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Experimental Cinema in America
Part Two: The Postwar Revival

Lewis Jacobs

When America Entered the war the experimental film went into limbo, but with the war's end there was a sharp and unexpected outburst of interest and activity in experimental movies in all parts of the United States. Behind this phenomenal postwar revival were two forces that had been set in motion during the war years. The first was the circulation of programs from the Film Library of the Museum of Modern Art, at a nominal cost, to nonprofit groups. The Museum's collection of pictures and its program notes on the history, art, and traditions of cinema went to hundreds of colleges, universities, museums, film-appreciation groups, and study groups. These widespread exhibitions, as well as the Museum of Modern Art's own showings in its theater in New York City, exerted a major influence in preparing the way for broader appreciation and production of experimental films.

The second force was the entirely new and heightened prestige that film acquired through its service to the war effort. New, vast audiences saw ideological, documentary, educational, and training subjects for the first time and developed a taste for experimental and noncommercial techniques. Moreover, thousands of film makers were developed in the various branches of service. Many of these, having learned to handle motion picture and sound apparatus, have begun to use their skills to seek out, through their own experiments, the artistic potentialities of the medium.

As the result of these two forces, groups fostering art in cinema have appeared in various parts of the country. One of the most active is headed by Frank Stauffacher and Richard Foster in San Francisco. With the assistance of the staff of the San Francisco Museum of Art they were actually the first in this country to assemble, document, and exhibit on a large scale a series of strictly avant-garde films. The spirited response to the series resulted in the publication of a symposium on the art of avant-garde films,


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together with program notes and references, called Art in Cinema. This book, a nonprofit publication, is a notable contribution to the growing body of serious film literature in this country.

Among others advancing the cause of experimental films are Paul Ballard, who organized innumerable avant-garde film showings throughout Southern California, and the Creative Film Associates and the People's Educational Center, both of Los Angeles and equally energetic on the behalf of creative cinema.

To Maya Deren goes the credit for being the first since the end of the war to inject a fresh note into experimental-film production. Her four pictures —all short, all silent, all in black and white—have been consistently individual and striking. Moreover, she has the organizational ability to assure that film groups, museums, schools, and little theaters see her efforts, and the writing skill to express her ideas and credos in magazine articles, books, and pamphlets which are well circulated. She is today, therefore, one of the better-known film experimenters.

Meshes of the Afternoon (1943), Maya Deren's first picture, was made in collaboration with Alexander Hammid (co-director with Herbert Kline of the documentary films Crisis, Lights Out in Europe, and Forgotten Village). It attempted to show the way in which an apparently simple and casual occurrence develops subsconciously into a critical emotional experience. A girl (acted by Miss Deren herself) comes home one afternoon and falls asleep. In a dream she sees herself returning home, tortured by loneliness and frustration and impulsively committing suicide. The story has a double climax, in which it appears that the imagined—the dream— has become the real

The film utilizes nonactors—Miss Deren and Alexander Hammid— and the setting is their actual home. The photography is direct and objective, although the intent is to evoke a mood. In this respect the film is not completely successful. It skips from objectivity to subjectivity without transitions or preparation and is often confusing. But in the process of unreeling its own meshes, despite some symbols borrowed from Cocteau's Blood of a Poet, the picture attests a unique gift for the medium. Sensitivity and cinematic awareness are expressed in the cutting, the camera angles, and the feeling for pace and movement.

Her second film, At Land (1944), an independent effort, starts at a lonely beach upon which the waves, moving in reverse, deposit a sleeping


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girl (Miss Deren). She slowly awakens, climbs a dead tree trunk—her face innocent and expectant, as though she were seeing the world for the first time—and arrives at a banquet. There, completely ignored by the diners, she crawls along the length of the dining table to a chess game, snatches the queen, and sees it fall into a hole. She follows it down a precipitous slope to a rock formation where the queen is washed away to sea.

Writing about her intentions in this film, Miss Deren said, "It presents a relativistic universe … in which the problem of the individual, as the sole continuous element, is to relate herself to a fluid, apparently incoherent, universe. It is in a sense a mythological voyage of the twentieth century."

Fraught with complexities of ideas and symbols, the film's major cinematic value lay in its fresh contiguities of shots, achieved through the technique of beginning a movement in one place and concluding it in another. Thus real time and space were destroyed. In their place was created a cinematic time-space which enabled unrelated persons, places, and objects to be related and brought into a harmony of new meaning and form much in the same way as a poem might achieve its effects through diverse associations or allegory.

