Hans Richter

b. 1888 Berlin, Germany
d. 1976 Locarno, Switzerland

Web Resources

Although its centre was Paris, the cinematic avant-garde that emerged after World War I originated in Germany. Composed almost exclusively of modern painters and photographers, the international experimental film movement mounted a sustained effort to extend the formal strategies of the various strands of post-war modernism to the cinema. (1) In deliberate opposition to the naturalizing, indexical tendencies of the popular cinema, the highly reflexive films of the first avant-garde emphasized the medium-specific properties of cinema by drawing attention to its capacity for spatio-temporal transformation. The focus was on the nature, properties and functions of the camera, film strip and screen, rather than on human actors or narrative flow. It is, therefore, highly appropriate that the films that inaugurated the movement were all works of abstract animation, an area in which German artists made a decisive contribution. Foremost among these early pioneers was Hans Richter, who, as a participant in most of the major art movements of the inter-war period and as a director, educator, theorist and cine-activist for more than four decades, played a pivotal role in the development of the avant-garde film.

After a brief career as a Cubist and six months of military service, Richter became, with Tristan Tzara and Hans Arp, one of the founding members of Zurich Dada. As the acknowledged author of many of the Dada manifestos, Richter was certainly sympathetic to its ideas, but his paintings in this period are less concerned with anarchic revolt than they are with the dissolution of natural objects into pure forms. Following the failed Spartacist uprising, Richter returned to Munich in 1919 to lead the short-lived Action Committee of Revolutionary Artists. (2) Richter quickly turned away from politically charged figurative art, however, and devoted his energies to the development of a new system of rhythmic abstraction. Some scholars have interpreted Richter’s growing interest in non-representational forms as a response to the failure of leftist groups such as the Action Committee to affect political change. (3) Richter, however, reads things differently:

Influenced by cubism and its search for structure, but not satisfied with what it offered, I found myself between 1913-1918 increasingly faced with the conflict of suppressing spontaneous expression in order to gain an objective understanding of a fundamental principle with which I could control the ‘heap of fragments’ inherited from the cubists. Thus I gradually lost interest in the subject – in any subject – and focused instead on the positive-negative (white-black) opposition, which at least gave me a working hypothesis whereby I could organize the relationship of one part of a painting to the other. (4)

Richter’s preoccupation with the relationship between structural elements reflects his desire to move past the individualistic emotionalism of Expressionism by finding some way to harness, and exert dialectical control over, the flow of abstract form-combinations in his work. Ironically, one of the founders of Dada quickly became concerned that “if we allow […] an uninhibited fulfilment of all personal impulses without, at least, trying to establish harmony we are led to anarchy and suicide in life as well as in art”, and began searching for universal principles that could be used “so that we might attain a sovereignty over this new matter and justify this new freedom” (5).

Late in 1919, Richter met the Swedish artist Viking Eggeling, who was similarly concerned with systematizing abstraction. The two artists began living and working together, finding in the counterpoint of Johann Sebastian Bach’s fugues a principle that could be used to control both the form and the rhythm of their paintings. For Richter and Eggeling, contrapuntal polarity “was more than a technical device, it was a philosophic way of dealing with the experience of growth” and it led them to the idea of a universal language. (6) Although no copies survive, in 1920 they jointly published an article on this subject, entitled “Universelle Sprache” (“Universal Language”), in Theo van Doesberg’s magazine, De Stijl, in 1920. The essay demonstrated how an unlimited multiplicity of relationships could be arranged by equilibrating form-elements with their opposites through similarities that they called “contrast-analogies” (7). In a series of scroll paintings they made between 1919 and 1921, Richter and Eggeling took their ideas further by introducing the idea of continuity to the methodical arrangement of their contrast-analogies. Since the scrolls progress sequentially, the dynamic energies of the form-element relationships are able to accumulate, allowing the viewer to experience the work not as a static fact, but rather as an active process unfolding in time. Richter and Eggeling both saw utopian possibilities in the mnemonic demands their scroll paintings placed on the eye, and this inspired them to try to apply their principles to the time-based medium of film. (8)

Although neither Richter nor Eggeling had any experience with film technology, they were able to begin experimenting in the trick film studios of UFA in Berlin through the patronage of a wealthy neighbour. (9) After several failed attempts to directly transfer their scrolls to strips of film, Richter and Eggeling tried to animate hand-drawn images by holding them down with thumbtacks and manually moving them on an editing table. Richter successfully adapted his 1919 Präludium scroll into a brief sequence, but became frustrated at the cumbersome production process and the somewhat awkward results. (10) Increasingly convinced that their techniques were inadequate to the task, Richter abandoned this method in late 1920, which precipitated a falling out with Eggeling, who insisted that picture scrolls should be treated as “scores” for films. After what Richter has called a “Herculean effort”, Eggeling was eventually able to complete the final version of his Symphonie Diagonale shortly before his death in 1925. (11)

