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, 4,000+ Free Movies Online: Great Clas­sics, Indies, Noir, West­erns, Doc­u­men­taries & More.

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Relat­ed Con­tent:

The Birth of Film: 11 Firsts in Cin­e­ma

Rauschen­berg Eras­es De Koon­ing

Free Lan­guage Lessons (Bone up on your French)

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Comments (3)
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  • andrew says:

    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?

  • Dan McCleary says:

    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.

  • S Buck says:

    he was a kept man, mar­ried to a wealthy woman, so he did not need to make com­mer­cial art. There is a let­ter to his sis­ter Suzanne ( which was hid­den from the pub­lic domain in a muse­um archive for many years, )where he states that a female friend has sent him the uri­nal “foun­tain” It has since been assessed by some his­to­ri­ans that female friend was most like­ly Baroness Elsa von Frey­tag- Loringhoven…If you want to inves­ti­gate this fur­ther check out Irene Gam­mel book.

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