Arnaldo Ginna, a Futurist who composed what may be the first wholly abstract painting, Neurasthenia (1908), had been working on a series of such paintings depicting states of the soul, influenced by Theosophy, the religious philosophy that attempted to bridge major belief systems and science in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries.He attempted to build a color organ with his brother, Bruno Corra. They were not satisfied with the results, however, and began collaborating on a number of films in which they painted directly on to the filmstrip, and which posit the handmade film at its inception as a site for intermedial exploration.
Ginna had elaborated an idea of a “chromatic chord” in his writings on abstract painting, and the brothers’ first effort at direct filmmaking came in October 1911 with A Chord of Color, an attempt to animate a Divisionist painting by Giovanni Segantini of an Alpine landscape. They made three other films that month: Study of the Effects of Four Colors, Song of Songs, inspired by Mendelssohn, and Flowers, taken from Mallarme’s poem of the same name. The brothers made an additional five films the following year. As Ginna explained in 1968, “While the first film was the development of a color chord, the second studied the effects among complementary colors (red-green, blue-yellow) and the last two were chromatic renderings of music and poetry.” The high-modernist trope of medium specificity is notably nowhere to be found at the birth of the artisanal cinema. Rather than try to exploit the unique properties of the cinematograph in order to distinguish it from other art forms, Ginna and Corra were employing it explicitly in order to draw out correspondences between painting, language, music, and film. These earliest hand-painted films were either lost or destroyed.
Arnaldo Ginna 1890-1982
Bruno Corra 1892-1976