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Abstract Cinema (1993)

Several well-known and pioneering abstract filmmakers discuss the history of non-objective cinema, the works of those that came before them and their own experiments in the field of visionary filmmaking.

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Jules Engel ...
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Malcolm le Grice ...
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Len Lye ...
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William Moritz ...
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Pat O'Neill ...
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Michael Scroggins ...
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John Whitney Sr. ...
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Several well-known and pioneering abstract filmmakers discuss the history of non-objective cinema, the works of those that came before them and their own experiments in the field of visionary filmmaking.

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Defining The Indefinable
29 August 2003 | by See all my reviews

For those with an attraction and appreciation for abstract cinema, and the "pioneers" who expanded and toiled in it (often without real public recognition), this is a nice little beginner's documentary on the history and future of subject.

Highlighting several filmmakers including Stan Brakhage, William Moritz, John Whitney, Jules Engel, Pat O' Neill, Michael Scroggins and Malcolm le Grice what caught my attention straight off-the-bat was the somewhat lengthy talking-heads as the artists discussed the works and history of both their and their predecessors (such as Harry Smith, Oskar Fischinger, Viking Eggling, Len Lye, James Whitney, Jordan Belson, etc.). The viewer is given a sometimes rare and often enlightening aural and visual description of the processes and philosophies that make each of these decidedly non-objective filmmakers tick.

Also infused with a plethora of film-clips from monumental pieces of abstract cinema such as: STUDY NO. 6 & 7, CIRCLES and ALLEGRETTO by Oskar Fischinger; COLOR BOX, COLOR CRY, PARTICLES IN SPACE and TRADE TATTOO by Len Lye; LAPIS and YANTRA by James Whitney; WET PAINT and LANDSCAPE by Jules Engel; FILM NO. 3 & 7 by Harry Smith, and so many others.

The real treat though was seeing work in progress by Stan Brakhage (on IMAX stock no less!) and his discussions on techniques and film aesthetics throughout; also included are his films NIGHT MUSIC and RAGE NET in their entirety. Watching the films there is a great sense that despite the extraordinary amount of preparation and work involved, these pioneering vision-makers were also having a great deal of fun. Unfortunately, the documentary grows somewhat lifeless (for me) as artists and works related to the growing CGI movement of the early 80's to the early 90's are covered with emphasis being on computers as the "next big thing" in abstractionist movie-making.

I would have liked ABSTRACT CINEMA to have run longer than it's 52 minutes -- 2 hours, or a mini-series would have been great -- but as it sits, a great deal is shown and dealt with effectively on the whole. Seeing Brakhage and Whitney in some of their last recorded moments is both a revelation and a treat, and one walks away knowing a great deal more, and with a greater appreciation, than before watching this well-crafted documentary. 7/10.


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