Man Ray's La Retour de la raison.
Germaine Dulac's The Seashell and the Clergyman.
Rain by Joris Ivens.
Pull My Daisy by Alfred Leslie and Robert Frank.
Bridges by Shirley Clarke.
Fake Fruit Factory by Chick Strand.
Nostalgia by Hollis Frampton.
The Pressures of the Text by Peter Rose.
Les Maitres fous by Jean Rouch.
Un Chant d'amour by Jean Genet.
Today a fairly generous amount of experimental work appears online in vastly uneven formats. On the one hand amateur enthusiasts place some materials up in streaming formats, which disappear quickly because of copyright or content problems (often sexual censorship). They can be found relatively easily with keyword searches on Google Video or YouTube and other sites by the name of the artist. These are often the most likely to be exceptionally poor versions of the original: blurry, out of focus, partial, etc. Some examples: a version of Michael Snow’s famous Wavelength, which starts at about the halfway point of the 45 min film and is badly out of focus, can’t give you any good feel for the original. However, if you’ve never seen it as a theatrically exhibited print, it might be useful as a kind of “note” to get some sense of what critics are talking about. Similarly, Ernie Gehr’s Serene Velocity is (sometimes) available in a truncated version that is atrociously bad. The effect of the original depends on seeing it as a high-resolution image.
On the other hand, some artists have chosen to put their work up in some form online, and one of the best sites is UbuWeb, which respects the intentions of the artists and makes available the best possible versions in online form (which the Ubu folks admit is of limited quality). In contrast, YouTube and similar outfits, often have posted items which are partial, mislabelled, fragmentary, and erroneously attributed. So, viewer beware: try to check the authenticity of what you find there.
What to do? First, try to ascertain if what you are seeing is close to the original artist’s intentions for the work, and what limits the online format has for viewing. As much as we might be moving to a time when many people see no difference between a 70mm theatrical presentation of the original Star Wars, say, and having a scene on their iPhone, the original makers certainly did think that the aesthetic and material characteristics of film were essential to what effect the final work would have in screening. Second, don’t make any definitive statements, judgments, or evaluations, about the work you’ve seen online until you can see the original (or at least a quality DVD version of it).
“UbuWeb is pleased to present dozens of avant-garde films & videos for your viewing pleasure. However, it is important to us that you realize that what you will see is in no way comparable to the experience of seeing these gems as they were intended to be seen: in a dark room, on a large screen, with a good sound system and, most importantly, with a roomful of warm, like-minded bodies.”
With that caveat, UbuWeb hosts an astonishing number and variety of experimental films and videos.” The Ubu home page reveals the site is also a major source for information on experimental writing, music, ethnopoetics, outsider art, etc.
Diagonale Symphonie, 1924, 7 min. Early pure animation; the screen as a canvas in motion.
Works from the 1920s by the US photographer living in Paris.
Un Chien andalou, 1929. Landmark surrealist film, made with Salvador Dali.
Anemic Cinema, 1926, 7 min.
Lightplay (excerpt). Film of a light sculpture that foreshadows later film and digital experiments.
The Seashell and the Clergyman, 1926. A remarkable French surrealist work by Dulac based on Antonin Artaud’s scenario. Artaud denounced the film as misrepresenting his intentions. Feminists have come to the rescue, showing the qualities and integrity of Dulac’s work.
Richter, like Maholy-Nagy, worked in both abstract forms and socially oriented work in Weimar Germany. When the Nazis came to power, Richter had to flee; his films were destroyed by the Nazis as “decadent.”
Rain and The Bridge. Ivens is best known as a documentary filmmaker, these two lyrical pieces are from the 1920s.
Rose Hobart, 1936. Master of collage film, Cornell shows his personal bent in appropriation.
Kino-Eye and Three Songs of Lenin. The Soviet documentary filmmaker in full experimental form.
The best known and pioneering artist filmmaker of her generation.
The Lead Shoes (1949). Whacky and spontaneous film expression.
Menken’s mastery of the handheld camera and in-camra editing inspired a generation, especially Brackhage. Visual Variations on Noguchi (1945), Glimpse of the Garden(1957), Arabesque for Kenneth Anger (1958-61), Go! Go! Go! (1962-1964).
Storm De Hirsch
Peyote Queen (1965) recently restored and made available establishes De Hirsch’s creative genius.
Come Closer, 1952 (animation). Hirsch was the cameraman on Peterson’s The Cage; only recently has his work been available again.
