Len Lye

  • Len Lye – A Colour Box (1935)

    1931-1940ExperimentalLen LyeShort FilmUnited Kingdom

    Lye’s first direct film, which combines popular Cuban dance music with hand-painted abstract designs, amazed cinema audiences. Color was still a novelty, and Lye’s direct painting on celluloid creates exceptionally vibrant effects. The film won several major awards, though some festivals had to invent a special category for it, and in Venice, the Fascists disrupted screenings because they saw the film as ‘degenerate’ modern art. A Colour Box was funded and distributed by John Grierson’s GPO Film Unit on the condition that Lye include postal messages at the end.Read More »

  • Len Lye – Tusalava (1929)

    Experimental1921-1930AnimationLen LyeUnited Kingdom

    This remarkable animation film was first screened by the London Film Society in 1929. Jack Ellitt’s original piano music for Tusalava has unfortunately been lost. The film imagines the beginnings of life on earth. Single-cell creatures evolve into more complex forms of life. Evolution leads to conflict, and two species fight for supremacy. The title is a Samoan word which suggests that things go full circle. In this film Lye based his style of animation partly on the ancient Aboriginal art of Australia. Tusalava is unique as a film example of what art critics describe as “modernist primitivism”. In contrast to the Cubist painters (who were influenced by African art), Lye drew upon traditions of indigenous art from his own region of the world (New Zealand, Australia and Samoa).Read More »

  • Len Lye – Free Radicals (1958)

    1951-1960Amos Vogel: Film as a Subversive ArtClassicsExperimentalLen LyeUSA


    Free Radicals

    Directed by Len Lye
    US 1958, revised 1979, 16mm, b/w, 4 min.

    In arguably his greatest film, Lye reduces the medium to its most basic elements by scratching designs on black film. He used a variety of scribers ranging from dental tools to an ancient Native American arrowhead, and synchronized the images to traditional African music (a field tape of the Bagirmi tribe). The film won second prize in the International Experimental Film Competition, which was judged by Man Ray, Norman McLaren, Alexander Alexeiff and others at the 1958 World’s Fair in Brussels. In 1979 Lye further condensed the film by dropping a minute of footage. Stan Brakhage described the final version as “an almost unbelievably immense masterpiece (a brief epic).”Read More »

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