The Enigmatic Cinema of Joseph Cornell, Pt. 1 - Joseph Cornell

Rental Format(s): Digital File

Amateur film enthusiast and collage artist Joseph Cornell made films outside the limelight of commercial cinema production and distribution. In fact, he never handled a movie camera to shoot his own material opting to make use of "found footage" culled from early pioneer trick films, silent feature films, newsreels, travelogues, nature studies, and industrials among numerous others. His homespun cinema creations mimed experimental cinema strategies and techniques favored by the Surrealist of the late 1920s and early 1930s, in particular the films made by Dali and Buñuel, Man Ray, René Clair and Jean Cocteau that Cornell saw at the Julien Levy Gallery. -Bruce Posner

3 films:

Out of the Melting Pot (1927)
1:55 mins
Makers: Creators unknown
Production: W.J. Ganz Studio
Original format: 35mm silent film 1.33:1
New music: Eric Beheim

Many early short subjects cloaked genuine aesthetic discourse inside novelty approaches, such as the exploration of slow, fast, or reverse motion, distortion and abstraction, and other altered perceptions induced via camera tricks. The transitions of zoo animals from abstract to realistic renditions highlight the differences between the two states. -Bruce Posner

Filming the Fantastic! Adventures of the Newsreel Cameraman series (1936)
9:41 mins
Co-makers: Truman Talley and Lew Lehr
Production 20th Century Fox Film Corp.
Original format: 35mm sound film 1.37:1

During the mid-1930s, the ever-popular movie newsreels mutated per audience tastes into some amusing hybrids of pseudonewsreels that featured humorous reports on odd and peculiar subjects photographed around the globe. Fox's Adventures of the Newsreel Cameraman series showcased strange footage similar in content to the sensational fare displayed by the outrageous syndicated feature Ripley's Believe It or Not! The films offered viewers images of the unimaginable including exotic locations, strange feats and weird spectacles, sometimes found hidden in ordinary everday life. These types of offbeat reports, travelogues, and comic reveries - yes, there was even a subset of surreal newsreels made up of rehashed old silent comedies,
such as Fox's "Unreel Newsreels" (1923-25) and MGM's "Goofy Newsreels" (1934-38), all fascinated the artist Cornell. So much so that Cornell appropriated newsreel footage and their period bound editorial affectations into his own homespun cinecollage concoctions, that coincidentally are also titled "Unreel Newsreels (1938)" and "Goofy Newsreels (1938)."

New Newsreel - The Children's Jury (c. 1938)
8:31 mins
Co-makers: Joseph Cornell, Burton Holmes, and creators unknown
Original format: 35mm and 16mm silent film 1.33:1 / 1.37:1
New music audio collage: Eric Beheim

Images of children, clowns, animals, and Native Americans collide with snippets from travel, adventure, novelty, and industrial films. Many of the collage-editing techniques used were readily available in numerous short subjects produced during the 1920s and 1930s. Here the resultant conjunctions affect a surreal nostalgia that remains inexplicable. -Bruce Posner

Artist Joseph Cornell (1903-1972) lived his entire adult life in Queens, New York, where he worked in his basement studio making collages, box constructions, and films. Though rarely exhibited publicly, he loved to screen films at home for his invalid brother Robert, and would often re-edit them for his own amusement. -Jeanne Liotta/Bradley Eros

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