Richter, on the other hand, decided to adopt an entirely new strategy: rather than attempting to visually orchestrate formal patterns, he focused instead on the temporality of the cinematic viewing experience by emphasizing movement and the shifting relationship of form elements in time. His major creative breakthrough, in other words, was the discovery of cinematic rhythm, which he then used as the title of his first film, Film ist Rhythmus: Rhythmus ’21 (Film is Rhythm: Rhythm 21, 1921). For Richter, rhythm, “as the essence of emotional expression”, was connected to a Bergsonian life force:

Rhythm expresses something different from thought. The meaning of both is incommensurable. Rhythm cannot be explained completely by thought nor can thought be put in terms of rhythm, or converted or reproduced. They both find their connection and identity in common and universal human life, the life principle, from which they spring and upon which they can build further. (12)

The determining impulse for all of Richter’s early film work, visual rhythm, as articulated time, was used to organize the constituent spatial elements of a film into a unified whole.

Rhythmus 21

In Rhythmus ’21, generally considered to be the first completely abstract film, Richter used these principles to create a work of remarkable structural cohesion. Completed by using stop motion and forward and backward printing in addition to an animation table, the film consists of a continuous flow of rectangular and square shapes that “move” forward, backward, vertically, and horizontally across the screen. (13) Syncopated by an uneven rhythm, forms grow, break apart and are fused together in a variety of configurations for just over three minutes (at silent speed). The constantly shifting forms render the spatial situation of the film ambivalent, an idea that is reinforced when Richter reverses the figure-background relationship by switching, on two occasions, from positive to negative film. In so doing, Richter draws attention to the flat rectangular surface of the screen, destroying the perspectival spatial illusion assumed to be integral to film’s photographic base, and emphasizing instead the kinetic play of contrasts of position, proportion and light distribution. By restricting himself to the use of square shapes and thus simplifying his compositions, Richter was able to concentrate on the arrangement of the essential elements of cinema: movement, time and light. Disavowing the beauty of “form” for its own sake, Rhythmus ’21 instead expresses emotional content through the mutual interaction of forms moving in contrast and relation to one another. Nowhere is this more evident than in the final “crescendo” of the film, in which all of the disparate shapes of the film briefly coalesce into a Mondrian-like spatial grid before decomposing into a field of pure light.

According to Richter, the original version of Rhythmus ’21 was never shown publicly in Berlin. At the behest of Theo van Doesberg, however, it was shown in Paris in 1921, with Richter introduced as a Dane due to anti-German sentiment. (14) In May 1922, Richter travelled with van Doesberg and El Lissitzky to the First International Congress of Progressive Artists, where they formed the International Faction of Constructivism. In a group manifesto, written by Richter, they define the progressive artist

as one who denies and fights the predominance of subjectivity in art and does not create his work on the basis of random chance, but rather on the new principles of artistic creation by systematically organizing the media to a generally understandable expression. (15)

To help disseminate these ideas, Richter founded the journal G in July 1923. The magazine, whose title stands for Gestaltung (forming), lasted until 1926 and included articles by Hans Arp, Ludwig Mies van der Rohe, Kurt Schwitters, Naum Gabo and Man Ray, in addition to Richter and van Doesberg. G, whose typography adhered to constructivist principles, was, according to Marion von Hockafer, “the first German periodical to be concerned with the changing form and structure of presenting and perceiving aesthetic information” (16). Eager to see art reconnected to the world, Richter presented G as a forum to help artists “achieve both lawfulness of artistic expression and tasks of meaningful activity” (17).

