Friday, February 18, 2011

Let's Get Started!

Different art forms during the 20th century, especially those of film, dance, and art, shared many commonalities and reflected similar ideologies. This blog will be particularly focusing on the 1927 German film Metropolis, Vaslav Nijinsky’s Prelude to Afternoon of a Faun ballet, and the artwork of Tamara de Lempicka as seen in the Art Deco movement. What stands out in Metropolis is the extreme mechanization of the work place and the “jerkiness” of the characters’ movements to reflect this mechanization. The lack of fluidity is also present in machine Maria’s sultry dance that she performs at the club, and her odd movements only further exemplify that she is a machine. Similarly, the ballet movements in Prelude to the Afternoon of a Faun are modernized, especially when compared with traditional ballet of the past. The faun’s movements are jerky and unique, maybe not necessarily to show that he is a machine per se, but rather to show his lack of humanness. When looking at Tamara de Lempicka’s artwork, one can see the humanness of the subjects, but the geometric forms detract from the reality of the people and add a mechanized quality to them. This surrealism depicted in these three art forms demonstrates the impact that the rise of the machine had on society during the early 20th century. In addition to the role of the machine in the aforementioned artwork, these three art forms also reflect femininity and a more advert sexuality. The female form is celebrated.


            Metropolis reflects industrialization and the rise of the machine through its portrayal of movement both in machine Maria’s dance and the workers at their jobs. First, one should focus on machine Maria’s dance and keep in mind that she is a machine, thus her dance moves are fitting of a machine to make. To put it simply, Maria just looks plain weird. She begins the dance with holding her hands in a typically Egyptian-style form. She then awkwardly begins to move her hips back and forth and turn in a circle. Right around 1:00, Maria’s movements look even more mechanical; her posture becomes hunched, and she moves in less human ways. This distortion of her body plays up the notion that this is the machine version of Maria. It is interesting to note the male response to Maria. The male observers are drawn to her and fixate on her dancing body, entering into a trance of sorts. It is interesting to compare today’s views of attractiveness with the German views of attractiveness in the 1920s when Metropolis was made, because they are clearly not the same. The notion of femininity and female sexuality will come more into play later in the movie, but one should pay attention to the fact that it is only the machine Maria that exudes this attraction, not the real Maria. Perhaps Metropolis is making a statement about the extreme popularization of machines at the time and the transformation of society into a society of the machine in which everything is mechanized.
            Going off of this point, the workers in Metropolis express mechanization and almost act as robots themselves, like the machine Maria. Hard at work, their movements are jerky as they crank the levers back and forth while remaining in sync, as shown at 2:30 in the video. In fact, they are so in sync, that their movements even look like a dance. The workers have no individual personalities and instead perform as one entity—their only goal and purpose is to keep the city running. With the turn of the 20th century came a rise in industrialization, factory work, and assembly lines. Machines began to do more and more, making human jobs less necessary. In order to maintain employment, it was essential for humans to act as machines.

Prelude to Afternoon of a Faun

            However, not all forms of art reflected society’s transformation into a giant machine so clearly. In Vaslav Nijinsky’s Prelude to Afternoon of a Faun ballet, the dancing is very modern, a large contrast from the traditional, classical ballet of the previous decades.
The faun’s movements are jerky in some places, and he flexes his hands and feet to demonstrate animalistic tendencies. Although he may not be paralleling a machine per se, his motions are certainly not human. Some of the twitching could be interpreted as the tick of a machine. The faun’s pas de deux with the nymph differs greatly from pas de deuxs of classical ballets of the past, such as Swan Lake or Coppélia. The faun dances overtly sensual and although he is a male, he does not play his role as being particularly masculine, in fact, it seems rather feminine. This femininity in dance relates back to Maria’s dance in Metropolis and can further relate to the artwork of Tamara de Lempicka and the Art Deco movement.

Art Deco Movement – Tamara de Lempicka

            Much of Tamara de Lempicka’s art focuses on females who appear in crisp, symmetrical, and geometric forms typical of the Art Deco movement. Several of her paintings reflect both femininity and embrace the machine. For instance, her self-portrait “Self-Portrait in the Green Bugatti” shows her driving a car and wearing gloves and a helmet:
By portraying a woman doing a very masculine task—driving a car—Lempicka is making a statement about women and is giving more power to them. Because she includes a machine in her painting, Lempicka also reflects societal views of the 1920s, this painting was made in 1925, and the importance of the car and its increasing popularity. Another painting by Lempicka was “Nana De Herrera,” painted in 1928.
In this painting, the woman’s body is distorted. One can especially see the distortion by paying close attention to the woman’s right hand in which the pointer finger sticks out at an odd angle. This body distortion looks quite similar to the way that Maria distorts her body during her dance in Metropolis. The distortion is probably achievable by a normal human, but the woman’s position certainly does not look comfortable. By closely examining Lempicka’s artwork, one can see the geometric qualities given to the human forms, causing them to look unrealistic. The sharp angles give the images a mechanical look, and once again there is another example of the increasing mechanization of society reflected in artwork.

The "So What?"

          So why is it important that Metropolis, Prelude to Afternoon of a Faun, and art in the Art Deco movement reflect the combined notions of mechanization of the work place and an increased femininity? Looking at this art can teach us a lot about the different art forms and about the time period in which they were created. These art pieces were created in the time period of 1910 to 1930. During that period, industrialization was occurring at the same time that women’s roles and participation in society were increasing. This art, particularly with the jerky dance movements and the paintings’ geometric forms, reflect a new era of the machine. Yet, whether or not this change was positive or negative can be left open for interpretation.


Works Cited

Lempicka, Tamara. Nana De Herrera. 1928. Tamara de Lempicka: The Complete Works. 2011. Web.
          17 Feb. 2011.

Lempicka, Tamara. Self-Portrait in the Green Bugatti. 1925. Tamara de Lempicka: The Complete
          Works. 2011. Web. 17 Feb. 2011.

Metropolis. Dir. Fritz Lang. UFA, 1927. <>.

Nijinsky, Vaslav, choreographer. L'Après-midi d'un Faune. Comp. Claude Debussy. Perf. The Paris
           Opera Ballet. Paris Dances Diaghilev. Elektra Nonesuch Dance Collection, 1990.