|1998 Bolex Poetics|
The Bolex Poetics joined the CBA in 1996. Last season the team underwent a radical re-organization that made it a direct descendant of the old cosmic team, the Visionville Beasts. The Beasts, created in 1985, consisted of film-makers derived from the American avant-garde film movement. The original Poetics were examples of the films these film poets made. Last season the re-constituted Poetics had an even .500 record in the cosmic Middleleague. This season, with virtually the same roster, the hope is for some substantial improvement.
The queston is: can non-narrative, experimental filmmakers work together enough as a cohesive team unit to play baseball, a distinctly non-cinematic sport?
With the exception of Eisenstein, all of the film-makers on this year's team produced work that is representative of the cinematic avant-garde that flourished in America between the 1940s and the 1970s.
In 1928 the avant-garde film theorist Germaine Dulac wrote that "the future belongs to the film that cannot be told". Echoing her insight, nearly fifty years later, the pre-eminent scholar of American avant-garde film practice, P.Adams Sitney, observed, that the avant-garde in film was independent "from the domination of chronology in narrative films." The rejection of cinema-drama and the narrative form is at least one defining characteristic of the American film avant-garde which has been called the New American Cinema. Of course, from the vantage point of the late 1990s this cinema is hardly "new".
Throughout its history, avant-garde film theory and practice remained steadfast in its rejection of the constraints imposed by the economic forces guiding the so-called commercial or "Hollywood" film-making enterprise. This is another defining characteristic of New American Cinema.
The non-narrative, non-commercial cinema, variously called "personal", "underground", "avant-garde" , "alternative" and "experimental" flourished in the 1960s as another manifestation of the cultural upheaval of the American and global culture. However, as the astute film-maker and teacher Paul Arthur has noted, in the later 1960s "independent film-makers remained even more distanced in their work from pressing social and political controversy." Like the Beat movement, during the Eisenhower complacency a decade earlier, the perceived apolitical orientation of the avant-garde film-makers was reflective of the disgust many of the film-makers must have had for the emergent Nixonian culture. Avant-garde film has always been very introspective
What is the status of the avant-garde film today? Many of the artists continue to work, though many have also been assimilated into the grooves of academe. Academic institutions historically, have not been the best locales for artistic innovation. Avant-garde film continues flickering, a bit more faintly perhaps, but flickering nevertheless.
SecondbaseAnger's myths address mass-erotic-consciousness through a barrage of notorious symbols. These often war with one another in Reichian power-trips of rape, will-power, fascism, and revolution. "I find ridiculous the idea of anyone being the leader," Anger has said.
[Carel Rowe. Film Quarterly. Summer, 1974]
CatcherThe characteristic strategy of Baillie is to find an image of exaltation or liberation-- in the movement of a train, a flying spaceman, a motorcyclist, or a particularly sympathetic and usually aged face-- which is first valorized and emphasized by carefully selected music or an intricate mixture of natural and musical sounds. Yet the more sinister implications of these metaphoric vehicles are seldom far removed.
[P. Adams Sitney from the "Introduction" to The Avant-Garde Film: A Reader of Theory and Criticism]
PitcherImagine an eye unruled by man-made laws of perspective, an eye unprejudiced by compositional logic, an eye which does not respond to the name of everything but which must know each object encountered in life through an adventure of perception.
[Stan Brakhage from the beginning of Metaphors on Vision]
PitcherA painter and sculptor, Breer saw film as an extension of ideas he was pursuing in painting. He has animated lines, shapes, human and animal figures, and objects and has used collage and rotoscope techniques. Of all his work he says, "I'm interested in the domain between motion and still pictures."
[Marilyn Singer in the "Introduction" to A History of the American Avant-Garde Cinema]
FirstbaseFrom the beginning I accepted the camera's sharply accurate eye as a value rather than a limitation. The camera's challenge to the poet is that his images must be as definite as possible: the magic of his persons, landscapes, and actions occurring in an apparent reality. At this point something approaching choreography must enter in: the finding of meaningful gesture and movement. And from the beginning I decided to make things happen head on, happen within the frame, without vagueness, without camera trickery-- so that it would be how the scenes were made to happen in front of the lens, and then how they were organized in the montage, that would evoke the world I wanted to explore.
[James Broughton, 1948.]
