News Release — December 12, 2003
"Unseen Cinema: Early American Avant-Garde Film 1893-1941"
The Harry Ransom Center presents the film series "Unseen Cinema: Early American Avant Garde Film 1893-1941," the first-ever retrospective of the pre-WWII avant garde film movement in America. The screenings begin in Austin on Feb. 12 and run through March 11, 2004.
Presented as double features on five consecutive Thursdays at the Alamo Drafthouse Cinema Downtown, the 10 different screenings are comprised of more than 100 restored and preserved 35mm and 16mm films. A collaborative film preservation project, "Unseen Cinema" was organized by Anthology Film Archives, New York, and Deutsches Filmmuseum, Frankfurt am Main, and sponsored by Cineric, Inc.
Through a series of 50- to 90-minute screenings of newly restored rare films, "Unseen Cinema" surveys the singular but overlooked accomplishments of cinematic pioneers during the formative period of American film. The series postulates an innovative and often controversial view of experimental cinema as a product of avant-garde artists, Hollywood directors, and amateur movie-makers working collectively and as individuals at all levels of film production during the last decade of the 19th century and the first half of the 20th century.
Many of these films have not been available since their creation over a century ago, and until now almost all have been unavailable in quality projection prints. Some had never before been screened in public and almost none have been available in pristine projection prints until now. All told, the series strongly reminds us of the history and the artistic triumphs that can be revealed through preservation, or lost through complacency.
Since its world premiere at the 23rd Moscow International Film Festival and its U.S. premiere at the Whitney Museum of American Art in New York, "Unseen Cinema" has been screened at such venues as the National Gallery of Art in Washington, D.C. and the Los Angeles Film Forum while also showing internationally in cities such as London, Paris, Sydney and Madrid. It has never been screened in Texas -- until now.
A leader in film history and preservation in the region, the Ransom Center has extensive film holdings that are in dire need of conservation -- like many film archives worldwide. As an accomplishment and celebration of film preservation itself, "Unseen Cinema" is also intended to raise awareness of the urgent need to save this important part of our cultural heritage for future generations.
In addition to the Harry Ransom Center hosting "Unseen Cinema," local sponsors include Austin Film Society, The Austin Chronicle, KGSR, The University of Texas at Austin College of Communication, Austin Museum of Art, Marc English Design, and The University of Texas at Austin Department of Radio-Television-Film.
Below is a list of the programs that the Ransom Center will screen at the Alamo Drafthouse Cinema Downtown as part of "Unseen Cinema." For ticket information contact the Ransom Center at 512-471-8944 or purchase online at the Alamo Web site by clicking on the selected date. A single ticket is $8 while a double feature is $13. A series pass is available for $65. Ransom Center and Austin Film Society members receive a dollar discount on tickets or the option to purchase a series pass for $60.
Thursday, February 12 (First program at 7 pm)
Picturing a Metropolis: NYC Unveiled
Since the beginning of cinema, filmmakers have been infatuated with capturing on film dynamic images of New York City. Avant-garde cinema turns up in the most unlikely places -- turn of the century short films, commercial, radical and lyrical newsreels, and even a Busby Berkeley dance number -- sharing scenes of New Yorkers in situ against the skyscrapers, streets, and night life of Manhattan.
Thursday, February 12 (Second program at 9:30 pm)
Early visual symphony films by Oskar Fischinger, Francis Bruguière, Emlen Etting, and other American artists are compared and contrasted with Hollywood montage sequences created by experimentalist Slavko Vorkapich and a variety of avant-garde arrangements of image and sound. Highlights include Christopher Young's surreal "Object Lesson," and Aaron Copland and Lewis Mumford's collaboration with Ralph Steiner and Willard Van Dyke on The City (1939).
Light Rhythms: Melodies & Montages
Thursday, February 19 (First program at 7 pm)
Revolutions in Technique and Form
Genre classics Manhatta (1920), Le Retour á la raison (1923), Ballet mécanique (1924), and Anémic Cinéma (1926) are grouped with previously unacknowledged examples of American avant-garde cinema that exhibit early signs of post-modernistic tendencies. Nascent directions of experimentation were realized by the inadvertent transgressions of Dr. Walter G. Chase's Epileptic Seizures, No. 1-8 (1905) and Dudley Murphy's Soul of the Cypress (1920) with the surprising pornographic interpolations.
Thursday, February 19 (Second program at 9:30 pm)
Dance, Dance, Dance: Image, Movement, Abstraction
In counterpoint to conventional dance films that presented static views of dancers in motion, American avant-gardists dispensed with actual dancers in favor of color, shape, line, and form choreographed into novel compositions of light. Predating and influencing American Abstract Expressionism, films envisioned by Stella Simon, Douglass Crockwell, Sarah Arledge, and Francis Lee are prime examples of abstract film dance.
