History of Cinema: Avant-Garde


Film 214: History of Cinema: Avant-Garde
Screenings: Thursdays 7pm to 10pm, Avery 110
Lectures: Fridays 10am to 1pm, Avery 110

Professor Ed Halter
halter @ bard . edu
Office: Avery 220
Office hours: Thursdays 2:00 to 4:00, by appointment

This course provides a critical overview of North American avant-garde cinema from the post-war period to the early 1970s, widely regarded as one of the most productive and influential eras of experimental filmmaking. Topics covered include: European and American pre-war precedents, the history of distribution and exhibition, the underground explosion of the 1960s, expanded cinema and new technologies, structural and materialist filmmaking, the politics of counterculture and feminism, and the intersection of film production with the other arts.

Attendance at all lectures and screenings; an in-class midterm exam, and an in-class final exam. Both midterm and final exams are essay format, and will be based on material found in the films, the lectures, and the weekly readings. Grading will be determined by 50% midterm, 50% final.

With permission of the instructor, you may replace your final exam with a final research paper on a topic of your choice, 15-18 pages. If you wish to do so, you must first set up an appointment to meet with me no later than April 25 to discuss, then turn in a one-page topic summary with preliminary bibliography of at least four sources no later than May 2. The final paper will be due in class on May 16.

In order to be counted for attendance purposes, you will need to sign the attendance book at the beginning of each lecture and screening. Attendance is mandatory at all lectures and screenings, and attendance to both will count towards your grade. Three absences and your grade drops a full letter. More than three and your grade drops two. Illness-related absence will be waived only upon receipt of a legitimate doctor’s note. Should you experience any problems meeting these requirements at any point in the course, please contact me immediately.

Many of the weekly readings will be taken from the following books, available at the Bard bookstore:

P. Adams Sitney, Visionary Film: The American Avant-Garde 1943-2000 (3rd ed)
Parker Tyler, Underground Film: A Critical History
P. Adams Sitney (ed.), The Film Culture Reader

Other readings will be found on Reserveweb. Please have your readings done by class and ready to discuss; it is recommended that you bring specific questions about anything you don’t fully understand or would like more information about.

For further information on experimental cinema, including video archives and bibliographies, see these online resources.

Taking notes
Since you will be able to use your notes during the midterm and final, it is highly recommended that you take notes when reading, at lecture, and during the screenings. Please note that many of these films do not exist on video, and therefore can’t be reviewed before your exams, so you own notes may be crucial. (If you have difficulty taking notes while watching a film, jot them down quickly after the film is over.)


Week I
Jan 31
The Smiling Madame Beudet (Germaine Dulac, 1923, 26 mins)
Ballet Mecanique (Fernand Leger & Dudley Murphy, 1924, 19 mins)
Kreise (Circles) (Oskar Fischinger, 1933, 3 mins)
H2O (Ralph Steiner, 1929, 14 mins)
The Life and Death of 9413, a Hollywood Extra (Robert Florey & Slavko Vorkapich, 1928, 11 mins)
Rhythm in Light (Mary Ellen Bute, Ted Nemeth, Melville Webber, 1934, 5 mins)
Children’s Trilogy: Cotillion, The Midnight Party, The Children’s Party (Joseph Cornell, 1938, 19 mins)
Feb 1
Lewis Jacobs “Experimental Cinema in America” (Parts One and Two)
Michael O’Pray “The Avant-Garde Film: Definitions” from Avant-Garde Film: Forms, Themes and Passions

Week II
Feb 7
Meshes of the Afternoon (Maya Deren, 1943, 18 mins)
At Land (Maya Deren, 1944, 15 mins)
A Study in Choreography for Camera (Maya Deren, 1945, 4 mins)
Ritual in Transfigured Time
(Maya Deren, 1946, 15 mins)
Petrified Dog (Sidney Peterson, 1948, 19 mins)
Lead Shoes (Sidney Peterson, 1949, 18 mins)
The Potted Psalm (Sidney Peterson & James Broughton, 1946, 18 mins)
Feb 8
Keith Sanborn, “Modern all too modern” (excerpt)
Visionary Film, pp 3-81 (Chapters 1-3)
Maya Deren, “Cinematography: The Creative Use of Reality”
Lauren Rabinowitz, "Introduction: The Woman Filmmaker in the New York Avant-Garde" & “Maya Deren and an American Avant-Garde Cinema” from Points of Resistance
Begin reading Underground Film: A Critical History this week--finish by midterm.

