Experimental Film surveys the major avant-garde film movements of the twentieth century. We will closely examine the films and theories of the film and filmmakers that challenge the dominant commercial cinemas of Europe and the United States.
Time and Place
Thursdays, 5:30 – 8:20 PM
Library, Room MMB
The following textbooks are available through online retailers, such as Amazon, and on reserve at the library.
- Dixon, Wheeler W, and Gwendolyn Audrey Foster. Experimental Cinema: The Film Reader. London: Routledge, 2002.
- Sitney, P. Adams. Visionary Film: The American Avant-Garde, 1943–2000. Oxford; New York: Oxford University Press, 2002.
- Suárez, Juan. Bike Boys, Drag Queens, and Superstars: Avant-Garde, Mass Culture, and Gay Identities in the 1960s American Underground Cinema. Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1996.
- Turvey, Malcolm. The Filming of Modern Life: European Avant-Garde Film of the 1920s. October Books. Cambridge, Mass: MIT Press, 2011.
In addition to the textbook, required readings will be posted as PDFs on this website. When prompted, provide the username and password I provided to you in class.
Please review our bibliography of relevant books on experimental and avant-garde film as a starting point for researching your final paper (described below).
We will not be using the LMS for this course.
If you don’t use it already, I highly recommend using Dropbox to exchange files with me. You can sign up for free and receive two (2) gigabytes of cloud-based storage. This is an invaluable tool for accessing all of your files anywhere without having to carry a USB flash drive. I hate those things.
This class consists of five components. You cannot satisfactorily complete this course without all five of these.
At each class, we will cover material I expect you to know for the midterm exam and your assignments. I will present on the historical and cultural context relevant to the films covered that particular week.
Each week, there will be in-class screenings usually consisting of several films. A good number of screenings are available online at sites like YouTube or Internet Archive, and you might able to able to purchase titles from stores such as Amazon. However, the greatest value of this class comes from our watching films and discussing them as a group, in the context of other films, readings, and spontaneous conversation.
There might be outside screenings at local cinematheques such as Anthology Film Archives, Film Society of Lincoln Center, Millennium Film Workshop, the Museum of the Moving Image, The Spectacle Theater and Light Industry. Those screenings will be announced as their fall schedules are released.
Please read the assigned course material before each week’s class. Consult the Course Schedule, listed below, for the required reading assignments.
The midterm exam will be administered in class and is designed to reward regular attendance and diligent studying. There will be an in-class screening portion, along with a take-home portion due at the beginning of class the following week.
All assignments must be completed on time in order to receive full credit. Late assignments will be penalized by a 10% reduction for each 24-hour period it is late. After seven calendar days, the assignment will not be accepted and you could fail this class.
Please respect the classroom environment. You should pay attention to the lecture, take notes, and avoid distractions, such as web surfing or using your mobile phone. Studies have consistently shown that students using laptops and mobile phones perform about 11% worse than students who are not distracted by these devices. On a personal note, it’s very difficult to stay motivated as a teacher if I see students seemingly disinterested in their own education. If I find you engaging in disruptive behavior, such as watching online videos, passing notes, instant messaging, chatting, or texting, I will remove you from the classroom and have you withdraw from the class.
Students must adhere to all Institute-wide policies listed in the Bulletin under “Community Standards” and which include policies on attendance, academic integrity, plagiarism, computer, and network use.
Late Work and “Incomplete” Grades
Please submit your work on time. Late work will be penalized by a 10% reduction for each 24-hour period it is late. After one calendar week, the assignment will not be accepted and you will likely fail this class.
There will be no incomplete grades for this class except in the case of a documented emergency in the final weeks of the semester. If you experience such an emergency, please contact me immediately, and we will work out a schedule for you to complete the outstanding work before the beginning of the following semester.
But aside from these circumstances, no late work will be accepted and no “incomplete” grades will be granted. If you have difficulty keeping up with coursework, consider giving yourself extra time to complete assignments, reducing your overall course load, and/or taking this class at a later semester.
Absolute integrity is expected of every member of the Pratt Community in all academic matters, particularly with regard to academic honesty.
The latter includes plagiarism and cheating. In addition, the continued registration of any student is contingent upon regular attendance, the quality of work, and proper conduct. Irregular class at- tendance, neglect of work, failure to comply with Institute rules, and official notices or conduct not consistent with general good order is regarded as sufficient reasons for dismissal.
Please silence or turn off the radio in your mobile phone (power down the phone or set to “Airplane” mode). Not only do ringing phones disrupt class, most phones will also interfere with the media equipment in the room.