Präludium scroll

Richter published several articles in G diagrammatically explaining his ideas about cinematic rhythm, including one in which he expressed the desire to make a colour film. Since there was no colour film stock available at that time, Richter had planned to paint each frame of his Fuge in Rot und Grün (Fugue in Red and Green) by hand with the assistance of Werner Gräff, a former student of van Doesberg at the Bauhaus. After learning that the coloured lines would be visible on the film strip, however, Richter abandoned his efforts and made the film in black and white, retitling it Rhythmus 23 (1923). Somewhat less radical than its predecessor, Rhythmus 23 is constructed entirely out of the interplay between square shapes and diagonal lines, often related via superimposition, and the underlying architectonic principle is geometric symmetry. In the opening of the film, for example, two white squares on the left and right sides of the screen move towards each other along an axially symmetric path until they finally “fuse” into a larger white square, before breaking apart into shrinking squares that careen off diagonally, in parallel with one another. At the end of the film, this same sequence re-appears, but this time inverted, with black squares moving against a white background. The visual motifs in between resemble those of the earlier picture scrolls and it is thus not surprising that Richter included parts of the test film he had made of his Präludium scroll. As a favour to his old friend Tristan Tzara, the film was premiered in Paris during the final Dada soiree on 6 July 1923. (18) This has led many critics to mistakenly read it, and indeed all of Richter’s abstract work as Dada, despite the fact that his writings and films demonstrate a much stronger affinity with the rationalist systemiticity of Constructivism.

Richter began work on his final abstract film, eventually titled Rhythmus 25, late in 1923. After creating a scroll, Orchestration der Farbe (Orchestration of Color, 1923), that he could use as a model, Richter hand-painted every frame of the film, using colour as another contrast to heighten the tension of the movement of squares, lines, and bands. Since the hand-colouring was extremely expensive, Richter produced only one film print which, unfortunately, has not survived. In an unpublished monograph, however, Richter explains his intended colour scheme for the film:

Between green and red are all the colors, as between black and white is all the light. The scientifically denominated elementary colors, blue, red, and yellow, do not have, aesthetically speaking, an absolute distance from each other. Red and yellow are nearer (warm); blue is opposite of yellow as well as of red; whereas green and red are incomparably unequal to each other… All other colors I consider more or less variations. (19)

Rhythmus 25 was premiered at the “First International Avant-Garde Film Exhibition” held in 1925 at the UFA Theatre Kurfuerstendamm in Berlin. Titled “Der Absolute Film” and sponsored by the Novembergruppe, the program also included Rhythmus 23, Eggeling’s Symphonie Diagonale (1924), Walter Ruttmann’s Opus III (1923), Fernand Léger’s Ballet Mecanique (1924), and René Clair and Francis Picabia’s Entr’acte (1924), all of which were concerned with the elaboration of a uniquely cinematic rhythm. (20) A major critical and commercial success, the exhibition helped to legitimize abstract film and gave a significant cultural caché to the avant-garde.

Film Study

At the very moment when the popularity of non-representational “absolute film” was reaching its peak, however, Richter began integrating photographic material into his film experiments. The first such work was Filmstudie (Film Study, 1926), a highly evocative non-narrative film that connects human faces, floating eyeballs, and abstract forms through a series of poetic visual associations. Observing that “as a painter as well as a film maker, [he doesn’t] see any contradiction between natural and abstract forms”, Richter claimed that Film Study “develops abstract forms as part of the world we live in, as its nearest expression underlying the unending manifoldness of appearances” (21). Running for approximately four minutes, the film is composed of 45 “shots” lasting for between two and six seconds, each of which is bridged by a cut that either connects a geometric shape to rays of varying intensity or analogizes a photographic object to an abstract form. To cite just two examples, brief shots of birds on a pier alternate with dots in the same positions while an image of a man smashing the ground with a hammer is intercut with swaths of light whose orientation resembles that of his legs. This method is similar to that used in both Ballet Mecanique and Man Ray’s Emak Bakia (1926), although it goes further than either film as a study of the perceptual process and a reflexive comment of the act of viewing. Of the 45 shots in Film Study, eleven depict human eyes looking back at the camera while another nine contain beams of light moving quickly across the screen like spotlights, self-conscious reminders of the projected status of the film image.

Several historians, including Richter, have made the somewhat anachronistic claim that Film Study is a “surrealistic” film because it develops, like a dream, through a series of unexpected associations. (22) While this reading helps to explain the surprising consonance of the film’s imagery with the traditions of the German fantastic film, it ignores the extent to which Film Study is structurally symmetrical: the film begins with a cut from an orb rising up against a wavelike background to multiple exposures of a woman’s face looking up and ends with a cut from the same faces looking down to a shot of the orb descending. Far more “surrealistic” in both form and function is Vormittagsspuk (Ghosts Before Breakfast, 1928), a film produced for the International Music Festival at Baden-Baden. The project was initiated by Paul Hindemith, who composed original music for the film that, since sound-film technology did not yet exist, was conducted from a rolling score. The score was later attached to a two-inch sound version of the film that was intended for general release but “got lost” by the Nazi authorities. (23)

