July 13, 2009

Two 1929 avant-garde films - H2O and Brumes d'automne.

These reviews are sort of companion pieces to one another. I consider the latter to be amongst my finest reviews, but I'll let you be the judge! Enclosed at the bottom of this post are links to watch both of the films on YouTube.

H2O (1929, Ralph Steiner) is very dull. Even at its short length of under ten minutes, it is still a chore to watch. There is really nothing interesting happening, and it is often very hard to tell what is going on. I have read that this was the filmmaker Steiner's intention, to create abstract art, but for it is far too abstract for my tastes. I am a fan of surrealism and experimentalism, and I realize that great art doesn't always have to have a point. However, during most of the duration of this film, the whole picture is too dark for one to even see what the heck is going on! There are some nice shots, especially in the last two minutes or so, but overall, it is uninteresting. The musical work is sublime, though, featuring some great takes on well-known classical pieces. Because of the score, this film is saved from being a total failure. I wouldn't watch it again, but I would definitely listen to it again. One can see where Steiner was trying to create great experimental art, but he was largely unsuccessful. I can really only reccomend H2O for those who enjoy staring at barely visible water for nearly ten minutes. 5/10

Brumes d'automne (1929, Dimitri Kirsanoff) is possibly the best avant-garde short film of all-time. It is one of the greatest films of any kind, that I have ever had the pleasure of seeing. It has so positive attributes, and no negative ones that I noticed. It is even better than Man Ray's Le Retour à la Raison, which I previously believed to be the gold standard for the quality of experimental short films. The title translates to "Autumn Mists", which the film is filled with.

Unlike most experimental works, Brumes features a clear protagonist. This unnamed character is played by the absolutely gorgeous Nadia Sibirskaïa. When we first meet this woman, she is burning papers in a fireplace. The papers are presumably letters from a lost love. Sibirskaïa's work here is a perfect example of how to act through body language. Through slight facial gestures and movements, she says so much more than words ever could. Her eyes tell the whole story for her.

Paul Devred's score is mesmerizing, and works perfectly with the tone of the film. It's also a very beautiful musical composition in its own right. However, the single most amazing aspect of the film is the cinematography by Jean de Mieville. The shots that feature water remind one of what Ralph Steiner's experimental short H2O could have been, and should have been. This film should be seen by all.

There is a real tragedy, far worse than the one in the film, and that tragedy is that there are very few people who are even aware of this film's existence, even fewer than are familiar with the director's 1926 film Ménilmontant. It is a true forgotten masterpiece. I will go so far as to call Brumes d'automne the greatest film of the 1920s that I have seen thus far. However, it is worth noting that I am still largely inexperienced in '20s film. 10/10


  1. If anyone is reading this, please comment.

  2. Find a better copy of H2O, it'd be worth it. It's on the Kino Avant-Garde of the 20s and 30s disc if that's available.

  3. Tosssssssser?

    I really want to get the Kino set. I've had my eye on it for a long time. I've finally found employment (I start at the Piggly Wiggly on Sunday, and I'll be writing an article for the blog about my first day), so I'm going to buy the set. It has many favorites I've seen and many films I haven't.

    Do you think my article is well-written, by the way?

  4. John, I swear to god, if that is you ...

    You are not blocked. I don't use MSN much. Understand?

  5. Review Mulholland Dr., please.

  6. Ask and you shall receive. It needs a rewatch, though, first. Maybe I'll watch it tomorrow or the next day.

  7. Then you can unblock me and we can discuss it.

  8. If you accuse me one more time of having blocked you, I'm going to actually block you.