Week III
Feb 14
Geography of the Body (Willard Maas, 1943, 7 mins)
Fireworks (Kenneth Anger, 1947, 20 mins)
The Mechanics of Love (Willard Maas & Ben Moore, 1955, 5 mins)
Visual Variations on Noguchi
(Marie Menken, 1945, 4 mins)
Hurry! Hurry! (Marie Menken, 1957, 3 mins)
Christmas USA (Gregory Markopoulos, 1949, 13 mins)
The End (Christopher MacLaine, 1953, 38 mins)
Eaux D’Artifice (Kenneth Anger, 1953, 15 mins)
Desistfilm (Stan Brakhage, 1954, 7 mins)
Feb 15
Scott MacDonald, “Introduction” from Cinema 16: Documents Toward a History of the Film Society
Jonas Mekas, “The Experimental Film in America,” in Film Culture Reader
Stan Brakhage, “Christopher MacLaine” from Film at Wit’s End
Parker Tyler, “A Preface to the Problems of the Experimental Film,” in Film Culture Reader
Melissa Ragona, “Swing and Sway: Marie Menken’s Filmic Events” from Women’s Experimental Cinema

Feb 21
Early Abstractions (Harry Smith, 1947-47, 23 mins)
Bridges-Go-Round (Shirley Clarke, 1958, 18 mins)
Peyote Queen (Storm de Hirsch, 1965, 9 mins)
Heaven and Earth Magic (Harry Smith, 1959-61, 66 mins)
Feb 22
Visionary Film, “Absolute Animation” (Ch. 8)
P. Adams Sitney, “Harry Smith Interview” in Film Culture Reader
Gregory Markopoulos, “Three Filmmakers”
Susan Sontag, “A Feast for the Open Eyes” and additional material from The Nation

Week V
Feb 28
Prelude to Dog Star Man (Stan Brakhage, 1962, 25 mins)
Window Water Baby Moving
(Stan Brakhage, 1962, 13 mins)
Mothlight (Stan Brakhage, 1963, 4 mins)
Little Stabs of Happiness (Ken Jacobs, 1959-63, 15 mins)
Flaming Creatures (Jack Smith, 1963, 43 mins)
Filmmaker’s Showcase (Francis Lee, 1963, 3 mins)
Feb 29
Visionary Film, “The Lyrical Film” & “Major Mythpoeia” (Chs. 6 & 7)
Ken Kelman, “Smith Myth” in Film Culture Reader
Jane Brakhage, “The Birth Film” in Film Culture Reader
Stan Brakhage, excerpt from Metaphors on Vision

Week VI

Mar 6
Arabesque for Kenneth Anger (Marie Menken, 1961, 4 mins)
Fuses (Carolee Schneeman, 1965, 22 mins)
Breathdeath (Stan Vanderbeek, 1964, 15 mins)
Oh Dem Watermelons (Robert Nelson, 1965, 11 mins)
Hold Me While I’m Naked (George and Mike Kuchar, 1966, 15 mins)
Mosholu Holiday (George and Mike Kuchar, 1966, 9 mins)
Castro Street (Bruce Baillie, 1966, 10 mins)
Knocturne (George and Mike Kuchar, 1968, 9 mins)
Rockflow (Bob Cowan, 1968, 9 mins)
Mar 7
J. Hoberman & Jonathan Rosenbaum, “Chapter 3: The Underground” from Midnight Movies
Scott MacDonald, “Introduction” from Canyon Cinema: The Life and Times of an Independent Film Distributor
Jonas Mekas, “Notes on the New American Cinema” in Film Culture Reader
“First Statement of the New American Cinema Group” in Film Culture Reader
Jack Stevenson, “The Life and Films of the Brothers of Invention: George and Mike Kuchar” from Desperate Visions

Week VII
Mar 13
Kustom Kar Kommandos
(Kenneth Anger, 1965, 4 mins)
Scorpio Rising (Kenneth Anger, 1963, 30 mins)
Blow Job (Andy Warhol, 1963, 35 mins)
Beauty #2 (Andy Warhol, 1965, 66 mins)
Mar 14
Visionary Film, “The Magus” (Ch. 4)
Carolee Schneeman, “Kenneth Anger’s Scorpio Rising” in Film Culture Reader
Dave Hickey, “The Delicacy of Rock-and-Roll”
Stephen Koch, “Blow Job and Pornography” from Stargazer: Andy Warhol’s World and His Films
Read all of Underground Film: A Critical History by this week—start early!