Ghosts Before Breakfast

A virtual compendium of the technical devices – superimposition, negative-positive reversals, slow motion and sudden shifts in the camera’s shutter speed – that could be used to deform and denaturalize photographic material, Ghosts Before Breakfast is Richter’s most loosely structured, improvisatory film. Running for just under ten minutes, the film takes place during the interval between 11:50 and noon, with the synchronicity between diegetic and real time in the opening shots and the reflexive images of the clock used to deceptively suggest that the film will proceed according to narrative conventions. Richter quickly subverts these expectations by treating legs, ladders, hats, beards and clocks less as real objects than as free forms, and by assembling them into a deliberately irrational “story”. By reversing the assumed roles of people and inanimate objects, the film undermines traditional subject-object relations and encourages viewers to question the assumed stability of the world around them. In this way, the film attains a political significance that was, apparently, not missed on the German censors who condemned it as “degenerate art”.

Both Film Study and Ghosts Before Breakfast were financed using the money Richter made producing a series of ten-minute publicity films for companies like Muratti cigarettes and Sommerfeld building contractors. Richter has said that the camera was still “something strange to [him]” when he made Rhythmus 25, and these short advertisements, produced weekly beginning in early 1926, enabled him to improve his knowledge of film technique and to greatly expand his range of stylistic options. (24) The success of the “Der Absolute Film” program had given avant-garde filmmakers a surprisingly high degree of commercial credibility, so Richter had considerable freedom to experiment with each of these works, on the condition that the name of the sponsor appear at least once. In Zweigroschenzauber (Two-Pence Magic, 1929), for example, Richter uses the techniques of Film Study to narrate the contents of an illustrated magazine by relating the movements of diverse objects. In one particularly strong sequence, Richter establishes relationships between dissimilar actions by associatively intercutting rapid shots of legs pedalling a bicycle, a child kicking, the flight of a plane, a diver, a looping plane and the flight of a pigeon. The sponsoring magazine is referenced only in the final shot of the film. Richter’s most important commissioned work was Inflation (1927), a brief introduction to a documentary that dialectically relates the exchange of money and the growing number of zeros on the Mark. Inflation pessimistically suggested that the financial crisis would continue unabated under capitalism, but it was considered a major artistic success by contemporary critics and made possible the creation of additional “introductions” such as Rennsymphonie (Race Symphony, 1929).

Richter’s commercial experiments represent only one example of the fluid interchange between the avant-garde and the film industry in the Weimar period. Walter Ruttmann, the other major avant-gardist in Germany up until 1928, had made his first hand-coloured Opus films by using “a small structure with turning, horizontal sticks on which plasticine forms were easily charged during the shooting” (25). After making contact with Fritz Lang at UFA, he applied these same techniques to the hawk dream sequence in the first part of Die Nibelungen (1924). The success of “Der Absolute Film”and the support of Karl Freund enabled him to direct his most ambitious film, Berlin: Die Sinfonie der Grosstadt (Berlin, Symphony of a City, 1927), a documentary portrait of a typical day in Berlin that musically synchronized abstract forms, human movement and natural objects. According to Richter, it was with the release of Berlin that avant-garde filmmaking was publicly legitimated:

Edmund Meisel’s music, the first score written for a film, at least in Germany [in this respect, it precedes Ghosts Before Breakfast by a year], was an additional fact that made the premiere an outstanding event at the Tauentzien Palast, an elegant theater in the most fashionable shopping district of Berlin. Since the days of Potemkin [Bronenosets Potyomkin, Sergei M. Eisenstein], in 1925, no other film had attracted as much public participation. The “Berliner” participated in Berlin. The “absolute film” as it was still called, was accepted. (26)

The success of Berlin made it possible for Ruttmann’s assistant, Oscar Fischinger, to begin making his carefully orchestrated animations in German (and later Hollywood) film studios, and eventually led to the release of Menschen am Sonntag (People on Sunday, 1929), an “avant-garde” documentary that launched the careers of Robert Siodmak, Fred Zinnemann and Billy Wilder. (27)

Everything Revolves, Everything Turns

With the advent of sound technology, German avant-garde filmmaking became even more directly intertwined with industrial technology. The first person to have access to sound equipment in Germany was Ruttmann, who used an early version of the Tobis system to create Weekend (1929), a picture-less collage of natural sounds that many critics regard as his finest achievement. (28) That same year, Richter directed a three-reel film made in a 2-inch-wide negative using the new Tobis equipment. Entitled Alles dreht sich, Alles bewegt sich! (Everything Revolves, Everything Turns, 1929), the film was an attempt to translate “the uninhibited fun-making of the fair into real fantasy”, although it also functions as a sharp caricature of the period. (29) As per the title, the images are somewhat discontinuous, change rapidly and are in nearly perpetual motion, with rotating objects (such as balls spinning in the air) used as recurring leitmotivs. By cutting from shots of corpulent men in a sauna to fat hands in a lap, a stork, a German flag, a bear mascot and a betting booth where money is rapidly exchanged, the film also transforms the fairground into a metaphor for the fundamental instability of Weimar society. Despite its implied social critique and the fact that the audio track consisted of overlapping fragments of recorded conversations, the sponsors were very positive about the film, and released it as a demonstration of their new sound technology.

