Brâncuși Captures His Sculpture & Life on Film: Watch Rare Footage Shot Between 1923–1939

Here in the ear­ly 21st cen­tu­ry, even the non-artists among us car­ry dig­i­tal video cam­eras in our pock­ets. Back in the ear­ly 20th cen­tu­ry, the abil­i­ty to film your own life and work, or that of your coterie, was­n’t so close at hand — unless, of course, you ran with the avant-garde. Con­stan­tin Brân­cuși did, hav­ing been brought into the artis­tic and intel­lec­tu­al scene of the Paris of the 1910s, to which he’d made his way from his native Roma­nia. He even­tu­al­ly count­ed among his friends the likes of Pablo Picas­so, Ezra Pound, Mar­cel Duchamp, Guil­laume Apol­li­naire, Tris­tan Tzara, and Man Ray, who got the inno­v­a­tive, hard­work­ing and famous­ly low-tech sculp­tor prac­tic­ing cin­e­ma.

“In the ear­ly 1920s, Man Ray, who had pre­vi­ous­ly taught Con­stan­tin Brân­cuși how to han­dle a still cam­era, intro­duced him to the movie cam­era,” says Ubuweb in a descrip­tion of “fifty min­utes of film, shot between 1923 and 1939,” that rep­re­sents “the sum total of all the images ever filmed by Brân­cuși.”

The artist “makes use of fram­ing, shad­ows, inci­den­tal light and refrac­tion in order to acti­vate the plas­tic prop­er­ties of his sculp­tures, and opens up this visu­al analy­sis to move­ment and to time.” Pieces such as Leda and the scan­dalous Princess X become the sub­jects of their own sequences; lat­er, we wit­ness “Bran­cusi’s jour­ney to Roma­nia and the con­struc­tion of the End­less Col­umn in Târ­gu Jiu.”

These End­less Col­umn pas­sages, as art crit­ic Blake Gop­nik sees them, show “Brân­cuși obsessed with how his soar­ing sculp­ture comes to life in the open air.” From all this footage Gop­nik gets the sense that Brân­cuși was “less inter­est­ed in mak­ing fan­cy muse­um objects than in putting new kinds of almost-liv­ing things into the world,” and indeed draw­ing inspi­ra­tion from the liv­ing things of the world: “In one of the clips, Brân­cuși turns his cam­era on a pac­ing hawk, which comes across as a close, nat­ur­al ana­log to the many ‘birds’ he cre­at­ed as sculp­tures.” Anoth­er “shows one of his stone pedestals, which meant as much to him as the sculp­tures set on them, sup­port­ing a live flap­per doing an ecsta­t­ic dance” — cap­ti­vat­ing evi­dence of his inter­est in forms of life beyond the avian.

Relat­ed Con­tent:

Rare Film of Sculp­tor Auguste Rodin Work­ing at His Stu­dio in Paris (1915)

Man Ray’s Por­traits of Ernest Hem­ing­way, Ezra Pound, Mar­cel Duchamp & Many Oth­er 1920s Icons

Watch Dreams That Mon­ey Can Buy, a Sur­re­al­ist Film by Man Ray, Mar­cel Duchamp, Alexan­der Calder, Fer­nand Léger & Hans Richter

Based in Seoul, Col­in Mar­shall writes and broad­casts on cities, lan­guage, and cul­ture. His projects include the Sub­stack newslet­terBooks on Cities, the book The State­less City: a Walk through 21st-Cen­tu­ry Los Ange­les and the video series The City in Cin­e­ma. Fol­low him on Twit­ter at @colinmarshall, on Face­book, or on Insta­gram.

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