"The life we led, our follies and our deeds of heroism, our provocations, however 'polemical' and aggressive they may have been, were all part of a tireless quest for an anti-art, a new way of thinking, feeling and knowing."
A cosmopolitan figure, Hans Richter's very career embodies the history of modern art from World War I to the 1960s, Dadaism to Constructivism, Surrealism, and Fluxus. As editor of the seminal journal G, he created a vital link between Western European art and the Soviet avant-garde in the 1920s. Even more importantly, he was a pioneering filmmaker, among the first to make purely abstract cinema, and a mentor to American directors of the 1950s and beyond. Personally, Richter experienced the twentieth century's political nightmares first-hand, from combat in World War I in which he was severely wounded, to persecution by the Nazis and artistic censure in the Soviet Union. He never saw his art as separate from the conflicts and sufferings of humanity, but instead devoted his art to the creation of a better society.
Profoundly influenced by music, Richter was able to capture the rhythmic nature of abstract forms in paintings, drawings, and films, and to synthesize the oppositions of dark and light, and organic and geometric shapes by using counterpoint like a musician. Richter also collaborated with major composers of his time and considered their scores essential to his films, pioneering the fusion of image and sound in cinema.
Though Richter made both representational and abstract art, he created an abstract visual language that was universal, able to convey not only aesthetic experience but revolutionary political ideas as well.
He transcended nineteenth century concepts of painting through film, setting static shapes into visual movement. This dynamism of film, made possible through new technology, for him embodied modernity itself.
Richter used a synthesis of abstract forms, Dadaist collage, and the ancient medium of scrolls to create epics of contemporary history, despite the fact that many modernist artists considered history painting to be outmoded.
Most Important Art
Hans Richter Artworks in Focus:
Self Portrait (Visionary Portrait) (1917)
This self-portrait is one of eleven Visionary Portraits that Richter exhibited at the Dada exhibition 'Die Neue Kunst' ("New Art") in Zürich in 1918. Employing an Expressionist style, Richter painted the works in this series at twilight with no artificial lighting. His intention was to paint when colors were 'indistinguishable' to the eye on the canvas. He claimed that this would provoke an expression of spontaneity, still governed by chance. (Richter had been deeply influenced by the experiments in chance carried out by his close friend and fellow-Dadaist, the artist Hans Arp, one of whose most famous works is the 1917 Collage with Squares Arranged According to the Laws of Chance.) Richter recalled that to produce the Visionary Portraits he put himself into an: "auto-hypnotic trance... thus the picture took shape before the inner, rather than the outer, eye allowing color to freely flow and the hand to work almost unguided.") Richter's use of automatism and his search for a deeper reality beneath the everyday anticipate the concerns of the Surrealist artists of the 1920s, whom Richter later claimed had "swallowed and digested Dada." Like many major modernist artists in Germany, Richter's use of strong colors and expressive brushstrokes would change in the aftermath of the First World War and throughout the 1920s to a more linear, objective, geometric style.Read More ...
Hans Richter Overview Continues Below
Richter was born in Berlin into a prosperous Jewish family, one of six children. Richter began to draw in his early high school days, producing several portraits of his schoolmates as well as sketches from nature and urban life. Richter's mother, Ida Gabriele, was an accomplished harpist and pianist and instilled a lifelong love of music in her son. After graduation, Richter decided on a career in art, but his father, Moritz Richter, insisted that he train as an architect. In preparation for a career in architecture, Richter endured a two-year stint as a carpenter and joiner's apprentice in his father's business, the "Mississippi Grass Twine Company" of Berlin.
Eventually Richter got his way and from 1908 onward he studied at the Berlin Academy of Art, the Academy of Art in Weimar, and the Academie Julien in Paris. As part of his training, Richter copied Old Master paintings by Velazquez, Tintoretto, and Rubens, as well as the works of more recent German artists of the nineteenth century, including, Wilhelm Leibl and Franz von Lenbach. Germany had a buzzing avant-garde art scene at this time, alive with new ideas: Post-Impressionism, Symbolism, and early Expressionism (including the work of the young Die Brucke artists). Soon, even newer art movements such as Futurism and Cubism would explode on the Berlin scene. Germany was also pioneering the new medium of film, with innovators such as Oskar Messtor and Guido Seeber. Richter's first ecstatic encounter with modern painting occurred in 1908, when he saw Paul Cézanne'sThe Bathers exhibited at the Berlin Secession (led at that time by the influential and courageous German-Jewish artist, Max Liebermann). "Suddenly I was struck," Richter remembered, "by a kind of musical rhythm...the first contact with the gods of Modern Art."
Early Training, War, Political Activism
By 1913, Richter had entered the avant-garde circles of the Berlin art world, particularly through his friendship with Herwarth Walden, editor of the seminal journal Der Sturm, as well as director of the Sturm Gallery, where Richter saw the latest Futurist and Cubist paintings and works by Expressionists such as Ernst Kirchner and Wassily Kandinsky. Richter also befriended Franz Pfemfert, editor of the radical artistic, literary, and political journal, Die Aktion (Action), which in 1916 devoted a whole issue to Richter, publishing several of his drawings and woodcuts as well as an essay on him by the Expressionist poet and critic Theodore Daubler (the first study of Richter's work ever written). Through Die Aktion, Richter also came into contact with anarchist and socialist activists, including Rosa Luxemburg.
This vibrant artistic life ended in 1914 when Richter was drafted into the Deutsches Heer (German Imperial Army) at the start of the First World War. He made a pact with two Expressionist poet friends, Ferdinand Hardekopf and Albert Ehrenstein, to meet, should they survive, at 3pm at the Café de La Terrasse in Zürich in 1916. In the war, Richter, part of a reconnaissance division on the Easter Front, was shot and temporarily paralyzed, recalling "I had to close my eye with my hand, and I could speak with only one side of the mouth." Transferred to a military hospital near Berlin, Richter married the nurse caring for him, Elisabeth Steinert. There he learned that one of his brothers had been killed and another wounded. In 1916, Richter was allowed to travel to Zürich for further medical treatment and was thus able to keep the appointment with Hardekopf and Ehrenstein, who had already made contact with members of a new artistic movement called Dada.
