• Facebook
  • Twitter
  • Instagram
  • pinterest
  • Tumblr
  • Flickr
  • Youtube
  • eNews

'Raumlichtkunst' and Optical Poetry: Oskar Fischinger Retrospective

30 August 2014
Australian Cinémathèque | Gallery of Modern Art (GOMA)
FREE

Presented in association with Center for Visual Music, Los Angeles

In his highly innovative moving-image works created from the 1920s to the 1950s, avant-garde filmmaker and artist Oskar Fischinger (1900-67) brought together abstract art, cinema and music. Fischinger participated in a period of artistic experimentation and interdisciplinary cross-fertilisation in Germany following World War One, with artists developing ideas about light, cinema and abstract art alongside German Expressionism's cinematic explorations of light and shadow, as well as the Bauhaus experimentation with projections of light and colour. This program of preserved and new 35mm prints from the Center for Visual Music (CVM), Los Angeles, includes Fischinger’s classic visual music films and rarely seen experiments.

INSTALLATION | Oskar Fischinger, Raumlichtkunst (Space-Light-Art)

The Gallery has recently acquired the HD video installation Raumlichtkunst (Space-Light-Art) c.1926/2012, a reconstruction by the Center for Visual Music of Fischinger's multimedia performances of film and music. This landmark work will be shown for the first time in Australia in the exhibition ‘Sublime: Contemporary Works from the Collection’ (Queensland Art Gallery, 30 August 2014 – 24 May 2015), after acclaimed recent exhibitions at the Whitney Museum of American Art, New York, Tate Modern, London, and Palais de Tokyo, Paris.

Remind Me

TALK | Oskar Fischinger, Raumlichtkunst and Visual Music

Sat 30 Aug 1.00pm / Cinema A

Join Cindy Keefer – archivist, curator and Director of the Center for Visual Music – as she presents Fischinger’s work and discusses CVM’s preservation and promotion of his legacy, her new book on Fischinger, and the process of restoring the original nitrate 1920s film materials to reconstruct his historic performances as the HD video installation Raumlichtkunst.


Remind Me

SCREENING | Optical Poetry: Oskar Fischinger Retrospective

Sat 30 Aug 2.00pm / Cinema A

The Oskar Fischinger program includes 18 films presented in the following order. Program duration is approximately 65 minutes.

[Spirals] c.1926
[Walking from Munich to Berlin] 1927
Spiritual Constructions c.1927
Study No. 2 c.1930
Study No. 5 1930
Study No. 6 1930
Study No. 7 1931
Study No. 8 1931
Coloratura 1932
Kreise (Circles) (Tolirag Ad Version) 1933
Muratti Greift Ein (Muratti Marches On) 1934
Muratti Privat c.1935
Komposition in Blau (Composition in Blue) 1935
Allegretto (Early Version) 1936
Allegretto (Late Version) 1936–43
Radio Dynamics 1942
An American March 1941
Motion Painting No. 1 1947
'Optical Poetry: Oskar Fischinger Retrospective' courtesy of the Center for Visual Music, a nonprofit archive dedicated to visual music, experimental animation and abstract cinema. Prints were preserved by Center for Visual Music, Academy Film Archive (marked with *), and EYE Film Institute (Studie nr. 8), with the support of the Film Foundation, Sony, and private donors. Studie nr. 5 was preserved by CVM with support from EYE. For more about Fischinger www.centerforvisualmusic.org/Fischinger
[Spiralen] (Spirals) c.1926

[Spiralen] (Spirals) c.1926

35MM, BLACK AND WHITE, SILENT, 3 MINUTES, GERMANY / DIRECTOR: OSKAR FISCHINGER / NEW PRESERVATION PRINT / IMAGE COURTESY: CENTER FOR VISUAL MUSIC

