Ballet Mécanique (one of the first pieces of art I encountered here) related to Futurism.
Since arriving in Paris, I’ve been introduced to many different groups of important artists, such as the Dadaists, Surrealists, Letterists, Situationists, Futurists, Decedents, Modernists, Symbolists, and more. I’ve never really taken any sort of art history class, so much of this was new to me, although I’d known a decent amount about the Situationists, Surrealists, Dadaists, Modernism, and Modernity before coming to Paris. I could write for five hours on just one of these movements, so I guess I’ll just begin by discussing one of the first pieces of art I saw upon arriving here. I’m taking a studio art class, and for the first class, our professor had us watch “Dada Cinema
”—a collection of Dada and Surrealist films created artists such as Hans Richter, Man Ray, and Ferdinand Léger. The most memorable out of all of them, for me, was Léger
’s film, made to accompany George Antheil
’s score, Ballet Mécanique
. I distinctly remember being slightly chilled and disturbed, yet fascinated by the 16 minute film.
What I remember from the film was a collection of machines, rather than ballerinas, dancing (if you will) to a harsh, percussive piano score—occasionally spliced with short, looped clips of human forms—such as a woman carrying a bag of flour up the stairs, a beautiful girl with Grecian braided hair swinging on a swing, Man Ray’s smiling lips coated with sharp, dark rouge lipstick (towards the end of the film we see his whole face, mirrored several times over, with his eyes opening and closing slowly, repeatedly), couples being hurled around in circles on a ride at an amusement park, and the severed legs of a mannequin. I was left with the impression of unsympathetic and violent machines, fragmented and fast-paced time—the impression that technology was overwhelming and alienating that which is “human.” Basically, I was getting Marxist vibes from it—the whole alienation of the worker thing—of a worker being viewed as a cog in a technological machine rather than as a human being… I often gravitate towards looking at things through such a lens, I don’t know why, I’ve probably read too much Marx, or have read too much about alienation.
Anyway, it turns out my first impressions of the film weren’t far off. The film is a Dadaist film, so Léger had no intentions, other than making art that contradicted all previous “rules” of art. He was not trying to convey any specific meaning—but because he contributed to the artistic movements that existed at the time (such as Dadaism, Cubism, Impressionism, and Surrealism), his film reflected aspects of said movements. He was influenced by Italian Futurism, so Futurist ideas manifest themselves in the film. Futurism is the “passionate loathing of everything old; the Futurists admired speed, technology, youth and violence, the car, the airplane and the industrial city, all that represented the technological triumph of humanity over nature.” 
Such qualities are evident in Le Ballet Mechanique
, and upon knowing Léger’s inspirations (as well as knowing that he later wrote that he saw the “human figure as plastic value, not as sentimental value”), it seems more evident that the sharp imagery and unforgiving score exist to evoke a blunt presentation of human beings as machinery rather than to invoke sympathy or to protest against such a phenomena.
Léger admired technology, admired speed, admired violence—as that which could be revolutionary. Antheil’s description of his score for the film coincides with such values: "scored for countless numbers of player pianos. All percussive. Like machines. All efficiency. No LOVE. Written without sympathy. Written cold as an army operates. Revolutionary as nothing has been revolutionary." 
Well, now that I have more of an understanding of the artists who made Le Ballet Mechanique
, I realize that the film may stand out in my mind because I don’t completely understand it. When I see and read Surrealist art and literature, I sympathize with most of it—and the same with Dadaism, Modernism, Symbolism, and Situationism. Although I respect Léger for his revolutionary sentiments and artistic accomplishments, Italian Futurists' aims confuse me. Why can art "only be violence, cruelty, injustice," why do they so value speed, cold machinery, and the relentlessness of modern urban life? 
I believe I haven’t studied enough about Futurism to completely understand it, but I don’t understand how aggravating alienation and violence, and dismissing the past will lead to the evolution of the human race. I understand that many artists at that time felt as if they were constantly stuck in the past, even when things were seemingly progressing, but does Futurism believe that violence, technology, and speed can create a revolution that would sever them from the past and allow for evolution? Will "ruinous and incendiary violence" truly allow for them to erase all memories of their ancestors-- ? [ibid]
"A Klee painting named 'Angelus Novus' shows an angel looking as though he is about to move away from something he is fixedly contemplating. His eyes are staring, his mouth is open, his wings are spread. This is how one pictures the angel of history. His face is turned toward the past. Where we perceive a chain of events, he sees one single catastrophe which keeps piling wreckage upon wreckage and hurls it in front of his feet. The angel would like to stay, awaken the dead, and make whole what has been smashed. But a storm is blowing from Paradise; it has got caught in his wings with such violence that the angel can no longer close them. This storm irresistibly propels him into the future to which his back is turned, while the pile of debris before him grows skyward. This storm is what we call progress." [Walter Benjamin]
Is it possible for the angel to turn his face towards the future, and with enough speed and violence destory those piles of debris in order to "evolve" rather than "progress?" It seems as if the Futurists believe such a thing is possible-- "We are on the extreme promontory of the centuries! What is the use of looking behind at the moment when we must open the mysterious shutters of the impossible? Time and Space died yesterday. We are already living in the absolute, since we have already created eternal, omnipresent speed." 
It seems as if they have the same feeling that many today have (and many generations have had before)-- that we're on the precipice, on the summit of all time... on the verge of the apocolypse, if you will-- and a grand revolution is around the corner, if only we can push hard enough to spark it.