The Wonder Ring

Joseph Cornell holds a big place in my heart, and in Encyclopedia of the Exquisite, where I write about his love of 19th century ballerinas, and the film he never made, “Nebula, the Powdered Sugar Princess.” I’d like to make that film one day myself, following his notes and ideas.

But in the meantime, I’ve become fascinated with the short film he did make on New York’s Third Street elevated train in collaboration with Stan Brakhage in 1955. Actually, it’s two short films. First, there’s the beautiful, kaleidoscopic version that Brakhage edited,  “The Wonder Ring,” which left Cornell unsatisfied. Then there’s the version Cornell spliced together himself from the rest of their unused footage, “Gnir Rednow.” Yes, that’s ‘ring wonder’ backwards. (It appears to be the first film merely run backwards, but it’s not.)

The first is posted above, the second below. They both make my heart ache.

Yet, even this second version left Cornell feeling that the project was still incomplete. Several years before his death he sent the film to Brakhage along with several loose strips of film, asking that he finish it. Brakhage left both versions as they were.