This influential avant-garde film movement began in the silent era but didn't reach its peak until the talkies took over. German Surrealist/Dada painters such as Hans Richter, Walter Ruttmann, Viking Eggeling, and Oskar Fischinger searched for ways to create a universal... [more]
This influential avant-garde film movement began in the silent era but didn't reach its peak until the talkies took over. German Surrealist/Dada painters such as Hans Richter, Walter Ruttmann, Viking Eggeling, and Oskar Fischinger searched for ways to create a universal language of pure form, taking their cue from Wassily Kandinsky's theoretical book, "On the Spiritual in Art." Fascinated by motion and movement, these painters initially created long, sequential scroll paintings that attempted to convey a sense of dynamic movement. But the scrolls merely superimposed one still image after another, and proved difficult to display. Motion, as depicted on the scrolls, appeared unrealistic.
Film offered different options. The German avant-garde immediately began to experiment with its potential to incorporate real motion. Their Abstract films were, as a rule, animated. But we're not talking about cartoons here (although Mickey Mouse did have a role in the movement, as we'll see in a minute) -- these were animated Surrealist paintings. Sometimes the films studied the effects of geometric shapes on observers, as in Eggeling's landmark "Diagonal Symphony" (1921-1924); sometimes they studied the effects of color or sound, as in Fischinger's - Composition in Blue" (1933) and "Allegreto" (1934). Often comprising thousands of drawings, these films extended the realm of painting into the world of motion.
With the advent of sound, these animated experiments in abstract imagery truly came to life. Oskar Fischinger, in particular, was tremendously successful at combining abstract visual representations of emotions and other innate human experiences with music. Walt Disney employed him on the Bach "Toccata and Fugue" section of the animated classic "Fantasia" - however, Disney didn't really understand Fischinger's artistic vision and he heavily altered Fischinger's work. Fischinger was so dissatisfied with Disney's modifications that he rejected them as meaningless trivialities. The Abstract filmmakers were very serious about their Surrealist goals; the integrity of their vision won accolades and exercised a strong influence on contemporaries such as Leni Riefenstahl, who collaborated with Ruttmann on her masterfull documentary of the 1936 Berlin Olympics, "Olympia" (1938).