Published  01/01/1975

Marcel Duchamp's Anémic-Cinéma

Marcel Duchamp's Anémic-Cinéma

by Katrina Martin

Studio International – January/February 1975, Vol. 189 No. 973


Translating the nine linguistic configurations of Marcel Duchamp’s film ANÉMIC-CINÉMA is impossible. Not only do these phrases make constant use of alliteration and the pun, both of which devices refer implicitly to the French language, but also Duchamp’s particular language may be understood only as it appears in this film. In attempting to make the linguistic aspect of Duchamp’s work accessible to those who do not speak French, I have therefore abandoned the normal method of translation, which is to superimpose a corresponding number of English words on the original film as sub-titles. Rather, what follows is a description of the nine phrases as they function with relation to the film, to Duchamp’s oeuvre, and to the French language as a whole.

Duchamp made the film with Man Ray’s help in France from 1924—26. He had earlier lived in New York from 1915—21, where he had become notorious for his work with the ‘assisted ready-mades’. Simply stated, a ready-made is an object which has been taken out of a context which is in any way conventional and placed into a new and strange one, whereby the function of the object chosen changes radically. Through the strange juxtaposition of elements, the overwhelming power of their traditional context is contradicted, and through this mitigation, the artist gains freedom to make an original comment and a unique statement.

The ready-mades took relatively little time and effort to assemble, but at the same time they were each the manifestation of a long intellectual process. Likewise, although ANÉMIC-CINÉMA is obviously not the product of daily travail in a studio, that it took two years to create is justified in this seven-minute film. Despite Duchamp’s reputed flippancy and mockery of art work, this film is a serious and coherent development of the same set of concerns found in his other major works. From ANÉMIC-CINÉMA, it is possible to make the connection to the sense of a urinal submitted in 1917 as an objet d’art, or to enjoy a very phallic object made in 1951 entitled objet dard-dard being common French slang for penis.

Duchamp gave a ready-made thorough consideration and then its actual creation was to him a ‘sort of rendezvous: ... by planning for a moment to come (on such a day, such a date, such a moment), to inscribe a ready-made.’ In 1916 he wrote a series of four postcards in which he followed established syntax but substituted words which would result in the sentences having no meaning. This he said was a considerable task, since every time a word suggested a meaning, he had to choose another in its place. Significantly, he called these post-cards Rendezvous du dimanche or Sunday Rendezvous.

Duchamp was fascinated by language and had several plans for the creation of an entirely new one. He wrote that one of these was based on consonance: ‘If what you want is a grammatical rule: the verb agrees with the subject in consonance: for instance, le nègre aigrit, les négresses aigrissent ou maigrissent, etc.’ The film ANÉMIC-CINÉMA is one realization of such a plan.

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