Image: Hans Richter, stills from Rhythmus 21, 1921
The history of early abstract cinema culminated with a historic event: on May 3, 1925 the UFA Theatre in Berlin hosted a matinee screening, The Absolute Film, which was the first public showing of abstract films. The term “absolute” emphasized the films’ non-narrative quality and their focus on the elements, the “absolutes” of film language — surfaces, planes and shapes changing over time. Much of the impetus for these earliest abstract films came from painters who sought to put painting in motion, including Hans Richter, Viking Eggeling, and Walter Ruttmann. In Inventing Abstraction, all the extant films from this performance play in sequence.