Early Abstractions (film) also related videos in the series. Smith showed these works with different (non-synch) soundtracks, including to “Meet the Beatles.” The latter was withdrawn due to copyright, but you could always watch the film while playing the album.
Alfred Leslie and Robert Frank
Pull My Daisy. Allan Ginsberg and friends in a Jack Kerouac scripted film.
The Last Clean Shirt (by Leslie).
Photos: Google image search.
On Youtube: Kerouac, Ginsberg, and Friends in NY.
On Youtube—various excerpts from his Rolling Stones film, Cocksucker Blues.
William S. Burroughs
The novelist did some work in film in collaboration with Anthony Balch and Brion Grysin.
Shorts (1953-1982). A survey of short films by US independent filmmaker Shirley Clarke (1919-1997).
Films include, "A Dance in the Sun" (1954), a portrait of dancer Daniel Nagrin; "A Moment in Love" (1957); "Bridges Go-Round" (1959) with two alternative soundtracks, one electronic music by Louis and Bebe Barron, the other jazz by Teo Macero; "A Scary Time" (1960) produced by UNICEF with a soundtrack by Peggy Glanville-Hicks; "Savage / Love" and "Tongues" (1981-82), a collaboration with Sam Shepard and Joseph Chaiken.
Mekas distributes his best known work on DVDs via Re-voir.com, but his website has lots of items to share.
Fuses (in 10 min parts). YouTube.
The Movies are a Revolution (1963). The famous actor/poet comments on his roles.
Absurd Movies. Rice comments on his films.
The Queen of Sheba Meets the Atom Man, 1963, 110 minutes, black & white.
Blonde Cobra and Little Stabs of Happiness.
37 short Fluxus Films. Fluxus was more inspired by European Dada intentions than the New American Cinema line of development, and it encompassed objects and events as well as films.
Fly and several of her Fluxus films.
George Landow (aka Owen Land)
Landow was associated with Fluxus.
Zorns Lemma, 1970, 59 min. A classic structural film.
Extremely witty and accomplished structural work.
The Whitneys and Jordan Belson pioneered early (analog) computer graphic animation. Very little of their work is available online.
Various works of this pioneer of artistic animation are available online in uneven forms and titles. Recent DVDs are a better choice
Sunstone and Thanatopsis. Emschwiller pioneered digital computer animation.
Child’s intense work combines found footage with original dramatic work.
In his well-known essay on the “Two Avant Gardes” of the 60s and 70s, Peter Wollen identified a US trend which was more personal (and less political) and a European trend which was more political. See the reconsideration in this issue of Jump Cut by David Andrews.
Dziga Vertov Group (collective of Jean-Luc Godard, Jean-Pierre Gorin, and others)
Following the May ’68 political uprising in France, for a while Godard worked collectively in extremely militant films combining avant garde techniques and heavy duty political content. For a useful intro to Wind From the East, Julia Lesage’s article:
Society of the Spectacle, 1973. Debord headed a group called The Situationists who advanced a radical critique of modern society and culture which influenced many thinkers and artists. They were preceeded by the Lettrists, who are also represented on UbuWeb (see Isou in particular)
Inextinguishable Fire, 1969. German director Farocki has long made politically motivated films that critique how images are used by the dominant culture.
Ice, 1969. A US maker who was better known in Europe than at home, Kramer represents one strain of the US New Left of the 60s. In this dramatic fiction, he anticipates a near-future where urban guerillas fight the system by forcing middle class people to watch “revolutionary” films at gunpoint. (I’m not kidding.)
Les Maitres fous, 1955. French maker of over 100 documentary films, Rouch is recognized as a pioneer in creating new approaches to film.
Nouvelle Societe no. 7, 1969. Following the May 68 events in France, a collective made this and other activist propaganda films. Left filmmaker Chris Marker was the leading light in the group.
A famous short section of his film Letter From Siberia in which different voice-overs and music give completely different interpretations of the same footage.
Jean-Luc Godard and Anne-Marie Miéville
France/tour/détour/deux/enfants, color, sound. Godard and Miéville made several highly politicized and highly experimental works for French television. The avant-garde “film essay” at its high point.
Various works by Kenneth Anger can be found with a Google or Yahoo Video search. If you’re really hardy, you can try a download at
Un Chant d’Amour 1950, 25 min. The available prints in the US are deterioriated, so this is actually a better viewing choice.
Smith and his estate have been in extreme contention by rival groups and interests since his death, which is doubtless just what this ornery iconoclast wanted.
