About this work
Dorothea Tanning with film crew on the Colorado River, Arizona, for a scene in Hans Richter’s film 8 x 8: A Chess Sonata in 8 Movements
Photograph by Max Ernst
This scene was filmed in 1952. The finished film was released in 1957.
In her own words...
[Building our house in Sedona,] Cowboy Elmer Purtyman helps put on the tarpaper roof while watching the artist’s progress. “Better git on the ball, Dorothea, and fenesh that petcher.” Cowboy Elmer, who had once, years before, served in the navy, and who walked with a rolling gait like an old sailor with the sea bottled up inside him like a ship, and who, exuberantly in league with the primordial, guides us through the Colorado River rapids (replaced now by concrete dams) in rubber boats. He pitches tents, makes cowboy biscuits and shows us Indian hieroglyphs in fastnesses where the invader (we) had never walked.
Studded with discoveries in nearby Indian caves, canyons, pueblo, aged and wise, and precious as silicate arrowheads, of which we found several, is the memory of that nine-day river passage, eighteen miles on the torrent that cut skyscraper deep between sheer stone. The shiny autumn silence that listened to water, black shadow that swallowed light and hid our bobbing boat in a seeming underworld ready to be drawn by Gustave Doré, a paradise lost, no artist’s tricks needed, not even imagination; it was all right there before our eyes along with a phantom presence of Indians, eyeing us from up there on their rim or lurking in cave and cranny. Uneasily. Because it was theirs, and even at this late date we were intruding.
These are the canyon walls that are now so cleaned up, rerouted even, arranged, photographed, advertised, that their lofty reticence rent by stridency of group merriment has become no more than a movie backdrop for jolly organized tours. Deplorable? Certainly, but in this, one must deplore the entire human presence which is a history of conquest -- of nature, of species, of other humans: Indians, Israelites, Vikings, Muslims, Aztecs... And if we, gliding downriver in an unreal chasm, were silent and discomposed by its pristine beauty it was a thing that even in the memory is a treasure beyond words.
Guide Elmer moved respectfully through the gloam. For hours on end no one spoke. Arriving at Lee’s Ferry two days late — we had played at movie-making in a hidden canyon — we were hailed with relief by the locals, even newsmen, and our movie footage was nicely integrated, back in New York, in Hans Richter’s avant-garde film, 8 by 8.
–from Between Lives: An Artist and Her World. New York: W.W. Norton & Company, 2001, pp. 155-157.