Tuesday, 4 September 2012

Walter Ruttmann's Lichtspiel Opus I-IV

Lowry refers to Walter Ruttmann's Lichtspiel Opus I-IV in his novel Ultramarine when Popplereuter tells Dana that; "My guardian? He was good to me. You see, I had only one year at Cambridge. He took me to the pictures, the Lichtspiels, the very first night home." (Pg. 88). The four films were made between 1921 and 1925 - Lichtspiel: Opus I (1921); Lichtspiel: Opus II (1923); Lichtspiel: Opus III (1924) and Lichtspiel: Opus IV (1925). To date, there is no record of when or where Lowry may have seen these films.

Walter Ruttmann (1887 – 1941) was a German film director and along with Hans Richter and Viking Eggeling was an early German practitioner of experimental film.

Ruttmann was born in Frankfurt am Main; he studied architecture and painting and worked as a graphic designer. His film career began in the early 1920s. His first abstract short films, "Opus I" (1921) and "Opus II" (1923), were experiments with new forms of film expression, and the influence of these early abstract films can be seen in the early work of Oskar Fischinger. Ruttmann and his colleagues of the avant garde movement enriched the language of film as a medium with new form techniques.

Ruttmann was a prominent exponent of both avant-garde art and music. His early abstractions played at the 1929 Baden-Baden Festival to international acclaim despite their being almost eight years old. Together with Erwin Piscator, he worked on the experimental film Melodie der Welt (1929), though he is best remembered for Berlin: Die Sinfonie der Großstadt (Berlin: Symphony of a Great City, 1927). Read more on Wikipedia

Walter Ruttmann's Lichtspiel Opus I premiered in Germany in 1921, the first abstract film to be publicly screened. In the film, Ruttmann mastered the technical means to realise his abstract imagery in film. He patented his particular technical methods in 1921. William Moritz provides an interesting description of his method: '[Ruttmann's] first animations for Opus No. I were painted with oil on glass plates beneath an animation camera, shooting a frame after each brush stroke or each alteration because the wet paint could be wiped away or modified quite easily. He later combined this with geometric cut-outs on a separate layer of glass'............ Ruttmann also envisioned his Lichtspiel Opus I film to closely relate to music and commissioned the composer Max Butting to compose a string quartet for it. In the music score Ruttmann provided many indications to ensure that the music precisely synchronised with the visual elements unfolding on screen (Jennifer Valcke, Static Films and Moving Pictures: Montage in Avant-Garde Photography and Film, p173)

I'm in love with the flickering muse, and I share the fate of many men in love: I love her not as she is, but as I would like her to be. For I believe in art in the cinema. But I doubt whether a work of cinematic art has so far ever been made. You can't cure a sick man by painting his cheeks in fresh colors. And you can't turn a film into a work of art by augmenting it and exalting it with "quality". You can gather together the best mimes in the world, you can let them perform in the most exquisite paradise, you can adorn the programs of your film dramas with the names of the most eminent poets - art will never result that way. A work of art will result only if it is born of the possibilities and demands of its material. (Walter Ruttmann, in R Bruce Elder, Harmony and Dissent: Film and Avant-Garde Art Movements in the Early 20th Century, p117).

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