Grab a blanket, pack a picnic, and head to the Walker hillside for eclectic evening of new music and silent films from the 1920s. For this special Walker commission, local electro virtuoso Martin Dosh and his ensemble Dosh Quintet (Dan Bitney of Tortoise, James Buckley, Sarah Elstran, Mike Sopko, and Joey Van Phillips) present intriguing and new live cinematic scores set to silent works from the Walker’s Ruben/Bentson collection. Tunes from DJ Sean McPherson of 89.3 The Current and food trucks add to the mix for the perfect summer night out.
The evening’s avant-garde films will include Walter Ruttmann’s four abstract animated films Lichtspiel: Opus I (1921) and Opus II, III, and IV (1923–1925) as well as Berlin: Symphony of a Great City (Berlin: Die Sinfonie der Grosstadt) (1927), made in collaboration with Alberto Cavalcanti; Charles Sheeler and Paul Strand’s Manhatta (1920–1921); and animation pioneer Winsor McCay’s The Sinking of the Lusitania (1918). Approx. 70 mins. total run time.
Lichtspiel Opus I, Opus II, Opus III, and Opus IV
Visually related to Cubism, this series of four groundbreaking abstract animations are unique experiments in avant-garde film expression. Walter Ruttmann (1887–1941), who noted “… painting must be set in motion,” created these hand-colored rectangles, circles, spirals and crescents and propelled them upward, backward, and diagonally across the film. Precisely how he made Lichtspiel Opus I is not clear, but it is believed he constructed the designs by painting on glass sheets and induced distortions with moving mirrors. The inclusion of hand-painted color in this print, most likely applied with stencils, is one of the first examples of color in film. Directed by Walter Ruthann. 1921–1925, Germany, 35mm transferred to digital, various times. Courtesy Munich Film Museum.
Berlin: Symphony of a Great City (Berlin: Die Sinfonie der Großstadt) (excerpt)
Documenting a full day in 1920s Berlin, this silent film depicts a growing city with visual sequences from quiet early morning streets to the energetic force of commuters, industry, leisure, and entertainment. Ruttmann’s film is an example of a “city symphony,” a genre of film from the 1920s that celebrates modernity and urban life. Without a clear plot or characters, the genre uses rhythm, time, and movement to narrate and portray evolving cities. This film has become an important historic record of Berlin, functioning as a time-capsule of the city before it was almost completely destroyed in WWII. Directed by Walter Ruttmann. 1927, Germany, 35mm transferred to digital, 65 mins. (20 mins. excerpt). Courtesy Munich Film Museum.
One of the first American avant-guard films, Manhatta is another example of the 1920s “city symphony” genre, focusing on 1920s New York City. Inspired by Walt Whitman’s poem “Mannahatta,” it features vignettes of a crowded Staten Island Ferry, immigrants arriving, ship merchants, and towering skyscrapers. The film quotes lines from Whitman throughout, including descriptions of buildings in a mode recalling the natural world: “High growth of iron, slender, strong, splendidly uprising toward clear skies.” Directed by Charles Sheeler and Paul Strand. 1921, US, 35 mm transferred to digital, 10 mins. Courtesy of Bruce Ponser.
This animated documentary—the first ever made—was a pro-war propaganda film depicting the attack on the British ship RMS Lusitania in 1915 by a German U-boat. While the animation accurately shows the events of the ship being hit by a torpedo and sinking, McCay added intertitles that urge his American viewers to take action against the aggressor. Directed by Winsor McCay. 1918, US, 35mm transferred to digital, 12 mins. Courtesy the Ruben/Bentson Moving Image Collection.