H2O (1929) Poster


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Superb study of - guess what? - water
gmwhite29 December 2005
How does one rate a film like this? There is hardly a plot, and there are no actors, only water, in many of its forms.

Yet, there is indeed a progress in this film: from water, the familiar liquid, seen in a variety of fashions, in movement, reflecting scenes or objects, transparent and opaque, to quite abstract (often close-up) visions of water that emphasize form and shadow.

It is as if this simple liquid, that we all encounter on a daily basis, is being de-familiarised, and the liquid we need for life is being turned into an aesthetic object. This process, it now occurs to me, embodies something of the wonder of the child before water, grasping at it as it streams from the tap, playing with its surface, observing rippling reflections. There is indeed a childlike wonder in this short film, with an artist's eye for camera-angles and editing - quite a unique combination that is well worth viewing. You may not look at water in quite the same way again.
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Virtuosic abstract chiaroscuro
I watched the movie as part of Image Entertainment's box set of Unseen Cinema. There's no way I would have sought it out otherwise. After all, what we have here is film footage of water. How could that possibly be good? Well I congratulate myself for my bloody-mindedness of watching every feature on the disc. The first minute is a bit slow, hardly-interesting figurative shots, a kind of a deliberate prelude, but then we get shot after staggering shot of coruscations, ripple effects, some barely recognisable as water. You keep on thinking that Steiner is going to run out of inspiration and then another brilliant shot appears. The dappling of the water in some shots comes as close to music as film is going to get. Being an admirer of abstract art was especially helpful for me in admiring the film's aesthetic.

Being so far removed from standard narrative film-making I would suggest that this short has limited interest to most, but for anyone interested in the avant-garde or experimental cinema this is 24-carat gold.
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Simple concept with poetic execution
Polaris_DiB27 August 2008
Warning: Spoilers
Many an avant-garde film has been made focusing only on the qualities of light off of a single surface; it's all a part of the endless and always interesting look into the "texture of film" and the dynamic between light, motion, and celluloid. This early entry into the form and movement of movies comes compliments of Ralph Steiner, cinemagraphic explorer and documentary maker.

The explanation behind this movie is, of course, the type of thing that makes people uninformed or uninterested in experimental cinema blanch: Steiner records the reflection of light off of various bodies of water, playing around with exposure, aperture, speed, and angle. It seems like a boring concept, but the poetry and beauty of the imagery speaks for itself. Better yet, the images themselves get increasingly abstract as they move from easily recognized bodies of water (rivers, waterfalls, spouts, etc.) to sharp, contrast-enhanced lines, shapes, and movements. The dynamic spreads across gradual shades in graceful curved arcs in slow motion to flickering black-and-white sharp-angled bodies clashing upon each other. In one simple concept comes hundreds of different views of what water is, how it can be captured on film, and how the different means of capture can change the subject, texture, emotion, nature, or context of the image.

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Reflections in a pool
ackstasis26 August 2008
When it comes to water, you'd be inclined to think that what you see is what you get. We've all observed rivers, lakes, ponds and puddles; there's nothing new in the notion of a water surface reflecting and refracting light. Only an avant-garde filmmaker like Ralph Steiner could possibly have envisioned any different, and his 'H2O (1929)' is a bewildering montage of aquatic images, an inane but moderately absorbing examination of Earth's most abundant liquid, and the life-blood of all living organisms. The film starts ordinarily enough, presenting the viewer with rather commonplace shots of flowing rivers and the like, before becoming fascinated by the sprays of light reflected by the water ripples. Gradually, Steiner focuses closer and closer upon these ripples, exploring water's material nature at such close range that the liquid becomes almost unrecognisable, the shifting bands of reflected light seeming to flit across the screen like some bizarre psychedelic animation. The film takes a few too many minutes to get to this point, but, once it does, the effect is rewarding.

Exactly what Steiner is attempting to communicate about the nature of water has quite eluded to me. Those well-versed in experimental cinema can no doubt invent some obscure meaning to match the film's images, but I'm content to evaluate the film based purely on aesthetics, and, certainly, various shots in 'H2O' can only be described as hypnotic. The film, which runs around ten minutes in length, opens with four minutes of mundane water shots before we get our first reassurance that something worthwhile is unfolding. The film, which will definitely not suit all tastes – and, indeed, probably sits on the border of what I find entertaining– deserves to be seen by those interested in the avant-garde movement, particularly from an era where experimentalists and surrealists were only just finding their feet in cinema {Luis Buñuel's 'Un chien andalou (1929)' was released the same year}. Additionally, if you've ever wondered what more was to be discerned from water other than two hydrogen atoms and an oxygen, then perhaps you've found your answer.
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Great Avant-Garde Short
Michael_Elliott9 January 2012
H2O (1929)

