on various Dadaist and Surrealist films. He finds instantaneous impulses unleashed through the imagery of Francis Picabia and Rene Clair's film Entr'acte ("Intermission," 1924), a blurring of distinctions between dream and waking states in May Ray's Emak Bakia ("Leave Me Alone," 1926), a surreal supersession of dream and reality in Salvador Dali and Luis Bunuel's Un chien andalou ("An Andalusian Dog," 1929), and heterogeneous combinations of the sacred and the profane in Bunuel's ethnographic documentary, Las Hurdes: Tierra Sin Pan ("Land Without Bread," 1933). …

Search by... Author
Show... All Results Primary Sources Peer-reviewed

Oops!

An unknown error has occurred. Please click the button below to reload the page. If the problem persists, please try again in a little while.