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
Wednesdays, 5:30 – 8:20 PM
Library, Room MMB
Tuesdays, 12:30 - 1:30 PM
East Building, Room 207
By appointment only
Schedule an appointment
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.
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, Light Industry, and the Metrograph. 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 attendance, 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 “Do Not Distrub” mode).
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.
On your assigned date, present “curator notes” on the film you were assigned. Your presentation should include 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 and reference any relevant works that we’ve screened to date.
Please bring a written copy of your presentation notes, about two pages in length, including a bibliography, to class on the day you present.
You need not bother bringing a copy of the film to screen in class. I will take care of that.
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.
- Due October 12, in class
- Weight: 30%
There are two possibilities for this assignment. One for the undergraduate students and another for the graduate students in this class. Choose wisely.
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, temporal, 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 two pages 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.
Graduate Students… and Verbose Undergraduates
Write a seminar paper that considers the history, aesthetics, and/or politics of the experimental filmmaking as addressed in the films in this course. You may analyze a film, discuss the poetics of an avant-garde movement and its relevance to experimental filmmaking, or describe a central feature of the avant-garde and how it may exist in other works.
As advanced students and budding scholars, you have a lot of flexibility for what you can cover in this assignment, although I may evaluate you on the following criteria:
- Original. You should have an original argument.
- Focus. Your argument should be specific and explained with a simple thesis statement;
- Historically Informed. Your paper should demonstrate your understanding and application of the historical avant-garde;
- Rigorously researched. Your paper should reference relevant works on experimental filmmaking and the avant-garde at large.
Undergraduates who opt for this assignment should inform me no later than the first week of November.
- Due: December 14, in class
- Weight: 40%
The following schedule will be frequently revised depending various 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 24 • 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)
- 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)
August 31 • 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, France, 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 7 • Abstraction, Film, and the Machine
- Rhythmus 21 (Hans Richter, Germany, 1923, 3 min.)
- Symphonie Diagonale (Diagonal Symphony) (Viking Egglund, Germany, 1924, 5 min.)
- Ballet Mecanique (Fernand Leger, France, 1924, 19 min.)
Films on Reserve
- Retour a la Raison (Man Ray, France, 1923, 3 min.)
- Rhythm (Len Lye, UK, 1957, 1 min.)
- Schichlegruber: Doing the Lambeth Walk (Charles Ridley, UK, 1941, 2 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 14 • City Symphony
- Rain (Joris Ivens, Netherlands, 1929, 15 min.)
- Berlin: Symphony of a City (Walter Ruttman, Germany, 1927, 65 min.)
Films on Reserve
- Twenty Four Dollar Island (Robert Flaherty, USA, 1926, 12 min.)
- A Propos De Nice (Jean Vigo, France, 1930, 23 min.)
- Symphonie der Wolkerkratzer (Robert Florey, Germany, 1929, 10 min.)
September 21 • Early American Avant-Garde
- Manhatta (Charles Sheeler and Paul Strand, USA, 1921, 11 min.)
- H20 (Ralph Steiner, USA, 1929, 12 min.)
- Mechanical Principles (Ralph Steiner, USA, 1929, 11 min.)
- Rose Hobart (Joseph Cornell, USA, 1936, 19 min.)
- Life and Death of 9413: A Hollywood Extra (Robert Florey and Slavko Vorkapich, USA, 1928, 11 min.)
- A Bronx Morning (Jay Leyda, USA, 1931, 11 min.)
- Wonder Ring (Stan Brakhage, USA, 1955, 5 min.)
September 28 • Maya Deren and the Modern American Avant-Garde
- Meshes of the Afternoon (Maya Deren, USA, 1943, 14 min.)
- At Land (Maya Deren, USA, 1944, 15 min.)
- Study in Choreography for Camera (Maya Deren, USA, 1945, 4 min.)
- Meditation on Violence (Maya Deren, USA, 1948, 12 min.)
- Ritual in Transfigured Time (Maya Deren, USA, 1946, 15 min.)
- The Very Eye of Night (Maya Deren, USA, 1958, 15 min.)
- 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 5 • Midterm Exam
We will begin the midterm exam today in class.
October 12 • Stan Brakhage and Poetic Film
- Desistfilm (Stan Brakhage, USA, 1954, 7 min.)
- Window Baby Water Moving (Stan Brakhage, USA, 1959, 13 min.)
- Cat’s Cradle (Stan Brakhage, USA, 1959, 6 min.)
- The Dead (Stan Brakhage, USA, 1959, 6 min.)
- Mothlight (Stan Brakhage, USA, 1963, 4 min.)
- Prelude: Dog Star Man (Stan Brakhage, USA, 1964, 25 min.)
