In his first short film, Soul of the Cypress (1920), a variation on the Orpheus myth, the film's protagonist falls in love with a dryad (a wood nymph whose soul dwells in an ancient tree) and throws himself into the sea to become immortal and spend eternity with her.
Murphy's eighth film, Ballet mécanique, which he codirected with the French artist Fernand Léger, premiered on 24 September 1924 at the Internationale Ausstellung neuer Theatertechnik (International Exposition for New Theater Technique) in Vienna. Considered one of the masterpieces of early experimental filmmaking, Ballet mécanique also included creative input from Man Ray and Ezra Pound, and was presented at the exposition by Frederick Kiesler.
In her book Dudley Murphy: Hollywood Wild Card, film historian Susan Delson argues persuasively that Murphy was the film's driving force but that Léger was more successful at promoting the film as his own creation. Ballet mécanique, with the George Antheil music originally written for the film, was included in the DVD collection Unseen Cinema released in October 2005.
In addition to Ballet mécanique, Murphy is best remembered for St. Louis Blues (1929) with Bessie Smith, Black and Tan Fantasy (1929) with Duke Ellington and His Orchestra, and The Emperor Jones (1933), starring Paul Robeson.
In 1932, Murphy helped introduce the Mexican artist David Alfaro Siqueiros to prominent people in the Los Angeles community. To show his gratitude, Siqueiros painted a mural on a wall in Murphy's Pacific Palisades home. The only intact mural by Siqueiros in the United States, Portrait of Mexico Today was gifted anonymously to the Santa Barbara Museum of Art in 1999.
From the late 1940s through the 1960s Murphy and his fourth wife, Virginia, owned and operated Holiday House, an exclusive Malibu hotel designed by Richard Neutra and favored by the Hollywood elite.
Preserve and project: Malcolm Turvey on two new anthologies of avant-garde film.(Avant-Garde: Experimental Cinema of the 1920s and '30s)(Unseen Cinema: Early American Avant-Garde Film, 1894-1941)(FILM)(Video Recording Review)
Nov 01, 2005; Avant-Garde: Experimental Cinema of the 1920s and '30s. Kino Video. 2-DVD set. $30. Unseen Cinema: Early American Avant-Garde...