East of Borneo. 1931. USA. Directed by George Melford

Joseph Cornell’s Rose Hobart: A Collage Film at 80

MoMA November 30–December 4, 2016

The artist Joseph Cornell (1903–72) was an avid fan of cinema. He went to the movies frequently in Bayside, Queens, sat transfixed by actresses such as Hedy Lamarr and Jennifer Jones, and purchased dozens of 16mm short films to entertain his homebound younger brother, Robert. In 1933, Cornell wrote Monsieur Phot, a detailed script that would unfold in five sections encompassing ballet sequences and stereopticon images. Cornell’s first fully realized film is Rose Hobart (c. 1936), essentially a re-editing of the 1931 George Melford adventure film East of Borneo, starring Charles Bickford and Cornell’s silver-screen crush, the actress Rose Hobart. This humble collage film is now considered a cornerstone of American avant-garde cinema.

In December 1936, Cornell projected Rose Hobart for the first time at the Julien Levy Gallery. In attendance were Salvador Dalí and his wife, Gala, among others in Levy’s coterie. Cornell’s film, which reduced the length of the original black-and-white feature from 77 minutes to a taut 17, and was run at silent speed with a blue-glass filter, created a languid, obsessive, fanatical portrait of his cinematic sweetheart. Following the screening, Dalí was so incensed by the aesthetic innovation he had witnessed that he toppled the projector. While Gala attempted to calm her husband and comfort the alarmed Cornell, Dalí unleashed a turgid outburst that included recriminations about Cornell infiltrating his dreams and stealing the film he was intending to make one day.

In celebration of the 80th anniversary of Rose Hobart’s debut, we are pleased to present it alongside East of Borneo, providing a glimpse into how Cornell wrested his revolutionary collage film from this conventional feature.

Organized by Anne Morra, Associate Curator, Department of Film. Special thanks to Universal Pictures.

The exhibition is supported by the Annual Film Fund.

Event

Licensing

If you would like to reproduce an image of a work of art in MoMA's collection, or an image of a MoMA publication or archival material (including installation views, checklists, and press releases), please contact Art Resource (publication in North America) or Scala Archives (publication in all other geographic locations).

All requests to license audio or video footage produced by MoMA should be addressed to Scala Archives at firenze@scalarchives.com. Motion picture film stills or motion picture footage from films in MoMA's Film Collection cannot be licensed by MoMA/Scala. For licensing motion picture film footage it is advised to apply directly to the copyright holders. For access to motion picture film stills please contact the Film Study Center. More information is also available about the film collection and the Circulating Film and Video Library.

If you would like to reproduce text from a MoMA publication or moma.org, please email text_permissions@moma.org. If you would like to publish text from MoMA's archival materials, please fill out this permission form and send to archives@moma.org.

Feedback

This record is a work in progress. If you have additional information or spotted an error, please send feedback to digital@moma.org.