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Joseph Cornell

A patient collection of small things, apparently insignificant, but assembled in a way that compose a cosmos that reaches the deepest of human emotions, the unfathomable nostalgia of an unassailable reminiscence. Such are Cornell’s boxes and collages, and so are his (much less well-known) films, the fruit of a relentless quest, as described by Maria Negroni, “a festival of dead childhood”, “a repertoire of sad joys for terminal beings.” Cornell, one of the greatest American artists associated with surrealism, was born in 1903 and died in 1972, and lived his entire life in a house in Utopia Parkway, Queens, New York, with his mother and his paralytic brother. With him he shared his love for movies, which they saw together, and Cornell began to reedit, like a purge of his fascination, those films he got at street markets and secondhand shops. Birds, views of cities, children, silent movie stars, nineteenth century toys, ballet dancers, circus numbers, maps, dreams, stars. They are some of the things that both his films and his art compile, the waste of a city that speaks of his intimate history, and can almost be read, like his boxes, as journals of Cornell’s personal obsessions. This program compiles a few (not everything we wanted to) of his found footage movies, which belong to his first stage as a filmmaker (the 1940s: he would then film through the eyes of, say, Stan Brakhage and Rudy Buckhardt), many of them were later finished by another filmmaker who was also his assistant, Larry Jordan. A group of movies that are among the most strangely poignant ever seen.

Acknowledgements: Mónica Savirón.

Rose Hobart
1936, 16mm, 17 min.

Rose Hobart is believed to be the first found footage movie ever. The source material is a 1931 Universal film, East of Borneo, wild and exotic B series starring actress Rose Hobart. Cornell edits his film with almost all the sequences in which Hobart appears. History, logic and causality disappear, and there remains only evocation, gestures, dream, palm trees in cardboard. Cornell used to project the film with a blue filter (hence some copies are tinted in that color, although in his last preservation Cornell decided to change it into pink), while a record was played at 78 rpm as a soundtrack.

The Children’s Trilogy
1940-1969, 16mm, 8 min.
The Midnight Party
1940-1969, 16mm 3 min.
The Children’s Party
1940-1969, 16mm, 8 min.

Until 1968 it was thought that Rose Hobart was the only film-collage made by Cornell. When Lawrence Jordan began working as his assistant, he was ordered to finish three unfinished films of the 1930s. From there comes the so called The Children’s Trilogy, a children’s movie edited by the one who was an eternal child, Cornell. A children’s party, acrobats, dancers, galaxy, a child Lady Godiva, tricks with animals, primitive special effects, among many other things. A world suspended in time.

1940, 16mm, 8 min.
Jack’s Dream
1940, 16mm, 8 min.
Thimble Theater
1940, 16mm, 8 min.

“Cornell’s editing has not been tampered with. It is sometimes minimal (the editing), sometimes extensive, always sensitive. I did not change it, as I did the entire re-edit of Cornell’s Legend for Fountains. Jack’s Dream, for instance, is a puppet animation into which Cornell has inserted a few shots from other material -just enough to throw it into the sphere of artful fantasy. Whereas Carrousel is a fully edited animal piece. There is no way now of determining the order in which the films were made, or even the exact years, but it was some time in the ’40s. I have added soundtracks to two of the films, using existing notes which Cornell left.”(Lawrence Jordan)

“The fantasy is meticulous and increases with the panels Cornell interleaves to cut the story: a frigate sinks, another one fights a pirate ship, there is an aerial dance at the bottom of the sea, several sea-horses dance to the rhythm of Débussy. Yes now. Not now. The dog dreams that he dreams. Chance is a guided tour and Cornell knows it.” (María Negroni on Jack’s Dream)

Duration: 60 min. CGAI – 31/05. 20.30h.

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