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Richter plunged into this new movement, contributing to Dada shows and publications, and creating iconic Dada works such as the Visionary Portraits (1917) and Dada Köpfe (Dada Heads, 1918). Richter believed in the artist's power to shape political and social ideas, but it needed a universal language that could be understood by all - the language of abstraction. From Zürich he continued to contribute to Die Aktion but also to new ventures such as the Dutch periodical De Stijl, edited by Theo van Doesburg. Richter forged intense friendships during this period with the Roumanian poet Tristan Tzara and the artists Hans Arp and Marcel Janco. He also met the remarkable poet and cabaret performer Emmy Hennings, who was married to Dada founder Hugo Ball. Richter illustrated Hennings's novel Das Gefängnis (The Prison) and painted a powerful portrait of her as part of his Visionary Portraits series.
The end of the First World War brought great political unrest to Germany. Richter traveled to Munich in 1919 to witness events for himself, becoming caught up in the short-lived Bavarian Soviet Republic led by the poet and dramatist Ernst Toller, who declared Bavaria an independent communist state. This experiment was soon put down brutally by various military forces, especially the Freikorps, a volunteer army of hardened war veterans that was employed by the new German Republic to suppress insurrection throughout the country. Friekorps members assassinated communist leaders Rosa Luxemburg and Karl Liebknecht in 1919. Attempting to escape Munich and return to Zürich, Richter was arrested (with his brother Richard) and imprisoned for two weeks until freed through family connections.
Berlin and Film
During the final phase of his stay in Zürich, Richter met and befriended the Swedish artist and filmmaker Viking Eggeling. Together, they returned to Berlin and set up a collaborative studio at the Richter family property in Klein-Kolzig. Here, Eggeling and Richter worked toward the creation of abstract film through countless experimental drawings and the development of long scrolls that would transcend painting and explore the dynamic transformations of abstract forms. It was intense and excruciating work: "We had bitten off something new, and we were not sure we could digest it: movement." In 1920, Richter and Eggeling began to photograph the scrolls with a movie camera, moving the camera along the scroll from left to right, bringing the geometric metamorphoses to life. This intense partnership lasted until 1921, falling victim to financial pressures and personality differences. Eggeling went on to create the ground-breaking abstract film Diagonal Symphonie in 1923, while Richter completed Rhythmus 21 in 1921, using simple geometric shapes to show how "rhythm gives meaning to forms." Richter also made innovative advertising films during this time, one of which, created for the Koschel flower shop, was projected outdoors onto the sidewalk, to the amazement of crowds of Berliners.
Richter divorced his first wife in 1921 and married Maria von Vanselow, a member of Rudolf von Laban's modern dance troupe. It was a short-lived union. After Eggeling's death in 1925, Richter married Eggeling's collaborator and companion, Erna Niemayer. Richter and Niemayer travelled to Paris together and found the Surrealist movement in full bloom. Richter disliked the founder of Surrealism, the poet André Breton, for being humorless and for excommunicating anyone from the movement who disagreed with him about art, politics, or morality (Breton did not, for example, allow homosexuals or drug addicts to join). In Paris, Richter was able to reunite with his old friend from Zürich, Tristan Tzara, and also became friends with painter Yves Tanguy, who would later appear in Richter's 1957 film, 8x8: A Chess Sonata in 8 Movements. Richter believed that Breton and Surrealism had "devoured and digested Dada." Surrealism also cost him his third marriage - Erna and Richter split and she went on to marry the Surrealist poet Philippe Soupault.
Richter would interact with a very different kind of artistic movement in the mid-1920s, namely Constructivism. The Constructivists in Soviet Russia sought total integration of art with daily life and politics, rejecting the notion of art as autonomous and individualistic. Several Constructivists gave up easel painting and turned instead to architecture, graphic design, and even to the creation of practical clothing for workers. The Constructivists saw abstraction as a new universal language that did not depend on literary or art historical knowledge but on the needs and bodily perceptions of the new, dynamic, socialist citizen. The Constructivists also embraced new technologies, such as cinema and the revolutionary Leica camera, which made street photography easier and more spontaneous. Vladimir Tatlin, Alexander Rodchenko, Lyubov Popova, and El Lissitzky were among the most notable Russian Constructivists.
In 1922 Germany and the Soviet Union signed the Rapallo Treaty, which promised economic and military cooperation between the two countries. In the same year, amidst catastrophic inflation and political chaos, a major exhibition of over 600 Soviet artworks was held in Berlin, to the astonishment of many German artists, though in fact many Constructivist principles were already evident in the late phases of Dada as well as in the program of the Bauhaus school in Weimar. Richter met El Lissitzky, who, with the writer Ilya Ehrenburg, was one of the few Soviet creative figures allowed to travel freely out of Russia and forge contacts in the West (and perhaps also spy on the activities of Russian intellectuals exiled in Berlin and Paris). El Lissitzky invited Richter to collaborate on his multi-lingual Constructivist journal (co-edited with Ehrenburg and published in Berlin) called Vesh-Objet-Gegenstand. Richter soon launched his own journal; from 1923-1926 he published the magazine "G" for Gestaltung ("Form"). Co-edited with El Lissitzky and the Bauhaus student Werner Graff, the journal published work by Tzara, Kazimir Malevich, Theo van Doesburg, Hans Arp, Kurt Schwitters, and Mies van der Rohe. G is a vital link between Western and Soviet Constructivist thought.