PitcherConner's first effort in the medium A Movie, was originally exhibited in a show of his collage sculptures which juxtaposed diverse objects with ambiguous emotional charges to produce humorous effects. A Movie widens the implications of these procedures. The twelve minute film aspires to be more than a mere example, a film like any other; it elaborates an exemplary myth in a paradigmatic form. A Movie filters the abstracted energy of a Keystone cops short through forty years of cinema history to synthesize from the magnificent heterogeneity of the chasers and the chased, the bizarre and the traumatic, a persuasive comic vision of American catastrophe.
[Stuart Liebman in A History of the American Avant-Garde Cinema]
InfieldThere is no objective of art or media clearer than the making of money, within the economic reality of our capitalist-socialist world. However, the intellectual community resists this reality to some slight degree thru a vestigial awareness of other valuational schemata. In principle, it is Pure Reason that could be called upon as a ground, as a reality for the cultural institutions which support our communication and inventiveness.
[Tony Conrad, 1977]
PitcherIf cinema is to take its place beside the others as a full-fledged art form, it must cease merely to record realities that owe nothing of their actual existence to the film instrument. Instead, it must create a total experience so much out of the very nature of the instrument as to be inseparable from its means. It must relinquish the narrative disciplines it has borrowed from literature and its timid imitation of the causal logic of narrative plots, a form which flowered as a celebration of the earth-bound, step-by-step concept of time, space and relationship which was part of the primitive materialism of the nineteenth century.
[Maya Deren, 1960]
PitcherIn our opinion the work of art (at least in the two spheres of it in which I work- theater and film) is above all a tractor reploughing the spectator's psyche in given class conditions.
[Sergei Eisenstein in Kino-zhurnal ARK No.4-5, 1925]
ShortstopMost films teach film to be an image, a representing. But film is a real thing and as a real thing it is not imitation. It does not reflect on life, it embodies the life of the mind. It is not a vehicle for ideas or portrayals of emotion outside of its own existence as emoted idea. Film is a variable intensity of light, an internal balance of time, a movement within a given space.
[Ernie Gehr from "Program Notes for a Film Screening at the Museum of Modern Art", January 1971. Revised December 1977]
LeftfieldBlonde Cobra, undoubtedly, is the masterpiece of the Baudelairean cinema, and is a work hardly surpassable in perversity, in richness, in beauty, in sadness, in tragedy. I think it is one of the great works of personal cinema, so personal that it is ridiculous to talk about "author's" cinema.
[Jonas Mekas in his "Movie Journal" column, The Village Voice, 1963]
OutfieldJordan constructs a consistent spatio-temporal context in which backgrounds, objects, and human figures float in an out, interact with each other, undergo transformations, and disappear...[his images] contain, as well, vague threads of narrative continuity and half-understood associative connections. While in no way put together by a psychoanalytic formula, the flow of images suggest explorations of a subconscious state subject to interpretative analysis.
[Paul Arthur in A History of the American Avant-Garde Cinema]
PitcherCinema is not movement. This is the first thing. Cinema is not movement. Cinema is a projection of stills-- which means images which do not move-- in a very quick rhythm. And you can give the illusion of movement, of course, but this is a special case, and the film was invented originally for this special case. But, as often happens, people invent something, and, then, they create quite a different thing. They have created something else. Cinema is not movement. It can give the illusion of movement. Cinema is the quick projection of light impulses. These light impulses can be shaped when you put the film before the lamp-- on the screen you can shape it. I am talking now about silent film. you have the possibility to give light a dimension in time. This is the first time since mankind exists that you can really do that.
[Peter Kubelka in an interview with Jonas Mekas in 1966]
InfieldThe biggest question that keeps coming back, haunting you, wherever you go, in various forms is "Why did you make that film?" And that's impossible to answer. You might as well be asked why you even make films, why you are an artist. And there are so many factors that go into determining that: heredity, early childhood experiences, prenatal experiences..."
[George Landow in an interview with P.G. Springer. Quoted in P.Adams Sitney's essay "Autobiography in Avant-Garde Film", Millennium Film Journal, Winter 1977-1978]
OutfieldIs it not interesting to theorise that the frames lost between the frames captured are the winged conscience of total reality?
