The YouTube of the Avant-Garde

09May07

I guess you’ll have to forget YouTube for a while, because at www.ubu.com/film  you can see loads of “really” magnificent films.

UbuWeb was founded in November of 1996, initially as a repository for visual, concrete and, later, sound poetry. Over the years, UbuWeb has embraced all forms of the avant-garde and beyond. Its parameters continue to expand in all directions.

Essentially a gift economy, poetry is the perfect space to practice utopian politics. Freed from profit-making constraints or cumbersome fabrication considerations, information can literally “be free”: on UbuWeb, we give it away …

The following recommendations offer only a small glimpse of UBUWEB’s filmarchive.

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Rose Hobart by Joseph Cornell

Rose Hobart consists almost entirely of footage taken from East of Borneo, a 1931 jungle B-film starring the nearly forgotten actress Rose Hobart. Cornell condensed the 77-minute feature into a 20-minute short, removing virtually every shot that didn’t feature Hobart, as well as all of the action sequences. In so doing, he utterly transforms the images, stripping away the awkward construction and stilted drama of the original to reveal the wonderful sense of mystery that saturates the greatest early genre films.

On Rose Hobart see also Jahsonic’s post Make it my thing .

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Short films by Walerian Borowczyk :

Bringing objects to “life” is the essence of Borowczyk’s cinema. Buster Keaton aside, he is cinema’s greatest prop specialist. Borowczyk has made clear his “positive feelings towards objects”, not to mention a mania for those crafted in the 19th century. Why? Because in these objects we still find “traces of man’s hand”.

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Films by situationist Guy Debord

Guy Debord (1931-1994) was the most influential figure in the Situationist International, the notorious group that played a key role in catalyzing the May 1968 revolt in France. The impact of his writings has been profound, and sufficiently evident for those who know how to look behind surface appearances. His equally remarkable films, however, have been much less well known, at least until now.
Read more in Guy Debord’s Complete Film-Scripts

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Short films by Ed Emshwiller

Ed Emshwiller (1925-1990) studied painting both in the U.S. and Paris. In the 1950s, his abstract expressionist canvases received praise at art galleries, while his hyper-realistic cover illustrations for science-fiction magazines such as Galaxy (signed merely EMSH) delineated the surrealistic landscapes of imaginary planets and exotic creatures in fine detail. He began filmmaking in order to document his paintings (…) His own skills as a cameraman — which included a dancer-like ability to move gracefully while carrying a camera, thus allowing him to execute steady, complex pans and “zooms” in limited space — made him much in demand for films documenting dance performances. (…) The 1962 Thanatopsis, more remarkably, created the dance choreography itself in camera, by superimposing multiple single exposures of the same gesture, causing an eerie blur of the figure representing the angel of Death, whose thrashing wings make a chilling buzz-saw-like noise as she hovers about the dying man … – Dr. William Moritz

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Calder’s Circus by Carlos Viladerbó

Alexander Calder’s fascination with the circus began in his mid-twenties, when he published illustrations in a New York journal of Barnum and Bailey’s Circus, for which he held a year’s pass. It was in Paris in 1927 that he created the miniature circus celebrated in this film – tiny wire performers, ingeniously articulated to walk tightropes, dance, lift weights and engage in acrobatics in the ring. The Parisian avant-garde would gather in Calder’s studio to see the circus in operation. It was, as critic James Johnson Sweeney noted, `a laboratory in which some of the most original features of his later work were to be developed.’ This film exudes the great personal charm of Calder himself, moving and working the tiny players like a ringmaster, while his wife winds up the gramophone in the background. The Circus is now housed at the Whitney Museum in New York. —The Roland Collection of Films & Videos on Art

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The Divine Horsemen by Maya Deren

Maya Deren takes us on a journey into the fascinating world of the Voudoun religion, whose devotees commune with the cosmic powers through invocation, offerings, song and dance. The Voudoun pantheon of deities, or loa, is witnessed as being living gods and goddesses, actually taking possession of their devotees. The soundtrack conveys the incantatory power of the ritual drumming and singing.

All quotes are from UBUWEB if not indicated otherwise.

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