Live cinema: experimental shorts in Modena

A quick despatch from Italy! It seems that silent cinema finds me wherever I am: I’m currently staying in Modena, Italy, and what should be taking place but an open-air cine-concerto. Therefore, last night I attended the event Anemic Cinema, which presented a selection of 1920s experimental films with live accompaniment.

Ten experimental shorts were presented in all. The programme was as follows:

  • Walter Ruttmann: Opus 1 (DE 1921)
  • Hans Richter: Vormittagsspuk | Ghosts Before Breakfast (DE 1928)
  • Man Ray: Le retour à la raison (FR 1923)
  • Walter Ruttmann: Der Seiger | The Victor (DE 1921); Das Wunder (1922); Das Wiedergefundene Paradies | The Rediscovered Paradise (1925)
  • Jean Epstein: Le tempestaire (FR 1942)
  • Marcel Duchamp: Anémic Cinéma (FR 1926)
  • Fernand Léger: Ballet Mécanique (FR 1924)
  • Man Ray: L’étoile de mer (FR 1928)
  • Joris Ivens: Regen | Rain (NL 1926)

In other words, many of the landmark works of the European cinematic avant-garde. A very solid programme, although I would have loved to see Germaine Dulac represented too. I’ve seen most of these films before, but it’s been years, so it was great to have this opportunity to revisit them. Although I don’t write about it often on this blog, I really love experimental cinema.

Ballet Mécanique

Ballet Mécanique live (please excuse the picture quality)

The accompaniment was performed by a series of different musicians and tended toward the avant-garde itself—think rhythmic soundscapes rather than piano or classical ensemble. Have I mentioned that I also love experimental music and sound-art? Almost all of the accompaniment complemented the films beautifully. Lots of heavy texture, but with enough rhythm and melody to keep things lively rather than dark.

The music was high-quality throughout, but my pick of the night was Biasanot and Luca di Mira’s accompaniment to Vormittagsspuk | Ghosts Before Breakfast (Hans Richter, DE 1928) and Le retour à la raison | The Return to Reason (Man Ray, FR 1923). Vormittagsspuk is both a playful and a dark film, and one that has always struck me as quite melancholic, not least because of its history of suppression. Those hats, floating away … it’s filled with emotive images. Biasanot and Di Mira’s accompaniment was perfect: punchy but not overbearing, full of driving rhythms with some theremin-like flourishes in the upper register to keep a touch of whimsy. One hopes that a recording is made available.


Vormittagsspuk (DE 1928)

Epstein’s Le tempestaire is one that I hadn’t seen previously. It’s a little reminiscent of The Wind (US 1928) in being a poetic—even allegorical—story about a woman versus the elements. The soundtrack was omitted in favour of representing the dialogue via subtitles, and again, a very confident and expressive soundtrack by Leonardo Rubboli and Stefano Pilia.

Le tempestaire live

Le tempestaire live

All in all, very impressive—a wonderful event!

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5 Responses to Live cinema: experimental shorts in Modena

  1. popegrutch says:

    Like you, I’ve seen most of these, but several of them in my case not since school. What a great chance to see them performed live with appropriate music!


  2. What a wonderful event! To see these films while in Italy would be sublime.

    Admittedly, I’ve not heard of any of these films…but thanks to your post, I have now! ;)

    Liked by 1 person

    • Vormittagsspuk is quite short, if you feel like a quick experimental look :-)

      Liked by 1 person

      • I just watched Vormittagsspuk, like you suggested, and I quite liked it. Some really imaginative imagery there, and some trippy stuff too! (For example, the people running backwards and upside down on the stairs – whoa!)

        Loved the mischievous hats and how they tied into the conclusion. Thanks for introducing me to this one! :)

        Liked by 1 person

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