The cinematic conception underlying At Land was further exploited and more simply pointed in the short film that followed: A Study in Choreography for the Camera (1945). This picture, featuring the dancer Talley Beatty, opens with a slow pan of a birch-tree forest. In the distance the figure of a dancer is discovered; while the camera continues its circular pan, the dancer is seen again and again, but each time closer to the camera and in successive stages of movement. Finally, the dancer is revealed in close-up. As he whirls away (still in the woods), there is a cut on his movement, which completes itself in the next shot as he lands in the Metropolitan Museum's Egyptian Hall. There he begins a pirouette; another cut, and he completes the movement in an apartment. Another leap, another cut, and this time he continues the movement on a high cliff overlooking a river. The next leap is done in close-up with the movement of actual flight carried far beyond its natural duration by slow motion, thus gaining the effect of the dancer's soaring nonhumanly through space. The effect was not carried out quite fully, but it was an exciting and stimulating demonstration of what could be done in manipulating space and time and motion.

Dispensing with the limitations of form (in actual space and time)


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upon choreography for the stage, the film achieved a new choreography based upon the temporal and spatial resources of the camera and the cutting process. It was a new kind of film dance, indigenous to the medium and novel to the screen. John Martin, dance critic for the New York Times, called it "the beginnings of a virtually new art of ‘chorecinema’ in which the dance and the camera collaborate on the creation of a single new work of art."

Ritual in Trans figured Time (1946), Miss Deren's next effort, illustrated, in her words, "a critical metamorphosis, the changing of a widow into a bride. Its process, however, is not narrative or dramatic, but choreographic. The attempt here is to create a dance film, not only out of filmic time and space relations, but also out of nondance elements. Except for the two leading performers, Rita Christiani and Frank Westbrook, none of the performers are dancers, and save for a final sequence the actual movements are not dance movements."

The dance quality is best expressed in the heart of the picture, a party scene. The party is treated as a choreographic pattern of movements. Conversational pauses and gestures are eliminated, leaving only a constantly moving group of smiling, socially anxious people striving to reach one another in a continuous ebb and flow of motion.

Miss Deren calls her picture a ritual. She bases the concept upon the fact that, "anthropologically speaking, a ritual is a form which depersonalizes by use of masks, voluminous garments, group movements, etc., and in so doing fuses all elements into a transcendant tribal power towards the achievement of some extraordinary grace … usually reserved for … some inversion towards life; the passage from sterile winter into fertile spring, mortality into immortality, the child-son into the man-father."

Such a change—"a critical metamorphosis"—takes place at the conclusion of the picture. After a dance duet which culminates the party, one of the dancers, whose role resembles that of a high priest, terrifies the widow when he changes from a man into a statue. As she flees, he becomes a man again, pursuing her. Now the widow, in the black clothes seen at the opening, becomes, by means of another cinematic device—using the negative—a bride in a white gown. Upon a close-up of her metamorphosis the film abruptly ends. In its intensity and complexity Ritual in Trans figured Time is an unusual accomplishment, as well as a further advance in power over Miss Deren's previous uncommon efforts.

Less concerned with cinematic form and more with human conflict are


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the pictures of Kenneth Anger. Escape Episode (1946) begins with a boy and girl parting at the edge of the sea. As the girl walks away she is watched by a woman from a plaster castle. The castle turns out to be a spiritualist's temple; the woman, a medium and the girl's aunt. Both dominate and twist the girl's life until she is in despair. Finally, in a gesture of deance, the girl invites the boy to the castle. The aunt, informed by spirits, becomes enraged and threatens divine retribution. The girl is frustrated, becomes bitter, and resolves to escape.

The quality of the film is unique and shows an extreme sensitivity to personal relationships. But because the thoughts, feelings, and ideas of the film maker are beyond his command of the medium, the effect is often fumbling and incomplete; the film's parts are superior to the whole.

Fireworks (1947), however, which deals with the neurosis of a homosexual, an "outcast" who dreams he is tracked down by some of his own group and brutally beaten, has none of the uncertainties of Anger's other film. Here, despite the difficulties of "forbidden" subject matter, the film's intensity of imagery, the strength and precision of its shots and continuity, produce an effect of imaginativeness and daring honesty which on the screen is startling. Ordinary objects—ornaments, a Roman candle, a Christmas tree—take on extraordinary vitality when Anger uses them suddenly, arbitrarily, with almost explosive force, as symbols of the neurosis which springs from an "ill-starred sense of the grandeur of catastrophe." The objectivity of the style captures the incipient violence and perversion vividly, and the film becomes a frank and deliberate expression of personality. Consequently the film has a rare individuality which no literal summary of its qualities can communicate. Closely related in spirit and technique to Anger's Fireworks is Curtis Harrington's Fragment of Seeking (1946–1947). This film has for its theme the torture of adolescent self-love. A young man (acted by the film maker himself), troubled by the nature of his narcissism, yet all the time curiously aware of the presence of girls, is seen returning home. The long corridors, the courtyard surrounded by walls, and the cell-like room suggest a prison. The boy, not quite understanding his agony, throws himself on his cot in despair. Suddenly he rouses himself, to discover that a girl has entered his room. In a violent gesture of defiance he responds to her invitation. But at the moment of embracing her he is struck by a revulsion of feeling. He pushes her away, only to discover that she is not a girl but


