SATURDAY MATINÉE: Oskar Fischinger – Optical Poem (1938)

Something old and unique on this week’s Saturday Matineé in the form of Oskar Fischinger’s 1938 avant garde film, Optical Poem.

To most of us music suggests definite mental images of form and colour. The picture you are about to see is a novel scientific experiment- it’s object is to convey these mental images in visual form. – Oskar Fischinger

In 1938, a German-American animator named Oskar Fischinger created a groundbreaking film called Optical Poem. It was seen as a “scientific” experiment by media company MGM (Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer, the people with the roaring lion at the beginning of old films) who cautiously released the film under their name. What made them so cautious? Well, it featured no actors, it was six minutes long and the only props were pieces of paper and invisible wire. More specifically, Fischinger used paper and wire to create patterns of oscillating planets to the soundtrack of Franz Liszt’s Hungarian Rhapsody No. 2. To say this was daring at the time was an understatement. It sounds pretty crude explaining the concept in words but the way everything was filmed to produce a journey through space is a joy to behold and it required no humans to convey the message (apart from Fischinger himself). He eventually went on to make more than 50 short animated films, paint around 800 canvasses and produce Motion Painting No. 1 (1947), which is now listed on the National Film Registry of the U. S. Library of Congress. It’s said that Walt Disney took much inspiration from Fischinger’s work and Fischinger even used his expertise on Disney’s Fantasia but quit without credit due to the artists simplifying his work.

In a way, this is short but succinct film is a form of “sampling” in that it took pieces of paper to recreate something unique but representative of its message. If you have six minutes spare, I suggest you give it a watch.

About Luke Alex Davis

Luke Davis is a music producer and editor of music blog Sampleface. In his spare time, he enjoys watching tennis and football and reading.