Germaine Dulac was one of the original French film ‘auteurs.’ She was also a film theorist and feminist. She had a relatively short career as an avant-garde filmmaker, making such works as ‘The Smiling Madam Beaudet (1923) and ‘The Seashell and the Clergyman’ (1928) which is often credited as being the first Surrealist film.
In this film, the title translated as ‘Those Who Make Themselves,’ we follow a destitute drunk woman who appears to yearn for the life of a prostitute or to engage in some sort of tryst. It is also possible that she is simply despondent over rejection by a lover. She appears to fail at everything she tries and eventually walks down a staircase into the Seine river. It’s a very simple film that manages to convey a deep sense of loneliness.
Dulac insisted on being credited as the author of her films, not accepting the standard partnership between a screenwriter and director.
Here’s a 1923 quote from Dulac:
I believe that cinematographic work must come out of a shock of sensibility, of a vision of one being who can only express himself in the cinema. The director must be a screenwriter or the screenwriter a director. Like all other arts, cinema comes from a sensible emotion … To be worth something and “bring” something, this emotion must come from one source only. The screenwriter that “feels” his idea must be able to stage it. From this, the technique follows.
In 1936, experimental filmmaker Len Lye made this short surreal animation to advertise the benefits of Shell oil for lubricating things. The film is a hyper-saturated stop-motion extravaganza that involves a mechanical world turning on some sort of hand crank. There’s an adventurer driving around the sands of Egypt. His car winds down and konks out leaving the man dead in the desert. The angel of oil rains drops of lubricating crude down on the Egyptian landscape bringing the parched skeleton to life as the Shell Oil robot. Fascinating. It’s got that awkward, shiny, naive beauty that could only be achieved in the 30s. Parts of this thing look like they might be influenced by Salvador Dali’s work. Something about that dead skeleton and the desert looks like it could fit right into the Surrealist master’s paintings.
Lye was from New Zealand and worked not only as an experimental filmmaker but also in newsreels and advertising. He was a kinetic sculptor, poet, painter and a writer of essays on artistic theory and philosphy. He made a 1935 short film called ‘A Colour Box’ which was the first generally exhibited film made by painting directly on the film emulsion. It’s a brilliant experimental animation posing as an advertisement for cheaper parcel post. I’m sure the great direct paint filmmaker Stan Brakhage must have been familiar with Lye’s work.
My new film is a silent one about wet, foggy colors. It was raining in December and the roses looked droopy under the weight of the water droplets. Then the camera started going in and out of focus and I thought it made a good color show so I started to learn how to make it happen more and how to make the focus flutter. So I think that what is out of focus in the film is more important than what’s in focus.