Sunday, September 15, 2013

Dada City (Paris)

Cambridge, September 15, 2013

The short history of Dada--the legendary anti-art artistic movement of the early 20th century--was inextricably linked to a few European cities, from its origin in the calm of neutral Zurich during WWI, to the explosive Berlin of the Weimar Republic, all the way to avant-garde Paris, where the movement found its demise amidst the intellectual and personal fights of its leading figures.

By the time René Clair completed his film "Entr'acte" in 1924, Dada had run its course, and the movie itself can be seen as document of both the art "wars" of the period and the death and burial of the movement.  Yes, complete with casket and funerary procession (a swan song if you wish, even if, in characteristic Dada fashion, it had to be a bearded and bespectacled swan.)

The movie followed an outline written by Francis Picabia and incorporated, I'm sure, a number of spur-of-the-moment episodes (after all, this was Picabia's "instantanéisme" phase.)  What binds the pieces together is the city, Paris, that appears throughout the movie in different circumstances, sometimes as sets, others as background, and even independently of the action.  The movie includes highly recognizable icons, like the Grand Palais, the Eiffel Tower, Garnier's Opera or Place de la Concorde, as well as anonymous urban elements and spaces, such as the characteristic rooftops in the first part of the movie or the equally characteristic tree-lined boulevards in the second.  The images appear fragmentary, cut, mirrored, distorted, turned sideways or upside down, superimposed, in slow or fast motion, in reverse, and manipulated in all sorts of ways, producing a new way to represent, and ultimately understand the city.

(A link to "Entr'acte": 

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