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a leering skeleton with blond tresses. He stares incredulously, then runs or rather whirls away in horror to another room, where, seeing himself, he is made to face the realization of his own nature. The film's structure has a singular simplicity. Unity and totality of effect make it comparable to some of the stories by Poe. Through overtones, suggestions, and relations between its images it expresses with complete clarity and forthrightness a critical personal experience, leaving the spectator moved by the revelation.

In the same vein but less concrete is The Potted Psalm (1947) by Sidney Peterson and James Broughton. This picture is the result of a dozen scripts, each discarded for another, written over a period of three months during the actual shooting of thousands of feet of film which eventually were cut down to less than three reels, of 148 parts.

The ambiguity of the film's production process is reflected on the screen. What might have been an intense experience for the spectator remains an unresolved experiment by the film makers in a "new method to resolve both myth and allegory." "The replacement of observation by intuition … of an analysis by synthesis and of reality by symbolism," to quote the film makers, unfortunately results in intellectualizing to the point of abstraction.

Pictorially, the film is striking and stirs the imagination. Structurally, it has little cinematic cohesion. Shot after shot is polished, arresting symbol, but there is insufficient interaction and hardly any progression that adds up to organic form. As a consequence, the ornamental imagery— the "fleld of dry grass to the city, to the grave marked ‘Mother’ and made specific by the accident of a crawling caterpillar, to the form of a spiral, thence to a tattered palm and a bust of a male on a tomb"—exciting as it is in itself, emerges in isolation as arabesque.

Like the films of Deren, Anger, and Harrington, The Potted Psalm does not attemptfiction, but expresses a self-revelation. Like the other films, its methods are still quite new to the medium.

In spite of minor technical faults, occasional lack of structural incisiveness, and an overabundance of sexual symbols, this group of film makers has moved boldly away from the electicism of the prewar experimental film. Their films show little or no influence from the European avantgarde. They are attempting to create symbolic images—feeling images—and to thus increase the efficacy of film language itself. Strictly a fresh


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contribution, it may be christened with a phrase taken from Maya Deren (New Directions No. 9, 1946): "The great art expressions will come later, as they always have; and they will be dedicated, again, to the agony and experience rather than the incident." The "agony-and-experience film" sums up succinctly the work of this group.

Fundamentally, the films, although executed under diverse circumstances, reveal many qualities in common. First, properly, there is a real concern for the integrity of the film as a whole. Then, there is a unanimity of approach: an objective style to portray a subjective conflict. There is no story or plot in the conventional sense; no interest in locality as such—backgrounds are placeless although manifestly the action of the films takes place at a beach, in a house, a room, the countryside, or the streets. For the most part the action is in the immediate present, the now, with a great proportion of the total action taking place in the mind of the chief character. The films exploit dream analysis, not unlike the works of some of the more advanced younger writers.

In the main, the "agony-and-experience" films constitute personal statements concerned exclusively with the doings and feelings of the film makers themselves. In none of the films does the film maker assume an omniscient attitude. The camera is nearly always upon the film maker himself—Maya Deren, Kenneth Anger, Curtis Harrington—or upon his filmic representatives or symbols. Yet the central characters are not specific individuals, but abstract or generalized types. In becoming acquainted with the types the spectator apprehends areas of maladjustment.

The problem of adjustment is at the thematic core of all the films in this group. Sometimes it applies to sexual morality and the conflict of adolescent self-love and homosexuality; sometimes it applies to racial or other social tensions. In portraying psychological disturbances the film makers are striving for an extension of imaginative as well as objective reality that promises a rich, new, filmic development.

Another group of experimental film makers, since the war's end, are carrying on the nonobjective school of abstract film design. To this group the medium is not only an instrument, but an end in itself. They seek to employ abstract images, color, and rhythm, as experiences in themselves, apart from their power to express thoughts or ideas. They are exclusively concerned with so organizing shapes, forms, and colors in movement that out of their relationships comes an emotional experience. Their aim is to


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manipulate images not for meaning, but for plastic beauty. They have their roots in the Eggling-Richter-Ruttman European experiments of the early ‘twenties, the first attempts to create relationships between plastic forms in movement.