Please check your official email account on a daily basis, if not more often. I will broadcast announcements and send point-to-point communiques using your official email address.
Please note that I am not allowed to discuss your grade from an account that is not your official email account.
Students with Disabilities
The mission of the Disability Resource Center, a part of the Office for the Vice President for Student Affairs, is to ensure that all students with disabilities can freely and actively participate in all facets of Pratt life. To this end the office provides and coordinates services and programs that support student development, enable students to maximize their educational and creative potential, and assist students to develop their independence to the fullest extent possible. Furthermore, the office’s goal is to increase the level of awareness among all members of the Pratt community so that students with disabilities are able to perform at a level limited only by their abilities, not their disabilities.
Students who require special accommodations for disabilities must obtain clearance from the Office of Disability Services at the beginning of the semester. They should contact Mai McDonald, Disability Services Coordinator, in the Office of the Vice President for Student Affairs, Main Building, Lower Level: 718–636- 3711.
Regular attendance is required and will count towards your grade.
In the second week of class, you will select a film to present to the class. Your presentation should provide an introduction to the film, its filmmaker, and the circumstances surrounding its production. You should also explain the significance of this film to the historical avant-garde.
Please bring a written copy of your presentation, including a bibliography, to class on the day you present.
You don’t need to bother with bringing a copy of the film to screen in class. I will take care of that.
- September 11 – December 4
- Weight: 20%
The midterm exam will consist of four essay questions requiring you to engage the screenings and readings related to the major movements and trends in experimental film we covered in class.
Using at least three films screened in at least two different weeks of the course, define what constitutes an “experimental film.” Create a time-based project, lasting no more than five minutes in length, that adheres to your working definition of “experimental film” and engages the historical avant-garde we surveyed in this course.
I will evaluate your project on the following criteria:
- Focus: The idea that underlies your work should be specific and explained with a simple thesis statement;
- Clarity: Your work should clearly articulate your idea through visual, spatial, temporaral, or textual elements;
- Historically Informed: Your work should demonstrate your understanding and application of the historical avant-garde
- Original: Is your work an original or novel application of the avant-garde, enlightened by our contemporary moment. Avoid making a reproduction or pastiche of earlier works.
Please include a written statement, about a page in length, that explains your work and its connection to the historical avant-garde.
An intellectual mentor of mine used to assign a similar project, but she forbid any student from including any guns or explosives in their work. She never explained why, but I am going to follow her lead and implement a similar prohibition. No explosives or firearms, please.
- Due: December 18, in class
- Weight: 40%
The following schedule will be frequently revised depending on a number of factors. We might not be able to rent some of the titles. I might increase or decrease the volume of readings. Also, our discussion might veer into unexpected directions so we might follow that rather than to stick to a plan I threw together sometime in August.
August 28 • First Films, First Experiments
- Dickson Camera Test (Edison Manufacturing Company, USA, 1891)
- Men Boxing (Edison Manufacturing Company, USA, 1891)
- Edison Kinetoscopic Record of a Sneeze (W. K. L. Dickson, USA, 1894)
- Caicdeo King of Slack Wire (W. K. L. Dickson, USA, 1894)
- Annabelle Butterfly Dance (W. K. L. Dickson, USA, 1894)
- Athlete with Wand (W. K. L. Dickson, USA, 1894)
- Boxing Cats (W. K. L. Dickson, USA, 1894)
- Interior New York Subway, 14th St to 42nd St (W. K. L. Dickson, USA, 1894)
- The Kiss (W. K. L. Dickson, USA, 1896)
- Workers Leaving the Factory (Auguste and Louis Lumiére, France, 1895)
- Demolition of a Wall (Auguste and Louis Lumiére, France, 1896)
- Star Theatre (American Mutoscope and Biograph, USA, 1901)
- The Black Imp (George Méliès, France, 1905)
- Long Distance Wireless Photography (George Méliès, France, 1905)
- Fischer, Lucy. “The Lady Vanishes: Women, Magic, and the Movies.” In Film Before Griffith, edited by John L. Fell, 339–354. Berkeley: University of California Press, 1983.
- Gunning, Tom. “The Cinema of Attractions: Early Film, Its Spectator and the Avant-Garde.” In Film and Theory: An Anthology, edited by Toby Miller and Robert Stam, 229–235. Malden, Mass. and Oxford: Blackwell, 2000.
September 4 • Dada and Surrealism
Select the film for your presentation.
- Entr’acte (Rene Clair, France, 1924, 15 min.)
- Anemic Cinema (Marcel Duchamp, France, 1926, 7 min.)
