Anémic Cinéma: Marcel Duchamp’s Whirling Avant-Garde Film (1926)

Marcel Duchamp (1887–1968) made some heady art. His whole goal was to “put art back in the service of the mind,” or to create what Jasper Johns once called the “field where language, thought and vision act on one another.” And that’s precisely what Duchamp’s 1926 avant-garde film Anémic Cinéma delivers.

Drawing on his inheritance, Duchamp shot Anémic Cinéma (almost a palindrome) in Man Ray’s studio with the help of cinematographer Marc Allégret. The Dada-inspired film features nine whirling optical illusions, known as Rotoreliefs, alternating with spiraling puns and complex word play. (Vision acts on language and thought, indeed.) The text of the puns appears below the jump. We didn’t attempt to translate them, in part because there’s a convincing case that translations can’t do them justice in any way.

Anémic Cinéma appears in our collection of Free Movies. Find it listed in the Animation and Silent Film sections. If you want to dive deeper into the concepts underlying the film, this piece is worth a read. SmartHistory also offers a nice audio introduction to Duchamp’s body of work. H/T Dangerous Minds

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Free Language Lessons (Bone up on your French)

  • “Bains de gros thé pour grains de beauté sans trop de bengué.”
  • “L’enfant qui tète est un souffleur de chair chaude et n’aime pas le chou-fleur de serre-chaude.”
  • “Si je te donne un sou, me donneras-tu une paire de ciseaux?”
  • “On demande des moustiques domestiques (demi-stock) pour la cure d’azote sur la côte d’azur.”
  • “Inceste ou passion de famille, à coups trop tirés.”
  • “Esquivons les ecchymoses des Esquimaux aux mots exquis.”
  • “Avez-vous déjà mis la moëlle de l’épée dans le poêle de l’aimée?”
  • “Parmi nos articles de quincaillerie par essence, nous recommandons le robinet qui s’arrête de couler quand on ne l’écoute pas.”
  • “L’aspirant habite Javel et moi j’avais l’habite en spirale.”

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  1. andrew says . . . | October 24, 2011 / 4:15 pm

    ugh, I am not a fan of Marcel Duchamp. I understood his ambition, but the barbaric and utterly basic ways in which he chose to pursue them make people confuse his lack of talent with progressive thinking.

    Writing in sharpie on old urinals and calling it high art and selling them for ludicrous amounts of money to make a statement about art is fucking stupid. His goal was to get reactions, and he did, but honestly how does that make him any more eloquent than an internet troll?

  2. Dan McCleary says . . . | October 25, 2011 / 7:00 am

    Andrew, I’m pretty sure you don’t “understand his ambition.” Have you ever seen his early work? Nude Descending a Staircase? Know anything of his withdraw from painting, his study of mathematics, physics, music. He quit commercial art (in which he could have made a fortune, like Dali) to become a chess player and writer. He was certainly abstruse, and infuriating to the conventional art world, but he was the polar opposite of a money-grubbing huckster.

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