The most sophisticated and accomplished member of the nonobjective school is Oscar Fischinger, already referred to.[1] Formerly a disciple of Walter Ruttman, the outstanding pre-Hitler German experimenter, and a leader in the European avant-garde, Fischinger, in America for the past ten years, has been working steadily on the problems of design, movement, color, and sound. Believing that "the creative artist of the highest level always works at his best alone," his aim has been "to produce only for the highest ideals—not thinking in terms of money or sensations or to please the masses."

In addition to a color sequence for Disney based on Bach's Toccata and Fugue that was ultimately eliminated from the released version of Fantasia, Fischinger has made three other color pictures in this country: Allegretto, an abstraction based on jazz; Optical Poem, based on Liszt's Second Hungarian Rhapsody, for Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer; and An American March, based on Sousa's Stars and Stripes Forever.

Fischinger calls his pictures "absolute film studies." All represent the flood of feeling created through music in cinematic terms, by color and graphic design welded together in patterns of rhythmic movement. He manipulates the simplest kinds of shapes—the square, the circle, the triangle —along a curve of changing emotional patterns suggested by the music and based upon the laws of musical form. Thus he creates a unique structural form of his own in which can be sensed rocket flights, subtly molded curves, delicate gradations, as well as tight, pure, classical shapeliness. All are composed in complex movement with myriad minute variations and with superb technical control. One of the few original film makers, Fischinger represents the first rank of cinematic expression in the nonobjective school.

Like Fischinger, John and James Whitney are keenly interested in the problems of abstract color, movement, and sound. However, they feel that the image structure should dictate or inspire the sound structure, or both should be reached simultaneously and have a common creative origin.


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Therefore, instead of translating previously composed music into some visual equivalent, they have extended their work into the field of sound and of sound composition. A special technique has resulted after five years of constant experimentation.

Beginning with conventional methods of animation, the Whitney brothers evolved a process which permits unlimited control of images and a new kind of sound track. First, they compose a thematic design in a black-and-white sketch. Then, using an optical printer, pantograph, and color filters, they develop the sketch cinematically in movement and color. Multiple exposures, enlarging, reducing, and inverting enable them to achieve an in finite variety of compositions in time and space.

Their sound is entirely synthetic, a product of their own ingenuity. Twelve pendulums of various lengths are connected by means of steel wires to an optical wedge in a recording box. This wedge is caused to oscillate over a light slit by the movement of the swinging pendulums, which can be operated separately, together, or in selected combinations. The frequency of the pendulums can be "tuned" or adjusted to a full range of audio frequencies. Their motion, greatly reduced in size, is recorded on motion picture film as a pattern which, in the sound projector, generates tone. Both image and sound can easily be varied and controlled.

Thus far the Whitneys have produced five short films, which they call "exercises," conceived as "rehearsals for a species of audiovisual performances." All are nonrepresentational, made up of geometric shapes, flat and contrasting in color, poster-like in pattern, moving on the surface of the screen or in perspective by shifting, interlacing, interlocking and intersecting, fluent and alive in changing waves of color. The sound rises and falls, advancing and receding in beats and tones with the formally designed moving images.

Cold and formal in structure, the Whitneys' exercises are warm and diverting in effect. As distinctive experiments in an independent cinematic idiom they offer possibilities within the abstract film that have still to be explored. They suggest opportunities for more complex and plastic ensembles that can be endowed with power and richness.

A more intuitive approach to nonobjective expression is manifested in the fragmentary color films of Douglas Crockwell: Fantasmagoria, The Chase, and Glenn Falls Sequence. These pictures might be called "moving paintings." Shape, color, and action of changing abstract forms are deliberately


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improvised. Full of vagaries, they are worked into a situation and out of it by the feeling and imagination of the film maker at the moment of composition, motivated solely by the "play and hazard of raw material."

Crockwell's technique is an extension of the methods of animation. His first efforts, the Fantasmagoria series, were made with an overhead camera and the surface of a piece of glass upon which oil colors were spread in meaningless fashion. The colors were animated with stop motion. As the work progressed, colors were added, removed, and otherwise manipulated by razor blades, brushes or fingers, as whim dictated. In a later picture, The Chase, nondrying oils were mixed with the colors, other glass levels were added, and—which was most important—the painting surface was shifted to the underside of the glass. This last gave a finished appearance to the paint in all stages. In Glenn Falls Sequence, his most recent effort, air brush and pantograph were used, and motion was given to the various glass panels. Also, a new method of photography was introduced —shooting along the incident rays of the light source. This eliminated super fluous shadows in the lower glass levels.

