1. The photographic paradox
W. Strauven, “Futurist Poetics and the Cinematic
Imagination: Marinetti’s Cinema without Films”, in Futurism and the
Technological Imagination 201-228.
“We despise the precise, mechanical, glacial reproduction of reality, and take the utmost care to avoid it. For us this is a harmful and negative element, whereas for cinematography and chronophotography it is the very essence.” (38), argues Anton Giulio Bragaglia in his Futurist Photodynamism manifesto, as another paradox shapes into the artistic movement founded by Marinetti. Although in the middle of an age where photography was a new, developing technique, the Futurists that praised the mechanical, were quite skeptic in regards to the rigor mortis of an image produced by the camera. Yet, as the movement was growing, this technological novelty was ideal for “propagandistic” means, especially since Futurism was associated with the Fascist ideology that needed a strong visual component so as to reach a nation and even more. Gerardo Regnani underlines: “Nonetheless, the use of photographic images as part of the Futurist public relations machinery stood in marked contrast to the Futurists’ conflicting relationship with photography as an artistic medium” (179), therefore pointing to the clear separation between photography as art and techne.
In fact, this debate was quite strong as the Futurists couldn’t consider it an Art: apparently, it stood against all their principles of glorifying speed, becoming one with the machine and create a dynamic reality. Photography imprisoned reality, transforming it into an object of representation, thus making it part of history and, even more, Death, the very concepts that Futurists tried to erase: “but when I discover myself in the product of this operation, what I see is that I have become Total-Image, which is to say, Death in person” (Barthes, 14). Another paradox insinuates itself here, as after years of harsh debates inside the Futurist movement (the Bragaglia-Boccioni conflict), still they accepted photography as an artistic practice only regarding self-portraiture. “The Futurists hoped that the photographic portrait would assume allegorical, narrative, imaginary, psychological and heraldic dimensions” (Carey, 226), achieving therefore the ultimate control over the lens and creating the dynamic, vital force associated with the movement. It is intriguing how a practice that rendered the subject to History, was now the same practice that could transform the self into the undeniable, violent force.
Photography evolved in the Futurists’ perception from the static, “passeist” practice, to the tool that transformed the artist into the “iconic image” of the hero, the revolutionary. Still, for that to become possible, the experiments of the Bragaglia brothers with “photodynamism”, trying to capture “moving images”, represented the crucial starting point, as they were the first “Futurists” to acknowledge the power of photography as “performance”. Nonetheless, it was that same power which could get out of their reach, distorting the artistic message. As Regnani further points: “Their typical response was to control the risk by using ‘emblematic photography’. This solution allowed them to promote their “authentic” vision of the Futurist movement in a safe manner” (189). Therefore, this control took the shape of portrait and photo-montage, displacing the body from a finite reality into the realm of infinite representations, of “wireless imagination”, shaping an ideal form or as Regnani calls it, “an ideal extension of the mind and, therefore, a technological ‘prosthesis’ of the modern individual in his or her interaction with the natural, social and technological world” (186).
Ergo, photography, although despised at first as merely a tool, gained its status as an aesthetic practice, reuniting once again man and machine through the intervention of the lens. It was, once more, a spiritual question of freedom, which the Futurists, paradoxically, had to control in order to create their desired results in the photographic image.
2. The cinematic eye
It is curious how, if the Futurists adopted photographic practices only in the 30s, when it came to a new medium that appeared and seemed to respond to all their programmatic ideals, they somehow failed to use it at its fullest potential. “The Futurist cinema, which we are preparing, a joyful deformation of the universe, an alogical, fleeting synthesis of life in the world, will become the best school for boys: a school of joy, of speed, of force, of courage, and heroism.”, postulated the manifesto The Futurist Cinema signed by Marinetti, Bruno Corra, Emilio Settimelli, Arnaldo Ginna, Giacomo Balla and Remo Chiti. It was a new technology freed from any historical dimension and traditions that the Futurists could shape according to their desires. In fact, cinematography which dealt with moving images could recreate the “wireless imagination” and “words-in-freedom” that the print limited in more ways. And this was, apparently, easy to achieve by the technique of montage. “Marinetti proposed selecting images from our mental warehouse, assembling them into ‘tight networks’ in order to make them automatically follow on, one after another.” (Strauven, 206), as the free analogies mimicking thoughts would now be represented on screen.
Yet, the incongruence of desire versus reality in means of technological possibilities is present once more. As Wanda Strauven presents Marinetti’s vision of cinema as irrational, wireless montage of spontaneous analogies, a striking paradox appears – cinematography has, in fact, its own syntax and structure (considering that time when it resembled theatre) and at that time, it was not as evolved as it is today in order to generate the visual representations sought by the Futurists. Maybe, the clear example of Bragaglia’s Thais, the single movie remained from the Futurist legacy, underlines where the cinematography failed as a technique for achieving the movement’s aesthetic principles. Or is it so?