Although he was not opposed to the industrial appropriation of avant-garde techniques, Richter was actively committed to ensuring the autonomy of independently produced “poetic” films. (30) In 1927, he founded Germany’s first avant-garde film forum, Gesellschaft für Neuen Film, helped to finance the creation of its first avant-garde film theatre, Kamera, and gave a series of lectures on filmmaking at the Bauhaus. He enthusiastically endorsed the second-wave of German independent films, such as the painter Ernö Metzner’s Uberfall (1928) and, as artistic director of the film section, co-organized the international “Film und Foto” exhibition held in Stuttgart in 1929. As the handbook for the exhibition, Richter wrote Filmgegner von heute – Filmfreunde von morgen (Film Enemies of Today, Film Friends of Tomorrow), a volume of short, thematically related texts presented along with supplementary illustrations. One of the earliest histories of cinema, the book – and its partner Der Kampf um den Film (The Struggle for the Film, which was written in 1930 but not published until 1939) – traces the gradual development of cinema from its early, purely reproductive origins to its contemporary creative stage. Unlike the contemporaneous historico-theoretical treatises of Rudolph Arnheim and Béla Balázs, however, Richter’s book assumes neither a linear conception of stylistic progress nor a sense of the medium’s unfolding potential. (31) Instead, it valorises individual expression and posits a fluid sense of film history that is as variegated as the diverse array of people who contributed to its artistic development. (32)

The final flourishing of the first European avant-garde occurred between 1928 and 1930. Late in 1929, Richter attended the First International Film Congress of the Independent Film at La Sarrasz and was appointed the leader of the “Internationale of the Avant-Garde”. Concerned about the increasingly tense political situation in Europe and eager to use the film to fight against fascism, the Internationale was dissolved by the fourteen participating countries a year later at the second Congress in Brussels in December 1930. While the First Congress celebrated personal expression and the utopian ideals of the avant-garde film, the Second Congress belaboured the rising costs of sound film production and encouraged members to begin work in documentary film, where plastic creativity could be pragmatically applied to socially useful ends. Like most of his colleagues, Richter was responsive to the acute political crisis of his era and wrote a manifesto in which he argued that rather than making films as artistic experiments, independent filmmakers should produce films that “deal with the social, political, and human ideas of their time” (33). Throughout the early 1930s, Richter’s cinema became increasingly politicized, achieving its most advanced statement in Metall (1931-3), an uncompleted feature-documentary about the suppression of a labour strike in Hennigsdorf by the Nazis. (34)

Unfortunately, with the exception of Neues Leben (1930) – a film explaining the ideas about modern life, architecture, and design developed at the Bauhaus – and a few commissioned documentaries like the recently re-discovered Van Blikesemschicht Tot Televisie (From Lightning to Television, 1936), Richter was unable to finish most of the film projects he initiated in the 1930s. (35)

The “Narcissus” episode of Dreams that Money Can Buy

Richter fled Germany in 1933 and, after travelling through Europe for several years, eventually found his way to New York City. Unable to pay for film stock during the war years, he produced a series of politically charged scroll collages, with titles like Liberation of Paris (1945) and Victory in the East (Stalingrad) (1943-44). Painted on top of newspaper clippings detailing Hitler’s progress, the scrolls set amorphous forms against the rigid geometric shapes of the earlier scrolls, softening the points of structural tension while increasing the visual complexity of the overall composition. Richter’s last major film, the feature-length Dreams that Money Can Buy (1944-7), reflects a similar adjustment to his earlier film æsthetics. Financed by Peggy Guggenheim and Kenneth MacPherson, Dreams that Money Can Buy was the first attempt by a member of the original European avant-garde to make an experimental feature in the post-war era and it was honoured with a special award at the 1947 Venice Film Festival. The finished film is a compilation of seven unrelated dream sequences linked together by a shared frame story, each of which was filmed by Richter and “designed” in collaboration with one of his artist friends from Europe (in order: Fernand Léger, Alexander Calder, Marcel Duchamp, Max Ernst, Man Ray and Hans Arp) and, finally, Richter by himself. Richter’s episode, the most allegorical and autobiographical, is a variation on the story of Narcissus about a man who discovers that he is blue, looks into a mirror and passes through it into a world that reflects his inner life. With its soft colour palette, expressive use of a subjective camera, deep-focus cinematography and enigmatic narrative, the “Narcissus” episode explicitly simulates the texture and flow of a dream, and it is unsurprising that Richter claims to have made it in a trance. (36)

