Some Early Short Films by Hans Richter
Berliner Hans Richter (1888-1976) was a pioneer of the avant garde cinema, a member of the Dada movement. He began playing with silent film as art expression in 1921, & it's hard to imagine filmmakers like Luis Bunuel & Fritz Lang weren't influenced by Richter, whose influence among Berlin & Paris avant gardists & surrealists of the '20s is undeniable.
However, the claim that his first film was completed in 1921 may have been a fib concocted two or three years later, merely to fudge his dates a hair ahead of Walther Ruttmann's Opus 1 (1922) as the first avant garde film experiment in Berlin, a point or possibility which art & film historians will likely always argue.
Richter's earliest experiments were hardly more than tests, Rhythm 21 (Film ist Rhythmus aka, Rhythmus 21, 1921) consisting of squares of lights growing or shrinking, pulsating white on black, implying a drum-beat without sound.
Rhythm 23 (Rhythmus 23, 1923) is an extension of the same film but with more angles & overlays added, & adding lines rather than adhering to the squares of the original.
It looks so similar that the academic argument that both "21" & "23" were made in 1923 looks rather likely. Richter himself at some exhibitions showed these two together as a single film called Un film de Hans Richter.
The hand-colored Rhythm 25 (Rhythmus 25, 1925) was the final "chapter," but it does not survive.
The most interesting thing about these early-20s little experiments is how much they resemble some aspects of 1950s beatnik art & 1960s op art, but brought to motion & life before those later forms arose.
The "Rhythmus" series flow very smoothly in form & appearance into Film Study (Filmstudie, 1925) consists of a mesmerizing & complex play of light, motion, & faces, with eclipses becoming rolling eyeballs, spotlights seeking in the dark, running a scant seven minutes.
Another experimental silent film at eight minutes is Inflation (1928) which is sometimes categorized as a documentary, though that's a stretch.
By now he's well beyond playing with light & shadow. Inflation explores the subject of money through photographs & with with stop motion animation techniques, adding faces of people impoverished & enriched by the unpredictability of finance.
It functions almost as a political cartoon in motion, building to a chaotic & catastrophic climax.
Ghosts Before Breakfast (Vormittagsspuk, 1928) is said to have initially been a sound film but the Nazi attempt to destroy all copies as "degenerate art" has left us only a silent version. This short film functions even without the sound it once had, & likely the only thing lost was a musical score.
Using stop motion techniques we see the rapid motions of a clock, flying hats settling like a flock of birds in the bushes, a neck tie that refuses to stay tied, windows opening & closing as they elect, hoses coiling & uncoiling themselves & spraying the flying hats, & other inanimate objects becoming animated for their own benefit.
Pistols multiply like mammals, dancing about & cocking their triggers. A great many men hide behind a slim pole.
Broken dishes put themselves together. A seed grows into a small bush in a short time. Men fight & march or crawl about & chase the flying hats. Body parts fly loose. In the end the hats find heads to their liking & the clock strikes twelves.
All this in six minutes, it has a Lewis Carolly sort of feel to it & is a marvelous bit of animation, & perhaps the best of his early short films.
It comes off quite lighthearted, comical enough to evoke laughter. Yet Germany had so recently brought about a violent world war & was swiftly headed for another, the imbedded doomful allegory of Ghosts Before Breakfast is not difficult to deduce.
Race Sympathy (Rennsymphonie, 1928) originated as a seven minute "documentary" introduction to an early sound feature film.
But it is a stand-alone short building up a collage of travel imagery inside & outside trains, busses, doubledeckers, automobiles, & on horses.
It leads to a considerable crowd arriving at the races & the bandstand. It's largely pointless except for the fact that its age gives the footage a vintage veneer of interest.
Yet another surrealist silent film was Twopence Magic aka, Two Penny Magic (Zweigroschenzauber 1929) starting off with a little magic trick.
It then presents an array of images from swimmers, bicyclers, murderers, airplanes in flight, boxers, lovers, runners, becoming in the end a collection of images in a magazine.
Body-building acrobatic jugglers put on a show for an audience of heavy smokers in the experimental short Everything Turns, Everything Resolves (Dreht sich, alles bewegt, 1929).
It doubles the usual length of his early films, at fifteen minutes, & with Ghosts Before Breakfast stands among Richter's most intriguing early works.
The best sequence has the flabby muscle man walking straight up the wall & across the celing above the stage. It's effective & amusing.
Though really a silent film, Richter provided this one with a musical soundtrack by Walter Gronostay in order to call it a sound film.
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