Lines of Sight: A Travelogue
Avant-garde film has a social history—how could it not
have one? Yet aside from occasional scholarly efforts by the likes of David
James or Lauren Rabinovitz, what we know of this history as cohesive narrative
could fit inside a sprocket hole. To the extent that the avant-garde has
claimed a niche in mainstream film historiography, it is confected as a
stream of quirky aesthetic objects which (at times) anticipate developments
in the dominant film culture. Not surprisingly, the recent wave of film
studies research directed at conditions of American exhibition and reception,
especially in regard to Early Cinema, completely bypassed non-commercial
production. Clearly, this omission cannot be blamed on the anarchic elusiveness
of filmmakers or a paucity of primary documents. Despite its bohemian cachet,
the avant-garde movement has remained relatively small and self-contained;
its network of institutional support is at once notably stable and amply
documented. Materials such as screening schedules and attendance figures—the
required stuff of grant proposals—coexist with a wealth of still photography,
organizational correspondence and newsletters such as the homespun Canyon
Cinemanews, to say nothing of the persistence of a rich oral tradition
replete with cherished myths (e.g. that Madison Avenue ad agencies were
heavy rental patrons of the avant-garde during the late Sixties).
Forced by necessity and/or political commitment to not
only produce but also promote and administer the circulation of new work,
a number of our most important filmmakers have been immersed in public
struggles. To take the obvious example, various strands in Jonas Mekas’s
inimitable career, from “Movie Journal” newspaper columns to unpublished
diaries to the diary films, together constitute a hub around which one version
of the movement’s social history might be constructed. Indeed, it is perhaps
a feature of all marginalized cultural initiatives that they inscribe evidence
of social relations with their primary communities as a subtext of aesthetic
aspiration. However, attempting to extrapolate from film images to the dynamics
of consumption would be, as it were, putting the cart before the horse.
What follows is intended merely as a prod to future
scholars and, for the rest of us, a hopefully entertaining interlude. In
1988, while a member of the Board of the Film-Makers’ Cooperative, I obtained
a foundation grant to study historical patterns in avant-garde film distribution.
Ill-equipped to do the sort of statistical analyses the project sorely needed,
I did manage to xerox a substantial portion of the Coop’s account ledgers,
meticulously kept by Leslie Trumbull, thus preserving them against possible
water or fire damage. I was, and still am, fascinated by where avant-garde
films are seen, when and by whom and in what types of situations—a suggestive
area of inquiry about which there is almost no published data. My intuition
has always been that they have had a more diverse reception than is usually
assumed and that for certain periods of time the circulation of well-publicized
titles rivaled 16 millimeter rentals of popular Hollywood movies. The “millennium”
issue of MFJ provided a suitable occasion for digging through piles
of photocopies and re-imagining the secret life enveloping farflung projections.
Unfortunately, there are few if any general conclusions
to be drawn from these five partial and rather arbitrary lists. What on
the surface might appear to be a temporal, geographic, or institutional
pattern in the circulation of a given film, or all five films, is rendered
moot since the same titles were simultaneously distributed by Canyon (and
often handled as well by the filmmaker or by ancillary distributors), entries
of films sent to individuals rather than institutions were excluded, and
I list only the first rental by a given institution during the prescribed
time frame (in several cases, a university rented the same title five or
more times in eleven years). Moreover, a given booking provides no indication
of a screening’s setting or purpose or of other films appearing with it
on the same program. The films were chosen in part because they are personal
favorites although I also tried to select works representing slightly different
periods, lengths, ideas, and visual approaches. Despite many caveats, the
spectrum of arenas in which avant-garde films have been shown still seems
impressive, and I was struck by the number of private and public high schools
that show (or used to show) non-mainstream films. Why certain films were
rented by specific organizations—libraries, church groups, medical associations—is
for me a genuine enigma, but a very pleasant one at that. Having taken this
brief and not terribly arduous peek at the itineraries of a few well-traveled
titles, I am eagerly awaiting a more detailed, nuanced, and rationalized
picture of this vast uncharted territory.
