Crossover was a hallmark of early avant-garde art. Experimental music influenced experimental dance; experimental dance influenced experimental film; experimental film influenced experimental art. Tonight, with "Film/Still: The Short Films of Maya Deren" at Denver FilmCenter, the Denver Film Society and the Clyfford Still Museum will partner to examine a possible artistic connection between these two modernist luminaries.
To get the discussion going, we compiled this primer -- a list of seven experimental films that are under seven minutes each.
See Also: - From the Archives: Hand-bound Eisenstein art homage by Lawrence Jordan - From the Archives: Letter from Alice Toklas on the Death of Gertrude Stein - From the Archives: Allen Ginsberg's postcards to Ed White
A pioneer of the experimental film genre, Deren was the epitome of a crossover artist herself -- she was also a dancer, choreographer, writer, and theorist. Her films are elegant constructions, focused on movement and sensory images and full of symbolism; many of them are also very tight, clocking in at under twenty minutes. Those who attend the Denver Film Society event will get the chance to see a number of Deren's most celebrated films, including the precedent-setting Meshes of the Afternoon.
For now, here is Deren's Study of Choreography for Camera:
And here is Ensemble for Somnambulists:
Joseph Cornell's background as a sculptor is evident in his film work; he helped innovate the use of collage in film, as can be seen in Jack's Dream, a film marked with a recurring fairytale motif and one of the few Cornell films with a soundtrack. The soundtrack was done by Lawrence Jordan, another experimental filmmaker who favored the collage style and was recently featured in a "From the Archives" post for an artifact that paid homage to Sergei Eisenstein.
Here is Cornell's Jack's Dream:
Sergei Eisenstein was a Soviet Russian film artist; he made his films under the aegis of the Soviet regime. Eisenstein's use of montage-style film brought him renown; he is sometimes called the "Father of Montage," and his work has become iconic. The film below is his only short film, entitled Glumov's Diary; it is a playful clown comedy that nods to Eisenstein's background in theatre.
Ensemble for Somnambulists:
Stan Brakhage was a well-known Beat era avant-garde filmmaker who enjoyed little success early on; it wasn't until the late 1960s that the Boulder-based filmmaker began to earn credit for his work, which was characterized by rapid intercutting and handheld cameras, and was most often silent and in color. The following film is Cat's Cradle, which was made in 1959:
Larry Jordan spent time as an assistant to Joseph Cornell, and cited him (along with Maya Deren) as a major influence on his own work, which also used collage and employed stop-motion technique. He was good friends with Brakhage; the two attended high school together right here in Denver, at South High School. Carabosse is one of Jordan's short films; it is named for the "wicked fairy godmother" or "Maleficent" figure in fairy tales, underlining an interest in mythology that marks the experimental film genre.
Further indicative of the influence of fairy tale and mythology in avant-garde film is this animated short, a collaboration between two well-known artists: Salvador Dali and Walt Disney. Destino is heavy with symbolic imagery and Dali tableaus brought to life; production began in 1945, but budget restrictions forced Disney to abandon it until it was rediscovered in 1999. It was released in 2003.
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