American cinema changed dramatically over the course of the 1960s, during which time the scope, shape, and content of film was rigorously challenged. Eager to break away from the domination of narrative features of this period, film artists used fresh, renegade styles to explore both the structure of edited composition and the lyrical nature of celluloid images.
This dynamic exhibition features Bruce Conner’s THREE SCREEN RAY (2006), comprised of imagery from his films COSMIC RAY (1961) and EVE-RAY-FOREVER (1965), along with other significant works from the Walker’s Ruben/Bentson Film and Video Collection: Bruce Baillie’s Castro Street (1966), Stan Brakhage’s Mothlight (1963), Hollis Frampton’s Lemon (1969), Ernie Gehr’s Serene Velocity (1970), and Gunvor Nelson’s My Name is Oona (1969).
Curator: Sheryl Mousley
The Renegades: American Avant-Garde Film, 1960–1973
“Imagine an eye unruled by man-made laws of perspective, an eye unprejudiced by compositional logic, an eye which does not respond to the name of everything but which must know each object encountered in life through an adventure of perception…. How many rainbows can light create for the untutored eye?” —Stan Brakhage, Metaphors on Vision
With his 1960 vanguard manifesto, which called for a different way of seeing but also for using film as a pliable and abstract medium, Stan Brakhage underscored a collective, fractious push against the constraints and dogma of mainstream film culture. The Renegades: American Avant-Garde Film, 1960–1973 showcases this vortex of creative energy with six films in the galleries and monthly screenings in the Walker Cinema and Lecture Room.
Inventing new ways of making films and fresh avenues for getting them distributed and seen, Brakhage and others—including Hollis Frampton, Ernie Gehr, Bruce Baillie, Gunvor Nelson, and Bruce Conner, all included in this exhibition—challenged viewer expectations of this art form, transforming it from a storytelling vehicle into a time-based visual experience. Brakhage created films that merge the lyrical with the metaphysical, and also exploited the materiality of film by physically altering its surface. Frampton approached filmmaking in a highly systematic way, borrowing from his backgrounds in photography and painting and his love of mathematics and literature to reinvent its structures. With particular attention to the material and formal qualities of the medium, Gehr deconstructed traditional modes of film production and radically transformed the cinematic image into an idea through innovative camerawork. Both Baillie and Nelson used multiple layers of imagery and sound, Baillie in spiritual films that drew from his journeys around the country, and Nelson to explore personal themes of childhood, memory, self-identity, sexuality, and the natural world. Conner appropriated imagery and sound to create visually seductive and aurally alluring films that presaged the music video genre.
Avant-garde film in the 1960s was not so much a birth of a movement as a seismic surge. Building on the influence of earlier figures such as Maya Deren, Kenneth Anger, and, farther back, the European surrealists, a critical mass of renegades took root in two key metropolises: New York City thrived under the auspices of Amos Vogel’s Cinema 16 and then Jonas Mekas’ Film-Makers Cinematheque, which eventually grew into Anthology Film Archives; and the Bay Area community flourished with the formation of the San Francisco Cinematheque and Bruce Baillie’s Canyon Cinema. Curator Sally Dixon, whose gift of 30 films inspired this exhibition, made the Carnegie Museum of Art in Pittsburgh a cynosure for experimental film. In the Twin Cities, the Walker’s regular screenings of work central to the movement were bolstered by the formation of Film in the Cities in 1970. The Walker, where films had been screened since 1940s, officially established a curatorial Film Department in 1973. To further this commitment to film, the Ruben/Bentson Film and Video Study Collection was founded and the Walker began collecting the films of the American avant-garde.