In one of his final essays, Richter observed that the “pure cinema” has three characteristics that determine its place in twentieth-century society: the freedom of the artist; the moral responsibility of film content; and the value of the obscure. (37) Although all three of these criteria are inter-related, they also delineate, roughly, three of the major stages of the history of the international avant-garde cinema: the initial assertion of cinematic independence (1921-9); the turn towards a more politicized use of the documentary form in the 1930s; and finally the emergence of the romantic, “visionary” New York-based avant-garde of the 1940s and 1950s. Having played a pivotal role as an activist during the first two stages, Richter’s major contribution to the third was as an educator. As the first director of the Film Institute of the City College of New York from 1942 to 1957, he taught, befriended and supported such seminal members of the New American Cinema as Maya Deren, Jonas Mekas and Shirley Clarke. (38) As significant as his publications, paintings and organizational activities were, however, his primary achievement was the creation of nearly a dozen independently controlled films. Having affirmed the formal integrity of the screen as a flat surface in his first film, he ended his career with a set of oneiric feature-length films (Dreams that Money Can Buy, 8×8 and Dadascope) that emphasized the revelatory potential of the irrational and the subconscious depths of the human psyche. In moving between these two poles, Richter’s film corpus mirrors, in microcosm, the dominant historical trajectory of the avant-garde film.