Thursday, February 26 (First program at 7 pm)
Cinema's Secret Garden: The Amateur as Auteur
Amateurs Joseph Cornell, Ted Huff, and Archie Stewart made films outside the limelight of commercial cinema production and distribution. Their home-spun films incorporate a range of avant-garde strategies and techniques, many expounded in Movie Makers, the journal of the Amateur Cinema League. The artist's "home movies" to be screened focus on the hermetic nature of each maker's eclectic sense of cinema.
Thursday, February 26 (Second program at 9:30 pm)
The Mechanized Eye
Early experimentalists favored camera optics as a channel for aesthetic exploration and innovation, and American filmmakers, such as Armitage, Bitzer, Florey, and Steiner, favored the view of an unflinching camera lens. A most brazen approach to looking at objects in motion was realized in Henwar Rodakiewicz's avant-garde 16 mm masterpiece, Portrait of a Young Man (1925-31), a study of water, trees, smoke, and machine parts.
Thursday, March 4 (First program at 7 pm)
The Devil's Plaything: Fantastic Myths and Fairy Tales
19th century stage magic and lantern shows crossed-over into the early cinema productions where bizarre sets, fantastic costumes, and a bevy of cinematic tricks reigned as experimental forms. The spell of The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari (1919) and its influence on American experimental filmmaking were finally broken when filmmakers faced the lean times and social inequalities of Depression era America.
Thursday, March 4 (Second program at 9:30 pm)
Writing With Lightning: D.W. Griffith, Mary Ellen Bute and Busby Berkeley
The films of Griffith, Bute, and Berkeley are examined for the experimental elements explored by each artist. Bute and Berkeley formed parallel cinemas where multiple figures, human and animated, coalesced into kaleidoscopic designs accenting catchy music and songs. Griffith coaxed scripting, acting, cinematography, lighting, and editing into psychological narratives, an amalgam that borders on abstraction.
Thursday, March 11 (First program at 7 pm)
Lovers of Cinema
In 1929, a "lover of cinema" defined the informal bond between professionals, amateurs, and avant-gardists in support of experimentation in film. "Lover" also indicates those persons romantically inclined to same sex partners. The program presents early gay cinema including Lot in Sodom (1930-32), one of the most provocative and uncensored films ever released in the United States.
Thursday, March 11 (Second program at 9:30 pm)
First Steps: Early Efforts by Hollywood Directors
Artists aspiring to Hollywood created "calling card" films to gain entry into the business. Some early avant-garde efforts were successful as arty shorts, and others were one-time cinematic experiments. The Life and Death of 9413 - A Hollywood Extra (1927) attracted the admiration of Charlie Chaplin and Douglas Fairbanks, whom assisted film experimentalists Vorkapich, Florey, and Toland to future Hollywood careers.
Acknowlegments of lenders to the retrospective:
Lenders to the Retrospective: Academy Film Archive, Svetlana Alexeieff-Rockwell, American Film Institute, Anthology Film Archives, Archives du Film du Centre National du Cinema Bois d'Arcy, Sara Kathryn Arledge Trust, Blackhawk Films, Marc Blitzstein Estate, Boosey & Hawkes, Inc., British Film Institute, Rudolph Burckhardt Estate, Canyon Cinema, James Card Estate, John Allen, Jr., Cinema Arts, Inc., Columbia Pictures Repertory, Creative Film Society, Douglass Crockwell Estate, Det Danske Filmnstitut, Douris Corporation, Film Preservation Associates, Elfriede Fischinger Trust, Robert Florey Estate, Robert and Francis Flaherty Study Center, The School of Theology at Claremont, Suzy Frelinghuysen and George L. K. Morris Foundation, International Museum of Photography-George Eastman House, iota Center, Lillian Jacobs, Jugoslovenska Kinoteka, Murray Glass-Glenn Photo Supply, Gosfilmofond of Russia, Hollywood Classics, Instituto Valenciano de Cinematografia, Larson-Casselton Collection, Lawrence Jordan, Motion Picture, Broadcasting and Recorded Sound Division, Library of Congress, Lobster Films, Walker Evans Archives-The Metropolitan Museum of Art, Miami-Dade Public Library, Department of Film-The Museum of Modern Art New York, National Archives and Records Administration, National Archives of Canada, National Endowment for the Arts Heritage and Preservation 2002, National Film Preservation Foundation, National Film Board of Canada, Nederlands Filmmuseum, New Mexcio State Records Center & Archives, Northeast Historic Film, Paramount Pictures, Producers Library Services, G. Schirmers Music Publishers, G. Williams Jones Film and Video Collection-Southern Methodist University, Cecile Starr, Jack Werner Stauffacher-The Greenwood Press, Turner Entertainment Company, UCLA Film and Television Archive, University of South Carolina Newsfilm Archive, Norman Bel Geddes Collection-Harry Ransom Humanities Research Center, Yale University Film Study Center, Warner Brothers
Also, many thanks to:
Robert A. Haller, Winfried Günther, Balazs Nyari