23. Rhythmus 21 – Hans Richter

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SUMMARY: An abstract film in which black, white and grey squares and rectangles pulsate rhythmically, creating illusion of perspective.

WHY IT’S HERE: Hans Richter, like Winsor McCay, liked to make grandiose claims about the pioneering nature of his films that history simply doesn’t back up. In the case of Rhythmus 21, Richter often referred to it as the first abstract film ever made. Not only was this not the case, ‘Rhythmus 21’ was not even the first abstract animation, being beaten by Walter Ruttmann’s ‘Opus I’ in 1921 (Richter’s naming of his film seems to be an attempt to backdate it in order to trump Ruttmann’s efforts). Whatever the case may be however, ‘Rhythmus 21’ is an important film in the early development of animated abstraction and it couldn’t be more different from Ruttmann’s work. In ‘Opus 21’ the shapes were colourful and playfully loose and free. ‘Rhythmus 21’ features rigid geometric shapes throbbing, growing and shrinking in size, giving the impression that perspectives are shifting with a rhytmically hypnotic effect.

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