Ghosts Before Breakfast

Hans Richter created the film Ghosts before Breakfast, also known as Vormittagspuk, in 1927. This was a silent experimental avant-garde film and it was the fifth film that he had made. The film itself is considered to be one of the first surrealistic films ever made. Richter's interest in Dadaism is shown directly in this work as he challenges current art standards of the time by presenting a theme of obscurity and fantasy. Clocks, legs, ladders, hats, and people undergo total irrational happenings in unusual settings. Men have beards magically appear and disappear before the viewer's eyes, hats fly around in the air, a man's head comes off and floats in the air, tea cups fill up by themselves, objects and characters move in reverse, men disappear behind a street sign, etc... . All brought together by associative logic, the flying hats perform this function by continually reappearing to the sequence of shots to tie the film together as a whole. This film digs into the viewer's mind for inner experience in thought and idea. It gives the audience a chance to release nervous tension when witnessing these abstractions shown through images. Richter tries to increase the viewer's knowledge of reality by showing them surrealistic fantasy. He accomplishes this through his use of rhythm, and his use of the camera.


Rhythm is a very important element in all of Richter's works. It can be seen in this film as well. Rhythm was shown in the use of movement in the characters. All of the characters seemed to have moved at the same spaced distance from one another and at the same speed. This clarified a sense of rhythm and intensified a sense of stability in the frame. The same number of characters or items also seemed to preserve rhythm. This may be found constantly throughout the film. If there were three hats then the next shot would contain three men. The numbers did fluctuate, but a number would remain constant throughout a couple of shots. Shapes in the film also preserved rhythm. This can be seen in Richter's bulls-eye scene. The circles of the bulls-eye fill the screen and are spaced equally apart from one another. The target then breaks up and the circles spread out in the frame to relocate in different areas continuing to preserve rhythm. Rhythm is demonstrated in the scene with the guns that form a pin wheel type image and then start to spin. The five guns are equally spaced from one another and a rhythm is present in the speed at which they turn. The reoccurring image of the flying hats forms a rhythm as it ties the film together as a whole.


The way that Richter used the camera stressed his world of fantasy. One way that he did this was by experimenting with the camera and the film in it. It was almost a form of what we know now as trick photography. This is present in the scene when images are placed on top of each other (bulls-eye scene). This scene has the bulls-eye displayed, but with a man behind it. In this scene the man's head falls off and drifts around in the target.


Richter also used fast motion to demonstrate a blossoming branch. We watch a branch bloom within a few seconds. Richter does this to clarify the use of time in his film and show a fantasy version of time. In this comical trick film, he also uses slowed down film speed. There is one scene with tea cups on a tray that come crashing to the ground. He slowed down the speed to intensify the breaking of the china and to clarify how the cups shatter as they make impact.


To go along with these slowed down and speed up transitions in the film Richter also demonstrated film played back in reverse. This was found in many spots: tea cups going back together, water going back into a hose, etc . . . . By doing these type of tricks Richter brought the viewer into the world of fantasy because one would never see this happen in reality.


Negatives were also used in this film. Richter used negatives of the film and placed them in different spots, thus showing comparison and contrast between the objects presented in both a "real world" versus a "negative world". Since the film was in black and white we see the comparison made in the shades of black, white, and gray.


Richter's handling of the camera emphasized how abstract and "shocking" the shots would come out. Positioning of the camera was constantly changing. This helped in making each upcoming shot more interesting to the viewer by providing a new outlook on the subject being presented. It helped distinguish the different shots by separating them. It would clarify that some thing new and unexpected was happening, thus intensifying a feel of curiosity of what will happen next. Many of the shots led into each other through the use of motion vectors even though the scenes might be unrelated. That is what makes this work so abstract - the unrelated scenes tied together by flying hats. No one scene would last for a long time and a lot of the edits were cutaways that were made very quickly. The edits helped in presenting the abstract and unexpected scenes to the viewer.


Through all of these cuts each shot or scene maintained a well balanced frame with well proportioned shapes and sizes that compared or contrasted their relativity. The use of these objects and characters demonstrated Richter's interest in showing the x, y, and z axes. He demonstrated a sense of depth in many scenes such as the target scene, the unraveling of the hose scene, people walking and then disappearing behind a pole (exaggerated plane?), etc... . Richter filmed a lot of the scenes in his film by alternating the camera from primary motion (camera is stationary while objects/characters have movement in the frame) to secondary motion (camera moves along with objects/characters). Primary motion was shown in the gun scenes while secondary motion was shown in the flying hat scenes. The secondary motion of the camera in the flying hat scenes helped bring the mystery of the hats closer to the viewer. His camera movement helped clarify the situations at stake and intensify the viewer's reaction to what was being presented./


One element of filming that Richter makes use of is lighting. He is demonstrating the lighting on many images to produce different effects of light/shadows. By doing this different textures are shown and it also helps in visualizing depth. This clarifies the size of the objects or situation in the frame by intensifying the "feel" (texture) of each subject displayed./


Richter made this film with continually changing shots so that the viewer does not just stare at the screen, but rather pay close attention and be curious of what is to come up next. Images of violence is a way that he keeps the viewer's attention. The act of violence is clarified through the images of the breaking cups, the guns, the floating or drifting head, and the fist fighting scene. Fear is intensified by these images. The piano composition, functioning as the only sounds in this silent film, intensifies a feeling of "intense excitement". The shots of the flying hats may clarify that actual ghosts are wearing them which also may intensify fear or shock the viewer because of the bizarreness that is being presented in the frames. The men eventually receive their hats back from "the ghosts" as they sit down to have tea for what it looks like could be breakfast. This is where Hans Richter might have titled this film Ghosts before Breakfast.


The opening scene of the film deals with time which is shown at the beginning and at the end of the film by use of a clock. This somewhat states to the viewer that the film was all time related, but contained associative logic due to the reappearing flying hat scenes. Both elements of time and rhythm are well preserved by the clock. At the end of the film the clock splits in half and each piece sweeps to their side of the frame to reveal the word "Ende". It seems to show that not only did Richter want to shock the audience into a non-real world, but to also do it by rhythm and time. These elements would form a "fantasy trance" of curiosity causing the audience to want to see what is next. This was especially true in a time when film was new and he was demonstrating special effects. People were not used to slowed down time, speeded up time, and reverse time shown in moving images, not to mention the negatives that present a world of fantasy.


Richter made good use of all of these elements when putting together Ghosts before Breakfast. He stirred up the viewer with curiosity to await the next surprise into the fantasy world as he took the viewer into different time zones of fantasy. This ten minute film from 1927 definitely demonstrates elements that can be found in the films of today. In 1927, these elements were most likely more powerful due to the "newness" of this medium. Hans Richter presents a journey through fantasy in time as the viewer witnesses the film Ghosts before Breakfast.

--Joe Cartman

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