- Un Chien Andalou (Luis Buñuel and Salvador Dali, France 1927, 12 min.)
- La Coquille et le Clergyman [The Seashell and the Clergyman] (Germaine Dulac, 1928, 28 min.)
- Turvey, “Dada, Entr’acte and Paris, Qui Dort” and “Surrealism and Un Chien Andalou.”
- Martin, Katrina. “Marcel Duchamp’s Anemic Cinema.” Studio International 189, no. 973 (February 1975): 53–60.
- Elsaesser, Thomas. “Dada/Cinema?” In Dada and Surrealist Film, edited by Rudolf E. Kuenzli, 13–27. New York: Willis Locker and Owens, 1987.
- Taléns, Jenaro. “Reading of Un Chien Andalou.” In The Branded Eye: Buñuel’s Un Chien Andalou, 27–65. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1993.
- Flitterman-Lewis, Sandy. “From Fantasy to Structure of the Fantasm.” In To Desire Differently: Feminism and the French Cinema, 98–140. Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 1990.
- Snider, Grant. “Dada Day.” Medium, June 13, 2013. https://medium.com/who-needs-art/7e1c28e9539f.
September 11 • Abstraction, Film, and the Machine
- Rhythmus 21 (Hans Richter, 1923, 3 min.)
- Symphonie Diagonale (Diagonal Symphony) (Viking Egglund, 1924, 5 min.)
- Retour a la Raison (Man Ray, 1923, 3 min.)
- Ballet Mecanique (Fernand Leger, 1924, 19 min.)
- H20 (Ralph Steiner, 1929, 12 min.)
- Rhythm (Len Lye, 1957, 1 min.)
- Mechanical Principles (Ralph Steiner, 1929, 11 min.)
- Lambeth Walk, Nazi Style (Charles Ridely, 1941, 2 min.)
- Philips Radio (Joris Iven, 1931, 36 min.)
- Turvey, “Abstraction and Rhythmus 21,” and “‘Cinema Pur’ and Ballet Mechanique.”
- Lawder, Standish D. “Ballet Mécanique.” In Cubist Cinema, 117–167. New York: NYU Press, 1975.
- Le Grice, Malcolm. “The First Abstract Films.” In Abstract Film and Beyond, 17–31. Cambridge, Mass.: MIT Press, 1977.
- MacDonald, Scott. “Ralph Steiner.” In Lovers of Cinema: The First American Film Avant-Garde, 1919–1945, 205–233. Madison: University of Wisconsin Press, 1995.
- Rose, Barbara. “Kinetic Solutions to Pictorial Problems: The Films of Man Ray and Moholy-Nagy.” Artforum. 69–73 (September 1971).
September 18 • City Symphony
- Etudes des mouvements a Paris (Joris Ivens, 1927, 4 min.)
- Berlin: Symphony of a City (Walter Ruttman, 1927, 65 min.)
- Rain (Joris Ivens, 1929, 15 min.)
- A Propos De Nice (Jean Vigo, 1930, 23 min.)
September 25 • New York City Symphonies
- Manhatta (Charles Sheeler and Paul Strand, 1921, 11 min.)
- Symphonie der Wolkerkratzer (Skyscraper symphony) (Robert Florey, 1929, 10 min.)
- Twenty four Dollar Island (Robert Flaherty, 1926, 12 min.)
- Looney Lens: Split Skyscapers (Al Brick, 1927, 2 min.)
- Looney Lens: Tenth Avenue (Al Brick, 1927, 2 min.)
- A Bronx Morning (Jay Leyda, 1931, 11 min.)
- Wonder ring (Stan Brakhage, 1955, 5 min.)
- Rose Hobart (Joseph Cornell, 1936, 19 min.)
The following compilation motion pictures are playing at Light Industry, 155 Freeman Street, Greenpoint, Brooklyn, on Tuesday, September 30, 7:30 PM.
- The Fall of Communism as Seen in Gay Pornography (William E. Jones, 1998, 19 min.)
- Tribulation 99: Alien Anomalies under America (Craig Baldwin, 1991, 48 min.)
October 2 • Maya Deren and the Advent of American Avant-Garde
- Meshes of the Afternoon (Maya Deren, 1943, 14 min.)
- At Land (Maya Deren, 1944, 15 min.)
- Study in Choreography for Camera (Maya Deren, 1945, 4 min.)
- Ritual in Transfigured Time (Maya Deren, 1946, 15 min.)
- Rabinovitz, Lauren. “Maya Deren and an American Avant-Garde Cinema.” In Points of Resistance: Women, Power, and Politics in the New York Avant-Garde Cinema, 1943–1971, 49–91. Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 1991.
