Watch Home Movies Starring Salvador Dali, Henri Matisse, Igor Stravinsky, Gertrude Stein, Colette & Other Early 20th Century Luminaries

Léonide Mas­sine may not be not the most famous name to grace socialite Eliz­a­beth Fuller Chapman’s home movies.

In terms of 21st cen­tu­ry name brand recog­ni­tion, he def­i­nite­ly lags behind art world heav­ies Sal­vador DaliMar­cel DuchampCon­stan­tin Brân­cușiHen­ri Matisse, com­pos­er Igor Stravin­sky, nov­el­ist Colette, play­wright Thorn­ton Wilder, the ever-for­mi­da­ble poet and col­lec­tor Gertrude Stein, and her long­time com­pan­ion Alice B. Tok­las. Such were the lumi­nar­ies in Mrs. Chapman’s cir­cle.

But in terms of sheer on-cam­era charis­ma, the Bal­lets Russ­es dancer and chore­o­g­ra­ph­er def­i­nite­ly steals the col­lec­tive show, above, cur­rent­ly on exhib­it as part of the Muse­um of Mod­ern Art’s Pri­vate Lives Pub­lic Spaces, an exhib­it explor­ing home movies as an art form.

Massine’s unbri­dled al fres­co hip-twirling, pranc­ing, and side kicks (pre­ced­ed by a slow-motion run at 1:55) exist in stark con­trast with Matisse’s stiff dis­com­fort in the same set­ting (11:11) One need not be a skilled lipread­er to guess the tone of the com­men­tary Mrs. Chapman’s 16mm cam­era was not equipped to cap­ture.

Stein (12:00), whose force­ful per­son­al­i­ty was the stuff of leg­end, appears relaxed at the sum­mer home she and Tok­las shared in Bilignin, but also hap­py to posi­tion their stan­dard poo­dle, Bas­ket, as the cen­ter of atten­tion.

Georges Braque (14:50), the intro­vert­ed Father of Cubism, clings grate­ful­ly to his palette as he stands before a large can­vas in his stu­dio, and appears just as wary in anoth­er clip at 20:10.

The Sur­re­al­ist Dali (21:50), as extro­vert­ed as Braque was retir­ing, takes a dif­fer­ent approach to his palette, engag­ing with it as a sort of com­ic prop. Dit­to his wife-to-be, Gala, and a paint­ed porce­lain bust he once acces­sorized with an inkwell, a baguette, and a zoetrope strip.

Dali serves up some seri­ous Tik-Tok vibes, but we have a hunch Colette’s strug­gles with her friend, pianist Misia Sert’s semi-tame mon­key (4:35), would rack up more likes.

As the cura­tors of the MoMA exhi­bi­tion note:

Chap­man Films is immense­ly pop­u­lar in the Film Study Cen­ter for the rare and inti­mate glimpses of their lives it pro­vides, from a time when the famous were not read­i­ly acces­si­ble. Yes, there were gos­sip columns, fan mag­a­zines, and juicy exposés in the 1930s and ‘40s, but many notable fig­ures care­ful­ly curat­ed their pub­lic per­sonas. We know these fig­ures through their paint­ings, music, or words, not their faces, so to see them at all—let alone in real life, doing every­day things—is remark­able.

Also charm­ing is the fresh­ness of their inter­ac­tions with Chapman’s camera—many of her sub­jects were celebri­ties, but their fame was in no way teth­ered to the ubiq­ui­ty of smart phones. Hard to go viral in 16mm, decades before YouTube.

Though danc­ing, as Mas­sine, and his close sec­ond Serge Lifar (8:50) make plain, is an excel­lent way to hold our atten­tion.

Relat­ed Con­tent:

Sal­vador Dalí Explains Why He Was a “Bad Painter” and Con­tributed “Noth­ing” to Art (1986)

Vin­tage Film: Watch Hen­ri Matisse Sketch and Make His Famous Cut-Outs (1946)

Gertrude Stein Recites ‘If I Told Him: A Com­plet­ed Por­trait of Picas­so’

Ayun Hal­l­i­day is an author, illus­tra­tor, the­ater mak­er and Chief Pri­ma­tol­o­gist of the East Vil­lage Inky zine. Fol­low her @AyunHalliday.

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