Postwar Poetics

In the immediate postwar period, the most important exhibition space for experimental films were the ciné clubs, organizations of film fans who would rent and discuss offbeat films. The first flowering of ciné clubs occurred in France in the 1920s, as venues for the impressionist work of such avant-gardists as Germaine Dulac (1882-1942) and Jean Epstein (1897-1953). Luis Buiiuel made Un Chien Andalou (1929) in collaboration with the painter Salvador Dali. Hans Richter, Viking Eggeling, Oskar Fischinger, Jon Jost, and Jean Cocteau are among the many other avant-garde filmmakers to work in Europe.

In the United States, the first such club, Art in Cinema, whose screenings were helmed by Frank Stauffacher at the San Francisco Museum of Art, was established in 1947. Stauffacher helped Amos and Marcia Vogel start a club, Cinema 16, in New York City, and for sixteen years (1947-1963) the Vogels sponsored programs that included experimental shorts such as Kenneth

Gay iconography in Kenneth Anger's Fireworks (1947).

fantoma films/the kobal collection.

Gay iconography in Kenneth Anger's Fireworks (1947).

fantoma films/the kobal collection.

Anger's (b. 1927) Fireworks (1947) and Bruce Conner's A Movie (1957) with documentaries, educational shorts, art films, and special events featuring speakers such as playwright Arthur Miller and Alfred Hitchcock. In 1950 the Vogels also began to distribute experimental films around the country (primarily to colleges and other ciné clubs) through Cinema 16. Although financial troubles forced the Vogels to shut down Cinema 16 in 1963, its effect was lasting and profound.

Other exhibition spaces besides ciné clubs included college classes, art galleries and museums, and bars. Occasionally, an entrepreneurial filmmaker might even screen in a mainstream theater. Between 1946 and 1949, for instance, Maya Deren rented the two-hundred-seat Provincetown Playhouse eight times for programs of her films. As opportunities for the exhibition of avant-garde films grew, trends began to form. Following Deren's example, several filmmakers in the immediate postwar period made surrealist, dream-inflected narratives. Sidney Peterson (1905-2000) and James Broughton (19131999) collaborated on The Potted Psalm (1946), a loose-limbed tale featuring gravestones, mannequins, and other irrational symbols. Peterson's subsequent films, such as The Cage (1947) and The Lead Shoes (1948), combine disturbing images with recursive narratives and compulsive repetition. Broughton made his first film, Mother's Day, in 1948, and across four decades of filmmaking his works shifted in emphasis from offbeat, erotic comedy to an unabashed celebration of gay sexuality. Willard Maas (1911-1971) was another practitioner of the postwar experimental narrative; his Geography of the Body (1946) turns close-ups of human anatomy into a travelogue of a surreal continent. For his first film, Stan Brakhage made Interim (1952), a romantic Derenesque narrative, but afterwards he quickly took off in new directions.

Animation was also a vibrant part of the postwar avant-garde. The most prolific avant-garde animator was Robert Breer (b. 1926), who between 1952 and 1970 produced at least one film a year. James (1921-1982) and John Whitney (1917-1995) pioneered computer-generated films, and their success gave them the opportunity to make cartoons for the mainstream UPA studio and to produce animated effects for Alfred Hitchcock's Vertigo (1958). Australian artist Len Lye (1901-1980) painted directly on the surface of the film strip in such films as A Colour Box (1935) and Free Radicals (1958). And Jordan Belson's (b. 1926) San Francisco light shows evolved into symmetrically patterned, Buddhist-influenced films such as Mandala (1953) and Allures (1961).

Several postwar filmmakers explored film form in ways different from animation. Bruce Conner began his career in the arts as a sculptor, but became famous as the conceptualizer-editor of a series of ''found footage'' films that edited previously shot footage into new and bizarre combinations. In A Movie, Conner subverts our cause-effect expectations (and makes us laugh) by juxtaposing, for example, a shot of a German soldier staring into a periscope with a picture of a girl wearing a bikini and staring into the camera. Other Conner films subject newly shot footage to unorthodox cutting: in Vivian (1963), Conner filmed his friend Vivian Kurz in various environments—in an art gallery, in her bedroom—and then edited the rolls into a kinetic flow of images that comments on the nature of photographic representation. Vivian has a pop music soundtrack—as do other Conner films, such as Cosmic Ray (1961) and Mongoloid (1978)—and Conner's synchronization of editing and musical rhythm is the origin of the music video.

Marie Menken (1909-1970) used time-lapse photography as the formal center of many of her films. A team player in the New York Underground—she worked on films by Warhol, Deren, and her husband, Willard Maas—Menken also crafted miniature movies that condense time. Moonplay (1962) is a collection of full moons photographed over the course of several years,

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