• Steven Heller

Fifth Avenue Surrealism

In 1941, as the world was unraveling with war on every continent, the Fifth Avenue Playhouse (66 Fifth Ave., now the Parsons School of Design Gallery), presented the first New York Surrealist and Fantastic Film Festival.

The theater was one of the premier art houses in Greenwich Village for many decades. A small venue, only 273 seats, it was an anchor on a stretch of Fifth that included the historic vintage bookshop Dauber and Pine.

“In presenting this Surrealistic and Fantastic Film Festival,” wrote the managing directors of the Playhouse, “we don’t expect to revolutionize the motion picture industry. Nor do we expect that Cocteau and Man Ray will have the same appeal as Gable and Boyer. Indeed many movie goers will probably be frightened by the title of this series. It is not intended to conjure nightmares. We offer it merely to whet the jaded film appetite …

“The surrealistic, abstract or fantastic film is designed purposely to disturb and shock one’s balance. Surrealism attempts, we are told, ‘to discover and explore the more real than the real world behind the real.’ In surrealist film it is never the plot that receives attention but rather the wealth of innuendo which accompanies each action and which forms an emotional pattern far richer than the usual straight story …

“We would not be the least perturbed if our audience feels inclined to engage in verbal and even pitched battles. Some purpose will then have been accomplished. For these pictures will either release your inhibitions, phobias and frustrations, or you will emerge with an entirely new set of complexes.”

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