P. Adams Sitney

  • Temenos 2016

    THE FOURTH QUADRENNIAL INSTALLMENT of Gregory J. Markopoulos’s posthumous cinematic masterpiece, the eighty-hour-long Eniaios (1947–91), was projected on the first three evenings in July at the Temenos, an open-air cinema in a field outside the Arcadian village of Lyssaraia selected by the filmmaker in the 1980s. One night each was devoted to orders IX, X, and XI of the work’s ultimate twenty-two sections. Over the past twelve years, half of the film has been shown, roughly three orders at a time. Yet perhaps fewer than twenty of the more than two hundred pilgrims who came to Temenos this year

  • A CINEMA OF RESISTANCE: THE FILMS OF JEAN-MARIE STRAUB AND DANIÈLE HUILLET

    MORE THAN FIFTY YEARS since Jean-Marie Straub and Danièle Huillet made their first work together, and a decade after Huillet’s death, the husband-and-wife filmmaking duo known, in short, as Straub-Huillet are having something of a belated moment: Miguel Abreu Gallery’s Sequence Press is publishing a volume of their collected writings, translated and edited by Sally Shafto; the Austrian Film Museum in Vienna has just published a monograph on their work, edited by Ted Fendt; and the Museum of Modern Art in New York is mounting the first complete retrospective of their films (May 6–June 6), organized by Joshua Siegel. In the pages that follow, film scholar P. Adams Sitney provides an overview of “the Straubs’” complex and uncompromising oeuvre, while critic James Quandt takes the measure of the filmmakers’ 1999 masterpiece, Sicilia!

    THE FILMS of Jean-Marie Straub (1933–) and Danièle Huillet (1936–2006) are works of exquisite beauty, startling originality, and exceptional rigor, and they constitute a testing ground for any possible theory on literature’s essential relationship to cinema. No other filmmakers have attempted to bring to the screen such a distinguished array of texts—Kafka, Pavese, Hölderlin, Brecht, Vittorini, Dante, Corneille, Schönberg, Sophocles, Mallarmé, Montaigne, Cézanne—and none have demonstrated such independence from the traditions of adaptation.

    Straub-Huillet’s persistent and uncompromising

  • Temenos 2012

    FOR THE THIRD TIME IN EIGHT YEARS, an international audience of filmmakers and enthusiasts made a pilgrimage to a field outside the remote village of Lyssaraia, in the mountains of Greek Arcadia, to witness the exfoliation of Gregory J. Markopoulos’s Eniaios (1947–91). The monumental film is shown in segments of approximately ten hours over three nights every four years in the Temenos—literally, a “sacred precinct”—where, before his death in 1992, Markopoulos designated that the film should be shown. The audience that congregated this year, between June 28 and July 1, was the largest

  • Jerome Hiler’s Words of Mercury

    Light, seeking light, doth light of light beguile

    . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .

    Varying in subjects as the eye doth roll

    To every varied object in his glance . . .

    —William Shakespeare, Love’s Labour’s Lost

    JEROME HILER belongs to that rare company of significant if almost invisible filmmakers of the American avant-garde cinema who have hidden their light under a bushel: For decades, Joseph Cornell was reluctant to show his films; Gregory J. Markopoulos withdrew his work from circulation for the last three decades of his life; Wallace Berman would not exhibit

  • Owen Land

    FILMMAKER GEORGE LANDOW, also known as Owen Land, was found dead in his Los Angeles apartment on June 8 at the age of sixty-six. He was an exceptionally private, even mysterious man, and though he was a luminary of the American avant-garde cinema, little is known of his personal life or the circumstances of his death. Shortly after hearing of his passing, I happened upon an undated letter he had sent to Stan Brakhage, presumably in the early 1970s. It appears to be a response to a request from Brakhage for a summary of Land’s formation as an artist. He wrote:

    The biographical data which seems

  • THE ULTIMATE KEN JACOBS

    OF THE SENIOR AVANT-GARDE FILMMAKERS STILL working in New York, the three most prominent have been remarkably prolific in recent years. Jonas Mekas (b. 1922), Ken Jacobs (b. 1933), and Ernie Gehr (b. 1943) might owe something of their productive energies to release from their institutional affiliations—Jacobs and Gehr retired from teaching; Mekas relinquished the daily management of Anthology Film Archives—and to their switch from 16-mm to digital filmmaking. It is as if lives spent overcoming the economic and technical difficulties of working with celluloid prepared them for dispatching

  • MOMENTS OF ILLUMINATION: THE FILMS OF LAWRENCE JORDAN

    THE MASK OF THE MYSTIC or magus, a guise once prevalent in the American avant-garde cinema, is now worn by only three remaining filmmakers, all of whom happen to live and work in California: Jordan Belson (b. 1926), Kenneth Anger (b. 1927), and Lawrence Jordan (b. 1934). Jordan, for his part, has been making films with impressive consistency for nearly fifty-six years. During this time he has produced a massive body of work that encompasses several overlapping genres and includes many of the greatest films ever made by means of cutout collage animation, a range of lyric films that capture the

  • Temenos 2008

    THE AVANT-GARDE FILMMAKER and American expatriate Gregory J. Markopoulos devoted the decade before his death in 1992 to reediting almost all of the nearly forty films he had made since 19471 into a single, monumental work, Eniaios (1947–91), which, when it is completed, will run approximately eighty hours. Many of the films Markopoulos made in the 1970s were edited but unprinted—and therefore unseen even by him in their original forms—when he restructured them into the twenty-two cycles, or “orders,” that constitute Eniaios. In 1980, he and Robert Beavers, Markopoulos’s companion for nearly