The distinguishing trait of Crockwell's pictures is their spontaneity. Sensuous in color, fluid in composition, the abstractions occasionally move into action that is dramatic or humorous, the more so for its unexpectedness.

Markedly different in approach, technique, and style from the pictures of the other nonobjectivists is the film by Sara Arledge called Introspection. The original plan called for a dance film based on the theme of the "unfolding of a dance pattern in the conscious mind of the dancer." Technical difficulties and lack of funds made it necessary to present the work as a series of loosely connected technical and aesthetic experiments. In the words of Miss Arledge, "effective planning of a dance film has little in common with stage choreography ….The effective movements of a dancer in film are not necessarily those most satisfactory on the stage." No recognizable patterns of dance choreography are seen in this picture. There are none of the contiguities of shots indicated in the dance experiment by Maya Deren; nor are any of the various methods of animation used. Instead, disembodied parts of dancers are seen moving freely in black space. Dancers wear tights blacked out except for particular parts—the hand, arm, shoulder, torso, or the entire body—which are specially colored and form a moving and rhythmic three-dimensional design of


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House of Cards (1947), by Joseph Vogel


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Ritual in Trans figured Time (1946), by Maya Deren


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Introspection (1941), by Sara Arledge


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Dreams That Money Can Buy (1947), by Hans Richter


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The Cage (1947), by Sidney Peterson; production by Workshop Twenty, California School of Fine Arts


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Forest Murmurs (1941), by Slavko Vorkapich


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semi-abstract shapes. The problem created by the screen's reducing the dancer to a two-dimensional figure was overcome by ingenious use of wide-angle lens, a convex reflecting surface, special lighting effects, slow motion, and multiple exposures.

The result is a kind of abstraction, a completely new visual experience especially heightened when two or three colored forms are juxtaposed in multiple exposure. The use of color is striking and unlike color in any other experiment thus far. Although episodic and incomplete, Introspection is original in style. Its departure in technique suggests new directions in unconventional and abstract cinema.

These experiments in nonobjective films reveal the rich possibilities for the most part still unexplored in this field. Their development will come about through a constantly increasing command over more varied forms and plastic means. As structural design becomes more and more paramount, color more sensuous and complex, movement and sound more firmly knit into the continuity, simple decoration will give way to deeper aspects of film form.

A third group of experimentalists at work today aim at the exact opposite of the nonobjective school. They attempt to deal not with subjective experiments, but with objective reality. Unlike the documentary film makers, they seek to make personal observations and comments on people, nature, or the world around them. Concern for aesthetic values is uppermost. While the subjects in themselves may be slight, they are given importance by the form and dramatic intensity of expression and the perception of the film maker.

The most widely known of the group, because of his "montages," is Slavko Vorkapich. Ever since he collaborated on A Hollywood Extra

back in 1928, Vorkapich has been interested in film as an artistic medium of expression. In his fifteen years of working in Hollywood studios he has tried repeatedly, but without success, to get persons in the industry to finance experiments.

Independently he has made two shorts—pictorial interpretations of Wagner's Forest Murmurs and Mendelssohn's Fingal's Cave (in collaboration


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with John Hoffman). Forest Murmurs was bought by Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer, but was withheld as "too artistic for general release." Both films express a poet's love for nature and a film maker's regard for cinematic expression. Extraordinary camerawork captures a multitude of intimate impressions of the forest and sea. Animals, birds, trees, water, mist, sky—the essence and flavor of natural phenomena is captured in striking visual sequences the structural form of which blends rhythmically with that of the symphonic music. In the rich interplay of the two forms to increase emotion and intensity of sensation Vorkapich's talent for agile cinematic expression and his poetic vision are revealed.

Somewhat similar in its feeling for nature and form is Storm Warning, photographed and directed by Paul Burnford. This picture is a dramatization of weather and the forecasting of a storm that sweeps across the United States. Made as a two-reeler, it was purchased by Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer and distributed, after reëditing, as two separate one-reel pictures.

The intact version of Storm Warning testifies to a discerning eye for significant detail, high skill in photography, and an individual sense of cinematic construction. From the opening sequence, which shows the inadequacy of primitive man to cope with weather, the picture comes alive. It proceeds with beautiful and expressive shots of people at work, of wind, of rain, snow, clouds, rivers, ships, streets—the tenderness and the turbulence of weather in its effects on modern man. The whole is made highly dramatic through selective camera angles and camera movements cut for continuous flow and varied rhythms.

