Monday 18 February 2013

Cinemagogic Echoes? Len Lye's FREE RADICALS (1958) and Fernando Solanas and Octavio Getino's HOUR OF THE FURNACES (1968)

CINEMAGOGIC ECHOES? from Catherine Grant on Vimeo.

A real-time comparison, for scholarly purposes, of Len Lye's 1958 experimental animation FREE RADICALS and the opening minutes of Fernando Solanas and Octavio Getino's 1968 Grupo Cine Liberación activist film  LA HORA DE LOS HORNOS/HOUR OF THE FURNACES

[Len] Lye's Free Radicals (1958) […] is a black and white scratch animation short, cut to the insistent rhythmic accompaniment of an African drum solo.* It immediately calls to mind the unforgettable opening scenes of Octavio Getino and Fernando Solanas' Third Cinema classic La hora de los hornos/The Hour of the Furnaces (1968).** While equally exciting and radical, these strikingly similar films hint at the extent to which the world and the political landscape had changed in the decade between their respective release dates, and between then and now. We have no way of knowing if Getino and Solanas knew of Len Lye's film. We know, however, that films exchange ideas, talking to one another across time, and that the conversation between radical aesthetics and radical politics is ongoing, with both daring to 'make it new' and set the world on its feet, by turning it upside down. [Jerry Whyte, 'Free Radicals',, December 11, 2011. Online at:]
A demonstration and a lesson, The Hour of the Furnaces imports into cinema the affirmative aesthetics of the written political treatise. A collective ideal informs the whole film. It anticipates a liberated time. It’s not the product of a single voice but of a chorus of poems (Marti, Césaire), manifestos (Fanon, Guevara, Castro, Juan José Hernández Arregui) and films (by Fernando Birri, Joris Ivens, Nemesio Juárez). It conjoins the powers of didacticism, poetry and agogy (the agogic qualities of a work concern its rhythmic, sensible, physical properties – a notion suggested by the French aesthetician Etienne Souriau). Stylistically, the film uses all possible audiovisual techniques, from flicker to contemplative sequence shots (for instance, the final three-minute shot that reproduces a picture of the dead Che Guevara’s face with his eyes wide open), from collage to direct cinema, from blank screen to animated effects, from the rigours of the blackboard to the hallucinogenic properties of the fish-eye, from classical music to anglophone pop hits. Cinema is an arsenal and here all its weapons are unsheathed. [Nicole Brenez, 'Light my fire: The Hour of the Furnaces', Sight and Sound Magazine, 8 March 2012. Online at:]
'Agogics' is a musical term that designates the use of agogic accents, that is accents consisting in a lengthening of the time-value of the note. The philosopher Étienne Souriau extended the use of the term to include all the arts existing in time. He defined 'agogics' as \what characterizes an artwork that takes place in time, through movement, and specifically through the creation of a fast or slow pace, or the use of different rhythms.' For musicians, the notion is related to gesture, to physical movements, to a bodily interaction with their instrument, to a sense of speed, an energy, a precise handling of a piece. [Christian Jacquemin et al, 'Emergence of New Institutions for Art-Science Collaboration...' [date unknown], Online at: Hyperlinks added by FSFF
Souriau developed his idea of the agogic as an explicit reaction to the ‘rather banal description [of] arts of space in contrast to the phonetic and cinematic arts’. [Of] interest is Popper’s use of the term to describe the quality of temporal pattern that he identifies in a range of works. At one extreme [..].] is the velocity and dramatic choreography of a Len Lye installation. The term agogic conflates speed, acceleration and duration and would appear to be a significant aspect of kinetic form. [Jules Moloney, Designing Kinetics for Architectural Facades: State Change (New York: Taylor and Francis, 2011), p. 64.]
Film Studies For Free's author has been a tad busy elsewhere lately - and there will be lots to catch up with at this blog in due course.

But today FSFF is thrilled to present its (by distance) contribution to a teach-in which took place earlier today. This video was produced in a few hours this morning, using readily available materials for quotation (see above and below), in solidarity with a campus occupation that you can choose to read more about here.

Staff and students of media and cultural studies, working in a deeply personal, activist capacity, gave short presentations on their research and thinking about ideas of resistance, occupation and neoliberalism in the context of the university and beyond, in order to consider how research in their fields might offer new and diverse perspectives on activism and resistance.

FSFF has always liked its politics, like its film studies, to have rhythm and timing, so its research project today foregrounds those elements. You can find its author's scholarly discussion of this kind of "real-time" videographic comparison here: 'Déjà-Viewing? Videographic Experiments in Intertextual Film Studies', MEDIASCAPE: Journal of Cinema and Media, Winter 2013.

FSFF has devoted a number of previous entries to online and openly accessible resources on Third Cinema and revolutionary aesthetics in the past. See especially this bumper post and this more recent one

And you can find the two films quoted from above, in low-res online video versions, as per the details and links below.


jeni thornley said...

Thanks your intertextual video essay! By the way, your link to Len Lye's film gives the url to Hour of the Furnaces (as if Free Radicals is now absorbed-merged in Hour of the Furnaces....interesting idea!)

Catherine Grant said...

So that's why I thought they were similar! Thanks a lot for pointing out my error, Jeni. I've corrected it now. While I am replying to your comment I can also flag up the good news, that I heard from @GovettBrewster on Twitter, that there are plans for a centre dedicated Len Lye. Read about this here.