To Richter, film was modern art - art in motion, free and direct. In 1926 he said that film was "rhythm that is portrayed with the means provided by photo technology." In Film Study (1926). Richter experimented with contrast in Two-Pence Magic (1929) with rapid shots, and in Inflation (1927) with double exposures and animation. In 1929 he curated the legendary "Film und Foto" exhibition in Stuttgart, showing 1,000 works by modernist European, American, and Soviet artists. Richter showed films by Charlie Chaplin, Marcel Duchamp, Fernand Léger, Man Ray, and even Germaine Dulac (creator of the first pure Surrealist film, The Seashell and the Clergyman (1928), based on a script by arch-surrealist Antonine Artaud). Richter and the legendary Russian Director Sergei Eisenstein collaborated on a short film Every Day (1929) in which they poked fun at ordinary life, although the subject of unscripted daily life itself was inspiring German and Soviet films, such as Walter Ruttmann's Berlin: Symphony of the Big City (1927), Dziga Vertov's Man with a Movie Camera (1929), and Curt and Robert Siodmak's People on Sunday (1930).
Richter began a relationship around this time with Margarete Melzer. She told him "I will never marry you, because as soon as one marries you one loses you." However their relationship lasted a decade during which Richter began to use film as a social critique. "Film," wrote Richter, "should deal with the social, political, and human ideas of their time." In Everything Revolves, Everything Turns (1929), he intercut men in a sauna, hands, a German flag, a bear, and a money exchange.
The 1930s saw the beginnings of the conflict between art and Nazi repression. Modernist artists would eventually be termed "degenerate" by Nazi cultural spokesmen: their "distortions" and abstraction compared to the faces of the mentally and physically disabled or Untermenschen ("sub-humans"). The Nazis had their own artistic canon, which rejected abstraction and expressionism in favor of a return to classical art. However, this same shift away from modernism would also take place in the Soviet Union, where, increasingly, abstract artists and Constructivists were being forced to submit to the new canon of Socialist Realism, which deemed abstraction to be "formalist," elitist, and bourgeois. Richter's situation was doubly dangerous in Germany: he was both a modernist artist and Jewish.
In 1930, Richter left Germany for the Soviet Union, where from 1930-1933 he attempted to make a film based on the brutal suppression by German military units of a strike by 140,000 metal workers in Henningsdorf. The film, Metall, co-scripted with Pera Attascheva, would never be completed. Stalin feared that the film would antagonize Germany, especially by 1933, with Hitler firmly in power. Soviet authorities hindered Richter's project relentlessly, calling for constant rewrites of the script and even arresting a member of the film crew. Growing suspicious of the Soviet regime, Richter abandoned the project and fled Russia. Unable to return to Germany (his Berlin apartment had already been searched and ransacked by the Gestapo), Richter would spend the next several years in precarious exile in Holland, France, and Switzerland., surviving by making documentaries such as Television (1936) and The Birth of Color (1938). The Nazis chose his art as a central example at their 1937 "Degenerate Art Exhibition," a vast show designed to mock and discredit modernist art. In fact, the exhibition proved embarrassingly popular, with an average of 20,000 visitors per day. During these years, much of Richter's art was lost or destroyed. Finally, via the Hebrew Immigrant Aid Society and at the invitation of Hilla Rebay, a painter who had been a friend of Richter's in Zürich and Berlin, Richter was able to find refuge in the United States. Rebay had immigrated to the United States in 1927 and become the first director of the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, which had been founded in 1937 as an institution devoted to abstract, non-objective art. Richter adopted US citizenship in 1941.
The American Years
New York offered Richter new artistic opportunities - reunion with European exiles and an introduction to the new generation. As Richter put it "I had returned into the world of men in New York and started immediately to work and 'orchestrate' freely with form and color." He learned English from reading the detective fiction of Raymond Chandler and Dashiell Hammett and began to lecture on film at the Institute of Film Techniques, in New York, mentoring future legends such as Stan Brackhage, Maya Deren, Jonas Mekas, and Stanley Kubrick.
Richter's relationship with Margarete had been ruined by war, so in 1941 he married his fourth wife, Friedl. During the 1940s he drew on the rhythm of his earlier scrolls, in historical tableau such as Stalingrad (1943-1946) and The Liberation of Paris (1945) to comment on the inhumanity of war. He was later compensated under the Holocaust Victim Assets Litigation. Richter learned that his sister Vera, crippled since childhood by a horse-riding accident, had been euthanized by the Nazis in 1943.
In the late 1940s and 1950s Richter's art took on more representational, figurative, and narrative aspects such as his legendary films: Dreams That Money Can Buy (1947) and 8 x 8: A Chess Sonata in 8 Movements (1957) made in collaboration with the giants of modern art, his friends Marcel Duchamp, Max Ernst, Jean Cocteau, Alexander Calder, and Yves Tanguy. In Robert Motherwell'sDada Painters and Poets (1948) Richter sadly recalled his Dada friend Marcel Janco, who had disappeared in the war. In 1950, he was delighted to hear that Janco was alive and artistically thriving in Israel.
In the 1950s Richter's life settled into summers in Connecticut and winters in Ascona. He turned his dynamic energy to recording the history of Dada in his seminal book Dada: Art and Anti-Art as well as in the film Dadascope (1961), which features poems spoken by Arp, Duchamp, Hausmann, Huelsenbeck, and Schwitters. In one of his final essays, Richter reflected on the freedom and moral responsibility of the artist. The words of his 1917 Manifesto had been lived up to by his life. In 1962 he retired to Locarno, Switzerland where he died aged 87 in 1976.
Richter's extraordinary artistic career pioneered and established film as an art form. His vision and experiments in mixed media and collaborative artistry blended painting, music, film, and art. His work as an artist and theoretician influenced practically all of the seminal movements of twentieth century avant-garde art, including Dada, Suprematism, Constructivism, and Surrealism. In fact, Richter's work synthesized the two seemingly contradictory goals of modernism: the liberation from rational thought of Dada and Surrealism, and the rational "goal-oriented creativity" (El Lissitzky) of hard-edged Constructivism, reconciling the Dionysian and Apollonian extremes of twentieth century art. It is in the medium film however that he went furthest, creating some of the earliest fully abstract cinema, exploring and articulating film's uniqueness as a form independent of painting.
