Experiments In Film: The Return To Reason (1923)

While Luis Bunuel is certainly the name associated with surrealist filmmaking, his colleague and notable surrealist artist Man Ray certainly experimented with his own forms of cinema.  Far more fracture and less dreamlike than Bunuel, Man Ray's films, like his photographs studied and altered significantly viewers perceptions of spatial relation.  This concern with the relations of image was most focused on use of black and white space and how that changes when an image is made negative.  It is quite apparent upon viewing the work of Man Ray, specifically his films that he is concerned with creating a visual onslaught of imagery that overlaps, collides and becomes nearly seizure inducing while viewing.  To put it simply, Ray was concerned with creating a disconcerting viewing experience far before Bunuel ever delivered the oneiric and haunting cutting of an eyeball that would forever change cinema via Un Chien Andalou.  Man Ray is a forefather of experimental filmmaking and his piece Le Retour A La Raison, or The Return to Reason is his crowning achievement.

The Return to Reason is hybrid of photographed images, found footage and filmed imagery that attaches together rather sporadically to create a sense of disconnect to the viewer in which familiarity is offered and then quickly removed from access.  This is apparent from his imagery that includes the very familiar shape of nails crossing over the screen, however, the movement is so incoherent and exaggerated that it is jarring to view and almost threatening to watch as the nails seem to move closer to the screen as though they would pop out and lunge at the viewer only to become a negative image, in which the nails appear to sink back into the film.  Even images such as swaying lights and revolving carousels become things of nightmares as they linger on the screen fading in and out of shadows as though they were spectral illusions.  Even when viewers are offered clear and obvious signs or sheets of paper dangling, Man Ray distorts these images to completely destroy ones semiotic comfort with the explainable image.  To Man Ray only one thing is reasonable and that image consumes that closing portions of the film.  The film closes on an image of a nude rotating female body, which is both an artistically masterful shot and an incredibly problematic close, implying a desirous gaze by the viewer to consume the only no altered image in the entire film, making its normalcy almost fetishized object.  While Man Ray does indeed return to a reasonable image, it is tragically quite misogynist. 

To find out more information on Man Ray or to watch The Return To Reason click on the images below, although fair warning the video is technically NSFW:

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