REFLECTION – Lichtspiel Opus I (1921) – Walther Ruttmann

In Lichtspiel Opus I, an abstract animation to the tune of an original score, painterly strokes and flashes of color are used to imitate the way music sounds. Fabric-like shapes flow past the screen in time with the music, reflecting the soft sounds of violins, while large, swelling shapes fill up the screen like an inflating ballon like how a cello fills up a concert hall. Later on, ghost shapes inch past the screen while other painterly shapes flow by, like a traveling creature being pestered by flies. Frequently, piercing angular shapes (triangles) stab into the screen, much like sharp notes of the violent pierce the listener’s attention. Sharp edged brush strokes slash through the screen, occasionally cutting off the softer strokes, like a hawk taking down a songbird mid-flight.

Towards the end, a single bold shape of color sways back and forth across the screen like a pendulum, and then transforms into a single circle, in which the ghost shapes try to reach with their swelling bodies. The ghosts merge together mid-screen, and then shrink to the bottom. Then tumbling squares reflect the turbulence of the music, and then after that the colors turn from bright and bold to somber and cold, with only the occasional flash of warmth. The pace speeds up, the strokes move by the screen faster as the composition comes to an end, Finally, it ends on a single red circle that collapses in on itself, much how the animation started on flashing, swelling circles.

Lichtspiel is German for Light Play, which makes sense for this animation, because it is very playful, and feels very much like light flashing back and forth across a wall, like when a car passes by an open window.

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