- Sitney, P. Adams. “Meshes of the Afternoon and Ritual and Nature.” In Visionary Film: The American Avant-Garde, 1943–2000, 3–42. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2002.
October 9 • Midterm Exam
The take-home midterm exam is available here and as a PDF for download.
October 16 • Stan Brakhage and Poetic Film
- Desistfilm (Stan Brakhage, 1954, 7 min.)
- Window Baby Water Moving (Stan Brakhage, 1959, 13 min.)
- Cat’s Cradle (Stan Brakhage, 1959, 6 min.)
- Mothlight (Stan Brakhage, 1963, 4 min.)
- Prelude: Dog Star Man (Stan Brakhage, 1964, 25 min.)
- The Wold Shadow (Stan Brakhage, 1972, 3 min.)
- The Act of Seeing with One’s Own Eyes (Stan Brakhage, 1971, 32 min.)
- Sitney, P. Adams. “The Lyrical Film.” In Visionary Film: The American Avant-Garde, 1943–2000, 3rd ed., 155–88. New York and London: Oxford University Press, 2002.
If you wish to screen the entire Dog Star Man, you might also want to read the following:
- Sitney, P. Adams. “Major Mythopoeia.” In Visionary Film: The American Avant-Garde, 1943–2000, 3rd ed., 189–230. New York and London: Oxford University Press, 2002.
October 23 • Kenneth Anger and the Kuchars
- Fireworks (Kenneth Anger, 1947, 15 min.)
- Puce Moment (Kenneth Anger, 1949, 6 min.)
- Rabbit’s Moon (Kenneth Anger, 1950, 16 min.)
- Eaux des Artifice (Kenneth Anger, 1953, 13 min.)
- Inauguration of the pleasure dome (Kenneth Anger, 1954, 38 min.)
- Scorpio Rising (Kenneth Anger, 1964, 28 min.)
- Sins of the Fleshapoids (Mike Kuchar, 1965, 40 min.)
- Sitney, P. Adams. “The Magus.” In Visionary Film: The American Avant-Garde, 1943–2000, 3rd ed., 83–120. New York and London: Oxford University Press, 2002.
- Suárez, Juan. “Pop, Queer or Facist? The Ambiguity of Mass Culture in Kenneth Anger’s Scorpio Rising.” In Bike Boys, Drag Queens, and Superstars: Avant-Garde, Mass Culture, and Gay Identities in the 1960s American Underground Cinema, 141–80. Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1996.
- Stevenson, Jack. “The Life and Films of the Brothers of Invention.” In Desperate Visions 1: Camp America, The Films of John Waters and George & Mike Kuchar, 161–84. London; New York: Creation Books, 1996.
October 30 • New York and the American Avant-Garde
- 145 W 21 (Rudy Burckhardt, 1936, 10 min.)
- Under the Brooklyn Bridge (Rudy Burckhardt, 1953, 15 min.)
- The Aviary (Rudy Burckhardt, 1955, 5 min.)
- Bridges Go Round (Shirley Clarke, 1958, 4 min.)
- East Side Summer (Rudy Burckhardt, 1959, 11 min.)
- Empire (Andy Warhol, 1964, 69 min.)
- Go Go Go (Marie Menken, 1964, 11 min.)
- Square Times (Rudy Burckhardt, 1967, 6 min.)
- Sodom and Gomorrha, New York 10036 (Rudy Burckhard, 1976, 6 min.)
November 6 • Andy Warhol and Ken Jacobs
- Blow Job (Andy Warhol, 1964, 35 min.)
- My Hustler (Andy Warhol, 1965, 63 min.)
- Little Stabs at Happiness (Ken Jacobs, 1963, 15 min.)
- James, David. “Andy Warhol: The Producer as Author.” In Allegories of Cinema: American Film in the Sixties, 58–84. Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1989.
- Suárez, Juan. “The Artist as Advertiser: Stardom, Style, and Commodification in Andy Warhol’s Underground Films.” In Bike Boys, Drag Queens, and Superstars: Avant-Garde, Mass Culture, and Gay Identities in the 1960s American Underground Cinema, 214–259. Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1996.
The following Jack Smith films are playing at Anthology Film Archives, 32 2nd Ave, Manhattan, on Saturday, December 20, 5:45 PM.
- Scotch Tape (Jack Smith, 1962, 3 min)
- Flaming Creatures (Jack Smith, 1963, 15 min.)