LITTLE STABS AT HAPPINESS
Ken Jacobs (1959-63, 15 minutes)
Bleecker St. Cinema; Cornell U.; Experimental Cinema Group (U. Of Colorado);
Gramercy Arts Theater; TV Guide press preview; Royal Film Archives (Brussels);
San Juan Arts Center (Puerto Rico); Washington Film Society; SUNY New Paltz;
Canadian Federation of Film Societies; MoMA.
New York Times preview; Washington Gallery of Modern
Art; U. of Toledo (OH); The Bridge Cinema Group; Paradox Lost (NJ); U. of
Wisconsin; Milwaukee Arts Center.
Janus Film Society; Haverford College; Firehouse Films;
Pratt Institute (NYC); SUNY Buffalo; Gold Coast Film Society (Davis, CA);
7th Ward DLF Club (Minneapolis); Cinematheque 16 (LA); St. Eric Foundation;
The Happening Art Club; Philadelphia Arts Council; Walker Arts Center;
Elmira College (NY).
Art Institute of Chicago; Lynn Co. TV preview; Rosary
Hill College (NY); Mount Holyoke College (MA); Movies Round Midnight; Cinema
Psychedelica (CA); The Danforth Foundation (St. Louis); Antioch College.
The Alumni Club of Chicago; A.C.L.U, Manhattan Chapter;
Smithsonian Museum preview; Lotus Film (Atlanta); Life Magazine preview;
Wayne Ave. Playhouse (Philadelphia).
South Shore Community Arts Council (NY); Harpur College;
Japan Coop (Tokyo); Southwestern College (KS); Anthology Theater (NYC);
U. of Pennsylvania; U. of Vermont (Norwich); American International School
(New Delhi); Oberlin College; St. John Fisher College; U. of Alaska; Sonoma
St. College (CA); Fort Wayne Unitarian Congregation.
U. of Illinois (Chicago); Scarsdale Adult School; N.Y.U.
Contemporary Arts Center (OH); Anthology Film Archives; Queens College
CUNY; Lawrence Academy (MA); Hampshire College (MA).
SUNY New Paltz; School of the Art Institute of Chicago; Yale U.; Vancouver
Art Gallery; Madison Art Center (WI).
Columbia U.; Rhode Island School of Design; Indianapolis Museum of Art;
Boston College; Contemporary Arts Museum (Houston); U. of Oklahoma; Harvard-Epworth
Bruce Baillie (1966, 10 minutes Color/B&W)
Wichita St. U; NYC Community College; Cambridge Center for Adult Education
(MA); Yale U.; Freedom Forum; White Plains High School (NY); Newark St.
College; Mount Holyoke College; Southwest Texas St. College; Friends of
the Whitney Museum; Southwestern College (KS); Cornell U.; Aardvark; Allegheny
College Union (PA); SUNY Cortland; New Jersey Institute for Film Art; Crack
of Doom (Baltimore); Fieldston School (NY); Apple Farm Art and Music Center
(NJ); Quinnipiac College (CN); U. of Washington; Montgomery County Schools
(PA); Moderna Museet (Stockholm); New College (FL); Wayne Ave. Playhouse
(Philadelphia); Smithsonian Museum preview; Flaherty Seminar; Central Missouri
St. College; Brown U.
U. of Iowa; Anthology Theater; NY Cinematheque; Vanderbilt U.; NYU.; McPherson
College (KN); United Ministry in High Education (Milwaukee); Jewish Museum
(NYC); U. of North Dakota; St. Joseph’s College; College of New Rochelle
(NY); College of the Virgin Islands; Loyola U.; Mount Hermon School (MA);
Colby College (ME); Independent Film and Multi-Media Coop (WI); Rhode Island
School of Design; Manhattanville College; Tennessee Fine Arts Center; USIA;
Aspen School of Contemporary Art; Ohio St. U.; Manheim High School (PA);
Collegiate School (NYC); U. of Illinois (Chicago); Center for the Eye (Aspen);
New York Film Festival; U. of Pennsylvania; Fairleigh Dickinson U. (NJ);
Bard College; MIT; U. of Illinois Medical Center (Chicago); U. of Maryland;
Mount Sinai School of Medicine (NYC); Wadsworth Atheneum (CT).
