Rhythmetic (Evelyn Lambart/Norman McLaren, 1956, Canada)

Rhythmetic is a short film from 1956 directed by Norman McLaren and Evelyn Lambart. The film is an exploration of numerical patterns. It opens with a percussive soundtrack, as various numbers form a diamond shape. The math problems begin, as the series of addition appears across the screen. This is followed by various mathematical formulas that occur across the top right of the screen - namely, the subtraction of the number one. As we hit the top row, the equals sign becomes to come to life, dancing with the scratching of the percussive soundtrack.

The numbers gradually begin to take on a life of their own, moving in rhythm to the music as the math equations continue down the bottom right side of the diamond. The math patterns continue on the upper left side of the screen. At this point, the white numbers and symbols have now taken up much of the screen. The various formulas now fill the whole page. The numbers bounce around, bumping into one another, while still following mathematical rules. It is worth highlighting at this point the excellent percussive soundtrack - McLaren was certainly ahead of his time as far as the music in his films, which almost has a techno feel despite being created in the 1940s and 50s. 

Unfortunately, this short film will likely not please anyone who is already not a math fanatic. While the film is interesting to start with, and there is something pleasurable about the overall rhythm, it begins to grow tiresome after the first couple of minutes. As the film was commissioned by the National Film Board of Canada, I wonder if it was intended for educational purposes. Apparently, the film was shown on TV in the 1960s, including in the US. Overall, not one of McLaren's most memorable efforts.



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