Irrational Agencies: Expressionism, Animation, and Collage

Throughout October, LACMA’s Exhibition Film Series will span nearly a century of cinema and a surfeit of styles.

The bleak deliriums of German Expressionist cinema will be on full display as we screen a (quite) abridged selection of its baleful marvels: Robert Wiene’s scene setting, madly distorted The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari kicks off our four-film sampler followed by: Waxworks, Paul Leni’s treasure chest of horrors and hallucinations; Faust, F.W. Murnau’s lyrical Old World frieze; and Metropolis, Fritz Lang’s bustling futureworld panorama. Of course, German Expressionist cinema also offered other pleasures such as operatic medieval epics (Lang), downcast proto-noirs and melodramas (Pabst, May, Murnau, Lang), sumptuous comedies (Lubitsch), and razzle-dazzle adventures (nearly all of the above). Coursing with primal urges and set within awesome, artificial expanses, these films plumb the depths of the human soul while delighting the naked eye with an overabundance of visual intrigue.

Faust, 1926

Metropolis, 1927

From the thunderous tragedies, vertical sprawl, and raw-nerve performances of German Expressionism, LACMA will turn to works largely created in two dimensions. The three programs under the “Surreal Screen” banner explore the mechanics of the mind as registered through drawing and collage.

“Animating the Subconscious” will present cel animated cartoons from the studio system in the 1930s to the 1950s that explore imagination’s more outlandish perimeters: we’re not just talking about Dali’s posthumously completed Disney fantasia (Destino, which will be screened), but also the Fleischer Studios’ inky, musical black-and-white wonderlands starring Betty Boop and her sidekick Bimbo; Chuck Jones’s crazed and colorful eccentricities with Daffy Duck; and much more—all presented by animation historian Jerry Beck.

Lullaby Land, 1933

Moving out beyond the mainstream to the solitary experiments of moving image alchemists working with all manner of found materials to produce films that blend the innate dramaturgy of montage with the surrealists’ maelstrom of associations, “Collage in Motion” will offer works spanning nearly fifty-five years: Robert Breer’s random machine-gun blasts of refuse (Recreation, 1956), Stan Vanderbeek’s transfixing time-lapse exquisite corpse (See, Saw, Seems, 1959), Lawrence Jordan’s cosmic cutouts (Our Lady of the Sphere, 1968), Frank and Caroline Mouris’ wellspring of mass culture minutia (Frank Film, 1973), Martha Colburn’s dynamite pocket epics (Triumph of the Wild, 2000), Jodie Mack’s feast of optical patterns (Unsubscribe #1: Special Offer Inside, 2010), and more.

Recreation, 1956

Triumph of the Wild, 2000

After surveying artists across five decades and at least two continents, we’ll settle down with a filmmaker presently working in our own backyard: Lewis Klahr. Drawing from modernity’s discarded riches—comics, cutlery, snapshots, film soundtracks, telegraphs, advertisements, stationery—Klahr renders the liminal space between dream, memory, and vision. His protagonists—many scissored from the rainbow colored, Ben-Day-dotted pages of comic books—become imbued with psychodramas, desires, and fates that transcend their one-dimensional origins. Klahr transforms the screen into a composite paradise of analog splendors. His films are made by hand and more or less works in miniature, but these artisanal roots hardly prepare the viewer for the films’ retinal pleasures and sensorial resonances. We’ll present the Los Angeles premiere of his feature debut, The Pettifogger, a crime film sui generis that warrants a new genre designation (ephemera noir?). On top of that, we’ll delve into Klahr’s abundant back catalog to revisit some of his prior excursions through the society of the spectacle’s eternal ruins. A vast selection of Klahr’s work will also be available for viewing on the Stark Bar monitors starting this month.

Prolix Satori, 2012

Prolix Satori, 2012

Bernardo Rondeau, Assistant Curator, Film Programs

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