I also recommend reading the following:
- Suarez, Juan. “Drag, Rubble, and ‘Secret Flix’: Jack Smith’s Avant-Garde against the Lucky Landlord Empire.” In Bike Boys, Drag Queens, and Superstars: Avant-Garde, Mass Culture, and Gay Identities in the 1960s American Underground Cinema, 181–213. Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1996.
November 13 • Animation and Compilation Film
- Early Abstractions (Harry Smith, 1941–57, 22 min.)
- Interwoven (Harry Smith, 1949, 3 min.)
- Eyewash (Robert Breer, 1959, 3 min.)
- Allures (Jordan Belson, 1961, 8 min.)
- A Movie (Bruce Conner, 1959, 12 min.)
- Peyote Queen (Storm De Hirsch, 1965, 9 min.)
- Wonder Woman (Dana Birnbaum, 1978, 5 min.)
- Jordan Belson: Official Site. Center for Visual Music.
- MacDonald, Scott. “Interview with Robert Breer.” In A Critical Cinema: Interviews with Independent Filmmakers, 15–50. Berkeley: University of California Press, 1988.
- MacDonald, Scott. “Interview with Bruce Conner.” In A Critical Cinema: Interviews with Independent Filmmakers, 244–256. Berkeley: University of California Press, 1988.
- MacDonald, Scott. “Interview with Jordan Belson.” In A Critical Cinema 3: Interviews with Independent Filmmakers, 64–92. Berkeley: University of California Press, 1998.
- Zinman, Gregory. “RE-ENTRY: Thoughts on Jordan Belson: 1926–2011.” The Brooklyn Rail, December 2011.
- Film & Video: Storm de Hirsch: Peyote Queen. UbuWeb.
The following Harry Smith films are playing at Anthology Film Archives, 32 2nd Ave, Manhattan, on Thursday, December 18, 7:30 PM.
- Film Nos. 1–5, 7, 10 (Early Abstractions) (Harry Smith, 1941–57, 23 min.)
- Film No. 6 (Harry Smith, 1948–51, 1.5 min.)
- Film No. 11 (Mirror Animations) (Harry Smith, 1957, 4 min.)
- Film No. 14 (Late Superimpositions) (Harry Smith, 1964, 28 min.)
- Film No. 16 (Oz: Tin Woodman’s Dreams) (Harry Smith, 1967, 15 min.)
With the following film screening on Friday, December 19, 7:30 PM:
- Film No. 12 (Heaven and Earth Magic) (Harry Smith, 1950–61, 66 min)
November 20 • Structural Filmmaking
- Wavelength (Michael Snow, 1967, 45 min.)
- Nostalgia (Hollis Frampton, 1971, 36 min.)
- T,O,U,C,H,I,N,G (Paul Sharits, 1969, 12 min.)
- Bad Burns (Paul Sharits, 1982, 6 min.)
- New Improved Institutional Quality (Owen Land, 1976, 10 min.)
- Sitney, P. Adams. “Structural Film.” In Visionary Film: The American Avant-Garde, 1943–2000, 369–397. Oxford; New York: Oxford University Press, 2002.
- James, David. “Pure Film.” In Allegories of Cinema: American Film in the Sixties, 237–279. Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1989.
- MacDonald, Scott. “Interview with Hollis Frampton.” In A Critical Cinema: Interviews with Independent Filmmakers, 21–77. Berkeley: University of California Press, 1988.
- MacDonald, Scott. “Interview with Michael Snow.” In A Critical Cinema: Interviews with Independent Filmmakers, 51–76. Berkeley: University of California Press, 1988.
December 4 • Video Art
- Baldessari sings [Sol] LeWitt (John Baldessari , 1972, 4 min.)
- Undertone [Excerpt] (Vito Acconci, 1972, 9 min.)
- Vertical Roll (Joan Jonas, 1972, 20 min.)
- Television Delivers People (Richard Serra, 1973, 6 min.)
- Five-Minute Romp Through the IP (Dan Sandin, 1973, min.)
- Female sensibility (Lynda Bengalis, 1973, 15 min.)
- Triangle in front of square in front of circle in front of triangle (Dan Sandin, 1973, 2 min.)
- Boomerang (Richard Serra/Nancy Holt, 1974, 10 min.)
- Performer/Audience/Mirror (Dan Graham, 1975, 23 min.)
- Cycles of 3s and 7s (Tony Conrad, 1976, 3 min.)
- Sweet light (Bill Viola, 1977, 9 min.)
- Vital statistics of a citizen, simply obtained (Martha Rosler, 1977, 39 min.)
December 18 • Final Project Due
Please present your final projects in class today. Also, bring your written statements to class.