'Anemic Cinema,' by Marcel Duchamp
This will eventually inspire my next tattoo...
Duchamp was a pioneer of the Dada movement, which rejected earlier artistic traditions and tried to sabotage the bourgeoisie culture. But aside from his Readymades which mocked high-art, his works of anti-art, and his obsession with the notion of artistic indifference and visual anesthesia, this film is beautiful and somehow innocent...at least to me.
The beauty of this six-minute film (from 1926) lies in its two main features: visuals and words. The viewer’s visual experience and his/her literary understanding are equally important and yet consequently meaningless. In essence, Anemic Cinema is entirely conceptual because it lacks narrative, characters, emotional content, or even everyday objects with which to identify. It's simply ten varying, rotating spirals and nine rotating discs with inscribed phrases, which test your visual cortex.
In the spirit of the Dada Movement, Anemic Cinema is childlike, playful, and spontaneous. It is also anti-narrative, anti-logical and nontraditional in terms of standard forms of self expression. Unlike other works of art from the time, Anemic Cinema is not based on Dadaist or Surrealistic principles and seems to serve no intended purpose, while other works of Duchamp’s sought more specific responses from the audience. This film requires only that viewers watch, read, and let themselves become absorbed. Hidden morals or subversive motives appear absent.
The spirals are comprised of white and black lines of varying thickness. They rotate either clockwise or counterclockwise at different speeds and appear on the screen for slightly varying lengths of time, before fading to black. Each spiral is an optical illusion; the white and black lines serve to represent positive and negative space. As with any illusion, there are multiple ways of viewing the same illustration or object and, in the case of these spirals, they appear to be either expanding, popping out at the viewer, or contracting, sucking the viewer in. Some of the spirals seem to possess a textural surface, being one whole object or solid oscillating mass, while others look like circles within circles, which may rotate at different speeds, suggesting multiple spirals within a single disc.
Anemic Cinema’s spirals rotate infinitely as the film is viewed repeatedly, and yet they too are affixed to celluloid. All of the motion is actually individual still shots of a real-life machine (once displayed at the MoMA) that was moving in real-time, back in 1926. When placed together, the stills allow for the movement of the original machine to be translated to the still screen. Therefore, the motion has become infinite. The circles that create the illusion of spirals are likewise infinite, with no beginning or end. Does your brain hurt yet?