Anemic Cinema

Film Review by Dean Duncan Oct 20, 2014

The title is a palindrome! Marcel Duchamp’s Dada milestone is also a terrific, terrifically enjoyable little film. Anemic Cinema very nicely balances fancy and rigourous organization, whimsy and intellectual substance—which of course provides its own enjoyment. Two things are happening, or conversing with one another. First we have these spirals, coming at us in very impressive and even delightful variety. They’re hypnotic, and two ways: they draw the mind as well as the eye. (Here is one of the great benefits of the avant garde, which so often demonstrates how art needs theory and theory art.) Duchamp’s concoction addresses and then plays with one of visual modernism’s central notions. The screen in front of us is flat, manifestly 2-dimensional. And yet there is also a suggestion, a sense of depth, or at least the illusion thereof. Presentation, with still a ghost of the representational.

Anemic Cinema, like so much non-narrative, non commercial film, takes many of its cues from the discourse of painting. Film’s mostly narrative proclivities, together with the overwhelming preeminence of commercial motive, can distract us from the richly productive correlations that exist between these two complementary media. The PhD candidate and the smallest child can engage with an enjoy the central issues. It’s all an illusion, but then again it’s not, either.

That second thing: echoing the actual spirals we now encounter Duchamp’s spiraling texts, containing all manner of puns and reversals. These were derived from the Dada poet/provocateuse Rose Sélavy, though much of her meaning (anti-meaning) is obscured or outright lost in the film’s English translation. We tend to think of language for how and what it means, as part of a process of signification. As well we should. But Duchamp’s rotating words also suggest some of language’s abstract possibilities—imagine what might have happened if they could have used sound! There’s another side to modernism, of course; if we wanted we could go on to make cases for or worry about ambiguity or meaninglessness or even entropy. Let’s not. Kneads the brain, and enjoyably!