History of Art 5905: Avant-Garde Cinema


Many historically significant films identified as “visionary,” “personal,” “experimental,” “political,” and “modernist” have been produced in surprisingly close proximity to the film industry. This course traces the complex and shifting relationship between what film historian David E. James designates as “major” (commercial, Hollywood) cinema and the “minor” cinemas of the avant-garde produced by artists, amateurs, agitators, and the like. Completed with limited financial resources, this work has often been distributed through alternative, self-organized channels of exhibition. Looking closely at narratives of stylistic evolution in avant-garde cinema, we will focus on points of contact between the history of art and cinema in both its major and minor modes. At the same time, we will remain attentive to questions that this approach risks leaving unanswered. How, for example, has the history of inventive, non-commercial cinema been shaped in unexpected ways by geography, (sub)culture, and politics? What kinds of communities and institutions have formed to support precarious modes of filmmaking in different moments and places? Where do the histories of individual filmmakers intersect with the often-conflicted social worlds their films address? With these questions in mind, we will look closely at a wide range of films made to surprise, unnerve, and provoke viewers since the early 1920s.

Autumn 2021
Professor Erica Levin
Class #- UG: 34698  G: 34695
In person Wed & Fri 3:55-5:15