- Program and introduction by Steven Jacobs
- Live music by Casper Jacobs
In 1929 – 30, Belgian filmmaker Henri Storck made Pour vos beaux yeux (For Your Beautiful Eyes), a film about a man who finds a glass eye. The visceral fascination for the (disembodied, mutilated, blinded or transformed) eye is not only reminiscent of the famous opening shot from Luis Buñuel’s Un chien andalou (1929), it also tallies with the iconography of Surrealism in general: from the paintings and photographs by René Magritte, Max Ernst, Salvador Dalí and Man Ray to the writings of Georges Bataille. For these artists, the eye, a slimy organ a the exterior of our bodies, marks the border between an inner and outer world. In that sense, the eye became an interesting motif for exploring the surreal in the real – precisely the ambition of many Surrealist photographers and filmmakers.
Taking Storck’s Pour vos beaux yeux as its cue, this program combines various films in which eyes are prominently present en in which various optical modalities are explored: from a 1930 British newsreel on spectacles for visually-impaired cats to Man Ray’s 1926 Emak Bakia with its opening shot identifying the human eye with the mechanical lens of the film camera. Other moments in the film show us eyes juxtaposed to headlights of a car or painted on the eyelids of Kiki de Montparnasse but, first and foremost, eyes are integrated in the new optical techniques (Rayographs, multiple exposures, soft focus, et cetera) that Man Ray employed in this ciné-poème. With the help of kaleidoscopic effects, Man Ray presents cinema as the ultimate art of light and transparency – something that tallies perfectly with the unstoppable fascination for (prosthetic) eyes, lenses, spectacles, mirroring or transparent surfaces, windows, prisms, telescopes, microscopes and cameras that we can find in the modernist photographs from that era as well as the abstract films by Henri Chomette, Fernand Léger and László Moholy-Nagy. Light Rhythms (1930) by Francis Bruguière and Oswell Blakeston is completely made along these lines with its light dancing over the folded paper shapes that Bruguière already photographed in the late 1920s. In his Filmstudie (1926), Hans Richter even emphasizes the logics of the new optical paradigm by combining abstract animation, moving light effects and prismatic distortions with impressive shots of eyes (both human and artificial).
For (post)surrealist filmmakers such films were not only capable of producing impressionist light effects, they also could evoke an inner vision – not so much a vision based on Freudian dream narratives but on a fragmented ocularity reminiscent of the strange optical effects that occur when we, for instance, push on our eyeballs. After the Second World War, this logic was at the heart of famous film experiments by Stan Brakhage but also inspired On Eye Rape (1962) by the Japanese filmmaker Takahiko Iimura, who punched holes in the frames of an educational film on the reproduction of plants and animals – a strategy involving a literal mutilation of the film strip and resulting in an assault on the hyperstimulated eyes of the spectator.
Storck created Pour vos beaux yeux together with Félix Labisse. This French Surrealist painter, illustrator and scenographer wrote the scenario and played the lead role. Living in Ostend at the time, Labisse would collaborate frequently with Storck. In 1928, both were founding members of the Club du Cinéma d’Ostende and they both contributed to the journal Tribord (1930−31). Apart from Pour vos beaux yeux, Labisse was also involved in other films by Storck such as La mort de Vénus (1930) and Une idylle à la plage (1931). Later, when Storck went on to become a prominent maker of art documentaries, he dedicated two films to the art of Labisse: The Happiness of Being Loved (1962) and The Misfortunes of War (1962).
At that time, Labisse’s works had been visualized earlier by French filmmaker Alain Resnais in his Visite à Félix Labisse (1947), a film being part of an entire series of 16mm film portraits of artists representing various trends within the so-called École de Paris: post-cubism (Henri Goetz), geometric abstraction (César Doméla), lyrical or organic abstraction (Hans Hartung, Christine Boumeester) and a Surrealist-inspired figuration (Lucien Coutaud, Oscar Dominguez, Max Ernst and Félix Labisse). Like in the other films from the series, Visite à Félix Labisse combines shots of the artist at work with footage that animates the static artworks by means of editing and camera movements. Evidently, Resnais also draws our attention to the eyes in Labisse’s works.
This program was originally created for Monokino’s SHHH Festival in Ostend last September. For the screening in Ghent, the order of the program will be slightly optimized and Casper Jacobs will extend his musical accompaniment to more of the films.
Steven Jacobs is an art and film historian (UGent, UAntwerpen) specialized in the relations between film and the visual arts.