Spirals seems to have been shot from pairs of glass discs which were painted in intricate configurations that create moiré patterns when they move against each other. As in Fischinger’s best films, the imagery has a dynamic, cumulative effect, sometimes seemingly drawing you into a vortex, then suddenly reversing or shocking with a dramatic change of perspective, as when a bent vortex seems to focus us downward towards the bottom centre of the screen, causing curious sparkles of afterimages amongst the intersecting arcs above.’ Dr William Moritz, Optical Poetry: The Life and Work of Oskar Fischinger

‘The editing… primarily concentrates on clever alternations of sequences which suggest point-of-view of a first person camera, as in the superimposition of static dark circles over the dizzying whirlpool to create the feeling that the spectator is actually flying into some infinite vortex.’ Dr William Moritz, Film Culture

[Müchen-Berlin Wanderung] (Walking from Munich to Berlin) 1927

[Müchen-Berlin Wanderung] (Walking from Munich to Berlin) 1927

35MM, BLACK AND WHITE, SILENT, 3 MINUTES, GERMANY / DIRECTOR: OSKAR FISCHINGER / IMAGE COURTESY: CENTER FOR VISUAL MUSIC

‘In the summer of 1927, Fischinger walked from Munich to Berlin carrying his camera and equipment in a back-pack. Along the way, he took single-frame images of certain people and landscapes he encountered. The resultant film survives in a single consistent 100 meter negative copy, of which the last fourth had been cut off by Fischinger himself and placed in one of the cans designated as first priority for transfer to safety film. Fortunately the cut was in the middle of a cluster of similar frames, so I was able to recognize and re-join the two pieces, and transfer them to a 16mm safety negative.’ Dr William Moritz, Film Culture

[Seelische Konstruktionen] (Spiritual Constructions) c.1927

[Seelische Konstruktionen] (Spiritual Constructions) c.1927

35MM, BLACK AND WHITE, SILENT, 7 MINUTES, GERMANY / DIRECTOR: OSKAR FISCHINGER / IMAGE COURTESY: CENTER FOR VISUAL MUSIC

‘The film is a “meditation on violence” and into it Fischinger poured all his loathing of the German penchant for drunkenness and aggression which he had been able to witness firsthand since his early childhood at the family brewery-inns. But at the same time he infuses the film with a serene sense (or experience) of consciousness which manifests itself constantly in new guises - now as a slow-motion animation (perhaps, by the way, the first use of this technique) of a man being kicked out of doors; now as a pair of heads that change themselves into everything from a Neanderthal man to the Munich Paulaner-Thomasbrau logo; now as the method of appearance, disappearance and warping of the ordinary furniture of life; now as the intrusion of alligators and ostriches and other impossible exotica; etc. - that finally transmutes the classic clown-pratfalls into a metaphysical instrument of celebration.’ Dr William Moritz, Film Culture

Studie Nr.2 (Study No. 2) (Tanzende Linien, Dancing Lines) c.1930

Studie Nr.2 (Study No. 2) (Tanzende Linien, Dancing Lines) c.1930

35MM, BLACK AND WHITE, SILENT, 2 MINUTES, GERMANY / DIRECTOR: OSKAR FISCHINGER / ORIGINALLY SYNCHRONIZED TO ‘VAYA, VERONICA’ PLAYED ON A GRAMOPHONE / IMAGE COURTESY: CENTER FOR VISUAL MUSIC

‘The style of Studie Nr.2 is very much like that of Studie Nr.1 with all thin-line, unshaded characters, most often in groups of threes, executing many of the “pop-explosions” and also some unique movements like frog hops and flying wedges.’ Dr William Moritz, Optical Poetry: The Life and Work of Oskar Fischinger

Studie Nr.5 (Study No. 5) 1930

Studie Nr.5 (Study No. 5) 1930

35MM, BLACK AND WHITE, MONO, 3:15 MINUTES, GERMANY / DIRECTOR: OSKAR FISCHINGER / MUSIC: ‘I’VE NEVER SEEN A SMILE LIKE YOURS’, THEME SONG FROM THE FILM “THE PERFECT ALIBI” (1929) / NEW PRESERVATION PRINT / IMAGE COURTESY: CENTER FOR VISUAL MUSIC

