Looking at Harry Smith’s early experiments in filmmaking a few weeks ago made me want to go back and explore other American pioneers of the form.
Emlen Etting, who died in 1993 at the age of 88 and was better known as a painter and a sculptor (and that’s about all I know) made this silent work, Poem 8, in 1933. It features (among others) Caresse Crosby — inventor of the bra, publisher and wife of poet Harry Crosby — and looks a little like a bohemian home movie, with some fascinating glimpses of pre-war New York:
I’m a little ashamed to admit that until about 10 minutes ago I was unaware that one of my favourite artists, Joseph Cornell, was also a filmmaker. This is very exciting; it’s like finding out that Stevie Wonder also makes gourmet ice cream.
Cornell, who died on this day in 1972, is best known for his box-framed collages, in which he placed found objects in sublime, evocative combinations. He applies a similar method to his astonishingly forward-looking film Rose Hobart, which uses extracts from existing films with an eerie blue filter. YouTube might have popularised the film mash-up, but this was in 1936. Nineteen thirty-six:
Much later came Wonder Ring, featuring his own impressionistic footage of urban environments, which was made in 1955. I love the saturated late-afternoon colour and the view through the uneven glass window of a train going through the city, a slightly askew take on a familiar setting which gives some insight into how Cornell saw his world:
The more serene Angel followed two years later:
Kenneth Anger is key to the development of avant-garde film in the US. His earliest attempts date from shortly before the Second World War, but the oldest extant example is Fireworks, from 1947:
(Puce Moment, made two years later, is my favourite but unfortunately not embeddable). Kustom Kar Kommandos was made in 1965 and is, as director John Waters points out in This Filthy World, the first example of the ironic use of pop music in underground film:
Finally, a pivotal avant-garde film dating from 1943 made by husband-and-wife team Maya Deren and Alexander Hammid, the dream-like Meshes of the Afternoon, a major influence on David Lynch, among others:
About XIIDX, the Strange Flowers XII Days of Xmas Film Festival