P. Adams Sitney

  • passages April 23, 2020

    Bruce Baillie (1931–2020)

    FOR AN AVANT-GARDE FILMMAKER born in the 1930s, Bruce Baillie came late to cinema, but his manner belied his background—a BA from the University of Minnesota, naval service in the Korean War, even an abortive stint at the London School of Film Technique (now the London Film School). Like Saint Francis, whom he so admired, he cultivated poverty, even if it didn’t come naturally to him. He adapted the manner of a college dropout, living in a tent, in communes, or in friends’ homes when he wasn’t with his generous middle-class parents. Had he not encountered, near the start of his career, Stan

  • 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