‘For the music to this film, Fischinger chose a popular foxtrot, I've Never Seen a Smile Like Yours, that had appeared as a number in an American musical feature, The Perfect Alibi. Fischinger transforms the dance into a fantastic abstract ballet, in which two levels of ‘dancers’ flow past and through each other: regular and orderly groups of thin-line, hard-edged figures (unmistakably male and female) which move in patterned configurations reminiscent of Busby Berkeley's later choreography, and extremely fluid, plastic figures which constantly change their consistency and size -- fluttering, surging, swirling, melting across the screen like drops of water liberated from the laws of nature.’ Dr William Moritz, Film Culture

Studie Nr.6 (Study No. 6) 1930

Studie Nr.6 (Study No. 6) 1930

35MM, BLACK AND WHITE, MONO, 2:30 MINUTES, GERMANY / DIRECTOR: OSKAR FISCHINGER / MUSIC: JACINTO GUERRERO, ‘LOS VERDERONES’ / IMAGE COURTESY: CENTER FOR VISUAL MUSIC

‘The music is a fandango, 'Los Verderones' by Jacinto Guerrero, and the figures truly dance to the catchy rhythms, but beyond the barest requirements of choreography, there are two consistent patterns of interwoven imagery -- one of flying objects in the warping currents of space (either inner or outer), and the second of the eye as a center of focus -- half target, half mandala giving off waves of vibrations. These two images (represented by broad, fluid forms sweeping across the frame in fluctuating clusters) are linked by a pattern of dots that split like atoms again and again, sometimes seeming like a dynamic interchange between matter and space, and sometimes like darting points of focus or fragmentation of vision by the cosmic eye.’ Dr William Moritz, Film Culture

Studie Nr.7 (Study No. 7) 1931

Studie Nr.7 (Study No. 7) 1931

35MM, BLACK AND WHITE, MONO, 2:30 MINUTES, GERMANY / DIRECTOR: OSKAR FISCHINGER / MUSIC: JOHANNES BRAHMS, ‘HUNGARIAN DANCE NO. 5’ / IMAGE COURTESY: CENTER FOR VISUAL MUSIC

"For Studie No.7, Fischinger found in Brahms' 'Hungarian Dance No. 5' a perfect vehicle for his optical experiments. On one hand, the sharp, fast rhythms are an ideal counterpoint for Fischinger's first complete exploration of absolute darkness as a space matrix, with hard-edged shapes twisting, flickering and curving through it, rushing past the viewer, razor thin, with astounding illusions of depth. On the other hand, the sensuous gypsy violins are played off against soft but solid shapes that curl about each other with rich geometric languor. Altogether the images are an excellent culmination of the basic visual concepts Fischinger had been working out in the first six studies, wherein the figures gain a modicum of interest in themselves, but function primarily as tracers of complex space constructs. Conceived, charted and executed like the rest of the black and white studies with thousands of separate charcoal drawings on paper, the classically simple effects here are no less amazing in their own way than the astounding multiplicity of Study No.8.’ Dr William Moritz, Film Culture

Studie Nr.8 (Study No. 8) 1931

Studie Nr.8 (Study No. 8) 1931

35MM, BLACK AND WHITE, MONO, 5 MINUTES, GERMANY / DIRECTOR: OSKAR FISCHINGER / MUSIC: PAUL DUKAS, ‘THE SORCERER’S APPRENTICE’ / IMAGE COURTESY: CENTER FOR VISUAL MUSIC

'... this study remains the most complex, most stunning, and for the artist the favorite and most important of the black and white films... Fischinger makes no attempt to tell Goethe's story of the magician's helper (Disney was to do that ten years later) but instead he uses the textures and movements of the sounds themselves as the jumping off point for creating an especially rich world in which a multiplicity of forms and movements perform in a deep environment.’ Dr William Moritz, Film Culture