  1. The only major exception was Luis Buñuel, who nevertheless made his first films in close collaboration with the painter Salvador Dali.
  2. Timothy O. Benson, “Abstraction, Autonomy, and Contradiction in the Politicization of the Art of Hans Richter”, in Stephen Foster (Ed.), Hans Richter: Activism, Modernism, and the Avant-Garde (Cambridge, Massachusetts: The MIT Press, 1998), p. 20.
  3. Justin Hoffmann, for example, has argued that, “Because it was impossible to exercise any influence on contemporary socio-cultural conditions, [the former Action Committee members] focused their interests on a utopian plane. Their premise was a new system of communication based on visual perception.” Justin Hoffman, “Hans Richter: Constructivist Filmmaker”, in Foster, p. 75.
  4. Hans Richter, “Easel-Scroll-Film”, Magazine of Art, No. 45 (February 1952), p. 82.
  5. Cleve Gray (Ed.), Hans Richter by Hans Richter (New York: Holt, Rinehart and Winston, 1971), p. 67.
  6. Richter, “Easel-Scroll-Film”, p. 83.
  7. Gideon Bachmann and Jonas Mekas, “From Interviews With Hans Richter during the Last Ten Years”, Film Culture, No. 31 (Winter 1963-4), p. 26.
  8. Richter claimed that the demands of memory stimulated an active viewing that “carries with it the kind of satisfaction which one might feel if one were suddenly to discover new or unusual forms of one’s imagination”. Richter, “Easel-Scroll-Film”, p. 87. Eggeling made the more ambitious claim that, in the scroll paintings, “Becoming and duration are not in any way a diminution of unchanging eternity; they are its expression. Every form occupies not only space but time. Being and becoming are one […] What should be grasped and given form are things in flux.” Ibid.
  9. Hoffmann, p. 78.
  10. According to Hoffmann, images from the resulting test film were nevertheless published in 1921 in Theo van Doesburg’s journal, De Stijl. Ibid.
  11. Richter, “The Avantgarde Film Seen from Within”, Hollywood Quarterly 4, No. 1 (Fall 1949), p. 37.
  12. Richter, “Rhythm”, Little Review (Winter 1926), p. 21.
  13. Bachmann, p. 29.
  14. Richter, “Avant-Garde Film in Germany”, in Roger Manvell (Ed.), Experiment in the Film (New York: Arno Press, 1949), p. 223.
  15. Hoffmann, pp. 84-5.
  16. Marion von Hofacker, “Richter’s Films and the Role of the Radical Artist, 1927-1941”, in Foster, p. 113.
  17. Bernd Finkeldey, “Hans Richter and the Constructivist International”, in Foster, p. 101.
  18. Standish D. Lawder, The Cubist Cinema (New York: New York University Press, 1975), p. 26.
  19. Gray, p. 85.
  20. Richter, “Avant-Garde Film in Germany”, p. 223.
  21. Jonas Mekas, “Hans Richter on the Nature of Film Poetry”, Film Culture 3, No. 11 (1957), p. 5.
  22. See, for example, Stephen Foster, “Hans Richter: Prophet of Modernism”, in Foster, p. 13, or Hans Richter, The Struggle for the Film (New York: Scolar Press, 1986), p. 60.
  23. Richter, “Avant-Garde Film in Germany”, p. 226.
  24. Ibid, p. 223.
  25. Ibid.
  26. Ibid, p. 225.
  27. According to Richter, People on Sunday was marketed and released as an avant-garde picture, a name which “was at that time a kind of an ‘Oscar’” and which it earned due to its “lack of pompousness and its documentary quality.” Ibid, p. 230.
  28. Paul Falkenberg, “Sound Montage: A Propos de Ruttmann”, Film Culture, No. 23 (1961), p. 60.
  29. Richter, “A History of the Avant-Garde”, p. 8.
  30. In his second book, Richter wrote: “the industrial film can take from film poetry whatever it wants. It is indeed very advantageous for the industrial film to have an experimental laboratory for which it doesn’t have to pay.” Richter, The Struggle for the Film, p. 29.
  31. David Bordwell has identified these as characteristic elements of what he has called the “Standard Version” of film history in On the History of Film Style (Cambridge, Massachusetts: Harvard University Press, 1997), pp. 28-35.
  32. “The divergence of inspirations within society naturally finds an expression in the cinema. To write the history of cinema as if it was borne by a unitary cultural will has long been a disputable enterprise. Today such a historiography of the art of film can only serve to confuse, not to clarify.” Richter, The Struggle for the Film, pp. 28-9.
  33. Richter, “A History of the Avant-Garde”, p. 18.
  34. Foster, p. 15.
  35. This is one reason why, aside from a brief description of the Metall project in Stephen Foster’s introduction to Hans Richter: Activism, Modernism, and the Avant-Garde, this period remains a lacuna in the critical literature on Richter. Vom Blitz zum Fernsehbild was meticulously restored by The Netherlands Film Museum in the 1990s but has had only a handful of public screenings.
  36. Reportedly, the original plan was for Richter to make a frame story linking his ten short films together so that they could be shown at Herman Weinberg’s theatre in Greenwich Village. Once he received the money for the frame story, however, he decided that he might as well use it to shoot an entirely new film. For a more detailed description, see Gray, pp. 51-54.
  37. Richter, “30 Years of Film Poetry: Self-Expression and Communication”, unpublished manuscript.
  38. Robert Russett and Cecile Starr (Eds), Experimental Animation (New York: Van Nostrand Reinhold, 1976), p. 49. It was partially as a result of Richter’s sponsorship that Maya Deren became the first filmmaker to receive a Guggenheim fellowship in 1947.


Film ist Rhythmus: Rhythmus 21 (Rhythm 21, Germany, 1921)


Rhythmus 23 (Rhythm 23, Germany, 1923)

Rhythm 25 (Rhythm 25, Germany, 1925)
Hand-painted film that is believed to be lost

Filmstudie (Film Study, Germany, 1926)

Inflation (Germany, 1928)

Vormittagsspuk (Ghosts Before Breakfast, Germany, 1928)

Rennsymphonie (Race Symphony, Germany, 1928)

Zweigroschenzauber (Two Penny Magic, Germany, 1929)

The Storming of La Sarraz (Germany, 1929)
Collaboration with Sergei Eisenstein and Ivor Montagu

Everyday (UK-Switzerland, 1929)

Alles dreht sich, alles bewegt sich (Everything Revolves, Everything Turns, Germany, 1929)

Neues Leben (Germany, 1930)
Also known as Die Neue Wohnung and New Living

Europa Radio (The Netherlands, 1930)

Hallo Everybody (The Netherlands, 1933)

Metall (Germany-USSR, 1933)

Van Blikesemschicht Tot Televisie (From Lightning to Television, The Netherlands, 1936)

Hans im Glück (Switzerland, 1938)

Wir Leben in Einer Neuen Zeit (We Live in a New World, Switzerland, 1938)

Die Geburt der Farbe (The Birth of Color, Switzerland, 1938)

Kleine Welt im Dunkeln (A Small World in the Dark, Switzerland, 1939)

Die Börse (The Stockmarket, Switzerland, 1939)

Dreams that Money Can Buy (USA, 1947)

8×8: A Chess Sonata in 8 Movements (USA, 1957)

Dadascope (USA, 1961)


Gideon Bachmann and Jonas Mekas, “From Interviews with Hans Richter during the Last Ten Years.” Film Culture, No. 31 (Winter 1963/64): 26-35.

