#384) Motion Painting No. 1 (1947)


#384) Motion Painting No. 1 (1947)

OR “Paint It Bach”

Directed by Oskar Fischinger

Class of 1997

Here’s an odd one: Finding “Motion Painting No. 1” online is nearly impossible. In fact, I couldn’t find a single clip of this movie that could I embed here. So instead, the video below is “An Optical Poem”, one of Oskar Fischinger’s earlier works. Enjoy?

The Plot: Oskar Fischinger shows off his love of oil painting on acrylic glass and creates a series of abstract compositions, all set to Bach’s “Brandenburg Concerto no. 3, BMW 1048”.

Why It Matters: The NFR gives a brief synopsis, and cites Oskar Fischinger’s influence on later filmmakers.

But Does It Really?: I can give “Motion Painting No. 1” a pass based on my previous criteria of accepting short movies that are the sole representation of an artist. You win this round, German artist I’ve never heard of.

Everybody Gets One: An experimental filmmaker/special effects guru in his native Germany, Oskar Fischinger accepted a job offer from Hollywood as a means to escape the Nazis and their constrictions on “degenerate art”. Fischinger was most interested in combining animation with classical music, and even contributed to the “Toccata and Fuge” section of “Fantasia”. Finding his experiences in Hollywood artistically unfulfilling, Fischinger turned to oil paintings. In the mid ‘40s the Guggenheim Foundation commissioned Fischinger to create an animated short, and Oskar opted to film his oil painting process; shooting a frame of film after each brush stroke, and synching the entire process to a piece of Bach he had long wanted to incorporate into a film.

Seriously, Oscars?: No Oscar nomination for “Motion Painting”. The Animated Short winner for 1947 was “Tweetie Pie”, the first of the Merrie Melodies to pair up Sylvester and Tweety. Clearly, the animation branch at the time was looking for something a little different than what Fischinger had to offer.

As always, it’s pointless for me to try to decipher an experimental film, so we’ll move on to my alternate notes section, “Things I Thought I Saw in ‘Motion Painting No. 1’

  • Confetti and streamers
  • Snake eyes (the physical eyes, not the dice)
  • Spirals, lots of spirals. This movie is 90% spirals.
  • A circle in a spiral
  • A wheel within a wheel
  • The windmills of my mind
  • A Hidden Mickey
  • A T-bone steak
  • A map of all US Highways
  • Bricks
  • James Lipton’s pile of note cards from “Inside the Actors Studio”
  • The blueprints to the Winchester Mystery House
  • A topographical map of the Swiss Alps
  • Morse code that roughly translates to “OOOOOOOOOOOOOO”
  • The 3D Pipes screensaver from the ‘90s
  • A Yield sign
  • The treble clef
  • A Navajo rug
  • Some of Oskar’s leftover designs from “Toccata and Fuge”
  • The Looney Tunes logo. That’s all, folks!


  • Although “Motion Painting” was one of Oskar Fischinger’s last competed shorts, he continued to experiment with combining music and imagery, including his invention the Lumigraph, a color organ of sorts.
  • The NFR writeup on “Motion Painting” mentions Fischinger’s influence on such experimental filmmakers as Norman McLaren, Jordan Belson, and Harry Smith. I’m embarrassed to admit I don’t know who any of those three are, but we’ll cover Belson’s film “Allures” a little later on the blog. As for the other two, Harry Smith used to host “Biography”, right?

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