Man Ray (1890-1976)

Le Retour à la Raison (1923), 3 minutes

Emak Bakia (1927), 18 minutes

L’Etoile de Mer (1928), 15 minutes

The Mystery of the Chateau of the Dice (1929), 25 minutes

In his autobiography Man Ray relates how his curiosity about movies—"aroused by the idea of putting into motion some of the results I had obtained in still photography"—led him to make some brief shots in 35 mm film—"shots unrelated to each other, as a field of daisies, a nude torso moving in front of a striped curtain with the sunlight coming through, one of my paper spirals hanging in the studio..." After showing the results to some friends, including Tristan Tzara, Ray "put the camera aside" and returned to his portrait photography. Weeks later Tzara showed Ray an announcement that on the next evening some of Ray’s films were to be shown at the dada event Le Coeur a Barbe (the Bearded Heart). When he protested that he only had a few minutes of footage, Tazara urged him to make a film version of his popular Rayographs.

Man Ray on Le Retour:

Acquiring a roll of a hundred feet of film, I went into my darkroom and cut up the material into short lengths, pinning them down on the work table. On some strips I sprinkled salt and pepper, like a cook preparing a roast, on other strips I threw pins and thumbtacks at random; then turned on the white light for a second or two, as I had done for my still Rayographs. Then I carefully lifted the film off the table, shaking off the debris, and developed it in my tanks. The next morning, when dry, I examined my work; the salt, pins and tacks were perfectly reproduced, on a black ground as in X-ray films, but there was no separation into successive frames as in movie films. I had no idea what this would give on the screen. Also, I knew nothing about film mounting with cement, so I simply glued the strips together, adding the few shots first made with my camera to prolong the projection. The whole would not last more than about three minutes. Anyhow, I thought, it would be over before an audience could react; there would be other numbers on the program to try the spectators’ patience, the principle aim of the Dadaists...

Tzara appeared on the stage and in a perfectly intelligible manner announced my film—The Return to Reason, a first showing, by that renowned artist, Man Ray, made in one of his lucid moments. The audience relaxed in their seats with an audible sigh of relief and a few handclaps. The theater went dark and the screen lit up. It looked like a snowstorm, with the flakes flying in all directions instead of falling, then suddenly becoming a field of daisies as if the snow had crystallized into flowers.

This was followed by another sequence of huge white pins crisscrossing and revolving in an epileptic dance, then again by a lone thumbtack making desperate efforts to leave the screen. There was some grumbling in the audience, punctuated by a whistle or two; but suddenly the film broke, due to my inexpert mounting...

The next image was of the light-striped torso which called forth the applause of some connoisseurs, but when the spiral and crate carton began to revolve on the screen, there was a catcall, taken up by the audience, as always happens in a gathering. But again the film broke, plunging the theater into darkness. One spectator loudly vented his dissatisfaction, the man behind, evidently a sympathizer of the Dadaists, answered him; the dialogue became more personal; finally a loud slap was heard, followed by the scuffling of feet and shouting...I knew it was near the end of my reel, so did not regret the interruption, on the contrary, it may have induced the public to imagine that there was much more to the film, and that they had missed the import of the Return to Reason. (Self Portrait, pp. 260-62).