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, 9:00–11:50 AM
Library, Room MMB
Wednesdays, 4:00 - 5:00 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.
Required readings not found in the textbooks will be posted on this website. Due to copyright concerns, enter the following credentials:
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.
Regular attendance is required.
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.
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 Disturb” 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
Pratt Institute is committed to the full inclusion of all students. If you are a student with a disability and require accommodations, please contact the Learning/Access Center (L/AC) at LAC@pratt.edu to schedule an appointment to discuss these accommodations. Students with disabilities who have already registered with the L/AC are encouraged to speak to the professor about accommodations they may need to produce an accessible learning environment.
Requests for accommodation should be made as far in advance as reasonably possible to allow sufficient time to make any necessary modifications to ensure the relevant classes, programs, or activities are readily accessible. The L/AC is available to Pratt students, confidentially, with additional resources and information to facilitate full access to all campus programs and activities and provide support related to any other disability-related matters.
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.
Note: Flexible deadline requests are the initial step in a dialogue; it is your responsibility to reach out to me with the length of extension you need.
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 the following:
- an introduction to the film,
- a brief biography of the filmmaker/artist,
- an explanation of the film’s context and the circumstances surrounding its production.
- a framework for watching the film,
- a summary of the film’s significance to the historical avant-garde, including references to 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.
- Assigned: February 28, in class
- Due: March 7, 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 April.
- Due: May 2, 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 December.
January 17 • 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)
January 24 • 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.)
- L’Age d’Or (Luis Buñuel, France, 1930, 63 min.)
- La Coquille et le Clergyman [The Seashell and the Clergyman] (Germaine Dulac, France, 1928, 28 min.) Recommended but not required for midterm exam.
- 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.
- Taléns, Jenaro. “Reading of Un Chien Andalou.” In The Branded Eye: Buñuel’s Un Chien Andalou, 27–65. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1993.
- Elsaesser, Thomas. “Dada/Cinema?” In Dada and Surrealist Film, edited by Rudolf E. Kuenzli, 13–27. New York: Willis Locker and Owens, 1987.
- 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.
January 31 • Abstraction, Film, and the Machine
- Rhythmus 21 (Hans Richter, Germany, 1923, 3 min.)
- Symphonie Diagonale (Diagonal Symphony) (Viking Egglund, Germany, 1924, 5 min.)
- Retour a la Raison (Man Ray, France, 1923, 3 min.)
- Ballet Mecanique (Fernand Leger, France, 1924, 19 min.)
- Mechanical Principles (Ralph Steiner, USA, 1929, 11 min.)
- Philips Radio (Joris Ivens, Netherlands, 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).
February 7 • City Symphony
- Rain (Joris Ivens, Netherlands, 1929, 15 min.)
- Twenty Four Dollar Island (Robert Flaherty, USA, 1926, 12 min.)
- A Propos De Nice (Jean Vigo, France, 1930, 23 min.) Recommended but not required for midterm exam.
- Symphonie der Wolkerkratzer (Robert Florey, Germany, 1929, 10 min.)
- Berlin: Symphony of a City (Walter Ruttman, Germany, 1927, 65 min.)
- Castro Street (Bruce Baillie, USA, 1968, 10 min.)
February 14 • Early American Avant-Garde
- Manhatta (Charles Sheeler and Paul Strand, USA, 1921, 11 min.)
- Life and Death of 9413: A Hollywood Extra (Robert Florey and Slavko Vorkapich, USA, 1928, 11 min.)
- H20 (Ralph Steiner, USA, 1929, 12 min.)
- A Bronx Morning (Jay Leyda, USA, 1931, 11 min.)
- Rose Hobart (Joseph Cornell, USA, 1936, 19 min.)
- Thimble theater (Joseph Cornell, USA, 1938, 6 min.)
- Tarantella (Mary Ellen Bute and Ted Nemeth, USA, 1940, 4 min.)
- Wonder Ring (Stan Brakhage, USA, 1955, 5 min.)
- Lot in Sodom (James Sibley Watson and Melville Webber, USA, 1933, 26 min.) Recommended but not required for midterm exam.
- Allen, Richard. “The Life and Death of 9414: A Hollywood Extra.” Framework: The Journal of Cinema and Media 21 (1983), 12–14.
- Horak, Jan-Christopher. “Paul Strand and Charles Sheeler’s Manhatta.” In Lovers of Cinema,267–286. Madison: University of Wisconsin Press, 1995.
- Juan A. Suárez, “City Space, Technology, Popular Culture: The Modernism of Paul Strand and Charles Sheeler’s Manhatta.” Journal of American Studies 36.1 (2002), 85–106.
- Adrian Danks, “The Global Art of Found Footage Cinema.” Traditions in World Cinema, ed. by Linda Badley et al.. Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press, 2006. pp. 241–253.
