(As performed by the uncles of Monsieur Phot)
An homage to Joseph Cornell.
In 1933, inspired by a handful of unrelated 19th century stereoscope slides, the American sculptor and collagist Joseph Cornell wrote a film scenario titled Monsieur Phot. Cornell was at the beginning of his career as an artist, and experimenting with several different media, including collage and box assemblage. Monsieur Phot was a delicately poetic, surrealistic, and humorous combination of scenes and adventures, within an elegant hotel, involving the fictional 19th century photographer of the title.
Cornell loved the movies. Although the technical and logistic challenges that would have been involved in his filming Monsieur Phot were at that time beyond his ability to solve by himself, he may already have begun collaging or splicing together the abandoned reels of film footage that he found in the trash or purchased in junk shops. A few years later, Cornell would use this “cut-and-paste” technique to create his first (and most extensive) collage film, Rose Hobart, from the discarded reels of a copy of East of Borneo, a C-grade jungle adventure movie of the early 1930s.
In 1940, Cornell created his box construction Object (Hotel Theatricals by the grandson of Monsieur Phot Sunday Afternoons), with sixteen compartments painted black and red; each of fifteen of the compartments is backed by a photograph of a young man in 19th century dress in a different pose, as part of a series of connected exercise, dance, or pantomime movements in each row of compartments. Cornell pasted typewritten humorous titles below each row: “Jacob wrestling with the angel,” “The visit of the Queen of Sheba to Solomon,” “The finding of Moses in the bulrushes,” and “The triumph of Galatea.” The arrangement of the photographs gives an impression of frames of film taken from an early silent movie.