4 things to know about the exhibition “Fernand Léger and the cinema” in Biot

1 – We discover Fernand Léger the cinephile

Léger the painter, the ceramist, the sculptor and… the great cinephile. And it is precisely because we know less about it that the Fernand Léger National Museum has looked into the subject. “Léger will say it himself, he even almost gave up painting for the cinema”recalls Julie Gutierrez, curator of the exhibition and heritage curator at the Biot museum. “This passion, it will be born from 1916: Léger is 35 years old, he discovers Charlie Chaplin and it is a revelation”.

He will go to the cinema every day, will multiply projects for collaborations with filmmakers, poster projects, sets, costumes. He will integrate cinematographic elements into his works and vice versa, playing on the aesthetics of the machines, on the framing. “In 1924, he directed what will remain as a masterpiece of experimental cinema: the film Mechanical ballet. It is a playground that stimulates him, without tradition, a popular spectacle, a new art, the place of technical inventions. In the cinema, in the 1920s, there is everything to do.”

(Adagp, Paris, 2022/Photo Courtesy Light Cone (Paris) Bruce Posner)

2 – It presents significant films in the history of cinema

A large place is left to the projection in the exhibition. “The building, which is very bright, has also been completely screened for the occasion “, points out Julie Gutierrez. During the visit, thanks in particular to the loan from the Cinémathèque française, we also take a short course in the history of cinema. Léger’s visual shocks are also landmarks in the life of the seventh art.

This is the case with the character of Charlot, which we discover here in the film Charlotte at the beach (1915). We are also faced with Wheelby Abel Gance (1922) “and its innovative close-up effects”, for which Léger will produce poster projects. We discover along the way “the first making-of cinema, directed by Blaise Cendras, then assistant director to Abel Gance”… Another masterpiece of silent cinema: The Inhuman by Marcel L’Herbier (1923), “one of the oldest science fiction films”.

Fernand Léger will realize, for this one, the futuristic decorations of an engine room (main picture) and a generic. We also discover the Mechanical balletfirst film directed by Léger (1924), with Man Ray, Dudley Murphy and composer George Antheil featuring Kiki de Montparnasse (picture above)

3 – It enriched the museum’s collection

This exhibition, the museum has been working on it since 2018. And its postponement, caused by the health crisis, has allowed it to deepen the subject. “We were able to explore all the facets of Léger cinéphile”, develops Julie Guttierez. The team went in search of the films that Fernand Léger had seen, peeled the paintings to find references, observed details in photos, enlarged reflections in film extracts made by the artist to learn more on the equipment he used… “We called on researchers who work on Léger, and on cinema, we dove into the archives of the Cinémathèque, we conducted the survey with galleries and private individuals to go back to certain paintings. Some things are moreover in suspense and leaves work to the researchers: we know for example that there are preparatory drawings by Léger for the film The Inhumanthey are somewhere… but where?

For the occasion, some forty pieces were lent by the Cinémathèque, others by the Center Pompidou, gallery owners and individuals. The Biotois museum has also purchased works to enrich its permanent collection, such as this drawing by Charlot (opposite)a gouache on paper, illustration project for a brochure published during the 1949 Cannes Film Festival, which will be ousted in favor of another, which can also be seen, since the museum has also obtained the definitive brochure .

4 – We listen to a “real” mechanical ballet

Principal achievement of Léger filmmaker: The Mechanical Ballet, therefore. Experimental film with a frenzied procession of images, object details, female bodies and geometric shapes, constantly reworked (there are at least nine versions). At the same time, the composer George Antheil was in charge of a soundtrack… A score for pianolas and other mechanical instruments supposed to accompany the film. In 1924, the two will finally not be synchronized. Much later, in 2019, the Austrian musician Winfried Ritch set up a mechanical orchestra automatically unrolling the original score of Antheil… The Biotois museum devotes a room to this strange orchestra, which launches all by itself every hours, to accompany a version of Léger’s film…

> Short version (10min20) approximately every hour, at 10.30am, 11.30am, 12.30pm, 1.30pm, 2.30pm, 4.30pm and 5.30pm. And full version (19min) at 3:30 p.m.

>> Until September 19, every day except Tuesdays, from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. Prices: 7.50 euros, reduced 6 euros. Info. national-museums-alpesmaritimes.fr/fleger

4 things to know about the exhibition “Fernand Léger and the cinema” in Biot