The highlight of the picture is the approaching storm and its climax. This begins with a feeling of apprehension. We see leaves, paper, windmills, and trees blowing in the wind, each shot moving progressively faster, all movement in the same direction, creating a feeling of mounting intensity. Then, just before the storm breaks, a forecaster pencils in the storm line on a weather map. There is a huge close-up of the forecaster's black pencil approaching the lens. The black pencil quickly dissolves into a black storm cloud moving at the same relative speed in the same direction, out of which flashes a streak of lightning.

The climax of the storm is reached when a girl on a city street is caught in a blizzard. Her hair is violently blown. She covers her head to protect herself from the wind. This movement is an upward one. And from this


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point onward no more persons appear, but only nature in all its violence. The succeeding shots are of the sea crashing against a stone wall in upward movements, progressively quicker, and as each wave breaks it fills more and more of the screen until the last wave obliterates everything from view. When the last wave crashes into the camera, the upward movements which the spectator has come to expect are now suddenly abandoned, and the final three shots of the sequence—a burst of lightning, trees violently blowing, and furiously swirling water—move respectively downward, horizontally, and circularly. The sudden contrast to the upward movement intensifies the excitement. Furthermore, each of the shots becomes progressively darker, so that when the storm reaches its highest pitch there is almost a natural fade-out.

Immediately following is a fade-in on the quiet aftermath. In extreme contrast to the violent movement and darkness of the preceding shots, the screen now shows an ice-covered telegraph pole, sparkling with the sunlight's reflected rays like a star. This is followed by white, scintillating shots of ice-covered trees that sway with a gentle motion in the breeze. The scenes take on added beauty by the juxtaposition of extreme contrasts.

Throughout, the music accentuates the emotion. At the climax of the storm the music and the natural sound effects rage against each other, clashing, fighting for power. But in the storm's aftermath, all natural sounds cease and the music becomes only background, so soft that it is scarcely heard, as delicate and crystal-like as the ice-covered trees. The picture is forceful and moving. The spectator seems actually to participate in what is taking place on the screen and is swept along on a rising tide of emotion. The extraordinary facility and command of expression that permeate Storm Warning make it a notable contribution to experimental cinema.

Another film maker experimenting in this field of observation and comment is Lewis Jacobs. Tree Trunk to Head was a study of Chaim Gross, the modern sculptor, at work in his studio carving a head out of the trunk of a tree. The personality of the sculptor, his mannerisms, his characteristic method of work, and his technique are intimately disclosed—a sort of candid-camera study. Dramatic form and cinematic structure give the presentation excitement, humor, and interest. The basic structural element of the film is movement. The shots and the action within the shots are all treated as modifications of movement


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and aspects of movement. The introduction, which deals with inanimate objects— finished works of Gross' sculpture—is given movement by a series of pans and tilts. These camera movements are repeated in various directions to create a pattern of motion. The sizes and shapes of the sculpture in these shots are likewise arranged and edited in patterns of increasing and diminishing progression, to create a sense of motion.

The climax of this sequence presents a series of statues with highly polished waxed surfaces. Unlike those which precede them, they are given no camera movement, but achieve movement through a progression of diminishing scale and tempo. The first statue fills the entire screen frame; the second, four-fifths; the third, three-quarters; and so on down the scale until the final statue—a figurine about the size of a hand—stands at the very bottom of the screen. These shots are all cut progressively shorter, so that the effect is a speeding downward movement to the bottom of the screen. Suddenly the final shot of the sequence looms up, covering the entire screen frame. In contrast to the glistening statues we have just seen, this is a massive, dull tree trunk slowly revolving to reveal a bark of rough, corrugated texture and implying in effect that all those shiny smooth works of art originated from this crude, dead piece of wood.

From the tree trunk the camera pans slowly to the right to include the sculptor at work behind it on a preliminary drawing for a portrait. Posing for him is his model. This begins the body of the film, which, in contrast to the introduction, is made up of static shots treated as part of a design in movement by leaving the action within each shot uncompleted. Each shot is cut on a point of action and continued in the next shot. No shot is held beyond its single point in an effort to instill a lively internal tempo.

A subsidiary design of movement is made up from combinations of sizes and shapes of the subject matter. It is achieved through repetition, progression, or contrast of close-ups, medium shots, and long shots of the sculptor at work. A third design is based upon the direction of the action within the shots in terms of patterns of down, up, to the left or to the right. Sometimes these are contrasted or repeated, depending on the nature of the sculptor's activity. By strict regard for tempo in these intermediary designs the over-all structure maintains a fluid, rhythmic integration.

