Films by Joseph Cornell | Movie Critic's Choice | Chicago Reader

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Films by Joseph Cornell


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Films by Joseph Cornell

Outside the cult of cinema buffs (to which he belonged), few people know that box maker and collagist Joseph Cornell also made short experimental films. The Film Center owns prints of several, appropriately enough given the Art Institute's fine collection of Cornell's quirky, theatrical boxes; like the films, they re-create a child's love of the storefront nickelodeon. In 1936 his first film, Rose Hobart, debuted at the Julien Levy Gallery in New York. Cornell salvaged it from secondhand footage of a Hollywood melodrama and projected it through blue glass at the slow speed of a silent movie, adding a scratchy recording called "Holiday in Brazil" as accompaniment. Salvador Dali was so envious of Cornell's readymade cinema (like the readymade sculpture of Marcel Duchamp) that he upset the projector. (Rose Hobart can also be seen, complete with the blue glass, in the Museum of Contemporary Art's current "Hall of Mirrors" show, alongside a box Cornell made in tribute to Greta Garbo. After several surrealistic efforts Cornell initiated a series of collaborations with New York filmmakers in the 50s to produce new footage for him to edit; he never operated a camera himself, saying he disliked machines. At various times he asked Stan Brakhage, Rudy Burckhardt, and Larry Jordan to join him on his walks through Manhattan and Queens and to record what he saw. Often he tried to preserve on celluloid favorite places that were endangered; Centuries of June (1955) features a home near his own that was slated for demolition. Making fantasy from private perception was Cornell's goal, and some viewers might be frustrated by the stillness of his fairy-tale world. As poet Charles Simic quipped, "If you love watching movies from the middle on, Cornell is your director." But as Cornell biographer Deborah Solomon points out, The Aviary, a 1954 homage to the pigeons of Union Square, is a cinematic version of the many boxes Cornell made for birds, and through the film we inhabit the box at last, barely aware that we have learned how to fly. On the same program, Bookstalls, Angels, Children, and Vaudeville De-Luxe. Film Center, Art Institute, Columbus Drive at Jackson, Tuesday, November 11, 4:15, 312-443-3737. --Stephen Longmire

Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): The Aviary film still.

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