American Masters (1985– )
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Man Ray: Prophet of the Avant Garde 



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Episode credited cast:
Narrator (voice)
Himself (archive footage)


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Release Date:

9 April 1997 (USA)  »

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Aspect Ratio:

1.33 : 1
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A Valuable Documentary Of A Highly Self-Conscious Artist Who Cannily Promotes Himself.
20 November 2005 | by (Mountain Mesa, California) – See all my reviews

This well-edited work's text is written by Neil Baldwin, author of a definitive biography, MAN RAY: American ARTIST, and is sturdily narrated by Stockard Channing as it depicts, in a generally linear manner, many aspects of a versatile and influential Surrealist's career, a man who refused to be ignored, born Emmanuel Radnitzky in 1890 Philadelphia, growing up in the Williamsburg section of Brooklyn, and dying in 1976 in the Left Bank Parisian district of Montparnasse, a long life during which he was responsible for disturbing a sense of order held by many high-minded aesthetes. This documentary stresses that the days of his youth were filled with the sap of rebellion. Following his early fascination with Emma Goldman's brand of anarchism (Ray contributed illustrated covers for her periodical Mother Earth), the callow artist took groundbreaking photographer Alfred Stieglitz as mentor, a significant early influence, but after the notorious 1913 Armory Show astonished New York City's followers of trends in art, Ray adopted Cubism and Expressionism as métiers until, three years after, Tristan Tzara's Dada movement found in him an enthusiastic disciple, and one who began a lifelong friendship at that time with fellow Dada acolyte Marcel Duchamp, creator of NUDE DESCENDING A STAIRCASE, No. 2 that became the cardinal cause célèbre at the Armory. A failed marriage and a shortage of monetary reward from his art drove Ray from New York and to Paris where Dadaism was being blended into Surrealism, and where Kiki of Montparnasse became his essential muse. It is from this period that viewers are shown a remarkable photograph of Marcel Proust upon his death bed, as well as wonderful examples of "Rayogrammes", works made by a process wherein no camera is utilized, subjects instead being placed directly upon photographic paper and then developed. This documentary's noteworthy reproductions of several of these pieces are representative of the signal care all round that marks the American Masters (WNET) production. We hear from the absorbing narration a mention that Ray was a "subsidized pet of French nobility", but Paris was also accountable for the presence of the striking Lee Miller in his existence, this former model of photographer Edward Steichen having a lasting impact upon the natively talented Ray, whose best efforts followed her appearance and were stimulated by Miller's fashion background, he in turn sharply altering the state of fashion photography. From approximately this time a viewer sees his "Obstruction", an exhibited entanglement of clothes hangers that anticipate the mobiles of Alexander Calder. Due to war in Europe, Ray left Paris in 1940, soon settling in Hollywood at an apartment on Vine Street near Sunset Boulevard where he resided for 20 years before returning to his beloved Montparnasse for his last decade and one half. When asked if he is ahead of his time he replies "I'm of my time; it's the others who are behind the times" (sic). Man Ray became a photographer as means of achieving a regular income, and while his preference for artistic endeavour was always painting, his unique photographic compositions are his most valued legacy to the world. Oddly, this creative individual's pronouncements are for the most part banal, his most telling statement in this film being "I wanted to be accepted, not understood". An excellent DVD version includes candid film footage made by Man Ray and a hitherto unseen videotaped interview of him that was located within a storage area of the Boijmans Van Beuningen Museum in Rotterdam, and also archival drawings from his school days that had remained unseen for 90 years.

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