Annette Michelson

  • On the Eve of the Future

    MIT PRESS has just published On the Eve of the Future, a collection of essays on film written by scholar Annette Michelson over the course of three decades. Art historian Rachel Churner, the editor of the volume, spoke with Michelson to reflect on the development of this body of writing, from Michelson’s early encounters with avant-garde cinema in Paris in the 1950s and ’60s to her pioneering work establishing film as a subject of criticism and scholarship in America, first at Artforum and then as a founding editor of October.

    RACHEL CHURNER: On the Eve of the Future is a collection of essays

  • PROSE AND CONS: PAULINE KAEL

    Pauline Kael, the New Yorker’s film critic from 1968 until 1991 (save for a brief hiatus in 1978, when she took a short-lived job at a Hollywood studio), died on September 3, 2001. With all of the predictable eulogizing behind us, we asked five critics—Gary Indiana, Annette Michelson, Geoffrey O’Brien, Paul Schrader, and Craig Seligman—to step back and take the long view on Kael’s celebrated if contentious career. Contributing editor Greil Marcus leads off by introducing Kael’s first published essay—inexplicably excluded from her eleven collections of reviews—which we reprint here in its

  • A Conversation on Knokke and the Independent Filmmaker

    THE FESTIVAL AND INTERNATIONAL EXPERIMENTAL Film Competition held in Belgium became, at its initiation, in 1949, the most important international event in the world of the avant-garde cinema. We are speaking of a time when there were virtually no public screenings of independently made films in Europe, and no opportunity for filmmakers—those relatively few, isolated filmmakers who were working outside the established forms of production and distribution—to see each other’s work. The festival’s role was consequently multiple, enormous. It now seems interesting to consider the manner in which the

  • Beaubourg: The Museum in the Era of Late Capitalism

    A minor, living art is far more

    virulent than major, dead art.

    —André Malraux

    IT IS JUST 20 YEARS since there began in Paris the large and polyphonic debate now risen to crescendo around a vast construction site that dominates that section of the 4th arrondissement known as the Beaubourg plateau. Walking east these days through the street that gives its name to the neighborhood, one sees to north and south the proliferation of thoroughfares dense with shops, cafes and the vestiges of prerevolutionary architectural grandeur. Continuing past the Boulevard de Sébastopol, the main and lively artery

  • Contemporary Art and the Plight of the Public: a View from the New York Hilton

    Hilton Kramer, The Age of the Avant-Garde, An Art Chronicle of 1956–1972 (New York: Farrar, Straus And Giroux, 1973), 565 Pages.

    A DECADE AND A LITTLE more have passed since Leo Steinberg composed, for an audience at The Museum of Modern Art, the popular lecture which characterized the situation of the public for contemporary art as a “plight.”1 Postulating an immediately functional idea of a public as grounded in the most generally shared experience of attentive beholders, Steinberg restored the artist and the critic to their places within that very large community. Their “plight” he then

  • Yvonne Rainer, Part Two: “Lives of Performers”

    THE IMMEDIATE CONSEQUENCE OF Yvonne Rainer’s Indian voyage was Grand Union Dreams, performed in the very large and featureless gymnasium space of the Emmanuel Midtown YMHA in May, 1971. It seemed then and seems still her most problematic work, but it will interest us particularly as the generative source of future efforts and as a point of departure for that particular work which now mainly concerns us: Lives of Performers.

    In Grand Union Dreams, Rainer begins the use of something like fictional “characters,” and it is that use which will eventually solicit a space and structure of narrative.

  • Yvonne Rainer, Part One: The Dancer and the Dance

    THERE ARE, IN THE CONTEMPORARY renewal of performance modes, two basic and diverging impulses which shape and animate its major innovations. The first, grounded in the idealist extensions of a Christian past, is mythopoeic in its aspiration, eclectic in its forms, and constantly traversed by the dominant and polymorphic style which constitutes the most tenacious vestige of that past: expressionism. Its celebrants are: for theater, Artaud, Grotowski, for film Murnau and Brakhage, and for the dance, Wigman, Graham. The second, consistently secular in its commitment to objectification, proceeds

  • “Anemic Cinema,” Reflections on an Emblematic Work

    A little reflection was bound to show that it would be impossible to restrict to the provinces of dreams and nervous disorders a view such as this of the life of the human mind. If that view has hit upon a truth, it must apply equally to normal mental events, and even the highest achievements of the human spirit must bear a demonstrable relation to the factors found in pathology—to repression, to the efforts at mastering the unconscious and to the possibilities of satisfying the primitive instincts. There was thus an irresistible temptation and, indeed, a scientific duty, to apply the research

  • Rose Hobart and Monsieur Phot: Early Films from Utopia Parkway

    For Jonas Mekas

    TWO CHRISTMAS DAYS AGO I answered my ringing telephone and received the most generous of season’s greetings from a stranger. “My name is Joseph Cornell, and although we have never met, I believe we know of each other,” he said with an exact and deeply flattering tact. “I also know something of your interest in the films of Louis Feuillade, and I should like to offer you a Christmas gift. I have placed a short film of his on deposit in the Anthology Film Archives. It is yours to see and to do with as you please. It is called When Autumn Leaves Fall. I am not sure it is complete,

  • Screen/Surface: The Politics of Illusionism

    I. SCREEN

    IN 1952 ANDRÉ BAZIN undertook to chart the course of film’s “New Avant-Garde,” beginning with an endorsement of narrative conventions in cinema that was to produce the orthodoxy of the ’60s and its attendant strategy, la politique des auteurs.

