Although modest in scope, this collection showcases key early work by Oskar Fischinger, one of the most popular pioneers in abstract animation. First-rate transfers and special features supplement the 10 titles — four of them masterworks of pure non-figurative, cinematic expression — but there could be even more background material for those unfamiliar with the German filmmaker.
Initiates should jump to insightful title cards in the special features section for insight into his career. Fischinger helped develop the Gaspar color film process and later immigrated to L.A. with the help of Ernst Lubitsch. L.A. didn’t prove that much more hospitable than Germany. The Nazis deemed all abstract work degenerate, but the studios he worked at were rife with anti-German sentiment.
The standout pics are “Kreise” (Circles, 1933), “Allegretto” (1936-1943), “Radio Dynamics” (1942) and “Motion Painting No. 1” (1947). Transfers all came from preserved materials, which gives the color quality high marks. Some pixilation occurs in large color fields, thanks to the DVD encoding process, but that is relatively minor. One could quibble over the order of the collection however, as the filmmaker’s earliest experiments might be better served in context of the special features section.
Additional features are both insightful and revealing, including images of the filmmaker’s many paintings, photographs and rarely seen short films, including the true find: “Spiritual Constructions” (1927), a surrealist silhouette film about a pair of drunks who continually morph into strange shapes and figures.
Also of note: in the 1930s, Fischinger, along with other abstract filmmakers, suggested a feature length abstract film to Walt Disney, and Disney eventually hired the filmmaker to work on his own semi-abstract effort, “Fantasia” (1940). Yet Fischinger’s ideas were both appropriated and made representational, prompting Fischinger to leave the project. “One thing that I definitely found out,” said the filmmaker of his experience, is “that no true work of art can be made with the procedure used in the Disney Studio.”