‘The Purist Focus: Léger’s Theory of the Close-Up and Les Gueules Cassées’

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This paper examines the apparent contradictions between the use of the fragmented close-up in Fernand Léger's film Ballet mécanique (1924) and his depiction of the cohesive face in his painting in the early 1920s. I argue that this paradox stems from Léger's seeing, in certain pre-war movements whose aesthetics were premised on fragmentation, an endorsement of the supreme value of technology and modernity to the human subject, and of the suborning of that subject to industrial modernity, with all the catastrophic human consequences that were then witnessed in the First World War. These “aesthetics of fragmentation“ are then compared and contrasted with Purism's post-war reconciliation of “man“ as a cohesive being, achieved through its conservative revision of modernist aesthetics. This critique is effected through the “portmanteau“ of Ballet mécanique, which is effectively an assemblage of different pre-war modernist aesthetics contrasted with Purist depictions of cohesive form.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)161-180
JournalAngelaki: journal of the theoretical humanities
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - 2011

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