As a pioneer of film, Richter mentored generations of filmmakers such as Stanley Kubrick, William Greaves Jonas Mekas, Shirley Clarke, and Ken Jacobs. David Lynch (Twin Peaks, Inland Empire) cited Dreams that Money Can Buy as one of his favorite movies. Richter's experimental blend of visual/audio pioneered the mixed media arts of today. The project Rescoring Richter is rescoring his silent films, bringing new soundscapes to Richter's original vision, and continuing his passion for artistic collaboration.
In the 1960s, young American Fluxus artists were able to reconnect to Dada through Richter's continuing work as an artist as well as through his preservation of the history of Dadaism itself.
Films by Hans Richter
AN INDEX TO THE CREATIVE WORK OF HANS RICHTER
By Herman G. Weinberg
(Revised to date from the original edition published in 1946 by the British Film Institute
as No.6 in the Index Series)
Flaherty came as an explorer to the film, Richter as a painter. Flaherty explored the face
of the world, Richter explored the mysteries of the world of inner vision, of beauty, and
the hidden contents of our dreams.
Richter came to the film by accident. As a painter, his interest was in abstract forms and
rhythms, first on canvas, then on scrolls, like the old Chinese. His results with scroll
paintings made him desirous of elaborating this on the screen in movement. The film
engrossed him for 35 years. A continuity of purpose is maintained through his work from
1921 to the present. It was the line of the indefatigable and zealous experimentor who the
anti-Nazi Metal (as far back as 1931); a film on the unemployment crisis in Europe, No
Time for Tears; Candide; Muenchhausen. It was difficult to convince producers to back
such projects. Often when Richter succeeded in finding such a sponsor, the political crisis
carried the sponsor away, or even Richter himself.
As an artist, he believed in the film as a new medium to reveal beauty and truth. As a
citizen, he believed in the responsibility of the artist. To unite these, he painted, filmed,
taught and wrote. His review, “G”, in 1926, heralded rebelliously: “What the film needs
is not so much an audience as artist!” – meaning that the artist is responsible for his
audience, a new audience created by the artist.
PRELUDE (Klein-Koelzig, 1919)
Scroll drawing. 4 years long. Variations on an abstract theme, which was also a “prelude”
to the first abstract film.
A realization on film, in 1920, developed the animation of one of the 10 scroll-drawings
of “Prelude”. Richter’s first film, considered by him as a test. Length: 30 ft. (Archives of
Eoskop Laboratories, Basle, Switzerland.)
FUGUE (Klein-Koelzig, 1920)
Scroll drawing. 3 years long. Following the difficulties of the first film test, he made a
simpler scroll, easier to animate. Even this was too complex to animate. Against the
opposition of his colleague, Viking Eggling, Richter abandoned painting as a primary
step towards making an abstract film.
RHYTHMUS 21 (Berlin, 1921)
Originally called Film is Rhythm. The first “pure” film. Designed and photographed by
Richter. Original length: 120 ft. Final length: 250 feet. Here Richter took the form the
screen gave him-the square and the rectangle- and moved them rhythmically with and
against each other. The first film to use negative as positive. Theo van Doesburg
sponsored the premiere in Paris, introducing Richter as a Dane because of post-World
War I feeling against Germans. (Museum of Modern Art, New York; Cinemathèque
RHYTHMUS 23 (Berlin, 1923)
Designed by Richter. Photographed by Charles Métain. 200 feet. Here lines played
against mass. The construction of a system of shutters on strings, and movable slides,
enabled Richter to film light reflections on a screen instead of having to animate “cut-
outs”. The premiere at the Ufa Kurfuerstendamm Theatre in Berlin ended in a near-riot.
ORCHESTRATION OF COLOR (Berlin, 1923)
Vertical scroll painting (in distinction to the others, which were horizontal). Composition
of squares in red-green and blue-yellow. 3 yards. Exhibited in Europe and New York.
Planned as both painting, per se, and as an outline for counterpointing color on film.
Until this scroll, painting had influenced Richter’s film work. From now on, film began
to influence his painting.
RHYTHMUS 25 (Berlin, 1925)
Richter’s third “absolute” film. 250 feet. Photographed by Charles Métain. Based on the
scroll, “Orchestration of Color”. Shot in black and white and hand-colored.
FILMSTUDIE (Berlin, 1926)
Designed by Richter. Photographed by Richter and Endrejat. Original length: 600 feet.
First presented to music by Ernst Toch, later recorded in an abbreviated version to a
fragment from Darius Milhaud’s “La Creation du Monde”. A film evaluating plastic
forms of objects, interrupted by a dream-like motive (eyes floating through space, etc.)
and percussive shocks. (Museum of Modern Art, New York; Cinemathéque Française,
INFLATION (BERLIN, 1927-28)
Produced for UFA as an introduction to the feature film, “The Lady With the Mask”, set
during the German inflation period. Scenario and design: Richter. Photography: Charles
Métain. 900 feet. The film industry’s first recognition of the “advance-guard”. Here facts,
abstract forms, symbols, comic effects, etc., were used to interpret the facts. Inflation set
the pattern for Richter’s later essay-films (semi-documentaries to express ideas).
(Fragment at Museum of Modern Art, New York; Cinemathéque Française, Paris.)
VORMITTAGSSPUK (Berlin, 1927-28)
(Ghosts Before Noon.) Designed and directed by Richter. Photography: Reimar Kuntze.
Music: Paul Hindemith. Original length: 900 feet. Released by Tobis in 450 feet.
(Recorded by Tobis in 1929.) With Darius Milhaud, Jean Oser, Walter Gronostay,
Werner Graeff, Paul Hindemith and Hans Richter, as actors in it.
An experimental film for the International Music Festival, Baden-Baden, 1928. A
humorous grotesque in which objecxts (hats, ties, coffee cups, etc.) rebel against their
daily routine. “Objects are also people” and (they) follow their own laws” – “the rhythm
of the clock” (H.R.). At the stroke of noon they gladly return to their functional state.
Hindemith’s score was played by an orchestra in the theatre pit, whose conductor led
them from a rolling score synchronized to the speed of the film. This pre-sound device
was invented by R. Blum.
RENNSYMPHONIE (Berlin, 1928-29)
(Race Symphony.) Scenario and direction by Richter. Photography: Tober. One reel.
