Absolute Film

An abstract film is one that does not contain the depiction of a concrete object. Such films were initially referred to as ‘absolute’ films, as they did not deal with the interpretation of a reality outside the film. There is debate as to the degree of abstraction required to classify a work as abstract. The spectrum ranges from filmed nonrepresentational source materials through semi-abstract real shooting of motifs that are difficult to identify (e.g., shadow plays) to cameraless and imageless direct editing of the film material. The history of abstract film began in 1921 with Lichtspiel Opus 1 (Light-Play Opus 1) by Walter Ruttmann and continues to the present day. A substantial share of abstract films expressly make reference to music or musical principles.

Several phases can be differentiated with respect to the relationship between image and sound. In the 1920s, the focus was on experimenting with the image; sound was considered secondary. Most films were projected – depending on the available possibilities – with or without sound. In the 1930s, the relationship between image and sound was reversed: most abstract films were animated to an existing piece of what was often popular music. In the 1960s and 1970s, the question of the relationship between image and sound was solved in a conceptual or structural way: image and sound comprised a unit of almost equal artistic value; the sound was for the most part designed by the filmmaker him- or herself. Since the 1960s, the medium of video has also been worked with in an abstract way, with the different technology evoking fundamentally different approaches in each case.