l' etoile de mer

Man Ray's film l'etoile de mer was adapted from his friend Robert Desnos's poem "la 'place de l'etoile". The title of Man Ray's film means the starfish. To Man Ray the star fish represented the embodiment of a lost love. Both Desnos and Man Ray thought that the starfish "inhabited liquid depths as well as heavenly reaches." This was very surrealistic thinking that appealed to Man Ray's affinity for vague objects.

The film stared his wife Kiki as the female lead and because of this the film can be called somewhat autobiographical. It is about a woman (Kiki) and a man who drift apart from one another. One of the most interesting aspects of this film is that it was shot through a sheet of glass which helped to emphasize the nature of the romance between the two lead characters, which was thin and fragile. Starfish also make plenty of appearances throughout the film. Every time there was some sort of conflict there would be a starfish somewhere on the screen. L'etoile de mer expressed Man Ray's doubts about being able to hold onto Kiki. In the end his worries proved to be true, as he and his wife separated just after the opening of the film in Paris.

--Ryan Doyon, 1998


Man Ray was born in Philadelphia and incidentally his name was not originally Man Ray. His family gave him the name Man Ray when he was 15 years old, and he wished to be known by that name. With his family he later moved to New York where he attended the Academy of Fine Arts and the Ferrer School. Despite a deep seated desire to become a painter, he studied architectural drawing and engineering, thus beginning his career as a graphic designer and a typographer.

Beginning in 1910 Man Ray began experimenting in other artistic endeavors. Starting with painting Ray received many one-man exhibitions of his work. In 1920 he began photographing his paintings strictly for record purposes, but doing so began his photographic interest. As a photographer Ray created a new art which he called "Rayographs". This art emphasized chance effects and surprising juxtapositions; he employed solarization, grain enlargement, and cameraless prints. Ray moved to Paris in 1921 where he made his living as a professional fashion and portrait photographer while pursuing more creative work on the side. Some of the creative work that was done was his work as a filmmaker.

In the 1920's Man Ray completed a series of short films, which incorporated all of his artistic talents. One such film is L'etoile De Mer made in 1928 during the period of his stay in Paris. This film encompasses all of Ray's usual characteristics of one of his films. He uses repetitive images: nude women, using a central figure then continually coming back to him/her throughout the film. Also many camera effects were used such as ground camera shots or low angle shots and distortion of the camera focus. Such things can be found in all of his works on film but in L'etoile De Mer they take on an entirely different meaning.

My interpretation of this film was that a woman was having a dream involving a man and a starfish. Now in the film the starfish is the first image seen and seems to be the most important image throughout the film because the plot is centered on it. I feel that it is a dream like state because the majority of the film the shots are done out of focus and with a haze. Later in the film Ray shoots smoke stacks and oil takers possibly to show the pollution in the area, which would explain the rarity of the starfish. The starfish is encased in glass within water and could possible be the last starfish around which explains its importance.

This was an art that one could even be so bold as to say he became a renaissance man; crossing over from an avant guard painter, photographer, sculptor/ object maker, illustrator, filmmaker, inventor, philosopher, dadaist, and surrealist.

--Keenon Snell, 2001


Man Ray