Documentary produced for Maxim-Emelka, Berlin, as an introduction for the feature
film, “Ariadne in Hoppegarten” for which the sponsor wanted “a flower in the
buttonhole”-to pep up his film. The preparation of a race track and the beginning of a
1918-29. Group of industrial films, including Zweigroschenzauber (Two-Penny Magic).
Produced for the Koelnische Illustrierte Zeitung. This was a “little symphony” of
movements taken from events as noted in any illustrated newspaper. Its composition was
musical. Similar films were produced by Richter in this period for automobile, house-
building, cigarette, shoe and nutrition, etc., companies, frequently at the rate of one a
ALLES DREHT SICH, ALLES BEWEGT SICH! (Berlin, 1929)
Tobis production. Scenario: Werner Graeff and Hans Richter. Directoed by Richter.
Photography: Reimar Kuntze. Music: Walter Gronostay. Taken from the circus-barker’s
cray at a Berlin carnival, “Everything revolves, everything moves!” A day at such a
carnival, with all its brashness, noise and boisterous humour. Filmed on large negative (2
inches wide), a pre-requisite for early sound films in Europe. The first sound cameras (as
used here) were so heavy that no tilt or pan shots could be made. Recording of certain
consonants was poor and “synthetic” consonants had to be spliced into the negative
sound track. Music and words, as well as sound, were used as strong rhythmical
elements, not naturalistically. Awarded First Prize by the Nazis at the Lessing
Hochschule in 1936, for artistic merit, with Richter’s name suppressed from the film. He
had long since left Germany. (At its premiere in Baden-Baden, Richter got into a fight
with two Nazi officials who disliked the film’s “modernism”. It was this incident that led
Prometheus in Berlin to hire Richter to make the anti-Nazi Metal.)
NEW LIVING (Zurich, 1930)
Documentary for the Schweizer Werkbund. 2 reels. Camera: Emil Berna. 5 cenario and
direction: Richter. (Silent.)
Achievements in modern architecture, especially in Switzerland. First use of “static”
pictures, engravings, etc., as an integral part of the film.
Industrial films for Philips Radio (1930-38) (Berlin, Eindhoven, Paris): Europe-Radio, I
reel, music by Walter Gronostay. Hello, Everybody! 2 1⁄2 reels, music by Darius Milhaud.
From Lighting to Television, 3 reels, music by Walter Gronostay. Photography by E. von
Barsay and John Ferno.
1930. Delegate to the Second Congress of the Independent Film, Brussells. (Eisenstein
headed the First Congress the year before in La Saraz, Switzerland.) Richter headed the
German delegation. Foremost on the agenda was the film as a weapon in the rapidly
growing crisis in Europe- the first rumblings of Hitlerism.
METAL (Berlin, Moscow, Odessa, 1931-33) (Uncompleted)
Prometheus Production (Berlin) in association with Mejrabpom-Russ (Moscow).
Scenario and direction: Richter. Photography: Katelnikoff. Assistant-director: Ogonesow.
Sound. 8 reels.
Begun as a feature-documentary of a strike in Henningsdorf on the rising tide of Nazi and
Stahlhelm hooliganism and developed as events progressed into a semi-documentary
political film. It exposed Nazi strike-breaking and murder methods. The production was
abandoned before the last two reels were shot, shortly after Hitler came into power.
NO TIME FOR TEARS (Paris, 1933-34) (Planned)
Scenario by Anna Seghers, Frederick Kohner, Hans Richter. A feature film written for
the German actress, Margarete Melzer, to have been directed by Richter. Based on an
actual incident of a woman who took the job, vacated by her husband who had died, of a
night-watchman in a west German mining district, in order to support her children. She
lived and worked as a man, in men’s clothes, for a year and a half until a mine accident
disclosed her sex. The project was abandoned when half the sponsors backed out because
of the political unrest in France in 1934.
CANDIDE (Paris, 1934) (Planned)
A modernized version of Voltaire’s famous satire. Scenario by Richter. Against the
onrushing tide of barbarism in Europe, Candide’s optimism becomes less excusable than
ever. The problem of the model husband and citizen, Candide, is to keep the world where
it stands, however it stands. He, therefore, accepts nationalism (or “national socialism” or
anything you want to call it) even when in its wake comes fascism, persecution and, as
the last word in progress, cannibalism, whereby the “superior” race eats the “inferior”
races, and the “better” half of the “superior” race the “worse” half. Thus, all social and
economic problems are solved. Originally written as a novelette, later expanded into a
film scenario. No studio or producer would touch it-naturally.
BARON MUNCHHAUSEN (Zurich, 1937) (Planned)
The great liar, Munchhausen, was to serve Richter with a scenario less biting in its satire
than Candide. George Meliés, then living in Orly, France, agreed to collaborate with
Richter and to design the sets. (20 years earlier Meliés had made a short “Munchhausen”
film.) Meliés died suddenly in 1938 and the project was put off.
1937-39. Richter acted as producer-director for Central-Film, Zürich. This period
included Conquest of the Sky, a documentary, with music by Darius Milhaud, in three
versions (English, French, German); We Live In a New World (3 reeks); Hans im Glueck,
a comedy, 600 feet; etc.
1939-41. Producer-director for Frobenius Film, Basle (who promised to produce the
Munchhausen film if Richter accepted a post with them). This period included The Birth
of Colour (2 reels, in black and white and colour, documentary on the transformation of
tar into pigment); Stock Exchange as Market (2 1⁄2 reels, a condensed history of different
market forms from primitive times to to-day; an “essay-film” which emphasized the
economic and social reasons for the changing market forms; here, stills of paintings, old
prints, engravings, and other historical documents were used as an integral part of the
film as “arguments”).
THE LIES OF BARON MUNCHHAUSEN (Zurich, 1939)
Richter again started work on his Munchhausen satire about the outrageous liar whose
lies, nevertheless, are understatements of what is happening in the world to-day.
