The New American Cinema and Structural-Materialism  

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Kunstformen der Natur (1904) by Ernst Haeckel
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Kunstformen der Natur (1904) by Ernst Haeckel

In the United States of the 1940s and 1950s, experimental and avant-garde films were supported by the film society and self-financing model. By the early 1960s, the work of American avant-garde filmmakers were supported by both a conceptual framework called New American Cinema and structural film, as well as the non-profit organization Film-Makers' Cooperative.

As P. Adams Sitney has pointed out, in the work of Stan Brakhage and other American experimentalists of early period, film is used to express the individual consciousness of the maker, a cinematic equivalent of the first person in literature. Brakhage's Dog Star Man exemplified a shift from personal confessional to abstraction, and also evidenced a rejection of American mass culture of the time. On the other hand, Kenneth Anger added a rock sound track to his Scorpio Rising in what is sometimes said to be an anticipation of music videos, and included some camp commentary on Hollywood mythology. Jack Smith and Andy Warhol incorporated camp elements into their work, and Sitney posited Warhol's connection to structural film.

Some avant-garde filmmakers moved further away from narrative. Whereas the New American Cinema was marked by an oblique take on narrative, one based on abstraction, camp and minimalism, Structural-Materialist filmmakers like Hollis Frampton and Michael Snow created a highly formalist cinema that foregrounded the medium itself: the frame, projection, and most importantly time . It has sometimes been argued that by breaking film down into bare components, they sought to create an anti-illusionist cinema, but this is an oversimplifaction: Frampton's late works, for example, owe a huge debt to the photography of Edward Weston, Paul Strand, and others, and in fact celebrate illusion. Further, while many filmmakers began making rather academic "structural films" following the publication of P. Adams Sitney's landmark article in Film Culture in the late 1960s, most or possibly all of the filmakers he named in his article objected to the term.

A review of the structuralists appeared in a 2000 edition of the art journal "Art In America". The review was devastating: cold, a little alienated perhaps a product of its time at the end of the Vietnam War, and in the midst of the Cold War, the work seemed dated, and perhaps too inward. it reflected a yearning for a simpler view of both communism and the U.S. The review examined the ways in which structural-formalism is actually quite a conservative philosophy of filmmaking. (Art In America.)

Main article: Structural film




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