[Gregory Markopoulos in the December 1972 issue of Cantrills Filmnotes]
InfieldI wanted to have the world premiere of a film. I had read that the titular head of the underground film world, Jonas Mekas and his brother Adolfas had made an experimental movie called Guns of the Trees, which no one would exhibit. I decided to invite them up to Worcester [Mass.] A week later, six denizens from New York's Greenwich Village showed up at the theater. Most of them wore old army clothes with high riding boots and six-foot woolly scarves. Adolfas sported a bushy black beard and a floor-length navy overcoat and huge boots. He looked like a jolly singer of country ballads but had a manner more like that of Eric von Stroheim in Sunset Boulevard.
[Abbie Hoffman, Soon to Be a Major Motion Picture]
PitcherWhen you shoot with a Bolex, you hold it somewhere, not exactly where your brain is, a little bit lower, and not exactly where your heart is,-- it's slightly higher....And then, you wind the spring up, you give it an artificial life....You live continuously, within the situation, in one time continuum, but you shoot only in spurts, as much as the spring allows....You interrupt your filmed reality constantly....You resume it again....
[Jonas Mekas, 1972]
InfieldOne remarkable aspect of [Noren's diary film] Kodak Ghost Poems is its sexual explicitness...Yet in this film even the sexuality becomes a metaphor for the film-maker's relationship to his genre; for when we watch fellatio or intercourse from the point of view of the cameraman in the sexual act, we are again made aware of the impossibility of the representation through the limitation to the visual and the exclusion of the tactile...The relationship of the self to another, especially dramatized in sexual encounters, is the theme of Noren's diary. But the metaphors for it are sewn into the fabric of the film as if they were simple accidents.
[P.Adams Sitney, "Autobiography in Avant-Garde Film". Millennium Film Journal, Winter 1977-1978]
PitcherRon Rice's The Flower Thief (1960) is the purest expression of the Beat sensibility in cinema. It portrays the absurd, anarchistic, often infantile adventures of an innocent hero (played by Taylor Mead) while indirectly providing a portrait of San Francisco at the beginning of the sixties.
[P.Adams Sitney, Visionary Film]
InfieldTo begin getting a clear perspective on these complex questions, it would be valuable to regard cinema as an informational system, rather than starting with a priori metaphysical theories or with a fully developed aesthetic or with the kind of exclamatory presumptions that Vertov's "Kino Eye" concept typifies (the drawing of morphological analogies between the human body and the nonhuman instruments)...My hypothesis does not exclude the formation of higher abstraction classification; I only suggest that there is nothing to be gained by starting with highly abstract and highly questionable presuppositions. Lumiere was so emphatic in his belief in "the shot" that he constructed both the internal structure and external boundaries of his films with one and the same shot.
[Paul Sharits, 1970]
PitcherHarry Smith, unlike the other [avant-garde] filmmakers of the 1940s, was not involved with poetry or psychodrama or the filming of simple, everyday things. He is an animator and his earliest works involve formal composition and illusory depth through color and shape and an interest in the textural surface of the film material.
[Marilyn Singer in the "Introduction" to A History of the American Avant-Garde Cinema]
ThirdbaseOf all the major film-makers of the mythopoeic stage of the American avant-garde film, Jack Smith was perhaps the most gifted with imaginative powers.
[P.Adams Sitney, Visionary Film]
PitcherIn [Snow's 45-minute film Wavelength], the camera, in the movement of the zoom, installs within the viewer a threshold of tension, of expectation...We are proceeding from uncertainty to certainty, as our camera narrows its field, arousing and then resolving our tension of puzzlement as to its ultimate destination, describing, in the splendid purity of its one, slow movement, the notion of the 'horizon' characteristic of every subjective process and fundamental as a trait of intentionality.
[Annette Michelson, "Toward Snow" in Artforum, June 1971]
The Pleasure Dome
- A History of the American Avant-Garde Cinema. American Federation of the Arts, New York: 1976
- Visionary Film (2nd Edition). P.Adams Sitney. Oxford University Press, Oxford: 1978
- The Avant Garde Film- A Reader of Theory and Criticism. Edited by P.Adams Sitney. New York Univeristy Press, New York: 1978
1998 Bolex Poetics
Published: January 19, 1998
Updated: June 26, 1998
Copyright © 1998 by the Cosmic Baseball Association