(French, 1924, 21 minutes, b&w, silent, 16mm)
Originally shown between two acts of Relache, a new opera by Francis Picabia, ENTR’ACTE was the collaborative work of the Paris Dada circle, a loose confederation of artists dedicated to a philosophy of satirical public events and aesthetic experimentation. Director René Clair was determined to use the opportunity of this short film to find ‘pure cinema,’ the specific artistic vocabulary which would reveal the essence of the medium. In the process, he was also determined to have fun.
In characteristic Dada fashion, Clair used the devices of random association and playfulness to create an event on celluloid, a collection of images which seemed to mean something, which demanded interpretation even as it purposely frustrated coherence at every turn. The film is a kind of Dada company picnic; Marcel Duchamp and Man Ray play chess, a cannon is fired by Erik Satie and Picabia, and the whole group race about in a fast-motion funeral procession. Clair’s syntax of nonsensical images defies analysis. What is one to make of the film’s many transformations, of a ballerina into a bearded man, of a legless man suddenly gaining mobility? Is this a film about sex? About death? About empire?
Yes, of course it is. The Dadaists saw in film an opportunity to assault traditional narrative verities, to ridicule “character,” “setting,” and “plot” as bourgeois conventions, to slaughter causality by using the innate dynamism of the film medium to overturn conventional Aristotelian notions of time and space. In so doing, they knew they would question the ideological underpinnings of the old era which had held the well-made story so dear. It is in the way a society tells tales to itself that one can read its most deeply-held convictions, and in 1924, the Dadaists went out in the streets and onto the rooftops in ENTR’ACTE to laugh in the face of those convictions.
— Donald Faulkner, NYS Writers Institute
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