Absolute movie

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The abstract film or absolute film is an experimental film movement of the avant-garde that emerged in the 1920s. He broke away from the narrative structures of the action film, which was shaped by literature and photography, and placed a purely visual effect in the foreground through the rhythmic structuring of color and abstract forms. The influences therefore came mainly from painting and music. The best-known representatives of the absolute film were Oskar Fischinger , Viking Eggeling , Hans Richter and Walter Ruttmann . The contributions of French cinema to abstract film became known under the catchphrase cinéma pur .


Beginnings and climax in the 1920s

The attraction of changing optical structures in the 18th and 19th centuries led to popular art instruments such as the kaleidoscope and the color piano . Around 1910 Arnaldo Gina and Bruno Corra took up impulses from the art of the Cubists and Futurists , in whose works movement was represented through the organization of colors and forms. Hans L. Stoltenberg ( Buntfilm , 1911) and Léopold Survage ( Rythmes colorés , 1912 to 1914) continued to develop the idea of ​​cinematic abstraction until Eggeling, Richter, Ruttmann and Fischinger in the early 1920s, with Kandinsky as an important influence from painting, the The genre first blossomed, initially with pure animation films .

Henri Chomette called abstract film Cinéma Pur and demanded its artistic autonomy, the detachment from authentic depiction of reality and from all dramaturgical means. In his films Jeux des reflets et de la vitesse (1923) and Cinq minutes de cinéma pur (1924), he only showed the rhythm of light reflections from rotating crystals. Ralph Steiner and László Moholy-Nagy worked in a similar way with the pure visual power of light.

Stagnation and continuation in the New American Cinema

In the 1930s, the development of abstract film stagnated. Only the English filmmaker Len Lye gave him new impulses by referring to the materiality of the medium through experiments with different film development and copying processes as well as direct painting and scratching of the film strip. Fischinger and Ruttmann used their techniques to produce advertising films . After Fischinger emigrated to the USA in 1936, he worked there on the "film adaptation" of classical and popular music. He is considered to be a major driving force behind the New American Cinema , which reduces the figurative elements , to which Harry Smith , John and James Whitney , Hy Hirsh , Jordan Belson and Pat O'Neill are counted.

post war period

After the Second World War , European film artists took up the interrupted tradition of abstract film and again focused on the material character of the film, referring to themselves. Filmmakers such as Peter Kubelka , Kurt Kren and Werner Nekes manipulated the material through exposure experiments, scratching the film, peeling off the layers, repeated copying or filming of the film. Kubelka made a film with Arnulf Rainer (1958 to 1960) that consisted only of alternating black and white fields; the flicker effect made it a forerunner of the flicker film of the 1960s with its perception experiments . The advent of video technology and image processing by computer led to new image experiments, but abstract film as an independent, consistently developing film movement came to an end in the 1980s.

Motifs and forms of representation

Scenes of the Diagonal Symphony

The will to combine elements of music and painting in the medium of film is evident in the artists' statements that absolute film should be "music for the eye" (Eggeling), "painting with time" (Ruttmann) or "optical rhythm" ( Judge). While Eggeling in Diagonal-Symphonie (1923/1924) worked with static, changing figurations of white lines, Ruttmann emphasized the spatiality of the film image in his Rhythm Films (1921 to 1925) by moving geometric surfaces into depth and figures. Ruttmann often gave his objects an organic appearance and movement, made them look like water bubbles and, among the abstract filmmakers, comes closest to figurative representations. Richter, on the other hand, went the opposite way and abstracted what was actually filmed, such as eyeballs and faces.

Man Ray worked similarly in France, who exposed objects such as nails and needles directly on the film strip. He thus incorporated the carrier medium and thus the process of creation into the film. Also Fernand Léger distorted everyday objects such as kitchen appliances by light setting and movement to abstraction. The filmmakers of the New American Cinema took advantage of the highly developed possibilities of the American animation film and employed technical aids such as oscilloscopes . In the 1950s and 1960s, abstraction shifted increasingly to film post-production, to editing, sound and manipulation of the filmed material.

Since the late 1960s, the experimental-abstracting aspect also related to the projection of the films. In Hans Scheugl's ZZZ Hamburg special from 1968, for example, a string was projected onto the screen instead of a film. According to the idea of expanded cinema, film screenings took place on three-dimensional objects without a screen or were accompanied by performances . The pictorial character of abstract film has been used in many video clips since the 1980s , namely in the fractals and mandalas of many techno videos.


  • Hans Scheugl / Ernst Schmidt jr .: A sub-story of film. Lexicon of avant-garde, experimental and underground films , volumes 1 and 2. Frankfurt: Suhrkamp, ​​1974.
  • Christian Kiening / Heinrich Adolf (ed.): The absolute film. Documents of the media avant-garde (1912–1936) , Zurich: Chronos, 2012.

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