August 05, 2009
Nijinsky 'dances' — 'L'après-midi d'un faune' (The Afternoon of a Faun)
Or does he?
In a June 29, 2009 "Talk of the Town" piece in The New Yorker, dance critic Joan Acocella reported on the appearance over the past year on YouTube of the first footage ever seen of Nijinsky dancing (above and below).
But Christian Comte, the French artist who calls himself "an alchemist in animated cinema" who posted the footage doesn't claim to have discovered archival film.
Read the story for yourself and decide if Comte's guilty of perpetrating a fraud, as some who've viewed the footage have commented, or instead has given us something "astonishing."
Many of the makers of early-twentieth-century dance distrusted film; they thought that it made their art look toylike, foolish. As a result, there is no footage, for example, of Vaslav Nijinsky, who may have been the greatest dancer of the century. The fact that his career was so short—he went mad at twenty-nine—makes this void more painful. Couldn’t we have had even a glimpse?
Strange to say, we were recently offered one. Last July, a YouTube user posted what he called a film fragment of Nijinsky in his 1912 ballet “The Afternoon of a Faun.” Since then, the same source has added three more clips of the Russian dancer in “Faun,” plus one each of him in “The Spectre of the Rose,” “Scheherazade,” “The Blue God,” and “Les Orientales.” The eight segments add up to about three minutes.
These ballets are all Nijinsky vehicles from the early, fabled, took-Paris-by-storm period of Diaghilev’s Ballets Russes. Most of them were hits, but none of them, today, are as important as “The Afternoon of a Faun,” the first ballet that Nijinsky choreographed and the only ballet of his that survives. In it, a little woodland creature (Nijinsky) spies a nymph bathing in a stream, chases her, catches her, loses her, and then consoles himself with her scarf. The ballet immediately became famous (indeed, notorious—Le Figaro denounced it as “filthy and bestial”), and in 1912 the fashion photographer Adolf de Meyer made a long, almost measure-by-measure record of it. Those gorgeous stills, because they were published in a book, were stamped on the brains of people who cared about Nijinsky. Now, suddenly, on YouTube, here they were again, except moving! It was like watching Atlantis rise from the sea.
And then, after a minute or so, it wasn’t. Weren’t these frames too close to the de Meyer photographs? Why was the camera moving in and out, a technique unknown in 1912?
Because, it turns out, these aren’t films. They are computer-generated artifacts, made by Christian Comte, a French artist who has a studio in Cannes. Reached the other day, Comte acknowledged his authorship. “These films are animations of photographs, achieved thanks to a process that I invented,” he said. “I work as an alchemist in animated cinema.” He uses still photographs and, by employing a computer to alter them—tilt a head, move an arm—fills in the gaps between successive shots. That’s why his “Faun” footage is so much longer than his other footage. He had all those de Meyer stills. This is basically no different from the way Steven Spielberg got the dinosaurs to run around the jungle in “Jurassic Park.”
Comte insists that he is not trying to pass off his Nijinsky clips as authentic films. His YouTube profile page opens with a statement that it is a “mad legend” that any film of Nijinsky dancing survives. Yet he goes on to call his postings “film fragments.” All of them display the date of each ballet’s première—1910, 1911, or 1912—but they do not explain that this is not also the date of the video.
The comments on YouTube suggest that viewers are interpreting Comte’s prevarications whichever way they want. Some people kiss Comte’s hands for unearthing, at last, footage of Nijinsky dancing: “Astonishing.” “C’est superbe! ” Others reproach him for perpetrating a fraud: “It is a disservice to the arts world to present this digital creation as a genuine film of Nijinsky. Please stop this charade.” And then there is a third group—the postmodernists, let’s call them—who know that Comte’s postings are fake but like them anyway and see no shame in them. “Play your magic,” a viewer writes to Comte. “That’s Art as well.”
For many, Nijinsky is not so much a dancer as an icon: of the misunderstood artist, of the mad genius, of the sacrificial homosexual. (He was Diaghilev’s lover.) People will take just about anything they can get of him. They want gold, but fool’s gold is O.K., too.
Solar Powered LED Hat — Episode 2: Price Break
Five weeks ago, on June 27, 2009,
Episode 1 featured this fashion forward item for £29.99 ($51.78).
They've been busy out back in the skunk works
'cause now the price is down by more than half, to $24.95.
Nice work, folks.
What is it?
Answer here this time tomorrow.
Michel Gondry Limited Edition Toilet Paper — 'Notes from the throne'
"Michel's notes, sketches, and other random thoughts printed in soy-based ink on luxurious two-ply sheets."
Individually shrink-wrapped [the rolls, booboo — not each sheet].
The perfect gift for your (dare I say it?) favorite cineaste.
Get yours while supplies last.
Stormy Weather/Africa — Perpetuum Jazzile Style
Ninja Star Coat Hook
"Just screw it in and
hang your stuff on a Ninja Star."
BookTour.com — 'Where authors and audiences meet'
Immediately after I put up that Google Maps + Book Blogger mashup last Friday, the redoubtable Steven Leckart, from his new position in the high tower atop Boing Boing Gadgets , emailed me back, "Best way to keep up to speed on authors coming to speak near you is BookTour.com, IMHO."
I wonder when Steven's book tour begins?
Old News Newspaper Collector
"Swedish designer Jonas Forsman
has created the 'Old News' magazine and newspaper holder for Creatables,
a Gothenburg-based network of designers."