*** 1/2 (out of 4)

This avant-garde film from director Rob Steiner was selected to the National Film Registry and it's this honor that got the film some much needed attention. The twelve-minute film has a pretty simple execution and that's to show as many forms of water as possible. Meaning, you might see a lake, a pond or water splashing in a tub or you may see various images reflected off the water. You see it rain, coming from a faucet and various other forms. You might wonder who would want to look at water for twelve straight minutes but the film is actually very well done and almost comes off like a surreal dream or some sort of poetic exercise in images. I think some of the best moments deal with the reflections because the images almost come off like animation or something that just seems so fake yet you know it's all real. Another great part was when we see various objects floating in the water. Steiner does a very good job at editing the scenes together and make no mistake this isn't some simple film with a bunch of images thrown together. That there could have been a mess but instead you can tell that a lot of thought went into the movie and it easily shows.
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Simple, But Effective
gavin69427 April 2016
A study on water, the reflections and motions of the liquid that accentuates its ethereality and metallic beauty.

What can you say about this? It is a few minutes of water in various forms. Beautiful, yes, though without a crisp picture it really loses something. I am not quite clear on what makes it historic or why it is worth preserving over any other footage. Was there something I missed? But it does make you think about water, how important it is and how it is everywhere. Maybe someone ought to try to do this again, only with better cameras and light? Sort of seems like a precursor to Kenneth Anger... but only in the most general sense.
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Splish splash
Horst_In_Translation14 March 2016
Warning: Spoilers
"H2O" is a 12-minute silent black-and-white documentary by Ralph Steiner from over 85 years ago. He depicts water in his purest form out there in the nature. This is one example of a film that was really hurt by the lack of audio and color. Imagine we could see the beautiful reflection in the water in color and we could hear the splish-splashing at the same time. It would elevate the material by so so much. But the way it turned out without these progressive factors, it is not a good watch unfortunately, even if the National Film Registry thinks otherwise. It dragged at 12 minutes already and I would have preferred this film to only run for 5 max. Not recommended.
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H²O {Short} (Ralph Steiner, 1929) **
Bunuel197615 January 2014
To begin with, the title of this one refers to the scientific designation of water. The film, then, is 12 minutes of just that: the element is shown in all its various forms, from the industrialized (pumped for consumption) to the natural (rivers – also tackled in a 1938 Pare Lorentz documentary I watched recently) and the atmospheric (rainfall – the subject of an upcoming effort in the Kino "Avant-Garde" collection, dating from the same year, by Joris Ivens).

There is only so much of interest (and that is primarily visual) you can glean from such material; in the final analysis, its experimental connotations have as much to do with photographic ingenuity (when catching reflections in pools of water) as editorial technique and musical underscoring.
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Action filming
sandover1 June 2010
Warning: Spoilers
Action painting is all here, done three decades before the movement was there, and done by water! There are some shots recalling, if not concretely evoking, Franz Kline's paintings; Aschille Gorsky, too, and most certainly Pollock.

As Gertrude Stein would have it, in this little film surfaces surface and surfaces surface and surfacing and water and surfacing and a little twig but not too many and surface surfaces and a little stream and surfaces surfacing and water without adding any.

(I really liked at some point the appearance of a little twig on the fore, disturbing a little the surface, the abstraction of water behind it, as if that little object made some claim in the name of the real, for our gaze to catch upon it, and redeem the escalating abstraction of the film.)

But what is most winning is Mr. Marotta's soundtrack: with its Spanish-Far-east flavor it encapsulates it all, and perfectly so: as Gertrude Stein said "Spaniards made 20th century painting", and as for the Far East parameter, the film seems to meditate in terms of Chinese calligraphy, with its thick and quick inks. And there you have it.
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This was the first 'normal' film on disc 3....
MartinHafer25 August 2011
This is just one of many art films from the DVD collection "Unseen Cinema: Early American Avant-Garde Film 1894-1941" and it's from Disc 3. However, compared to the earlier shorts shown on this disc, this is actually a pretty normal art film. While I am sure that the beautiful musical accompaniment that is presented with the film was NOT used originally (since it came out in 1929--and probably was a silent), it fits perfectly. The entire film consists of many images of water flowing and they are intercut quite often--giving you an almost pulsing effect. The cinematography is quite lovely--showing the camera person was a real master of the art of film. It was relaxing and mindless--the sort of thing kids and hyper people would hate but which might make many people stop and pause. Artsy but not unapproachable to the average plebe....like me.
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