- The Act of Seeing with One’s Own Eyes (Stan Brakhage, USA, 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 Dog Star Man in its entirety, 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 19 • Kenneth Anger and the Kuchars
- Fireworks (Kenneth Anger, USA, 1947, 15 min.)
- Puce Moment (Kenneth Anger, USA, 1949, 6 min.)
- Rabbit’s Moon (Kenneth Anger, USA, 1950, 16 min.)
- Eaux des Artifice (Kenneth Anger, USA, 1953, 13 min.)
- Inauguration of the pleasure dome (Kenneth Anger, USA, 1954, 38 min.)
- Scorpio Rising (Kenneth Anger, USA, 1964, 28 min.)
- Sins of the Fleshapoids (Mike Kuchar, USA, 1965, 40 min.)
- 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.
- 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.
October 26 • New York and the American Avant-Garde
- 145 W 21 (Rudy Burckhardt, USA, 1936, 10 min.)
- Under the Brooklyn Bridge (Rudy Burckhardt, USA, 1953, 15 min.)
- The Aviary (Rudy Burckhardt, USA, 1955, 5 min.)
- The Bull Fighter (Shirley Clarke, USA, 1955, 10 min.)
- Bridges Go Round (Shirley Clarke, USA, 1958, 4 min.)
- East Side Summer (Rudy Burckhardt, USA, 1959, 11 min.)
- Empire (Andy Warhol, USA, 1964, excerpt)
- Go Go Go (Marie Menken, USA, 1964, 11 min.)
- Square Times (Rudy Burckhardt, USA, 1967, 6 min.)
- Cerveza Bud (Rudy Burkhardt, USA, 1981, 22 min.)
November 2 • Explicitly Experimental
- Blow Job (Andy Warhol, USA, 1964, 35 min.)
- My Hustler (Andy Warhol, USA, 1965, 63 min.)
- Flaming Creatures (Jack Smith, USA, 1963, 42 min.)
Fuses (Carolee Schneemann, USA, 1964, 22 min.)
- Jack Smith and The Destruction of Atlantis (Mary Jordan, 2007, 95 min.)
- 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.
- Suárez, 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 9 • Animation and Compilation Film
- Spirals (Oskar Fischinger, Germany, 1926, 6 min.)
- Kreise (Oskar Fischinger, Germany, 1933, 3 min.)
- Optical Poem (Oskar Fischinger, Germany, 1937, 7 min.)
- Early Abstractions (Harry Smith, USA, 1941–57, 22 min.)
- Allures (Jordan Belson, USA, 1961, 8 min.)
- A Movie (Bruce Conner, USA, 1959, 12 min.)
- Report (Bruce Conner, USA, 1967, 13 min.)
- Peyote Queen (Storm De Hirsch, USA, 1965, 9 min.)
- Wonder Woman (Dana Birnbaum, USA, 1978, 5 min.)
- MacDonald, Scott. “Interview with Robert Breer.” In A Critical Cinema: Interviews with Independent Filmmakers, 15–50. Berkeley: University of California Press, 1988.
November 16 • Structural Filmmaking
- Wavelength (Michael Snow, USA, 1967, 45 min.)
- Nostalgia (Hollis Frampton, USA, 1971, 36 min.)
- T,O,U,C,H,I,N,G (Paul Sharits, USA, 1969, 12 min.)
- Bad Burns (Paul Sharits, USA, 1982, 6 min.)
- Film that Rises to the Surface of Clarified Butter (Owen Land, USA, 1976, 8 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.
November 30 • Video Art
- Baldessari sings [Sol] LeWitt (John Baldessari, USA, 1972, 4 min.)
- Undertone excerpt (Vito Acconci, USA, 1972, 9 min.)
- Vertical Roll (Joan Jonas, USA, 1972, 20 min.)
- Television Delivers People (Richard Serra, USA, 1973, 6 min.)
- Five-Minute Romp Through the IP (Dan Sandin, USA, 1973, 5 min.)
- Triangle in front of square in front of circle in front of triangle (Dan Sandin, USA, 1973, 2 min.)
- Female sensibility (Lynda Bengalis, USA, 1973, 15 min.)
- Boomerang (Richard Serra/Nancy Holt, USA, 1974, 10 min.)
- Performer/Audience/Mirror (Dan Graham, USA, 1975, 23 min.)
- Cycles of 3s and 7s (Tony Conrad, USA, 1976, 3 min.)
- Sweet Light (Bill Viola, USA, 1977, 9 min.)
- Vital Statistics of a Citizen, Simply Obtained (Martha Rosler, USA, 1977, 39 min.)
December 14 • Final Project Due
Please present your final projects in class today. Also, bring your written statements to class.