New American Cinema #19: P. Adams Sitney

An interview with critic P. Adams Sitney about the American avant-garde cinema and Sitney's new book "Visionary Film."

00:05Copy video clip URL Onscreen text: “21 WHA-TV Madison, Wisc. Series: New American Cienma. Program: Show #19, P. Adam Sitney. Date: 1 July 1974. Tape no.: 7665-6. Acct no.: 7707. Producer: Jim Heddle. Director: Phil Samuels.” 

00:45Copy video clip URL Voiceover introduction with theme song and title card. Voiceover: “In this series we share the private visions of eight masters of this emerging art, the New American Cinema.” 

01:50Copy video clip URL Host Jim Heddle introduces the interview with critic P. Adams Sitney and displays a Sitney’s brand new book, Visionary Film: The American Avant-Garde

02:16Copy video clip URL The “radical otherness” of avant-garde cinema in relation to the Hollywood film. “The commercial film is a totally illusionary and totally seductive mechanism. The traditional commercial film makes you forget that you’re at a movie. It pulls you into the screen. All of the devices are arranged so that you believe that what is happening has a certain degree of fictive reality and you forgot that shots are individual takes of a camera and you forget that splices are arbitrary decisions of a director. On the other hand, the kind of cinema that you’ve been dealing with with this program is a cinema that openly declares its own rhetorical structures. If, in a Brakhage film for instance, he seeks a visual metaphor for death it is clearly defined as a metaphor. It is clearly indicated as a cinematic device – such as the use of negative. There is no intention or no structural hiding of the very presence of the raw cinematic material. It’s a kind of cinema, in fact, that every time it makes a statement about outside of cinema, about life, birth, death, attempts to make that statement in terms of some aspect of the material itself, so that the meditations on the basic concerns of human beings coincides to some extents on the meditation on the limitations of the powers of cinematic material itself.”

05:05Copy video clip URL Sitney discusses the fictive tradition of the novel and likens the distinction between avant-garde film and features to that between poetry and prose. 

06:57Copy video clip URL The “dominant artistic tradition” in America “visionary Romanticism” that runs from Emerson and Whitman through Abstract Expressionist painting and contemporary dance and avant-garde cinema. 

08:55Copy video clip URL Further discussion of Stan Brakhage and the “crisis” of the kinds of space in which objects could be represented related to the crisis addressed by Jackson Pollock and other abstract expressionists who focused on the literal surface of the canvas in place of illusionary depth. Disrupting Renaissance perspective and linearity. 

11:48Copy video clip URL The fundamental principles of avant-garde film theory. Maya Deren’s belief in accepting the spatial forms of photographic lenses and the film artist’s capacity to “organize time,” rejecting the linearity of traditional filmic structures. Brakhage, coming after Deren, then rejected the built-in principles of spatial representation to control both space and time in his films. 

13:10Copy video clip URL The first-person position within the first wave of avant-garde films and the subsequent invocation of mythological forms and symbols. Transcending the individual to form a “collective person.” Discussion of Deren’s Ritual in Transfigured Time.

18:15Copy video clip URL Sitney’s reluctance to deal with Jungian symbolism or “universal psychology.” 

19:38Copy video clip URL The trajectory of American avant-garde cinema. Sitney discusses previous moments in which the avant-garde seemed to be exhausted, only to find creative reinvigoration when a new voice or a new way of working emerged. 

21:51Copy video clip URL The two traditions of the American avant-garde – the graphic tradition related to painting and animation, and the personal, subjective film – converging in the early 1960s. Discussion of Jordan Belson and Harry Smith. Sitney is reluctant to make a prediction about where the avant-garde will go next, as he could not have predicted that previous convergence or a film “as powerful as Michael Snow’s Wavelength” that inspired a whole new style of film. 

24:40Copy video clip URL The function of the critic in relation to avant-garde films. The development of critical vocabulary. 

26:38Copy video clip URL The “historical system” in Visionary Film. Sitney hopes for readers and other critics to develop more precise terminology rather than simply accepting his system as totalizing and complete. 



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