The Collection of Robert Shapazian
While living in New York during the fall of 1920, Duchamp wrote to his sister Suzanne and her husband Jean Crotti in Paris telling him that he acquired a "Moving Picture Camera," but that the film is so expensive that he needs to pace out his "cinematographic outpourings" (M. Duchamp to J. Crotti and S. Duchamp, dated "20th Oct. approx," Papers of Jean Crotti, Archives of American Art, Smithsonian Institution, Washington, D.C.; see F. M. Naumann and H. Obalk, eds., Affectionately, Marcel: The Selected Correspondence of Marcel Duchamp Ludion Press, Ghent and Amsterdam 2000, p. 94). We know that with the assistance of Man Ray, Duchamp tried to mount two cameras together to shoot a stereoscopic film of an optical machine he had constructed (see lot no. 128), but the film was destroyed in the developing process, and that they had also tried to shoot a film of Man Ray shaving the pubic hair of Baroness Elsa von Freytag-Loringhoven, but that film, too, seems have shared a similar fate (only a few frames survive). While visiting his parents in Rouen in 1921, Duchamp wrote to his friends and patrons Louise and Walter Arensberg in New York, telling them that he was looking for a job in the film industry, "not as an actor, rather as an assistant cameraman" (M. Duchamp to L. and W. Arensberg, 15 November . Papers of Walter and Louise Arensberg, the Philadelphia Museum of Art, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania; see F. M. Naumann and H. Obalk, eds., Affectionately, Marcel, p. 102). Charles Demuth, who was visiting Paris at the time, reported in a letter to Alfred Stieglitz that Duchamp was quite serious about his filmmaking activities. "Marcel, dear Marcel, is doing some wonderful movies," he wrote, and "seems to be the only one really working" (C. Demuth to A. Stieglitz, quoted in P. Hulten, ed., Marcel Duchamp, Cambridge, 1993; , see J. Gough-Cooper and J. Caumont, "Ephemerides," entry for 11/01/1921).
Exactly which films Duchamp was working on at the time are unknown. In the early 1920s (sometime between 1923 and 1926), we know that Duchamp got the idea of making a film that combined his interest in optical experiments with his fascination for puns and word games. On July 28, 1921 (the occasion of Duchamp's 34th birthday), Henri-Pierre Roché, John Quinn and Jeanne Robert Foster visit Duchamp and his brother Jacques Villion in the latter's studio on the Rue Lemaître in Puteaux where they admire Le Cheval by Duchamp-Villon and a bicycle wheel on which Duchamp has attached his spirals for filming, an event that was recorded by Roché in his diary (C. H.-P. Roché, Carnets: Les Années Jules et Jim, Première Partie 1920-21 Jim, Marseille, 1990, p. 295). Man Ray also describes his filmmaking activities with Duchamp, but seems to confuse sessions that took place in Paris with those that took place in New York (M. Ray, Self Portrait, London, 1963, pp. 99-100). Man Ray was now living in Paris and, together, they worked on this project by attaching circular-spiral designs that Duchamp had made to his bicycle wheel, spinning them, and filming the results. At some point, Duchamp decided to intersperse the optical forms with examples of his puns. Most of the puns that he selected had appeared in earlier publications, but here--by attaching small-scale marquee letters to the surface of a cardboard disk, which was in turn glued to the surface of a 78-rpm record--their text was arranged in the pattern of a corkscrew or spiral, matching the pattern generated by the spinning spiral disks. The process of making the film was laborious and time-consuming, for in those days film speed was so slow that moving images tended to blur. It was necessary, therefore, to shoot the entire film frame-by-frame, placing each disk on the bicycle wheel and moving it only a millimeter at a time before opening the camera lens for the next exposure. "The thing took us a week or ten days to do it," Duchamp later recalled. "It was a little jerky at times, because we didn't do it very very well" (From an unpublished interview with Sidney, Harriet and Carroll Janis, 1953, transcript, p. 86). The results was a film called Anémic Cinéma, an appropriate title, some might argue, for during the entire seven minutes of its duration, the audience is subjected to a continuous viewing of revolving spirals, the pulsating action of which could easily cause some members of the audience to become nauseated.
Among the most popular and gracefully rhythmic of Duchamp's puns is the one that reads ESQUIVONS LES ECCHYMOSES DES ESQUIMAUX AUX MOTS EXQUIS. This sentence was first published in a slightly variant form as "Nous estimons les ecchymoses des Esquimaux aux mots exquis" (We esteem the bruises of the Eskimos of exquisite words).
Duchamp's puns have always presented a challenge for translators, but the puns in Anémic Cinéma were skillfully translated and analyzed in an article by Katrina Martin. Excerpts of her translation of the ECCHYMOSES pun follows:
"Let us flee from (cleverly and with some disdain) the bruises of the Eskimoes who have exquisite words."
L'ENFANT QUI TÊTE EST UN SOUFFLEUR DE CHAIR CHAUDE ET N'AIME PAS LE CHOU-FLEUR DE SERRE CHAUDE" is also analyzed by Katrina Martin:
This sentence can also be divided into three:
L'enfant qui tête
est un souffleur de chair chaude
et n'aime pas le chou-fleur de serre chaude.
A literal translation would be: The child who nurses is a sucker (blower) of hot flesh and does not like the cauliflower of the hot glass-house.
Duchamp has said, "I would like to grasp an idea as the vagina grasps the penis." Serrer (v.) means to grasp, and then... ET N'AIME PAS LE CHOU-FLEUR DE SERRE CHAUDE would mean... who does not like the flowering genitals of the hot sexual grasp (K. Martin, "Anémic- Cinéma," Studio International 189, no. 973, January-February 1975 p. 56).