Koloraturen (Coloratura) 1932

Koloraturen (Coloratura) 1932

35MM, BLACK AND WHITE, MONO, 1:30 MINUTES, GERMANY / DIRECTOR: OSKAR FISCHINGER / MUSIC: ‘WHAT COULD BE SO LOVELY AS YOUR LOVE’ ARIA FROM THE FILM “GITTA ENTDECKT IHR HERZ” (GITTA FINDS HER HEART) / IMAGE COURTESY: CENTER FOR VISUAL MUSIC

'Koloraturen (Coloratura) was commissioned by Froelich Film as a trailer to [its] feature Gitta Discovers Her Heart, starring a popular operetta singer ... Gitta Alpar. One hears Gitta singing, but sees only Fischinger's abstract designs... The film was ordered as a rush job, and had to be delivered in three weeks. Fischinger locked himself in and worked steadily, completing it on time. Yet despite the rush, it shows no lack of care, no signs of haste. It is just as complicated and detailed as the other black and white studies, in fact containing the most sensational sequence in the whole series - the whirlpool and wipes that accompany the final high note.’ Dr William Moritz, Film Culture

Kreise (Circles) [Tolirag Ad Version] 1933–34

Kreise (Circles) [Tolirag Ad Version] 1933–34

35MM, COLOUR (GASPARCOLOR), MONO, 1:48 MINUTES, GERMANY / DIRECTOR: OSKAR FISCHINGER / MUSIC: RICHARD WAGNER, ‘TANNHAÜSER’ VENUSBERG BALLET MUSIC; EDVARD GRIEG ‘TRIUMPAL MARCH’ FROM “SIGURD JORSALFAR” / IMAGE COURTESY: CENTER FOR VISUAL MUSIC

'Made with Gasparcolor (a 3-color process pre-dating Technicolor) which Fischinger helped to invent, Kreise was one of the first European colour films. The film was an ad film commissioned bythe Tolirag agency. Various product shots were later added onto the end to advertise chocolate and other items. Fischinger removed the Tolirag logo and made a purely abstract version.' Cindy Keefer, Center for Visual Music

Muratti Greift Ein (Muratti Marches On) 1934

Muratti Greift Ein (Muratti Marches On) 1934

35MM, COLOUR (GASPARCOLOR), MONO, 3 MINUTES, GERMANY / DIRECTOR: OSKAR FISCHINGER / MUSIC: JOSEF BAYER, ‘DIE PUPPENFEE’ (DOLL FAIRY) / IMAGE COURTESY: CENTER FOR VISUAL MUSIC

'Fischinger’s famous and often imitated commercial, featuring waltzing and marching cigarettes.' Center for Visual Music 

‘Every syllable of extravagant praise which has been lavished on the colour Muratti ad is totally justified by the wonderful film – a creation of absolute delight. Here the pop-classic music fits appropriately to the mad-cap antics of walking cigarettes. Fischinger carefully builds up our sense of belief in this impossible world, first by ingeniously reinforcing its “reality” through the use of simulated tracking and boom shots which emphasize the depth and physical presence of the actions, and second by subtly introducing the cigarettes with graduated movement – walking, then marking, then dancing, then ice-skating – each of which is just a little bit more absurd that the last until finally we are willingly explored into the grand closing image: crowds of cigarettes worshipping the rising sun that radiates their name, Muratti.’ Dr William Moritz, Optical Poetry: The Life and Work of Oskar Fischinger

Muratti Privat Commercial c.1935

Muratti Privat Commercial c.1935

35MM, BLACK AND WHITE, MONO, 3 MINUTES, GERMANY / DIRECTOR: OSKAR FISCHINGER / MUSIC: WOLFGANG AMADEUS MOZART, ‘TURKISH RONDO’ / IMAGE COURTESY: CENTER FOR VISUAL MUSIC