Sunday Beach, another film by Lewis Jacobs, tells the story of how people spend their Sunday on the beach—any public beach. The camera


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observes families, adolescents, children, and the lonely ones arriving in battered cars, in buses, and on foot, setting up their little islands of umbrellas and blankets, undressing and removing their outer garments, relaxing, bathing, reading, eating, gambling, playing, lovemaking, sleeping, quarreling, and returning home, to leave the beach empty again at the end of the day.

The picture was photographed without the subjects' being aware of the camera. By the use of long-focus lenses—four, six, and twelve inches—and other subterfuges of candid-camera photography it was possible to capture the fleeting honesty of unobserved activity. The effect of the unposed and realistic detail is revealing and often moving.

Since the subject matter could at no point be staged or controlled— had to be stolen, so to speak—a formal design as originally planned could not be executed without eliminating many happy accidents of natural behavior. The preliminary plan had to be adjusted to allow the material itself to dictate the structure. The aim then was so to cut the picture that the underlying structural design would be integrated with the spontaneity of the subject and the intervention of the film maker would not be apparent.

Like the nonobjective film makers, this group of what might be called "realists" are essentially formalists. But, unlike the former, they are striving for a convincing reality in which the means are not the end, but the process by which human values are projected. What is essential in that process is that it should have individuality and should express the film maker's perception of the world in which he lives.

Thomas Bouchard is a film maker who follows none of the tendencies yet defined. He has been working independently, with all the difficulties of restricted space and income, since about 1938. His first experiments in film (influenced by his work in still photography) dealt with the contemporary dance. His purpose was not to film the narration of the dance, but to catch those movements at which the dancer has lost awareness of routine and measure and the camera is able to seize the essential details of expression, movement, and gesture.

The subjects of Bouchard's four dance films are: The Shakers, based on the primitive American theme of religious ecstasy, by Doris Humphrey and Charles Weidman and their group; the Flamenco dancers, Rosario and Antonio; the "queen of gypsy dancers," Carmen Amaya; and Hanya Holm's Golden Fleece.


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A versatile and sensitive photographer, Bouchard shows a feeling for picturesque composition, expressive movement, and a preference for deep, acid colors. His films show none of the sense for "chorecinema" expressed in Maya Deren's A Study in Choreography for the Dancer, nor the awareness of abstract distortion for the sake of design apparent in Sara Arledge's Introspection, but indicate rather a natural sensitiveness and a productive camera. Essentially, his pictures are reproductions of dance choreography, not filmic re-creations. His search is not for an individual filmic conception, but for a rendering of fleeting movement.

More recently, Bouchard has turned to painters and painting for subjects of his films. The New Realism of Fernand Léger and Jean Helion—One Artist at Work are his latest efforts. The Léger film has a commentary by the artist himself and music by Edgar Varese. The intention of this film is to give an account of the new painting that Léger did while in America and to show its place in the development of modern art. It is experimental in its personal approach. Léger is shown leisurely gathering materials and ideas for his canvases as he wanders in the streets of New York and the countryside of New Hampshire. Then he is shown at work, revealing his method of abstraction as he draws and paints his impressions of the motifs he has found.

The Helion film follows a similar approach, with the painter as his own narrator and a score by Stanley Bates. Like the Léger film, it is relaxed and intimate, done in the style of the photo story.

In these, as in the dance films, the medium serves mainly as a recording instrument. Bouchard's camera has a distinctive rhetoric, but it is the rhetoric of still photography.

Looming up significantly, and now in the final stages of editing or scoring, are pictures by Hans Richter,[3] Joseph Vogel, and Chester Kessler. These films might be classified as examples of a combined subjective-objective style. They deal with facets of both the outer and the inner life and rely upon the contents of the inward stream of consciousness—a source more and more used for the material of experimental film makers.

Themost ambitious production is the feature-length color film,Dreams That Money Can Buy, directed by Hans Richter, the famous European avant-garde film pioneer. In production for almost two years, the picture will be a "documentation of what modern artists feel." In addition to


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Richter, five artists—Max Ernst, Fernand Léger, Marcel Duchamp, Man Ray, and Alexander Calder—contributed five "scenarios" for five separate sequences. Richter supplied the framework which ties all the material together.

The picture tells the story of seven persons who come to a heavenly psychiatrist to escape the terrible struggle for survival. The psychiatrist looks into their eyes and sees the images of their dreams, then sends them back in "satisfying doubt" of whether the inner world is not just as real as the outer one, and more satisfying.