Shrewdly envisaged as a “screen” behind which things could be said that could not
otherwise be said. Jacques Prévert, Jacques Brunius and Maurice Henry, scenarists. Jean
Renoir recommended the film to his company for distribution and a contract for three
million francs was signed in Paris, where casting began. Preparation for sets began in
Muenchenstein. The war ended the project. Three years later Richter learned that the
Nazis had begun the production of a Munchhausen film in Germany.
1940. Lectures at the University of Basle, ETH, Zürich, illustrated with films, on the role
of the progressive film. Two film projects remained unrealized in this period: (a)
Democracy and the Guilds, showing how an outlived state economy, i.e., government
control of industry, could not flourish by decree (abandoned because of the war); (b) Two
Sieges, with anti-Nazi overtones, on Switzerland’s struggle for freedom in the 15th
1941. Another project unrealized, a “super-essay-film”, consisting of five political film
essays bound together by a “frame”. Before this project could go into production, Richter
left Switzerland for the United States.
Film Essays (New York, 1941) (Planned):
THE MONROE DOCTRINE
(In collaboration with Kenneth White.)
THE FOUR FREEDOMS
(As outlined by President Roosevelt, to have consisted of four historical film essays.)
THE ROLE OF WOMEN IN AMERICA
Another projected film-essay on a phase of democracy.
That year Richter tried unsuccessfully to sell his Munchhausen script to Hollywood.
Followed a period of exhibitions of early scroll paintings at the Group Show of American
Abstract Artists, Masters of Abstract Art (Helena Rubenstein’s), etc., lecturing and
conducting a film course at the College of the City of New York. In 194 prepared a
chronology, “A History of the Advance Guard”, for the Museum of Modern Art.
THE MOVIES TAKE A HOLIDAY (New York, 1944)
An anthology of the advance-guard, edited by Richter from films by René Clair, Renoir,
Marcel Duchamp, Fernand Léger, Man Ray, Richter, etc., with an introduction and
“frame” showing the derivation of modern art, its influence on the film, and its role in
modern life: the raison d’être of the experimental film. In collaboration with Herman G.
In 1944 Richter became acting supervisor of the rapidly expanding Institute of Film
Techniques, in New York.
VICTORY IN THE EAST (Southbury, Conn., 1944)
First of a series of “historical” scroll-paintings. 6 yards. Oil and collage.
STORY OF THE UNICORN (New York, 1945) (Planned)
A one-reel scenario for the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York, in collaboration
with Suzanne Hare. A lyrical film-essay on the legendary unicorn, mystical animal of
love. People believed in the existence of the unicorn up to as late as the 19th century.
THE ACCIDENT (New York, 1944-46)
A “test film” on race discrimination, produced for the American-Jewish Committee, after
a story by Siegfried Kracauer and Hans Richter. Scenario: Hans Richter. The film is
designed to test audience-reaction after its showing, via questionnaires, etc. (One reel.)
LIBERATION OF PARIS (Southbury, Con., 1945)
Vertical scroll painting. Oil and collage. 2 1⁄2 yards.
DREAMS THAT MONEY CAN BUY (New York, 1944)
Produced by Hans Richter for Art of This Century Films Inc. (Founded by Peggy
Guggenheim, Kenneth MacPherson and Hans Richter.) Directed by Richter. Camera:
Arnold Eagle. Assistant director: Miriam Raiburn. Scenarios by Fernand Léger, Marcel
Duchamp, Alexander Calder, Max Ernst, Man Ray, Hans Richter. Music by Paul
Hindemith, Darius Milhaud, Edgar Varése, Paul Bowles.
A feature length film. Six fantastic visions, dreams, songs and stories, in colour, united
by an equally fantastic “frame-story” in black and white. This film realizes, unhampered
by any production cliché, or “audience necessity”, the visions of six modern artists using
the film as a creative medium, as artists use painting, sculpture, literature or music.
Special Award at the Venice Film Festival “For the best original contribution to the
progress of cinematography.”
One man show at Galerie des Deux Iles, Paris, 1950, of new scrolls and “orchestrations”,
Catalogue notes by Jean Arp, who stated: “Hans Richter is a great grandson of the old
Egyptian scribes. His hieroglyphic scroll paintings are part of the oldest documents of
human writing… he has made of his scrolls grandiose poems.”
THIRTY YEARS OF EXPERIMENT (1951)
A 58 minute anthology of ten experimental films and film fragments from Richter’s films
between 1921 and 1951, plus excerpts from Eggeling’s Diagonal Symphony and
Ruttmann’s Opus 4, concluding with an epilogue, “Six Modern Artists Make a Film”,
consisting of candid shots during the making of Dreams That Money Can Buy.
Experimental sound-track accompanying.
One man show at the Stedelijk Museum (Museum of Modern Art) Amsterdam, followed
by one man show, Galerie Mai, Paris, both 1953, of new scroll paintings, triptychs and
PASSIONATE PASTIME (1956)
A 28 minute introduction to “8×8”. The history of chess, narrated by Vincent Price;
music by Douglas Townsend (on a theme by Milhaud) and Robert Abramson; sound
editor: Richter. The story of chess from the pre-chess days (2500 B.C.) til the present,
utilizing various carved chess figures as manifold as the various peoples that have played
the game, from the most primitive to the most sophisticated, reflecting the unending
delight in the game. Narration written by Richter. With Marcel Duchamp and Larry
Evans (former American chess champion).
A 19 minute historical document of dadaism (Richter was one of the original dadaists).
The sound-track includes poems by Jean Arp from 1918-40, spoken by himself; an
abstract “sound poem” by Raoul Hausmann, 1919, spoken by himself; an abstract “sound
poem” by Raoul Hausmann, 1919, spoken by himself; an excerpt from “Fantastic
Prayers”, 1916, by Richard Hulsenbeck, spoken by himself; “Sound Sonata”, an abstract
poem by the late Kurt Schwitters, 1921, and “Anna Blume”, both spoken by himself; and
“pun poems”, “postcard”, and a statement on his glass paintings, by (and spoken by)
Marcel Duchamp. With Marcel Duchamp, Yves Tanguy, Jean Arp, Richard Hulsenbeck.
