Joseph Cornell (1903-1972) was a self-taught American artist. He is best known for his boxes, assemblages of photographs, small objects and suchlike arranged in a box, with a glass top. These almost surreal little collections of disparate, juxtaposed objects have a quiet poetry about them. Though not all critics describe Cornell's work as surrealist, he was acquainted with several artists from that movement; his boxes are more understated than most surrealist works.
Cornell did, however, experiment with other media, and in 1936 produced a short film entitled Rose Hobart.
Rose Hobart (1906-2000) was an actress on stage, screen and television. She first entered films in 1930, when sound had just taken hold of the film industry and actors who could read lines were important. She played lead and supporting roles through the '30s and '40s.
Her career in films was cut short in 1949, when, because of her work on behalf of the Screen Actor's Guild, she was called before the House Un-American Activities Committee and was accused of being a Communist. She refused to testify or incriminate any of her colleagues. Although she found work in television during the '50s and '60s, appearing in The Danny Thomas Show, Peyton Place and Gunsmoke among others, her professional life was in permanent decline. She remained of sound mind until her death, at the age of 94.
Cornell's film combined two disparate elements to create a new, unusual whole, a process not unlike that used in his boxes. To achieve this, he went to a warehouse where he could buy motion pictures that were damaged or otherwise being sold by weight for scrap - perhaps to be rendered down for the silver content in the film. From this warehouse he bought a print of the 1931 film East of Borneo, directed by George Melford and starring Rose Hobart, Charles Bickford and George Renavent. He then edited the film down to 20 minutes of select scenes, most of them featuring Hobart. He then purchased a number of samba records, cheaply. He replaced the films soundtrack with these records, creating an almost surreal mix of the South American music with the Hollywood-Asian settings1.
Here is an illustrated biography of Cornell which shows many of his box constructions.
One of Cornell's earliest boxes was bought by the Wadsworth Atheneum.
The Internet Movie Database is a good resource for learning more about the films of Rose Hobart and Joseph Cornell.