If I take into account Millicent Marcus’ view on how Thais is presented, then the whole allegory of getting rid of the old and embrace the new and its violence makes sense. “If we agree that the concluding four-minute sequence of Thais really is a cinematic breakthrough, what are we to make of the film’s first twenty-two minutes?” he asks, just as to create a whole symbolic interpretation of the first twenty-two minutes as the representation of passeism which has to be destroyed, just as Thay’s body has to be destroyed, so as to give birth to a new aesthetics, of free analogies and pure reality. “When Thais enters into her secret chamber in the concluding sequence, she leaves behind the screenplay and moves into a space of cinema puro where image, editing and the scenoplastica say it all, and even Bragaglia’s intertitles become superfluous” (69). Still, the fact that Marcus implies that hints of this interpretation are scattered through the whole film, leaves me a bit reserved, making me wonder if this was implicitly created by Bragaglia himself.
All in all, cinematography is another aspect of the Futurist foggy legacy, as it doesn’t manage to fulfill the aesthetic ideal of the artist. Still, once more the need to combine spiritual and mechanical as the ultimate scope, see the ending of the cinematic manifesto: “Painting + sculpture + plastic dynamism + words-in-freedom + composed noises [intonarumori] + architecture + synthetic theatre = Futurist cinema”, remains yet a vision that goes beyond avangardist thoughts.
3. How photodynamism and scenoplastica reconcile in the future
If Bragaglia’s attempts to recreate the vital force through photographic practices or to announce the death of the “passeism” in aesthetics through the “moving image” created controversies and didn’t achieve its final purpose inside the Futurist movement, nowadays we can find examples of this legacy inside cinema and, moreover, through the internet.
Aligning with the innovative Man with the Movie Camera by Dziga Vertov, there is another recent work that, even more, resembles the Futurist ideas of free analogies, wireless imagination and infinity of thought. Made in 1992, the experimental documentary Baraka presents a series of photographed scenes connected through music, as a dynamic reality and spiritual state of mind. It is the very “cinematic simultaneity and interpretation of different times and places” as the Futurists desired, although in only one work of art. In other words, it is the “remediation” (in Bolter and Grusin terms meaning that an old medium is reshaped inside a new medium) of photography inside cinema.
But how do we further link Futurists and remediation? It is, yet, another paradox that maybe Marinetti wouldn’t agree upon, but modern art, in fact, is the ultimate remediated product, creating the need for a “wireless imagination” just as to escape the limitation of reality. As Bolter and Grusin argue, “High modern visual art was also self-justifying, as it offered the viewer a visual experience that he was not expected to validate by referring to the external world” (344), meaning that the ultimate experience was one inside the work of art and for it. If Futurism represents the starting point of this high modern visual art, it is interesting how their ideals of getting art and life together still ended up in a museum. In fact, moving from the cinematograph as the space for “moving images”, the modern visual art that presents mixes of different media in free analogies (as Marinetti sought) can be “consumed” inside what are now known as unconventional spaces for creativity: modern art museums, galleries and so on. But maybe it is the very different approach of these spaces of “performance” that fulfills the ideal of Futurists to destroy museums as traditional institutions in order to achieve an eternal present (the fact that modern visual “performances” are consumed in real-time or function through repeated projections may be this same quest for the ultimate freedom).
In conclusion, the realm of visual was yet limited as technology at that point, but nowadays, at a more or less unconscious level, Art resembles and fulfills some of the Futurism desires.
A.G. Bragaglia, “Futurist Photodynamism ”, http://www.italianfuturism.org/manifestos/futuristphotomanifesto/
F.T. Marinetti, B. Corra, E. Settimelli, A. Ginna, G. Balla, R. Chiti, “The Futurist Cinema ”, http://www.unknown.nu/futurism/cinema.htm
Roland Barthes Camera Lucida. Reflections on Photography.
Hill and Wang, 1982: 3-60 New York
Jay David Bolter and Richard Grusin, “Remediation,” Configurations 4:3 (1996): 311-358
S. Carey, “From fotodinamismo to fotomontaggio: The Legacy of Futurism's Photography”, Carte italiane 2.6 (2010): 221-237
M. Marcus, “Anton Giulio Bragaglia’s Thaïs; or, The Death of the Diva + the Rise of the Scenoplastica = The Birth of Futurist Cinema”, South Central Review 13.2-3 (1996): 63-81.
G. Regnani, “Futurism and Photography: Between Scientific Inquiry and Aesthetic Imagination”, in Futurism and the Technological Imagination, ed. Günter Berghaus (
Amsterdam / : Rodopi, 2009) 177-199. New