Ecce Homo, 1989, 7 min. A gay film, based in part on Genet’s film cut against contemporary commercial gay porn
Now. Cuba’s major documentary maker in one of his most famous experimental pieces, a reflection on race in the United States.
Hanoi, Martes 13. Visually poetic film celebrating the North Vietnam side of the Indochina war.
Tire Die. One of the founding films of the New Latin American cinema, this social protest piece shows Argentine poor children who risk their lives to beg train passengers to toss them some coins.
Online writings on the avant-garde
Gene Youngblood’s classic book, Expanded Cinema (400+ pages!)
Stan Brakhage — two essays by Paul Arthur
Fred Camper — this extremely productive critic has many key essays online. Reading them all is a terrific education in thinking about experimental media.
Other online resources on the avant-garde
Center for Visual Music
A rich and deep site dedicated to visual music, experimental animation and avant-garde media. Many links to artist’s pages, articles, etc.
A site dedicated to British film/video artists with streaming clips, writings, etc. There’s a useful history of international avant-garde film up to about 1970. After that only Britain is really considered. Among the better known makers who have clips here: Liz Rhodes, Vivienne Dick, Malcolm Legrice, Issac Julien, Chris Welsby, Peter Gidal, Laura Mulvey and Peter Wollen, Anthony McCall.
An online art gallery. In the archive are clips and some whole works from Ken Jacobs, and others.
Gives material from the current show.
San Francisco based Canyon is a pioneer cooperative for 3500+ independent films, storing and renting them (and saving individual filmmakers the effort to distribute rental work). In addition to renting 16mm films, they sell videotapes and DVDs of avant-garde cinema. Their online catalogue is especially useful since they often have short descriptions of the films (prepared by the makers). Scholar Scott MacDonald has just published his history of Canyon.
New York Filmmakers Coop
Like Canyon, this is a co-op created in 1962 to distribute avant-garde film, with over 5000+ titles. At the moment, they are struggling to stay in their space or find an alternative, a genuine problem of urban real estate and conflicting art groups’ agendas. Again, the catalogue is invaluable.
Canadian Filmmakers Distribution Centre
Canada's major non-commercial distributor and resource for independently produced film, representing approximately 550 filmmakers worldwide and 2600 films. In addition to the catalogue, there are lots of useful links to artists, including streaming video. Includes useful Study Guides for compilations of short works issued on DVD.
Video Data Bank
A nonprofit distributor, this one at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago pioneered collecting, preserving and distributing independent video starting in 1976. They have some clips online to show work they carry, and descriptions of the various tapes/DVDs. They also have a series of taped interviews with visual and performance artists. Among the projects they’ve developed is a 16-hour survey of early video art (60s-70s) which is on DVD.
Electronic Arts Intermix
EAI is a nonprofit center for experimental artist’s video based in NYC. Again, the catalogue is useful, and there are resources listed that provide a historical overview of the institution and video art.
The Canadian counterpart for video art (in Canada and elsewhere). In addition to the catalogue, the site includes a searchable video art database that can refer you to print materials, by keyword and artist name.
Early Video Project Web Site
The purpose of the site is to support the community of people interested in early video with information about early video and early video art, and current activities connected with that topic. Erratic but fascinating, lots of little gems here: poke around.
An online “journal” from Toronto devoted to experimental film/video/new media. Includes interesting links to written and online streaming stuff, such as: under links (staff picks)--9 short music videos; data diaries; ladies with water; YouTube video with Deion Sanders; Spirit Surfers. However there’s only one “issue” and that from 2008.
Portland publisher and bookstore featuring punk, zines, anarchism, militant bicycling, etc. Good prices on alternative culture DVDs such as Craig Baldwin’s Specters of the Spectrum, and Sonic Outlaws.
Holds and distributes experimental and historical silent film classic works for classroom screening (institutional pricing); strong assortment of Danish silent and Austrian avant-garde. Note: they distribute in PAL format, which requires a PAL or multiplatform DVD player.
A collection of Canadian artist’s sites, each unique and creatively expressive of the artist.
Oregon Department of Kick Ass
Website for filmmaker Vanessa Renwick; great links to explore as well.
Distribution label for experimental film and video. New and notable: anthology of the late Helen Hill’s work.
Other Cinema Digital
Home distribution outlet for collage and mash-up work in particular. Most notably, Craig Baldwin’s work.
DVDs, zines, books, stickers, etc.