Each of the visions in the inner eye is a color sequence directed after suggestions, drawings, and objects of the five artists. Man Ray contributed an original script. Léger contributed a version of American folklore: the love story of two window manikins; it is accompanied by the lyrics of John Latouche. A drawing by Max Ernst inspired the story of the "passion and desire of a young man listening to the dreams of a young girl." Paul Bowles wrote the music, and Ernst supplied a stream-of-consciousness monologue. Marcel Duchamp contributed his color records and a "life animation" of his famous painting, Nude Descending a Staircase. John Cage did the music. Man Ray's story is a satire on movies and movie audiences, in which the audience imitates the action on the screen. Darius Milhaud wrote the score. Alexander Calder's mobiles are treated as a "ballet in the universe." Music by Edgar Varese accompanies it. Richter's own sequence, the last in the film, tells a Narcissus story of a man who meets his alter ego, discovers that his real face is blue, and becomes an outcast from society.

The total budget for Dreams That Money Can Buy was less than fifteen thousand dollars, less than the cost of a Hollywood-produced black-and-white one-reel "short." Artist and movie maker, Richter feels that the lack of great sums of money is a challenge to the ingenuity of the film maker. "If you have no money," he says, "you have time—and there is nothing you cannot do with time and effort."

A second picture in the offing is House of Cards by Joseph Vogel, a modern painter. This film attempts to delineate the thin thread of reality that maintains the precarious balance of sanity in a modern, highpressure world. Vogel has called it "a reflection in the tarnished mirror held up by our daily press."

"I realized," Vogel said, "that the very nature of the story called for a departure from conventional approach. I felt that the picture must assume


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a style of its own, determined by its imagery, its stylized action and acting, and a kind of stream-of-consciousness autopsy performed on the brain of its principal character."

So deliberately free an approach afforded Vogel the opportunity of creating pictorial elements out of his experience as a painter and graphic artist. His own lithographs serve as settings for a number of backgrounds. Aided by John and James Whitney, the nonobjective film makers, he devised a masking technique in conjunction with the optical printer to integrate lithographs with live action into an architectural whole.

A third picture nearing completion is Chester Kessler's Plague Summer, an animated cartoon film adapted from Kenneth Patchen's novel,The Journal of Albion Moonlight. It is a record of a journey of six allegorical characters through landscapes brutalized by war and "the chronicle of an inner voyage through the mental climate of a sensitive artist in the war-torn summer of 1940."

The drawings for this film made by Kessler share nothing in common with the typical bam-wham cartoons. They are original illustrations drawn with extraordinary imagination. Sensitive to screen shape, space, tone, and design, Kessler makes the commonplace fantastic by juxtaposing its elements and relating them to unlikely locales, achieving a subjective transformation of its appearances.

In addition to these almost completed films there are others in various stages of productions. Except for Horror Dream by Sidney Peterson, with an original score by John Cage, they are nonobjective experiments: Absolute Films 2, 3, 4 by Harry Smith, Transmutation by Jordan Belson, Meta by Robert Howard, and Suite 12 by Harold McCormick and Albert Hoflich.

Perhaps the most encouraging signs that the experimental film has gained a new enhanced status are the financial aids granted to film makers by two major foundations in the fields of art and science. In 1946 the John Simon Guggenheim Memorial Foundation awarded a grant (approximately $2,500) for further experimental film work to Maya Deren. The same year, the Whitney brothers received a grant from the Solomon Guggenheim Foundation. In 1947, the Whitneys received a second grant from the John Simon Guggenheim Memorial Foundation.

By its contributions and accomplishments the experimental film has had and will continue to have an effect on motion picture progress and on the appreciation of motion pictures as a medium of expression. Many


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of those who have begun as experimental film makers have gone on to make their contribution in other fields of film work. The horizon of Hollywood film makers has been broadened and they have often incorporated ideas gleaned from experimental efforts. But even more than this, some experimental films must be considered as works of art in their own right. Despite shortcomings and crudities, they have assumed more and not less importance with the passage of time. All over the country, in colleges, universities, and museums, experimental films, old and new, are being revived and exhibited over and over again. Such exhibitions create new audiences, stimulate criticism, and inspire productions.

Today, a new spirit of independence, originality, and experiment in film making has begun to assert itself. The old European avant-garde influence and technique can still be seen, but many have begun to reach out for more indigenous forms and styles. The films are compelling in terms of their own standards and aims and each beats the drum for the experimenter's right to self-expression. The future for experimental films ismore promising than ever before.


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