Wednesday, 20 February 2013

Cinemagogic Echoes? Len Lye's FREE RADICALS (1958) and Fernando Solanas and Octavio Getino's HOUR OF THE FURNACES (1968)

Above is another of my real-time videographic comparisons, created for the scholarly purposes of exploring instances of cinematic intertextuality, or 'déjà-viewing'. This time, it's a synchronous juxtaposition of Len Lye's 1958 experimental animation FREE RADICALS with the opening minutes of Fernando Solanas and Octavio Getino's 1968 Grupo Cine Liberación activist film  LA HORA DE LOS HORNOS/HOUR OF THE FURNACES

The quotations below set out the basis for the comparison and also explain the term 'agogics'.

Len] Lye's Free Radicals (1958) […] is a black and white scratch animation short, cut to the insistent rhythmic accompaniment of an African drum solo.* It immediately calls to mind the unforgettable opening scenes of Octavio Getino and Fernando Solanas' Third Cinema classic La hora de los hornos/The Hour of the Furnaces (1968).** While equally exciting and radical, these strikingly similar films hint at the extent to which the world and the political landscape had changed in the decade between their respective release dates, and between then and now. We have no way of knowing if Getino and Solanas knew of Len Lye's film. We know, however, that films exchange ideas, talking to one another across time, and that the conversation between radical aesthetics and radical politics is ongoing, with both daring to 'make it new' and set the world on its feet, by turning it upside down. [Jerry Whyte, 'Free Radicals',, December 11, 2011. Online at:]
A demonstration and a lesson, The Hour of the Furnaces imports into cinema the affirmative aesthetics of the written political treatise. A collective ideal informs the whole film. It anticipates a liberated time. It’s not the product of a single voice but of a chorus of poems (Marti, Césaire), manifestos (Fanon, Guevara, Castro, Juan José Hernández Arregui) and films (by Fernando Birri, Joris Ivens, Nemesio Juárez). It conjoins the powers of didacticism, poetry and agogy (the agogic qualities of a work concern its rhythmic, sensible, physical properties – a notion suggested by the French aesthetician Etienne Souriau). Stylistically, the film uses all possible audiovisual techniques, from flicker to contemplative sequence shots (for instance, the final three-minute shot that reproduces a picture of the dead Che Guevara’s face with his eyes wide open), from collage to direct cinema, from blank screen to animated effects, from the rigours of the blackboard to the hallucinogenic properties of the fish-eye, from classical music to anglophone pop hits. Cinema is an arsenal and here all its weapons are unsheathed. [Nicole Brenez, 'Light my fire: The Hour of the Furnaces', Sight and Sound Magazine, 8 March 2012. Online at:]

'Agogics' is a musical term that designates the use of agogic accents, that is accents consisting in a lengthening of the time-value of the note. The philosopher Étienne Souriau extended the use of the term to include all the arts existing in time. He defined 'agogics' as \what characterizes an artwork that takes place in time, through movement, and specifically through the creation of a fast or slow pace, or the use of different rhythms.' For musicians, the notion is related to gesture, to physical movements, to a bodily interaction with their instrument, to a sense of speed, an energy, a precise handling of a piece. [Christian Jacquemin et al, 'Emergence of New Institutions for Art-Science Collaboration...' [date unknown], Online at: My added hyperlinks.

Souriau developed his idea of the agogic as an explicit reaction to the ‘rather banal description [of] arts of space in contrast to the phonetic and cinematic arts’. [Of] interest is Popper’s use of the term to describe the quality of temporal pattern that he identifies in a range of works. At one extreme [..].] is the velocity and dramatic choreography of a Len Lye installation. The term agogic conflates speed, acceleration and duration and would appear to be a significant aspect of kinetic form. [Jules Moloney, Designing Kinetics for Architectural Facades: State Change (New York: Taylor and Francis, 2011), p. 64.]
This video was produced on the morning of February 18, 2013, using readily available materials for quotation. It was made and distributed as part of a teach-in that day. Staff and students of media and cultural studies, working in a deeply personal, activist capacity, gave short presentations on their research and thinking about ideas of resistance, occupation and neoliberalism. For more information, please visit my other website.

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