Vlada Petric (1928- )

Light Play: A Tribute to Moholy-Nagy (1988),

30 minutes

This 30 minute experimental film is a Constructivist realization in the literal sense of the term: it represents a montage deconstruction / reconstruction of the original short film (6 minutes) "constructed by Laszlo Moholy-Nagy in Germany," and based on his kinetic sculpture Light Modulator which Moholy-Nagy made with the intention of using as the subject of the film, Light-Play in Black, White, and Gray (Ein Lichtspiel: Schwarz, Weiss, Grau, 1930), an extraordinary cinematic exemplification of Moholy-Nagy’s concept of "building an art-object of different pieces through a preconceived mathematical pattern."

The original film consists of only 49 shots (many of them with multiple exposure), mostly close-ups of the rotating modulator which, under strong light and continuous motion, produces intricate optical effects on the screen. Fascinated by such visual dynamism, I undertook research to find more data related to Moholy-Nagy’s ideas about photography and cinema, and was surprised to learn that his concepts evoke Dziga Vertov’s "theory of Intervals," as well as his revolutionary idea of kinesthetic resolution (i.e., the cinema’s unique capacity to stimulate in the viewer motor sensory responses through various kinds of movements occurring on the screen).

With this in mind, I began to devise a strategy for re-editing Moholy-Nagy’s film by applying to it Vertov’s montage principles in an aggressive manner, while at the same time following Moholy-Nagy’s "pattern of three" carried out in the modulator’s construction (e.g., black-white-gray tones and circular-rectangular shapes of the machine’s components).

To begin, I made a negative print of Moholy-Nagy’s film which for me represented white, and a high-contrast print which represented black, while the original print represented gray. The actual editing of these three prints (amounting to 20 minutes of projection time) took two years (1981-83); the rest of the time was spent in finding the best way to print the fragile workprint (the complicated editing required a special treatment of the workprint and the original); the film was completed in May 1988.

My assistant, Jim Lane, and I began to edit the three prints from the tail, beginning with the last shot of Moholy-Nagy’s original film, and thereby corroborating his claim that for an abstract film it is irrelevant whether projected forward or backward! In order to accommodate the "pattern of three" the computer was used to help determine the exact duration (in frames) for each of the 1285 new shots (some of them only one, two, or three frames long), so that all the original 49 shots could be recycled in their entirety, including dissolves as well as black and transparent frames.

Finally, I decided to add sound to the new montage structure by mixing noises from three sources: a steel mill, a brewery, and an automobile plant. At one point, however, a human voice is included which to my satisfaction coincides with the appearance of Moholy-Nagy’s own hands – the only human element in this film. Actually, the voice is mine and was accidentally picked up by Michael Callahan while recording sound in the automobile plant. In the middle third of the reconstructed film, red, yellow, and blue tints are incorporated, gradually fusing into a complex pattern that culminates in the third part of the montage structure, while the sound level simultaneously increases in accordance with the acceleration of the kinesthetic rhythm.

The result of all these interventions is a new montage construct three times longer than Moholy-Nagy’s original film which is included as the prologue in the film. The replica of Moholy-Nagy’s Light Modulator–the actual source of the entire enterprise–is seen at the end of the film as it is preserved at Harvard’s Busch-Reisinger Museum. The three parts are connected by intertitles designed by animator Steve Eagle in the Constructivist style, echoing the principle on which the reconstructed film is made.

– Vlada Petric