Sunday, March 2, 2008

Entr'acte, Francis Picabia and Erik Satie, 1924

Entr'acte was shown after the first act of the ballet [Relache]. Unlike Léger's fascination with non-narrative mechanical movements of objects, Entr'acte consists of loosely connected narrative sequences. The actors are Picabia's friends, who (at that point) were neither in Tzara's dada nor Breton's surrealist camps: Marcel Duchamp, Man Ray, Eric Satie and members of the Ballet Suédois.

The film consists of a series of comedic gags: Picabia 'hosing down' Duchamp's and Man Ray's game of chess on top of a roof; a dancing ballerina filmed from underneath, only to be revealed as a bearded man; a huntsman shooting an ostrich egg, only to be shot himself; a funeral hearse drawn by a camel, and the chase of the funeral procession after the hearse; and finally the huntsman dressed as magician climbing out of the coffin. These gags were suggested by Picabia, who wrote about the film in the program: "Entr'acte does not believe in very much, in the pleasure of life perhaps; it believes in the pleasure of inventing, it respects nothing except the desire to burst out laughing."[6]

The critic Rudolf E. Kuenzli describes the film as follows:

René Clair playfully explores the full cinematic potential of Picabia's proposed scenes by using the whole inventory of cinematic tricks and techniques: changes in tempo, superimpositions, sudden disappearances and transformations. In the first part of the film, the discontinuous episodes of the chess game, the ballerina, the shooting of the ostrich egg are connected through superimposed and interjected lyric images of rooftops and buildings of different long shots of houses and roofs seen diagonally or upside down. In the chase scene, which makes up the second part of the film, Clair explores cinematographic movements of all kinds, and via montage to increase the temp from slow motion to only blurs of movement. The funeral procession, which runs faster and faster after the hearse, is joined by a group of racing cyclists, speeding cars, an airplane, and a racing boat.
At the end of the film cinema us revealed as an illusion-producing apparatus. The huntsman emerges from the coffin in the guise of a magician who, through the waving of his wand, makes the coffin, the members of the funeral procession, and himself disappear. The word "End" appears on screen. Suddenly a man in slow motion jumps through the 'film screen', breaking the illusion of the magic and chase scenes.[7]

The audience was assaulted with a series of non-related and often provocative images within a work which stressed the pleasure of inventing new spatial and temporal relations while provoking random laughter. While Clair later referred to his early film as "visual babblings"[8], audiences of today can see the film as a serious attempt to subvert traditional values, both cinematic and social.

According to Hans Richter, Picabia had intended that the sound of the audience would contribute as background noise to the film (making the piece an early progenitor of John Cage's 4'33''), "but they all fell silent, as though the sight of his extraordinary cortège had taken their breath away. Picabia, enraged, shouted at the audence "Talk, can't you, talk!" Nobody did."[9]


[6] From the 'Programme de Relâche' in La Danse (November 1924), repeated in Francis Picabia (1978), Ecrits [Paris: Belfond], II, p.167

[7] Rudolf E. Kuenzli, op. cit, pp.5-6

[8] "The film is really Picabia's, the man who has done so much to liberate the word and the image. In Entr'acte, the image is not required to be significant but has an existence in its own right. These visual babblings seem to me the most correct course for the future of the cinema." - Rene Clair, quoted on MoMA (The Museum of Modern Art, USA), - source unknown

[9] Hans Richter (1965), Dada: Art and Anti-Art [London: Thames and Hudson] p.198

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