Wells College (NY); Ulster County Community College (NY); U. of Wisconsin;
U. of South Carolina; Philadelphia College of Art; Kent St. U.; Newton College
of the Sacred Heart (MA); Whitney Museum preview; Antioch College; Waukegan
Township High School (IL); U. of Florida; Maryland Institute; Harpur College;
U. of Delaware; Hudson River Museum; Colorado College; Temple Buell College
(CO); Dartmouth College; Long Island City High School; Central Michigan
U.; Harvard U.; Ivy School of Professional Art (PA); U. of South Florida;
Providence Art Directors’ Club; Dana Hall Schools (MA); Loomis School
(CT); Slippery Rock St. College (PA); U. of California, Santa Barbara;
U. of Minnesota; Kalamazoo College (MI); Trinity College (CT); Wesleyan
U.; Museum of Fine Arts (Boston); Lawrence Academy (MA); Hampshire College
(MA); Birmingham Art Association (AL); Edinboro St. College (PA); U. of
Eastern Washington St. College; St. Cloud State College (MN); MoMA; Thomas
More College (KS); First Methodist Church (Philadelphia); Brotherhood-In-Action
(NYC); Jersey City St. College; Hiram College (OH).
Northern Illinois U.; Rockford Art Association (IL); Miami-Dade Junior
College (FL); Illinois St. U.; Triton Regional School (MA); Temple U.; Brandeis
U.; Vassar College; U. of New Mexico; Mt. Hood Community College (OR);
Albright College (PA); Queens College CUNY; Upsala College (NJ); Habonim
Camp Tel Ari (NY); Spence School (NYC); Walker Art Center.
Skidmore College (NY); Wright St. U. (OH); White Ox Films at RPI (NY);
Prince George’s Community College (MD); American Film Institute (DC); Sangamon
St. U. (IL); Corpus Christi School (MD); U. of Pittsburgh; Villanova U.
(PA); Norwalk Community College (CT).
Pittsburgh Film-Makers; New Orleans Public Library; Upstate Films (NY);
Moore College of Art (Philadelphia); Colgate U.; Detroit Society of Arts and
Crafts; Cleveland St. U.; Ramapo College Media Center (NJ); Lewiston State
Arts Park (NY); U. of Oklahoma; College of Marin (CA); SUNY Purchase.
U. of Kentucky (Lexington); Adelphi U. (NY); Lake Placid School of Arts
(NY); New Baltimore Independent Film Museum; William Paterson College (NJ);
Emerson College (MA); Clark U. (MA); Vermilion Community College (MN);
U. of Rhode Island; St. Lawrence U. (NY); U. of Missouri (Columbia); Boulder
Public Library; Oberlin College (OH); McNay Art Institute (TX); Bradley
U. (IL); U. of Michigan (Ann Arbor); Philbrook Art Center (Tulsa); Cayuga
County College (NY).
Peters Township High School
(PA); Robert Morris College (PA); Kirkland College (NY); Hotchkiss School
(CT); Arrowmont School of Art (TN); Thomas Jefferson College (MI);
Virginia Polytechnic Institute; School of Visual Arts (NYC); New Trier
High School (IL); Wilmette Park School District (IL); Lake Michigan College
(Benton Harbor); Community College of Allegheny County (PA); Junior College
of Albany (NY); Florida Atlantic U. (Boca Raton); Visual Studies Workshop
(Rochester); Stanford U.; Compass Film Association (New Haven); State U. College
of Brockport (NY); La Guardia Community College (NYC); Maumee Valley Country
Day School (OH).
Carolee Schneeman (1964-68, 22 minutes, Silent)
Northwestern University; U. of New Hampshire (Durham); U. of California
(San Diego); U. of Texas (Austin); Ohio U.; Dickinson College (PA); Middlebury
College; U. of Colorado (Boulder); Festival of Women’s Films (NYC); Virginia
Commonwealth U. (Richmond).