    We may use the abandoned concept of the avant-garde if we restore its literal meaning, and, thereby, its relativity. For us avant-garde films are those in the forefront of the cinema. By the cinema we mean of course the product of a particular industry whose fundamental and indisputable law is the winning, by one means or another, of public

  • “The Man with the Movie Camera”: From Magician to Epistemologist

    I add, as well, that it is not circular reasoning to prove a cause by several known effects and then, conversely, to prove several other effects by this cause. And I have included both of those two meanings . . . in the following words: As the latter reasons are demonstrated by the first which are their cause, so these first reasons are conversely demonstrated by the latter which are their effects. Wherefore I should not thus be accused of having spoken ambiguously since I have explained myself in saying that Experience rendering the greater part of these effects very certain, the causes from

  • Toward Snow

    The working of his thought is thus concerned with that slow transformation of the notion of space which, beginning as a vacuum chamber, as an isotropic volume, gradually became a system inseparable from the matter it contains and from time.

    —Paul Valery, Introduction To The Method Of Leonardo Da Vinci

    My eye, tuning towards the imaginary, will go to any wavelengths for its sights.

    —Stan Brakhage, Metaphors On Vision

    THERE IS A METAPHOR recurrent in contemporary discourse on the nature of consciousness: that of cinema. And there are cinematic works which present themselves as analogues of consciousness

  • Camera Lucida/Camera Obscura

    For Jay Leyda

    WE CELEBRATE, AS THIS YEAR BEGINS, the birthdays of two master film makers: Eisenstein, were he living at this hour, would be 75 years of age and Stan Brakhage this month turns 40. Convergences and parallels of aspiration and achievement suggest themselves in such force and number as to strain the limits and categories, national and formal, which critical and historical discourse on cinema most generally employ. As one begins to think about the work of these two men, their kinds and intensities of energy, the trajectories which they describe through the culture of our time and, more

  • Three Notes on an Exhibition as a Work

    I

    IT IS THE PARTICULAR DISTINCTION of Robert Morris to have proposed, through a series of exploratory enterprises, the terms of a sharpened definition of the nature of the sculptural experience. Cognitive, then, in their fullest effect, these enterprises demand time for comprehension. More than this, however, they elicit the acknowledgement of temporality as the condition or medium of cognition, as of esthetic experience. Time, then, has been inscribed variously, from the first and with increasing emphasis in Morris’s work, and I wish to suggest from the outset something that I have elsewhere

  • Bodies in Space: Film as “Carnal Knowledge”

    I

    All mastery casts a chill.

    —Mallarmé
    The indefinable, knowing

    fear which is the clearest

    intimation of the metaphysical.

    —Borgès

    IN THE WINTER OF 1905 the first continuously operated movie theatre opened in Los Angeles. There is an obvious sense in which the history of film is circumscribed by the feature of that theatre’s initial program, George Meliès’ Trip to the Moon, and Stanley Kubrick’s 2001: A Space Odyssey. There is another sense in which its evolution hypostatizes the accelerating dynamics of History. Walking the three blocks between the Museum of Modern Art’s screening room

  • 10 x 10: “concrete reasonableness.”

    IN 1948 HENRI MICHAUX PUBLISHED Ailleurs, a classic of imaginary anthropology which recalls, in some ways, Montesquieu’s Lettres Persanes (rewritten in a post-Surrealist climate) and anticipates, in others, Levi-Strauss’s Tristes Tropiques (redone after Lewis Carroll). In the chapter which relates a journey through The Land of Magic, Michaux speaks of an “exquisitely cold light, invented by the Magi and displeasing to outsiders. It has none of the brimming excess and brutality of a sun which simultaneously radiates heat and cold––not to speak of infra-red and ultra-violet rays . . . In their

  • Agnes Martin: Recent Paintings

    ONE CURRENT PREOCCUPATION OF CRITICISM is the accurate definition of the complex relationships obtaining between the efforts of younger painters and sculptors on the one hand and, what would, on the other, seem to be their Constructivist and neo-Piasticist precedents. A literature of critical distinction is developing with a rapidity which both symptomatizes and heightens the urgency of the problem, exacerbating, in its articulation of a formalist esthetics, the very historical consciousness in which that esthetics is grounded. There is a very particular sense in which the compositional dynamics

  • Breton’s Esthetics

    Of André Breton, seventy this year, one can say nothing so accurate or definitive as the formulation, in Mad Love, of his deepest aspiration:

    “There is, I feel, no more important lesson in esthetics than that which crystals have to give us. A work of art—or, for that matter, a fragment of human life considered in its deepest implications—has value for me only if it possesses the hardness, rigidity and angularity of crystal, its polish on every facet, inside and out. I wish this statement to be understood as a diametrical, steadfast and categorical opposition to any attempt at a definition of

  • What is Cinema?

    André Bazin, What is Cinema?, ed. Hugh Gray, (Berkeley: University of California Press) 1967.

    There things are . . . Why manipulate them?

    —Roberto Rossellini

    Cinema is a manipulation of reality through image and sound.

    —Alain Resnais

    OF ALL THE BOOKS on film which have been issued these past two years, in desperate anarchy from the major publishing houses, the selection of essays assembled by Mr. Hugh Gray from the critical writings of André Bazin is, as might have been expected, incomparably the best. It is, in fact, the only book with any claim at all to intellectual distinction, as it alone

  • Sylvia Stone

    Sylvia Stone’s current exhibition, her best so far, synthesizes her flat, large-scaled geometric mural pieces with the much more intensely illusionistic aspect of a preceding period. In the latter, she had contrived, through strong hue contrast, to give an illusion of a continuous, ribbon like surface pleated or folded back upon itself. Her present work, of tinted Plexiglas and acrylic paint, has been taken down from the wall to stand on the floor, like screens. The intensifications and modifications of the illusionist project involve strategies of the following kind.

    One large, stable rectangular