P. Adams Sitney

  • Saul Levine, New Left Note, 1968–82, strips from a color film in 8 mm, 27 minutes 45 seconds.


    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


    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


    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


    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