Magic Lantern Society (Chicago); Brock U., (St. Catherines, Ontario);
Washington U. (St. Louis); Castleton St. College (VT); U. of Minnesota
(Minneapolis); Pacific Film Archives; U. of Bridgeport (CT); Southern Methodist
U. (Dallas); Santa Barbara City College (CA); American U. (DC);
California Institute of the Arts; Miami-Dade Junior College (FL); Williams
College; Pratt Institute; U. of Maryland (Baltimore); Syracuse U.; Albright
College (PA); SUNY Binghampton; Pennsylvania St. U.; U. of California (Berkeley);
U. of Mass. (Amherst); Portland Community College; USIA; Bard College;
Queens College, CUNY; Boston College; Philadelphia Museum of Art; MIT Center
for Advanced Visual Studies; Kalamazoo College (MI); Bucks County Community
SUNY Purchase; Cedar Crest College (PA); U. of Wisconsin (Madison); Art
Institute of Chicago; Cornell U.; Southern Illinois U.
Denver Free U.; U. of Rhode Island; Goucher College (MD).
Colby College (ME); S.E. Mass. U. (N. Dartmouth); Welles College (NY);
U. of Delaware; Kansas City Art Institute.
Rochester Institute of Technology; Michigan St. U.; Emory U. (GA); Jersey
City St. College
Water Street Arts Center (Milwaukee); Collective for Living Cinema.
Eastern Illinois U.; Merzaum Collection (Baltimore); Wayne St. U. (Detroit);
Pasadena Film Forum (CA); Film in the Cities (MN); Mass. College of Art;
U. of Iowa Film Festival
Northwestern U.; Mass. College of Art Film Society; Hamilton College Library
(NY); Institute for Art and Urban Resources (NYC); Ithaca College.
WINDOW WATER BABY MOVING
Stan Brakhage (1959, 12 minutes silent)
Gustavus Adolphus College; Ithaca College (NY); SUNY Utica; New School
(NYC); U. of Massachusetts (Amherst); U. of Wyoming; Indianapolis Museum
of Art; Lyndon St. College (PA); Pitzer College (CA); Brooklyn College; U.
of North Carolina (Chapel Hill); Purdue U.; Daniel Boone Regional Library
(MO); Northwestern U; Harvard U; Colgate U.; Wright St. U.; White Ox Films;
St. Lawrence U.; Walker Art Center; SUNY Buffalo; Dartmouth College; Temple
U.; U. of Hartford; Northern Illinois U.; Boston College; U. of Delaware;
Center for the Living Force (NY); U. of Rhode Island; U. of Texas (El Paso).
Westover School (CT); MoMA; Salesian High School (CA); Rhode Island School
of Design; SUNY Agricultural and Technical College (Cobleskill); Lincoln
Land Community College (IL); Thousand Eyes Cinema (NYC); Hiram College
(OH); Art Institute of Chicago; Kansas City Art Institute; U. of Maine (Portland);
Central Michigan U.; Hanover School (MA); Scarsdale Board of Education (NY);
Collective for Living Cinema; Skidmore College (NY); St. Olaf College (MN);
Grand Valley St. College (MI); Princeton Public Library; Hunter College;
SUNY Empire St. College (Suffern); Cooper Union (NYC); Hobart and William
Smith Colleges (NY); Genesee Community College (NY); Cleveland St. U.;
New Trier High School (IL).
Bethany College (KS); U. of South Florida (Tampa); Cornell U.; Ball St.
U. (IN); American U.; U. of Toledo; Stockton St. College (NJ); Visual Studies
Workshop (Rochester); MIT; U. of California (San Diego); Edinboro St. College
(PA); Film Society, West Allas (WI); St. John Fisher College (NY).
U. of New Mexico; U. of Kentucky (Lexington); Columbia U.; Middlebury
College; Vassar College; Ramapo College (NJ); Film in the Cities preview;
New Mexico St. U. (Las Cruces); Dennison U. (OH); South Dakota St. U. (Brookings);
La Guardia College CUNY ; Long Island University (NY); Ohio St. U. (Columbus);
St. John’s U. (NY); Cayuga Community College (NY).
Otis Art Institute (LA); U. of Kansas (Lawrence); North Carolina Museum
of Art (Raleigh); U. of Wisconsin (Madison); School of Visual Arts (NYC);
Southern Illinois U.; Wesleyan U. (CT); U. of Southern Maine; Hampshire
College (MA); Macalester College; U. of California (Santa Barbara).
