The Automaton within Man Ray's Films: From Mechanical to Darwinian
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This thesis explores two films within Man Ray’s oeuvre: Le Retour à la Raison (1923) and L’Étoile de Mer (1928). These films seem wholly unrelated to one another – Le Retour emphasizes avant-garde filmmaking techniques and machines and L’Étoile concerns violent romantic love and a living sea creature – but I argue that they are consistent with one another. I explore this connection through my term the “Darwinian Automaton” and its implications on Man Ray’s transition from Dada to Surrealism. The first chapter investigates Ray’s early life and the reasons why he founded New York Dada with Marcel Duchamp and Francis Picabia. In New York, Ray developed the machine iconography that he explored throughout the rest of his artistic career. The second chapter delves into Ray’s expatriation to Paris from New York and the beginning of his short-lived filmmaking career. I analyze his first short film Le Retour à la Raison and the concept of the half-abstract, which illuminates how he adapted his earlier machine iconography to the milieu of Paris Dada. The third chapter details Ray’s transition to Surrealism and what led him to create of his third film L’Étoile de Mer. I explore his friendship with the poet Robert Desnos and his utilization of footage from the biologist Jean Painlevé. The conclusion signals for the importance of rereading Surrealist art through the lens of Darwinism and Ray’s lasting impact on avant-garde cinema.