February 21 • 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.)
- Ritual in Transfigured Time (Maya Deren, USA, 1946, 15 min.)
- Meditation on Violence (Maya Deren, USA, 1948, 12 min.)
- The Very Eye of Night (Maya Deren, USA, 1958, 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.
- Keller, Sarah, “Toward Completion and Control At Land, A Study in Choreography for Camera, and Ritual in Transfigured Time,” Maya Deren: Incomplete Control (New York: Columbia University Press, 2015)
- Jeong, Ok Hee, “Reflections on Maya Deren’s Forgotten Film, The Very Eye of Night.” Dance Chronicle 32.3 (2009), pp. 412–441.
- Millsapps, Jan L., “Maya Deren: Imagist,” Literature/Film Quarterly 14.1 (1986), pp. 22–31.
February 28 • Midterm Exam
We will begin the midterm exam today in class.
March 7 • Class Cancelled
Our class was cancelled today due to a winter storm.
March 21 • Class Cancelled
Our class was cancelled today due to a winter storm.
March 28 • Brakhage, Anger, and the Kuchars
- 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.)
- Mothlight (Stan Brakhage, USA, 1963, 4 min.)
- Fireworks (Kenneth Anger, USA, 1947, 15 min.)
- Puce Moment (Kenneth Anger, USA, 1949, 6 min.)
- Eaux des Artifice (Kenneth Anger, USA, 1953, 13 min.)
- Scorpio Rising (Kenneth Anger, USA, 1964, 28 min.)
- Sins of the Fleshapoids (Mike Kuchar, USA, 1965, 40 min.)
Note: The Act of Seeing with One’s Own Eyes graphically documents various autopsies in a Pittsburgh morgue.
- 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.)
- Rabbit’s Moon (Kenneth Anger, USA, 1950, 16 min.)
- Inauguration of the pleasure dome (Kenneth Anger, USA, 1954, 38 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.
- 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.
- On Brakhage and Dog Star Man: 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.
- On Kenneth Anger: 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.
April 4 • New York and the American Avant-Garde
- Bridges Go Round (Shirley Clarke, USA, 1958, 4 min.)
- Under the Brooklyn Bridge (Rudy Burckhardt, USA, 1953, 15 min.)
- Go Go Go (Marie Menken, USA, 1964, 11 min.)
- Square Times (Rudy Burckhardt, USA, 1967, 6 min.)
- Empire (Andy Warhol, USA, 1964, excerpt) (Release notes by Gary Comenas, warholstars.org)
- Blow Job (Andy Warhol, USA, 1964, 35 min.) (Release notes by Gary Comenas, warholstars.org)
- My Hustler (Andy Warhol, USA, 1965, 63 min.) (Release notes by Gary Comenas, warholstars.org)
Note: Fuses includes explicit, sylized depictions of the human body engaged in sexual intercourse.
- 145 W 21 (Rudy Burckhardt, USA, 1936, 10 min.)
- The Aviary (Rudy Burckhardt, USA, 1955, 5 min.)
- East Side Summer (Rudy Burckhardt, USA, 1959, 11 min.)
- Fuses (Carolee Schneemann, USA, 1964, 22 min.)
- Gartenberg, Jon. “NY, NY: A Century of City Symphony Films.” Framework: The Journal of Cinema and Media, Vol. 55, No. 2 (Fall 2014), pp. 248- 276
- 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.
April 11 • 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.)
- Allures (Jordan Belson, USA, 1961, 8 min.)
- A Movie (Bruce Conner, USA, 1959, 12 min.)
- Peyote Queen (Storm De Hirsch, USA, 1965, 9 min.)
- Experiments in Motion S Graphics (John Whitney, USA, 1968, 12 min.)
- Technology/Transformation: Wonder Woman (Dara Birnbaum, USA, 1978, 5 min.)
- Early Abstractions (Harry Smith, USA, 1941–57, 22 min.). You may also watch with the following songs from The Beatles Meet the Beatles, playing as a score:
- “I Want To Hold Your Hand”
- “I Saw Her Standing There”
- “This Boy”
- “It Won’t Be Long”
- “All I’ve Got to Do”
- “All My Loving”
- “Don’t Bother Me”
- “Little Child”
- “Til There Was You”
- “Hold Me Tight”
- “I Wanna Be Your Man”
- “Not a Second Time”
- MacDonald, Scott. “Interview with Robert Breer.” In A Critical Cinema: Interviews with Independent Filmmakers, 15–50. Berkeley: University of California Press, 1988.
April 18 • 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.
April 25 • 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.)
May 2 • Final Project Due
Please present your final projects in class today. Also, bring your written statements to class.