Bard College (NY); U. of Oregon; Old Dominion U. (VA); Contemporary Arts
Center (New Orleans).
School of the Art Institute of Chicago; Virginia Commonwealth U. (Richmond);
Drew U. (NJ); Colgate U.; Hamilton College (NY); Mothering Publications
(Flacitas NM); NYU; U. of Pennsylvania; Bucks County Community College (PA).
Amherst College; Quinnipiac College (CT); Miami U. (OH); Sacred Heart
U.; Upper Valley Development and Training Center (NH); Yellowstone Art
Center; U. of Colorado; New York Public Library, Donnell; Minneapolis Society
of Fine Arts; Princeton U.
Hitchcock Clinic (NH); Whitney Museum; Media Study Center (Buffalo); UCLA;
Sarag Lawrence College; College of Mount St. Vincent; SUNY Purchase.
U. of Maryland; Minnesota College of Art and Design; New Canaan High School
Rice U. (TX); The Kitchen (NYC); Hofstra U. (NY); Texas St. U. (Denton);
Miama-Dade Community College (FL); U. of Arizona (Tucson); U. of Illinois
Hollis Frampton (1970, 60 minutes)
New York Film Festival; U. of Iowa; Union College (NY); Contemporary Arts
Center of Ohio; Canyon Cinema; Yale U.; NYU; New England College (NH).
Museum of Fine Arts (Boston); P.A. Foundation (NYC); U. of Rochester;
U. of Colorado (Boulder); SUNY Buffalo; Hansen Fuller Gallery (San Francisco);
Guggenheim Foundation; Ohio U.; Museum of Contemporary Art (Chicago); Cooper
Union (NYC); U. of Hartford; USIA (DC).
Pratt Institute (NYC); South Dakota St. U. (Brookings); Pacific Film Archives;
Rhode Island School of Design; Hunter College CUNY; Bard College; Harvard-Epworth
Church; MoMA; Philadelphia Institute of Cinema.
U. of Pennsylvania; Colby College; Northwestern U.; U. of Maine (Gorham);
Hampshire College (MA); U. of New Hampshire (Durham); Moorehead St. College
(MN); Spence School (NYC); Antioch College; Kent St. U.; U. of Pittsburgh;
U. of Oklahoma (Norman); Boston College; Queens College CUNY; U. of Texas
U. of California (San Diego); San Francisco Art Institute; Art Institute
of Chicago; Portland Community College; SUNY Purchase; Dartmouth College;
Colorado College (Colorado Springs); Wright St. U.; MIT Center for Visual
Anthology Film Archives; St. John Fisher College (Rochester); Colgate
U.; Purdue U.; School of Visual Arts; Brooklyn College CUNY; Oberlin College
(OH); U. of New Mexico; Nassau County Library System (NY); U. of Illinois
(Chicago); Princeton U.
U. of Wisconsin (Oshkosh); California Institute of the Arts; Ramapo College
(NJ); Stockton St. College (NJ); Utica College (NY); Harvard U.; Southern
Illinois U.; St. Norbert College (WI); Syracuse U.; Wesleyan U.
U. of the South Sewanee (TN); Ohio St. U.; Idaho St. U. (Pocatello); Johnson
Museum (NY); Virginia Polytechnic Institute (Blacksburg); Indianapolis
Museum of Art; SUNY Plattsburgh; U. of Wisconsin (Milwaukee).
School of Visual Arts (NYC); Whitney Museum Downtown; IBM Corporation
(NY); SUNY Binghampton; Independent Film Oasis (Los Angeles); Wilmette
Park School District (IL); Sarah Lawrence College.
U. of California (San Diego); Middlebury College; U. of New Mexico (Albuquerque);
Institute of Contemporary Art (Boston); Denison U. (OH); Chatham College
(PA); Southern Illinois U.; San Francisco Art Institute; Segue Foundation
(NYC); Occidental College (CA); Rhode Island School of Design.
Carleton College (MN); Hofstra U. (NY); Independent Media Arts (Atlanta);
U. of Wisconsin (Stout); U. of Iowa; U. of California (Santa Barbara); Otis
Art Institute (Los Angeles); Drexel U.; Rochester Institute of Technology;