A “Chess Sonata for Film”, eight improvisations, with a prologue and epilogue, on the
game of chess; a 98 minute film in color played exclusively by non-actors: poets,
painters, composers, architects and pretty women. Each sequence has its special title and
special relationship to chess. Produced, written, directed, and designed by Hans Richter.
Photography: Arnold Eagle; Sound Direction: Hans Richter; Sound engineering: Bebe
and Louis Barron; Narrator: Edgar Lang; Title Designs: Jacob Rothenberg; Chess Sets:
Carlebach Gallery. Music by John Gruen, Robert Abramson, Hans Richter, Douglas
Townsend. Lyrics by John Latouche.
Wich Jean Arp, Jacqueline Matisse, Marcel Duchamp, Yves Tanguy, Julian Levy,
Richard Hulsenbeck, Alexander Calder, Ceil Bryson, Eugene Pellegrini, Jonkheer W.
Sandberg, Max Ernst, Dorothea Tanning. Jean Cocteau, Paul Bowles, Ahmed Ben Driss
el Yacoubi, Jose L. Sert, Frederick Kiesler, Paul Wiener.
Additional credits: Song in “Black Schemes” sung by Oscar Brand. “The Self Imposed
Obstacle” produced and directed by Willem de Vogel and Hans Richter. “The Middle
Game” filmed in part by Elmer Purtinam on a theme by Dorothea Tanning. “Queening of
the Pawn”, written and directed by Jean Cocteau.
The 8 “moves”: “Black Schemes”, “A New Twist”, “Venetian Episode”, “The Self
Imposed Obstacle”, “The Middle Game”, “Queening of the Pawn”, “The Fatal Move”,
“Check the King”.
“G” (Berlin, 1923)
Richter published the first modern art magazine in Germany. “G” stood for “Gestaltung”
(creation). Edited by Werner Graeff, Mies van der Rohe and Hans Richter. The first
pictorial magazine, in the modern sense, in Germany. Drew contributors from all parts of
the world, from all the arts. The magazine’s film issue, in 1926, proclaimed: “What we
need is the political film”! The periodical lasted up to 1926.
FILMFEINDE VON HEUTE, FILMFREUNDE VON MORGEN (Berlin, 1928-29)
(Film Enemies of Today, Film Friends of Tomorrow.) An illustrated book on the
experimental film, published by Herman Reckendorf, Berlin, for the German Werkbund,
as a program book for the International Film and Photo Exhibition in Stuttgart, 1929. The
first book to utilize the principles of “montage” in putting together the text and
illustrations in continuity, each supplementing (and an integral part of) the other.
FILM, YESTERDAY, TODAY AND TOMORROW (Carabietta, 1935)
Pamphlet for the Dutch Filmliga, published by Niht and Van Ditmar, Rotterdam, in
Dutch. A critical essay on the history of film writing.
DER KAMPF UM DEN FILM (Carabietta, 1936-39)
A critical book on the films as well as an analytical history of the progressive film. (Re-
printed, in part, in the Neue Zuericher Zeitung. Zürich.)
THE POLITICAL FILM (New York, 1941)
A pamphlet on Nazi propaganda films, in collaboration with Jay Leyda. Published in the
anti-fascist German magazine, “Deutsche Blätter”, Santiago, Chile.
FILM AND PROGRESS (New York, 1942)
A book on the positive and negative roles of the film in modern society. Begun in
collaboration with Herman G. Weinberg. (Published in Zürich.) From 1943 to 1956, Hans
Richter was director of the Institute of Film Techniques at the Collage of the City of New
York, from which he retired, as Professor, on Sept. 1, 1956. He has contributed
extensively to film periodicals here and abroad.
Published by FILM CULTURE magazine, 215 West 98th Street, New York 25, N.Y.
Copyright, 1957 by FILM CULTURE. Printed in the U.S.A.
• 1921: Rhytmus 21. Director
• 1923: Rythmus 23. Director
• 1925: Rythmus 25. Director
• 1926: Filmstudie. Writer/Director
• 1927: Inflation. Writer/Director
• 1928: Ghosts before Breakfast (Vormittagsspuk). Director
“Hans Richter created the film Ghosts before Breakfast, also known as Vormittagsspuk, in 1927/28. This was a silent experimental avant-garde film and it was the fifth film that he had made. The film itself is considered to be one of the first surrealistic films ever made. Richter’s interest in Dadaism is shown directly in this work as he challenges current art standards of the time by presenting a theme of obscurity and fantasy. Clocks, legs, ladders, hats, and people undergo total irrational happenings in unusual settings. Men have beards magically appear and disappear before the viewer’s eyes, hats fly around in the air, a man’s head comes off and floats in the air, tea cups fill up by themselves, objects and characters move in reverse, men disappear behind a street sign, etc… . All brought together by associative logic, the flying hats perform this function by continually reappearing to the sequence of shots to tie the film together as a whole. This film digs into the viewer’s mind for inner experience in thought and idea. It gives the audience a chance to release nervous tension when witnessing these abstractions shown through images. Richter tries to increase the viewer’s knowledge of reality by showing them surrealistic fantasy. He accomplishes this through his use of rhythm, and his use of the camera.
Rhythm is a very important element in all of Richter’s works. It can be seen in this film as well. Rhythm was shown in the use of movement in the characters. All of the characters seemed to have moved at the same spaced distance from one another and at the same speed. This clarified a sense of rhythm and intensified a sense of stability in the frame. The same number of characters or items also seemed to preserve rhythm. This may be found constantly throughout the film. If there were three hats then the next shot would contain three men. The numbers did fluctuate, but a number would remain constant throughout a couple of shots. Shapes in the film also preserved rhythm. This can be seen in Richter’s bulls-eye scene. The circles of the bulls-eye fill the screen and are spaced equally apart from one another. The target then breaks up and the circles spread out in the frame to relocate in different areas continuing to preserve rhythm. Rhythm is demonstrated in the scene with the guns that form a pin wheel type image and then start to spin. The five guns are equally spaced from one another and a rhythm is present in the speed at which they turn. The reoccurring image of the flying hats forms a rhythm as it ties the film together as a whole.