Mar 20
No screening
Mar 21
Midterm exam

Mar 27
Chelsea Girls (Andy Warhol, 1966, 210 mins)
Mar 28
Parker Tyler, “Dragtime and Drugtime: or, Film à la Warhol”
Wayne Koestenbaum, “Screens” and “Torture” from Andy Warhol
Stephen Koch, “The Chelsea Girls” and “Degradation” from Stargazer

Week X
Spring Break
No class Apr 3 & 4

Week XI
Apr 10
Puce Moment (Kenneth Anger, 1949, 7 mins)
Invocation of My Demon Brother (Kenneth Anger, 1969, 12 mins)
Allures (Jordan Belson, 1961 8 mins)
Re-entry (Jordan Belson, 1964, 7 mins)
Samadhi (Jordan Belson, 1967, 6 mins)
My Name is Oona (Gunvor Nelson, 1969, 10 mins)
Offon (Scott Bartlett, 1966, 10 mins)
Experiments in Motion Graphics (John Whitney, 1968, 12 mins)
Permutations (John Whitney, 1968, 8 mins)
Billabong (Will Hindle, 1969, 9 mins)
Blazes (Robert Breer, 1961, 3 mins)
69 (Robert Breer, 1969, 5 mins)
70 (Robert Breer, 1970, 5 mins)
Apr 11
Bill Landis, excerpt from Anger: The Unauthorized Biography of Kenneth Anger
Gene Youngblood, “The Cosmic Cinema of Jordan Belson” in Film Culture Reader
Stan Van Der Beek, “‘Culture: Intercom’ and Expanded Cinema”
John and James Whitney, “Audio-Visual Music”
Sheldon Renan, “Expanded Cinema” from An Introduction to the American Underground Film

Week XII
Apr 17
Report (Bruce Conner, 1963-67, 13 mins)
The Flicker (Tony Conrad, 1966, 30 mins)
Ray Gun Virus (Paul Sharits, 1966, 14 mins)
Piece Mandala / End War (Paul Sharits, 1966, 5 mins)
Film in Which There Appear Edge Lettering, Sprocket Holes, Dirt Particles Etc. (George Landow, 1965-66, 4 mins) Remedial Reading Comprehension (George Landow, 1970, 5 mins)
Flux Film Program (Fluxus/Various, 1966/1970, 40 mins) [list of titles+filmmakers]
Apr 18
P. Adams Sitney, “Structural Film” in Film Culture Reader
George Maciunas, “On ‘Structural Film’” in Film Culture Reader
Malcolm Le Grice, “America Post-War” and “Around 1966” from Abstract Film and Beyond
Scott MacDonald, “Yoko Ono: #4 (Bottoms)” from Avant-Garde Film: Motion Studies
Sally Banes, excerpt on Fluxus from Greenwich Village 1963

Apr 24
Walden (Jonas Mekas, 1968-69, 180 mins)
Apr 25
David E. James “Film Diary/Diary Film: Practice and Product in Walden” from To Free the Cinema: Jonas Mekas and the New York Underground
Jonas Mekas “The Diary Film”
Excerpts from Jonas Mekas, Movie Journal

May 1
--- ------- (Thom Andersen & Malcom Brodwick, 1966-67, 11 mins)
Wavelength (Michael Snow, 1966-7, 45 mins)
T,O,U,C,H,I,N,G, (Paul Sharits, 1968, 12 mins)
Maxwell’s Demon (Hollis Frampton, 1968, 4 mins)
Surface Tension (Hollis Frampton, 1968, 10 mins)
Corridor (Standish Lawder, 1968, 20 mins)
Rat Life and Diet in North America (Joyce Wieland, 1968, 16 mins)
May 2
Visionary Film, “Structural Film” (Ch. 12)
Annette Michelson, “Toward Snow”
Manny Farber, "Canadian Underground (1969)" and "Michael Snow (1969)"
Paul Sharits, “Hearing:Seeing”

Peter Gidal, "Theory and Definition of Structural/Materialist Film"

Week XV
May 8
New Left Note (Saul Levine, 1968/1982, 28 mins)
(nostalgia) (Hollis Frampton, 1971, 36 mins)
Production Stills (Morgan Fisher, 1970, 11 mins)
Near the Big Chakra (Anne Severson, 1971, 17 mins)
Serene Velocity (Ernie Gehr, 1970, 23 mins)
Swamp (Nancy Holt & Robert Smithson, 1971, 6 mins)
May 9
“Canyon Cinema Board of Directors’ Meeting Minutes [May 20, 1970]” from Scott MacDonald’s Canyon Cinema
Hollis Frampton, "Lecture" & “A Pentagram for Conjuring the Narrative”
Scott MacDonald, “Anne Severson (on Near the Big Chakra)” from A Critical Cinema 2
David E. James, “Representation: On Film/In Camera” and “Pure Film” from Allegories of Cinema

Week XVI
May 15
No screening
May 16
Final exam