Timothy O. Benson, “Abstraction, Autonomy, and Contradiction in the Politicization of the Art of Hans Richter”, in Stephen Foster (Ed.), Hans Richter: Activism, Modernism, and the Avant-Garde (Cambridge, Massachusetts: The MIT Press, 1998), pp. 16-47.

Bernd Finkeldey, “Hans Richter and the Constructivist International”, in Foster, pp. 92-120.

Stephen Foster, “Hans Richter: Prophet of Modernism”, in Foster, pp. 2-15.

Herbert Gehr, Hans Richter, Malerei und Film, exhibition catalogue, Kinematograph Number 5 (Frankfurt am Main: Deutsches Filmmuseum, 1989),

Cleve Gray (Ed.), Hans Richter by Hans Richter (New York: Holt, Rinehart and Winston, 1971).

____________, “Portrait: Hans Richter”, in Art in America 56, No. 1 (January-February 1968), pp. 48-55.

Ulrich Gregor, Jeanpaul Goergen and Angelika Hoch (Eds), Hans Richter: Film ist Rhythmus (Berlin: Freunde der Deutschen Kinemathek, 2003).

Hans Richter – Ein Leben für Bild und Film (Zurich: Kunstgewerbemuseum, 1959).

Raoul Hausman, “More on Group G”, Art Journal 24, No. 4 (Summer 1965), pp. 350-2.

Birgit Hein, Malcolm le Grice and Al Rees (Eds), Film as Film: Formal Experiment in Film 1910-1975 (London: Hayward Gallery, 1979).

Marion von Hofacker, “Richter’s Films and the Role of the Radical Artist, 1927-1941”, in Foster, pp. 122-160.

Justin Hoffmann, “Hans Richter: Constructivist Filmmaker”, in Foster, pp. 72-91.

Kurt Kranz, Early Form Sequences 1927-1932 (Cambridge, Mass: The MIT Press, 1975).

Standish D. Lawder, “A Chronology of Abstract Film 1892-1930”, Image (Cambridge, October 1965), pp. 13-5.

________________, The Cubist Cinema (New York: New York University Press, 1975).

Jonas Mekas, “Hans Richter on the Nature of Film Poetry”, Film Culture 3, No. 11 (1957), pp. 5-8.

Brian O’Doherty, Hans Richter, exhibition catalogue (New York: Finch College Museum of Art Contemporary Wing, 1968).

Hans Richter, “30 Years of Film Poetry. Self-Expression and Communication”, unpublished manuscript, circa 1957.

___________, “A History of the Avant-Garde”, in Frank Stauffacher (Ed.), Art in Cinema (New York: Arno Press, 1971), pp. 8-21.

___________, “Avant-Garde Film in Germany”, in Manvell, pp. 219-33.

___________, “The Avantgarde Film Seen from Within”, Hollywood Quarterly 4, No. 1 (Fall 1949), pp. 34-41.

___________, Dada: Art and Anti-Art (New York: McGraw-Hill, 1965).

___________, “Easel-Scroll-Film”, Magazine of Art 45 (February 1952), pp. 78-86.

___________, “Film and Painting”, College Art Journal 11 (1952), pp. 10-4.

___________, “The Film as an Original Art Form”, Film Culture 1, No. 1 (January 1955), pp. 19-23.

___________, “On the Function of Film History Writing”, Film Culture 4, No. 3 (April 1958), pp. 25-26.

___________, “Rhythm”, Little Review (Winter 1926), p. 21.

___________, The Struggle for the Film: Toward a Socially Responsible Cinema (New York: Scholar Press, 1986).

Robert Russett and Cecile Starr (Eds), Experimental Animation (New York: Van Nostrand Reinhold, 1976).

P. Adams Sitney, The Avant-Garde Film: A Reader of Theory and Criticism (New York: Anthology Film Archives, 1987).

Mike Weaver, “Hans Richter: Constructivist and Dadaist”, Image 2, No. 6 (October 1965), p. 16.

Herman G. Weinberg, “An Index to the Creative Work of Hans Richter”, Film Culture Magazine (1957), 8-page supplement.

Web Resources

Hans Richter at UbuWeb

Hans Richter at re:voir

Dada at re:voir


About The Author

Richard Suchenski is a joint Ph.D. candidate in Film Studies and History of Art at Yale University.

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