Tuesday, 19 April 2011

Joseph Cornell And The Silent Film

Most people know Joseph Cornell as the artist who makes beautifully detailed boxes and collages assembled from found and collected objects. However not many is aware that he was also a maker of films. Unfortunately these films are notoriously difficult to see.

Aside from a brief but very influential exhibition period situated around Anthology Film Archives in the 1970s, Cornell only rarely showed his films. After the creation of the Joseph and Robert Cornell Foundation, administered by the Museum of Modern Art in New York, the films were restricted from popular distribution in an attempt to properly evaluate the film works within the larger context of the artist's oeuvre. His first and most famous work on film is Rose Hobart (1936), where he started using found footage. The footage in question was a 16mm print of the 1931 Universal jungle drama East of Borneo, starring the actress Rose Hobart. Cornell's film-collage of Rose Hobart is essentially her cinematic portrait, in which nearly everything is excised from the film but for the scenes in which she appears. He originally projected this work at 16 frames-per-second, through a blue glass lens while simultaneously playing 78 rpm records in place of the film's soundtrack.

Essentially poetic, Cornell's cinematic masterpiece launched a thousand found footage films decades later. As a silent film, that is without dialogue, Cornell's art shows for the power of the poetic. As said in an excerpt from Joseph Cornell, Enchanted Wanderer:A Journey Album for Hedy Lamarr; "Among the barren wastes of the talking films there occasionally occur passages to remind one again of the profound and suggestive power of the silent film to evoke an ideal world of beauty, to release unsuspected floods of music from the gaze of a human countenance in its prism of silver light…" #

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