  • IMMANENT DOMAIN: THE FILMS OF PETER HUTTON

    FOR NEARLY FOUR DECADES Peter Hutton has been taking the measure of the cinematic image to delimit its powers of fascination and absorption. Over those years he transformed a diaristic mode of the filmic lyric into one in which subtle fluctuations in the visible field—of light, or figures and objects in motion, or slight camera movements—configure the ecstatic concentration of the filmmaker’s attention. He marshals silence and the immanent rhythms of nearly still scenes, or slow vehicular movements, to evoke the pleasures of isolation, even of loneliness. If that sounds paradoxical,

  • TONE POEMS: THE FILMS OF NATHANIEL DORSKY

    NATHANIEL DORSKY is now at the pinnacle of his powers and reputation as a filmmaker. But he took a long route to his current prominence in the American avant-garde cinema. He had an early start making films, as did most of his strongest peers from the generation who came to cinema in the 1960s. The first works he exhibited, Ingreen (1964), A Fall Trip Home (1964), and Summerwind (1965), established him as a creditable filmmaker at a time when many young aspirants were trying to launch careers. Most of them disappeared quickly and, by the late ’60s, that seemed to have been Dorsky’s fate as well.

  • Robert Beavers

    ROBERT BEAVERS’S Pitcher of Colored Light, one of three films to premiere in “Second Lives,” the massive exposition of fifty film programs organized by Alexander Horwath for Documenta 12, makes its debut in Kassel this month. Countering the tendency to exhibit films on monitors in gallery spaces, Horwath insisted on projecting the films instead at the city’s Gloria Kino. In a written statement on the series, he concludes that film at Documenta 12 is “not an object to be taken home or sauntered along, but a spatially and temporally defined act of contemplation and exchange with the world.” His

  • TAKING NOTE: THE FILMS OF SAUL LEVINE

    Saul Levine has been one of the most underrated filmmakers in the American avant-garde cinema throughout his more than forty-year-long career. His one-man program at the New York Film Festival last year was his first, although he had been included in group screenings there before. The five films selected were so old (made between 1967 and 1983) that they were promoted as restored artifacts. Only in the past decade has New York’s Anthology Film Archives devoted occasional programs to him. Yet if someone were to write a critical history of the avant-garde cinema in Boston (as David E. James did

  • MEDIUM SHOTS: THE FILMS OF MORGAN FISHER

    IN THE FALL OF 2005 the Whitney Museum of American Art in New York mounted three remarkable retrospectives of avant-garde filmmakers of the same artistic generation: All three—Robert Beavers, Owen Land (born George Landow), and Morgan Fisher—began making films in the 1960s, and all three won considerable recognition while still quite young (Beavers and Land were teenagers when they screened their first films; Fisher was in his midtwenties). In October, the Whitney’s assistant curator of film and video, Henriette Huldisch, brought together the most comprehensive program of Beavers’s films ever

  • IDYLL WORSHIP: GREGORY J. MARKOPOULOS’S ENIAIOS

    In the years before his death in 1992, avant-garde filmmaker and American expatriate GREGORY J. MARKOPOULOS refashioned his life’s work into a single, eighty-hour film, Eniaios. Last June, film historian P. ADAMS SITNEY was on hand to witness the inaugural screenings of the opening segments of Markopoulos’s epic masterwork at the Temenos, an open-air theater the filmmaker had devised in the hills overlooking the remote Greek village of Lyssaraia.

    For three nights from June 25 to 27, between one and two hundred spectators gathered in a field outside a small village in Greece to view the premiere

  • Stan Brakhage

    STAN BRAKHAGE’S DEATH at seventy, on March 9, 2003, marked the end of the most astonishing career in the 108-year history of the cinema. For fifty years Brakhage released up to a dozen new works every year without a break, so that he leaves a filmography with some four hundred titles. In his artistic practice and in the themes of his films he was an Emersonian vitalist, a legacy he inherited through the poets Ezra Pound and Robert Duncan. But in the end he moved from being a celebrant of the aesthetic creed of the American Orpheus, and from a self-consciously Spinozist position as a critic of

  • P. Adams Sitney

    There was a short time, late in 1963, when audiences for avant-garde cinema in New York could witness two intersecting entourages converging upon film screenings. The one group, Jack Smith and his “creatures,” was breaking up just as the other, Andy Warhol and his associates, was expanding. Warhol was by then a solidly established painter with his most original work behind him, but as a filmmaker and charismatic leader he was an astute student of Smith’s. It was probably the succès de scandale of Flaming Creatures that lured Warhol to the downtown and Murray Hill showplaces of avant-garde film.

  • 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

  • Animating the Absolute: Harry Smith

    I

    THE DOMINANT TREND WITHIN the American avant-garde tradition has been the evolution of the subjective cinema. There is strong evidence of a shift in the late 1950s from the trance film (the psychodramatical quest for sexual identity in the form of a cinematic dream) to mythopoeia in the works of several film makers working independently of one another. Yet not all avant-garde film-making of the late 1940s had utilized the trance form and psychodrama. The graphic cinema offered a vital alternative to the subjective. This polarity (and the potential for its convergence) extends back to the origins