Pure cinema creates a special film-space in which the audience can enjoy feelings and sensations that are not provided by literature, theatre, music, dance, graphic novels, digital video, still photography or any other art form or in any other place. It’s all about cinematic technique which includes montage, camerawork, and sound design used for its emotional impact, pure and free and strong as an autonomous art form.
The first known use of the term “pure cinema” was in the 1920s in France by the filmmaker Henri Chomette. He used this term, which in French is pronounced “cinema pur”. Henri Chomette employed rhythm, light, motion, and composition in a non-representational way to create a unique aesthetic experience. He envisioned motion pictures as an independent, autonomous art form that could create new visions inconceivable outside of the union of the lens and motion picture film.
With his films and his statements he founded the “cinema pur” movement in Paris which encompassed the movies of many Dada artists such as Man Ray, Rene Clair, Fernand Leger, and Germaine Dulac. In their avant-garde visual shorts such as “Entr’Acte”, “Emak-Bakia”, “Ballet Mecanique”, and “Disque 957”, they created exciting, kinetic cinematic experiences that transcended storytelling, narrative, character, and theatre.
Cinema pur enthusiasts were opposed to narrative expression in the motion picture, advocating instead exploitation of the unique cinematic devices of the medium in order to provide purely visual and rhythmic experience. Focusing on dynamic cutting, fast and slow motion, moving camera and trick shots were among the techniques which made the subject alive.
This movie (in Basque language – Leave me alone or don’t bother me) is a 1926 film subtitled as a cinépoéme, it features many filming techniques used by Man Ray, including Rayographs, double exposures, stop motion, soft focus and ambiguous features. “Emak-Bakia” shows elements of fluid mechanical motion in parts, rotating artifacts showing his ideas of everyday objects being extended and rendered useless.
An important aspect of pure cinema/ cinema pur is montage. Lev Vladimirovich Kuleshov (Лев Владимирович Кулешов; 13 January 1 January 1899 – 29 March 1970) edited together a short film in which a shot of the expressionless face of Tsarist matinee idol Ivan Mozzhukhin was alternated with various other shots, however the original montage has been lost.
According to Ronald Levaco, Kuleshov shot a single long close-up of an actor Mozhukhin, sitting still without expression. He then intercut it with various shots, the exact content of which he forgot in his later years, but which, according to his associate Vsevolod Pudovkin, comprised a bowl of soup, a woman in a coffin, and a child with a toy bear. The audience “marveled at the sensitivity of the actor’s range.”
The audience who saw the film thought that actors face expressions were changing, whether he looks to the girl in coffin, soup plate or young woman. That it feels grieve, hungriness or desire, when actually it was the same shot repeated again and again. Kuleshov took out from the film an emotion, a strong one, that the film actually didn’t show them. People were forced to experience the circumstances, to think and to feel the emotion themselves.
The essence of the Kuleshov effect is filling in the blanks, or connecting the dots. Mozhukhin isn’t actually looking at anything; he probably doesn’t even know what they’ll make him look at, so he can’t possibly be reacting to it. He expresses no emotion, so an audience cannot possibly see emotion on his face, but the audience does. The viewer is presented with a situation or environment along with the academic fact that someone is experiencing it. He cannot simply accept the actor’s evident emotion, as none is given, so he decides what the appropriate response would be and assigns it to the actor.
This is the possible original re-make of Kuleshov movie, segment from Spanish documentary series named „Amar el cine”. Pay attention to the inviolability of actor’s facial expressions, also overall impression of your emotions to the shots.
The effect has also been studied by psychologists, and is well-known among modern film makers. This technique is at work everywhere in Stanley Kubrick’s films. Alfred Hitchcock talks about Kuleshov effect in his interview. We can see how important this invention of film montage is not only for the quality of film, but even for making an action by playing with people minds, emotions.
To conclude, pure cinema’s title summarizes it’s own idea. Without plot it is just a story told by cinematic technique.
Agnese Rudzite, Anete Sebre, Kasja Krupczak