The Sunday Intertitle: We Stole a Pearl Necklace Worth Five Million

Dadaist cinema is not big on intertitles, so I am grateful to Fernand Leger & Dudley Murphy for including some nice abstract examples in their BALLET MECANIQUE of 1924. Leger was a great artist, Murphy was a regular Joe kind of filmmaker (THE EMPEROR JONES, with William DeMille), …ONE THIRD OF A NATION… with Sylvia Sidney), so I don’t know how they came to collaborate or even be in the same country. Their names look funny side by side, and so do their careers.

I presume Leger needed a technically minded film person to help put his fantasies on celluloid. This was the same year Leger did designs — a mad scientist’s lab for restoring life! — in L’Herbier’s L’INHUMAINE. Thereafter, he kept well clear of the movies except for contributing “drawings, objects and suggestions,” which sounds a bit rude, to DREAMS THAT MONEY CAN BUY in 1947.

BALLET MECANIQUE achieves a lot in a short time, including creating a kind of cinema concrete to compliment Georges Antheil’s synchronized score — the film is like an assemblage of objects, spliced together rhythmically, including the lips of Kiki of Montparnasse, a typewriter, a swinging silver globe, and a straw hat. It also erases the distinction between intertitle and film, as some of the images become graphic and abstract and some of the lettering and numbering and geometric shapes butt together in such a way as to suggest kinship. THIS is definitely an intertitle ~

And I love that the filmmakers confess to a crime in the midst of their experimental film, knowing nobody will take them seriously. It’s the perfect alibi!

Then the sentence is broken into pieces and repeated until it ceases to speak to us, even appearing flipped, looking-glass fashion, transformed from lucid text to mere abstract shapes.

But what about THIS? ~

Is it a text or an image? Or THIS? ~

Definitely an abstract, neither text nor image, but behaving much like an intertitle (except for the shameless way it dances at us).

Lots of different versions of this movie on YouTube, but none seems to have the handy-dandy stencil colour on its graphic shapes which my copy has, and which seems to me to greatly enhance the super-epic quality.

The movie also defies Dada convention by featuring celebrity guest stars — not just Kiki, or parts of her, but also Charlie Chaplin, in cut-out graphic animation form. Interesting to speculate what the defense would be if Charlot had sued.

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