Saturday, May 2, 2009

Avant-Garde: Allegretto (1936, Oskar Fischinger)

Allegretto (1936)
USA, 3 min
Directed by: Oskar Fischinger

My first film from director Oskar Fischinger {though he did work on Lang's Frau im Mond (1929)} is, I hear, characteristic of his career in film: abstract animation synchronised to a musical rhythm. Allegretto (1936), his first project following his arrival in Hollywood, was originally commissioned as a segment of Paramount's The Big Broadcast of 1937 (1936), but the production was later changed from Technicolor to black-and-white, and only a butchered version of Fischinger's film found its way into the final release. In any case, to deprive the animation of its colours is to remove most of its charm, something akin to watching Fantasia (1940) in greyscale. Fischinger uses the movement of geometric shapes to visually represent music melodies, in this case Ralph Rainger's "Radio Dynamics," but it's the breathtakingly vivid colours that most strongly capture the pulsating energy of the jazz tune.

Something about Fischinger's animation struck me as naggingly-familiar, but I can't quite put my finger on it. The entire film somehow resembles the sort of euphoria that a film character experiences when they step into a mighty Las Vegas casino, entering a world where suddenly everything seems possible {I'm not exactly sure why I specifically envisioned a casino – maybe it was the vibrant choice of colours, the floating diamond shapes, or the fact that I watched The Shanghai Gesture (1941) just last night}. The pulsating geometry also reminded me of the animation sequence in Hitchcock's Vertigo (1958). Afterall, I suppose that making random subjective associations is exactly what abstract cinema is all about. Allegretto also has the benefit of a swinging jazz track that is massively enjoyable even on its own, but Fischinger adds colour, movement, and brings the music to life.

1 comment:

  1. This film is available on the Oskar Fischinger DVD, released by Center for Visual Music,

    On the DVD are 10 of his films plus early experiments; it includes silent films, live action (Walking from Munich to Berlin) and a variety of styles throughout some of his classics.


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