Scott MacDonald

  • Artavazd Peleshian

    THERE IS NO BETTER EXAMPLE of a remarkable cinematic accomplishment not finding an audience—at least in the United States—than the work of documentary filmmaker Artavazd Peleshian. Born in 1938 in Armenia, then a part of the Soviet Union, Peleshian began making films as a student at the Moscow Film Institute in 1964; by the time he completed The Beginning, in 1967, he had become what he remains: one of the greatest montage artists in modern cinema. When the Berlin Wall came down and the Soviet Union collapsed, one assumed it was only a matter of time before Peleshian’s work would be available


    SOMETIME IN THE 1970S, I attended a screening—I think it was at the Whitney Museum in New York—that included Andrew Noren’s Wind Variations (1968), an eighteen-minute silent meditation on the light play created by curtains gently blowing in the breeze coming through a Manhattan apartment window. I was struck, on the one hand, by the loveliness of the film and, on the other, by its ambivalent reception. When one viewer voiced his displeasure with how “boring” the film was, another told the complainer to shut up. The small audience’s continuing volatility provided a stark counterpoint to the visual


    JAMES BENNING ESTABLISHED HIMSELF as an important contributor to American independent cinema in the mid-1970s with 11 x 14 (1976) and One Way Boogie Woogie (1977), formally inventive and visually engaging representations of urban and rural America. That the places in Benning’s early films were midwestern (he himself grew up in Milwaukee) gave notice that the so-called cinematic flyover zone—the territory between the centers of film production in New York and California—could not only be the focus of interesting work but could nurture an important avant-garde filmmaker. Later, Benning would move

  • Helen Mayer Harrison and Newton Harrison

    For nearly 15 years Helen Mayer Harrison and Newton Harrison have been working on The Lagoon Cycle, a remarkable text/image epic, exhibited in toto for the first time by the Johnson Museum. The Lagoon Cycle is organized into seven separate sections called “lagoons,” which have been exhibited individually and revised since the early ’70s. Though the sections were not constructed in their present order, together they form an elaborative, chronological narrative detailing the growth of the Harrisons’ awareness of crucial environmental issues.

    The cycle begins with a brief preface, followed by “The

  • Hollis Frampton

    When Hollis Frampton died, in March of 1984, he left a massive body of work, including hundreds of films, a series of remarkable essays and a history as a photographer which goes back to the late ’50s. The films have received by far the most attention: many of them have become landmarks of contemporary independent cinema, including the rarely screened Manual of Arms, 1966, a series of portraits of artists Frampton knew; Surface Tension, 1968, the first of Frampton’s inventive explorations of the uses of printed text in film, Palindrome, 1969, a beautiful abstract work made by chemically manipulating

  • Michael Snow, “Walking Woman Works 1961–67”

    Judging from this show, it is one of the ironies of recent art/film history that Michael Snow has become the best-known representative of a school of filmmaking that is widely perceived as the epitome of inaccessibility and arty elitism. It is true that Snow has often seemed to be testing the patience and endurance of film viewers weaned on orgasmically structured Hollywood films and on the zap-zap independent cinema prevalent in the ’60s. But even the most demanding of Snow’s films are full of the ingenious play and good humor that characterize the dozens of variations of his “Walking Woman”


    A LARGE PART OF ME resists writing about John Waters; it seems a bit like paying attention to a demanding, bratty, suburban kid who’s already had as much attention as anyone ought to have. And in a period when the forces of repression seem to be closing in, Waters’ open defiance of humane canons of sensitivity and responsibility seems calculated to give Moral Majority types confidence in their attack on the arts as a pernicious influence. Still, I find Waters’ accomplishments as a filmmaker—especially in four features, Multiple Maniacs (1970), Pink Flamingos (1972), Female Trouble (1974), and