The Idea



Director/ Producer / Animator / Cinematographer: Berthold Bartosch
Screenplay: Berthold Bartosch, from the book and woodcuts by Frans Masereel
Music: Arthur Honegger, performed by Les Ondes Musicales
Ondes Martenot created and played by: Maurice Martenot
27 minutes
16 mm
Black & White
French, ostensibly, but without dialogue
Before working with Reiniger, Bartosch had made a number of advertising films. Afterwards he went on to make his masterpiece, L'Idée, a tragic, symbolist allegory of man's struggle for the Ideal, based on illustrations by Franz Masereel and with music by Arthur Honegger. Bartosch combined cut-out silhouettes on the lines of the Reiniger technique with subtle effects achieved by control of photographic exposure and diffusion of the light source.
- David Robinson, The Movie 15, 1980
An animated narrative on the theme of humanity's response to ideals, this film traces the story of an artist who sends his abstract ideal out into the world. His artistic conception (symbolized by the figure of a nude woman) is rejected and exploited by the ruling powers of business, religion and the military. As the titles make clear, Bartosch's conclusion is that "men live and die for an idea... the idea is immortal. You can persecute it, judge it, forbid it, condemn it to death. But the idea continues to live in the minds of men." Despite its heavy didacticism, the film is interesting for its unique style of animation. Bartosch utilizes two-dimensional figures posed at varying distances in relation to the painted backgrounds for diverse depth effects. The lighting creates a soft-focus halo around the figures and produces an overall muting of the painted decor. The history of the film's inception dates back to 1930, when Bartosch met Masereel in Berlin and agreed to make an animated version of the latter's book, Die Idee. The collaboration fell through, however, and Bartosch proceeded alone. The music was written expressly for the film by Honegger and added in 1934. It makes use of a new electrical instrument, "Les Ondes Musicales," played by Martenot. The female figure representing the artist's idea is always announced by notes from this instrument.
- The Museum of Modern Art Circulating Film Library Catalog, New York, 1984
Parallel, and often similar in mood and approach to the work of Alexeieff and Parker [painstaking pin-screen animators: their best known work is probably the prologue to Orson Welles' The Trial (1962) -ed.] was Berthold Bartosch, whose feature length animated film L'Idée (1934), based on woodcuts by Masereel, symbolized mystical aspirations concerned with freedom and justice, with a soundtrack by Honegger who, among other things, achieved some stunning sound effects by the use of the electronic Ondes Martenot.
- Basil Wright, The Long View
A film by Berthold Bartosch, based on a book of the same title by Frans Masereel, composed entirely of woodcuts. Bartosch worked with animated shapes moved on three layers of glass sheet, lit from underneath or from the side. The style, derived directly from Masereel but evolving during the film, is highly Expressionistic, coming some years after the direct influence of Expressionism had passed out of German films.
The music for the film, written by Arthur Honegger, was played by a small orchestra (Les Ondes Musicales) with a solo performance on the Theremin, an early electronic instrument designed by Professor Theremin, a Russian emigré working in Berlin. [the instrument is in fact the similar Ondes Martenot, and is played by its inventor (see below) -ed.]
- Liz-Anne Bawden (ed.), The Oxford Companion to Film, London, 1976
Apart from abstractions, the animation film represents a great deal of experiment in relating fantasy, raw humour, and dream sequences to aspects of recognisable (and only apparently normal) human, animal, or vegetable realities. Such work may have its being on the entertainment level, arising perhaps from comic strips or nonsense drawings and stories; obvious examples - apart from pioneer work in the film's earliest days by men like Emile Cohl - are Herriman's Krazy Kat and its less brilliant imitator Felix; and of course the early Disneys... But this representational animation has also been seen in the field of non-commercial production. There is Bartosch's monumental full-length film L'Idée, based on Masereel's woodcuts, and made out of tiny cardboard cut-outs; and the equally astonishing work of Alexeieff and Parker...
- Basil Wright, 'Experimenting With Films' in Manvell (ed.), The Cinema 1950, Harmondsworth, 1950
The subject of L'Idée is one of revolutionary struggle. 'The idea', represented by the figure of a naked woman, is created by an artist and sent forth to disseminate its message. Rejected by businessman and bureaucrat, she is adopted by a young militant and together they try to rouse the oppressed workers to rebellion. They are met with further opposition and the militant is shot. The film ends with scenes of war, with 'l'idée' hovering over the dead and dying.
- David Curtis, Experimental Cinema: A Fifty Year Evolution, London, 1971
About the Ondes Martenot:
Maurice Martenot, a French instrument designer, developed the Ondes Martenot, a monophonic (single tone) electronic musical instrument whose control-means included a six-octave keyboard, continuously variable pitch band, and touch-sensitive articulator bar. Unlike Theremin or Trautwein [inventor of the Trautonium -ed.], Martenot not only kept production of his instrument under his own control, but he also established a school for developing and teaching performance techniques. Original compositions for the Martenot are routinely performed in Europe, even today.
- Robert Moog, in Research #15: Incredibly Strange Music Volume II, San Francisco, 1994