‘The soundtracks pastiche of charming Mozart tunes provides a nice vehicle for the visuals which range from checkerboard patterns of cigarette packages to a witty scene in which rows of cigarettes, previously standing single and erect, join together in pairs which wave at the audience as if they were the legs of reclining Busby Berkeley girls – the exact reverse of walking!’ Dr William Moritz, Optical Poetry: The Life and Work of Oskar Fischinger

Komposition in Blau (Composition in Blue) 1935

Komposition in Blau (Composition in Blue) 1935

35MM, COLOUR (GASPARCOLOR), MONO, 4 MINUTES, GERMANY / DIRECTOR: OSKAR FISCHINGER / MUSIC: OTTO NICOLAI, ‘MERRY WIVES OF WINDSOR OVERTURE’ / IMAGE COURTESY: CENTER FOR VISUAL MUSIC

Composition in Blue shares the same jolly atmosphere as the commercials, but whereas each of Fischinger's previous films had utilised only one basic animation technique, Composition in Blue bursts forth with half a dozen different new techniques - mostly involving pixilation of three-dimensional forms... The basic format of the film centres around solid objects moving about in an imaginary blue room. Fischinger delights in setting up conditions so that the audience makes associations with probable or 'real' everyday happenings, and then extending the analogy beyond the limits of possibility, bursting the bubble of the audience's credibility. In the opening scene, Fischinger is careful to show the red cubes entering the 'room' through a door, so we will identify with this as a plausible situation. Then he subtly introduces a mirror as the 'floor' to the room, again gaining our confidence in this special but logical reality. Then, at the climax of the film, a cylinder pounds on the mirror-floor and creates circular ripples as if the floor had suddenly turned to water, something that pushes us, with a rush of delight, out of the realm of reality into a joyous world of sheer, absurd fantasy.’ Dr William Moritz, Film Culture

Allegretto [Early Version] 1936

Allegretto [Early Version] 1936

35MM, COLOUR, MONO, 2:30 MINUTES, UNITED STATES / DIRECTOR: OSKAR FISCHINGER / MUSIC: RALPH RAINGER, ‘RADIO DYNAMICS’ / THIS VERSION WAS NEVER PRINTED IN COLOUR IN 1936 / IMAGE COURTESY: CENTER FOR VISUAL MUSIC

'Fischinger’s first film work in America, commissioned by Paramount as the opening number for their Big Broadcast of 1937 feature. Oskar prepared the film, but found Paramount would not pay for the color film stock he’d requested. This early color version was never printed at Paramount, and Oskar resigned.' Center for Visual Music

Allegretto [Late Version] 1936–43

Allegretto [Late Version] 1936–43

35MM, COLOUR (GASPARCOLOR), MONO, 2:30 MINUTES, UNITED STATES / DIRECTOR: OSKAR FISCHINGER / MUSIC: RALPH RAINGER, ‘RADIO DYNAMICS’ / MADE WITH PARTIAL SUPPORT FROM THE MUSEUM OF NON-OBJECTIVE PAINTING, NEW YORK / IMAGE COURTESY: CENTER FOR VISUAL MUSIC

'In 1941, with a grant from The Museum of Non-Objective Painting Fischinger bought the film materials back from Paramount, painted new cels and created this version which is the widely distributed, popular version.' Center for Visual Music 

‘Visually, Allegretto is very rich indeed. Fischinger's fascination with the new (to him) technique of cell animation led him to experiment with multi-layered see-through constructions which are more diverse and complex on the surface than those in most of his other films. At the same moment, one sees a background pattern of two overlapping concentric radiating circles, comet-like figures, sparkling and stretching diamonds, a row of teeth-like triangles gliding down one side of the frame like a liberated soundtrack, and other sensuous or mechanized motifs, each moving independently. The colours are California colours - the pinks and turquoise and browns of desert sky and sand, the orange of poppies, and the green of avocados. The figures work themselves up into a brilliant and vigorous conclusion, bursting with skyscrapers and kaleidoscopes of stars/diamonds, and every facet of the chic Hollywood design of the thirties. It is a celebration, plain and simple, of the American lifestyle, seen fresh and clean through the exuberant eyes of an immigrant.’ Dr William Moritz, Film Culture

