Man Ray Trust, 2015

Return to Reason Review: Man Ray Restored and Remastered

Surreal shorts given Jarmusch-style soundtracks

6 mins read

Return to Reason
(France, 70 min.)
Dir. Man Ray


The latest project from Jim Jarmusch and Carter Logan’s band Sqürl tests the limits of delirious self-expression. Having successfully developed their music over the past fifteen years, Sqürl was given the opportunity to provide a live score to any silent film of their choosing by WNYC radio host John Schafer. After much consideration, they chose the four films made by the great Dada and Surrealist photographer Man Ray under the appropriately ironic title of Return to Reason: the 1923 short of the same, along withEmak Bakia (1926), L‘étoile de mer (1928), and Les mystères du château de Dé (1929).

Implementing the Dadaist extremities and improvisational sensibilities of Man Ray’s oeuvre into their musical accompaniment, Sqürl have continuously remixed and reassembled their own sonic interpretations of the unconscious state. The form of their accompaniment embodies Ray’s formalist desires. The band follows a distinct roadmap by never reiterating the same notations with each musical performance. Every concert is therefore a new experience.

After a grandiose world-tour, which was met with applause and support from the Man Ray trust, Sqürl has now recorded and distributed Return to Reason with their own accompaniment for theatrical viewing in collaboration with Janus films.

Sqürl’s musical setup is unique. Carter focuses on the percussion element of the soundscape while experimenting with Moog minotaur synthesizers. Effects pedals conjoin Jarmusch’s electric guitar performance, with simultaneously modulating secondary synthesizers and other primitive electronics during the accompaniment. Droning feedback is generated through the soothing strings and reverberations of their score as amplifiers echo the sounds of synths within the performance halls.

With Sqürl’s contemporary envisioning of the musical accompaniment, the four short films carry a new thematic interpretation. For example, the title of Man Ray’s sophomore short film is a double entendre. Emak Bakia stems from the Basque expression “Leave Me Alone.” The title is literal: it consumes the erratic visceral nature of Man Ray’s formalism. The whirlwind of shapes, colours, and distortion juxtaposes the titular plea. However, Emak Bakia can also be roughly translated as “Give Peace.” The title of Man Ray’s film questions the liminality of the transitory images. More provocatively, Man Ray debatably sets the framework for a queer-lens interpretation regarding the trans-identity of the images. The formalism behind the queer element moves in tandem with the principles of the Surrealist and Dadaist movements.

The unconscious state of the cinematic canvas correlates directly with the gender euphoria at the crux of the images. Ray focuses on the belief of a superior state of perception within the omnipotence of dream-logic. Just like Dadaism, the irrationality of the storytelling rejects the semblance of traditional structures. Within the evolution of queer cinema, the basis of expression is indebted to the multiplicity of sexuality and offers a form of expression that goes against the grain of heteronormative structures. Queer cinema, akin to Dadaism and Surrealism, is a countercultural revolt that unravels the heterogeneous foundation of art. Within Emak Bakia, Man Ray adopts the structures of all three expressions: alternating within the fluidity of his uncompromising form. Adjacent to the cinema of transgression, the boundaries between multi-disciplinary abstraction alternates within a collective integration of images — a comparison which is emblematic of Man Ray’s insatiable form.

The countercultural design of the illuminated segments converges with the cine-poem structure. By the film’s conclusion, self-acceptance is achieved through the final shot. The cycles never cease to properly conclude, invariably restarting the mechanics of Ray’s sentimental perceptions. At the crux of the compilation of images, Ray blurs the lines of artistic traditions. The non-congruent nature of the free flowing form anticipates queer cinema. The form emulates the subconscious, as the Rayographs implement foundational techniques to evoke non-conforming images. The duality of the title eventually merges into a study of peace — calming the tides of an internalized metamorphosis in the process. Kinetics are the prerogative of the form, diversifying the velocity of time and space through the studious command of Ray’s cinematographer Jacques-André Boiffard. 98 years later, Emak Bakia and the entirety of Man Ray’s filmography is now gracefully restored and theatrically exhibited as a revolutionary work of cinematographic excellence.

Return to Reason is now playing in select cinemas.


David Cuevas is a filmmaker and writer based in Ottawa, Ontario. With his limited time, he can be seen trekking between Toronto and Montreal to avoid the cataclysmic mundanity of the National Capital bore. You can also find the man of the hour at prestigious film festival events around the globe, with prior journalistic history with festivals such as Cannes, Berlin, Sundance, IFFR, and TIFF. During the hot summer nights, David works as an associate programmer for the Ottawa International Animation Festival. David has written for various publications including POV Magazine, Next Best Picture, In Review Online, The Playlist, and ASIFA. He is also the Festivals Editor for FilmHounds Magazine. David funds his short film Ouvre on the side. David Cuevas was last seen as a filmmaker at the 2023 Fantasia Film Festival with his short film Avulsion.

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