The way that Richter used the camera stressed his world of fantasy. One way that he did this was by experimenting with the camera and the film in it. It was almost a form of what we know now as trick photography. This is present in the scene when images are placed on top of each other (bulls-eye scene). This scene has the bulls-eye displayed, but with a man behind it. In this scene the man’s head falls off and drifts around in the target.
Richter also used fast motion to demonstrate a blossoming branch. We watch a branch bloom within a few seconds. Richter does this to clarify the use of time in his film and show a fantasy version of time. In this comical trick film, he also uses slowed down film speed. There is one scene with tea cups on a tray that come crashing to the ground. He slowed down the speed to intensify the breaking of the china and to clarify how the cups shatter as they make impact.
To go along with these slowed down and speed up transitions in the film Richter also demonstrated film played back in reverse. This was found in many spots: tea cups going back together, water going back into a hose, etc . . . . By doing these type of tricks Richter brought the viewer into the world of fantasy because one would never see this happen in reality.
Negatives were also used in this film. Richter used negatives of the film and placed them in different spots, thus showing comparison and contrast between the objects presented in both a “real world” versus a “negative world”. Since the film was in black and white we see the comparison made in the shades of black, white, and gray.
Richter’s handling of the camera emphasized how abstract and “shocking” the shots would come out. Positioning of the camera was constantly changing. This helped in making each upcoming shot more interesting to the viewer by providing a new outlook on the subject being presented. It helped distinguish the different shots by separating them. It would clarify that some thing new and unexpected was happening, thus intensifying a feel of curiosity of what will happen next. Many of the shots led into each other through the use of motion vectors even though the scenes might be unrelated. That is what makes this work so abstract – the unrelated scenes tied together by flying hats. No one scene would last for a long time and a lot of the edits were cutaways that were made very quickly. The edits helped in presenting the abstract and unexpected scenes to the viewer.
Through all of these cuts each shot or scene maintained a well balanced frame with well proportioned shapes and sizes that compared or contrasted their relativity. The use of these objects and characters demonstrated Richter’s interest in showing the x, y, and z axes. He demonstrated a sense of depth in many scenes such as the target scene, the unraveling of the hose scene, people walking and then disappearing behind a pole (exaggerated plane?), etc… . Richter filmed a lot of the scenes in his film by alternating the camera from primary motion (camera is stationary while objects/characters have movement in the frame) to secondary motion (camera moves along with objects/characters). Primary motion was shown in the gun scenes while secondary motion was shown in the flying hat scenes. The secondary motion of the camera in the flying hat scenes helped bring the mystery of the hats closer to the viewer. His camera movement helped clarify the situations at stake and intensify the viewer’s reaction to what was being presented./
One element of filming that Richter makes use of is lighting. He is demonstrating the lighting on many images to produce different effects of light/shadows. By doing this different textures are shown and it also helps in visualizing depth. This clarifies the size of the objects or situation in the frame by intensifying the “feel” (texture) of each subject displayed./
Richter made this film with continually changing shots so that the viewer does not just stare at the screen, but rather pay close attention and be curious of what is to come up next. Images of violence is a way that he keeps the viewer’s attention. The act of violence is clarified through the images of the breaking cups, the guns, the floating or drifting head, and the fist fighting scene. Fear is intensified by these images. The piano composition, functioning as the only sounds in this silent film, intensifies a feeling of “intense excitement”. The shots of the flying hats may clarify that actual ghosts are wearing them which also may intensify fear or shock the viewer because of the bizarreness that is being presented in the frames. The men eventually receive their hats back from “the ghosts” as they sit down to have tea for what it looks like could be breakfast. This is where Hans Richter might have titled this film Ghosts before Breakfast.
The opening scene of the film deals with time which is shown at the beginning and at the end of the film by use of a clock. This somewhat states to the viewer that the film was all time related, but contained associative logic due to the reappearing flying hat scenes. Both elements of time and rhythm are well preserved by the clock. At the end of the film the clock splits in half and each piece sweeps to their side of the frame to reveal the word “Ende”. It seems to show that not only did Richter want to shock the audience into a non-real world, but to also do it by rhythm and time. These elements would form a “fantasy trance” of curiosity causing the audience to want to see what is next. This was especially true in a time when film was new and he was demonstrating special effects. People were not used to slowed down time, speeded up time, and reverse time shown in moving images, not to mention the negatives that present a world of fantasy.
• 1929: Alles drecht sich, alles bewegt sich. Writer/Director
• 1929: Two Penny Magic. (Zweigroschenzauber). Writer/Director
• 1929: The Storming of La Sarraz. Director
• 1929: Race Symphony. (Rennsymphonie). Writer/Director
• 1929: Everyday. Writer/Director
• 1930: Neues Leben. Writer/Director
• 1931: Europa Radio. Writer/Director
• 1933: Hallo Everybody. Writer/Director
• 1934: The Champion of Pontresina (Der Springer von Pontresina). Writer/Director
• 1934: Keine Zeit für Tränen. Director
• 1936: Vom Blitz zum Fernsehbid. Writer/Director
• 1947: Dreams that Money Can Buy. Writer/Director
• 1957: 8 x 8: A chess Sonata in 8 Movements. Writer/Director
This rare, feature length, surreal film by Hans Richter features segments directed by and
starring Jean Cocteau, Jean Arp, Jaqueline Matisse, Yves Tanguy, Julien Lary, Richard
Hulsenback, Alexander Calder, William De Vogel, Dorothy and Max Ernst.
• 1961: Dadascope. Writer/Director
• 1969: Index Hans Richter. Writer/Director
• 1970: Germany Dada Film: A compilation.
• Early Avant-Garde. A compilation.
• Avant Garde Program: A compilation.
• Circus, by Alexander Calder, produced by Hans Richter.
Note: Hans Richter participated in numerous International Film Festivals or Film Shows in Museums and received many awards for his films