Jeu d'échecs avec Marcel Duchamp (1963)

This film records an in-depth interview with Duchamp which took place five years before his death, at the time of his first ever one-man show (at the Pasadena Art Museum). It records for posterity Duchamp talking about his life, his ideas on art, why he chose to continue living in America after fleeing France in 1915, and why he virtually abandoned his work as an artist in 1923. An engaging dialogue takes place between Duchamp and film-maker Jean-Marie Drot as they go around the Pasadena show, with the artist commenting on the exhibits and using them to explain the various stages of the development of his work. This is punctuated by the games of chess, which were for Duchamp a passion and a metaphor for the mental discipline he applied to his art. In this film we gain a rare glimpse of him talking with humour and insight about his ideas, and living up to the myth of the artist-philosopher that has grown up around him.

Jeu d’échecs avec Marcel Duchamp was filmed late 1963 in Pasadena and New York for the Radio Télévision Franaise (RTF); first broadcast on 8 June 1964 and then shown at the International Festival of Artistic Films and Films of Art (Bergamo, 19 September 1964). The English version was presented in a television broadcast in September 1964 in the ‘Art and Man’ Series.

“The goal of chess is to mate. We can thus see this picture as the record of a tableau vivant of a word play. Since Freud, vulgar theorists have held that chess and art, to pick two examples, are sublimations of sex. Given Duchamp’s attitude towards wordplay versus theory, it is better to see his life long interest in chess and eroticism as a sublimation of this picture’s wordplay! Given that the double meaning of “mate” does not exist in French, at last we have a satisfactory explanation of why Duchamp had to emigrate to America. In other words: in the beginning was the word; in the center the pun.”

From: A Pun Among Friends by Steven B. Gerrard

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