Radio Dynamics 1942

Radio Dynamics 1942

35MM, COLOUR, SILENT, 4 MINUTES, UNITED STATES / DIRECTOR: OSKAR FISCHINGER / IMAGE COURTESY: CENTER FOR VISUAL MUSIC

‘I believe this to be Fischinger's best film, the work in which he most perfectly joined his craftsmanship with his spiritual ideas into a meaningful and relatively faultless whole. No music distracts from the visual imagery which moves with sufficient grace and power of its own... The film has the structure of yoga itself: We see first a series of exercises, only exercises for the eyes or the sense of vision -- fluctuating and stretching rectangular objects; then we see a statement of two icons representing meditation, one an image of flight into an infinite vortex defined by finite movement, and the other an image of two eyes' irises opening and expanding/contracting while between them grows a third eye of inner/cosmic consciousness. After a brief introductory exposition of these three themes, each is repeated in a longer, developed version, the exercises working themselves up into complex stroboscopic flickers, and the hypnotic rhythms of the expanding/contracting eyes unite with the motion of the passing rings of the vortex, making the flight become a two-way, inward and outward, flight with the vortex as the eye of the observer as well as the eye of the universe.’ Dr William Moritz, Film Culture

An American March 1941

An American March 1941

35MM, COLOUR, MONO, 3:45 MINUTES, UNITED STATES / DIRECTOR: OSKAR FISCHINGER / MUSIC: JOHN PHILIP SOUSA, ‘STARS AND STRIPES FOREVER’ / MADE WITH PARTIAL SUPPORT FROM THE MUSEUM OF NON-OBJECTIVE PAINTING, NEW YORK (WHICH LATER BECAME THE SOLOMON R GUGGENHEIM) / IMAGE COURTESY: CENTER FOR VISUAL MUSIC

‘Fischinger felt very depressed about the Disney Studios, and recalled in a very negative light the factory production methods, prescribed style, hyper-conservative taste and failure to experiment that he had encountered there. ... Ironically, An American March, the first film he completed after his job on Fantasia, is the most Disney-like of all his works, with the representational image of the American flag dominating the film… Fischinger used the common Disney style of hard-edged, outlined figures painted on cells, but he carried the technique far beyond Disney's limits and made it an integral part of the meaning of the film. Fischinger has chosen to discuss the idea of America as a melting pot, and he shows this literally by causing the elements in the film -- form and colour -- to melt.’ Dr William Moritz, Film Culture

Motion Painting No. 1 1947

Motion Painting No. 1 1947

35MM, COLOUR (TECHNICOLOR), MONO, 11 MINUTES, UNITED STATES / DIRECTOR: OSKAR FISCHINGER / MUSIC: JOHANN SEBASTIAN BACH, ‘BRANDENBURG CONCERTO NO. 3’ / MADE WITH PARTIAL SUPPORT FROM THE MUSEUM OF NON-OBJECTIVE PAINTING, NEW YORK (SOLOMON R GUGGENHEIM FOUNDATION) / IMAGE COURTESY: CENTER FOR VISUAL MUSIC

‘The oil-on-plexiglass technique of Motion Painting No.1 has been described in the main text. By all odds so delicate and difficult a process for a ten-minute film might well have resulted in a failure or a weak film. At one point, Fischinger painted every day for over five months without being able to see how it was coming out on film, since he wanted to keep all conditions, including film stock, absolutely consistent in order to avoid unexpected variations in quality of image. Thus it is a tribute to Fischinger's skill and artistic vision that Motion Painting No.1 turned out, in fact, excellent. ...Volumes could be written about this film which stands in length and complexity as Fischinger's major work. It is perhaps the only one of his films which is truly and completely (or purely) abstract (or absolute). Its images are actors in a complex being which modulates and transforms itself before our eyes, an object and an experience at the same time, something we must feel and contemplate, and meditate through.’ Dr William Moritz, Film Culture