When considering my extensive video library, one of the collections I treasure the most is my collection of various DVD releases devoted to avant-garde cinema. To me, these works are vital to understanding the full potential of film. The work of avant-garde filmmakers is cinematic art at its purest, unhindered by classically theatrical or literary traditions. What’s at stake in the avant-garde is not narrative coherence, normative dramatic structures, or base characterization, but instead concepts realized visually—living, moving metaphors. I’m talking pure cinema, cinema that evokes visceral reactions through the use of motion, color, sound, and most of all, editing.
My collections of avant-garde film are afforded a top shelf position in my library in part for the ease of access (should someone claim to have never heard of Kenneth Anger and his “Rabbit’s Moon”), but most of all because an appreciation of the avant-garde is something a cinephile should take pride in. And perhaps no word so adequately describes my thoughts on adding Flicker Alley’s Masterworks of American Avant-Garde Experimental Film 1920-1970 to my collection than that: pride. This 2-Blu-ray/2-DVD collection boasts staggeringly beautiful transfers of some of the most significant works in the pure cinematic tradition. The films collected here are, as a matter of fact, so important to the history of the American avant-garde that many of them are inarguably canonical, essential viewing for anyone learning about experimental film or film as an art form in general. In fact, I saw the majority of these films for the first time myself in introductory film courses, both at community college and in film school proper.
The collection boasts 37 films, including such seminal pieces as Maya Deren’s “Meshes of the Afternoon” (1943), “Ballet Mechanique” (1923-24) and with color portions no less, “The Life and Death of 9413–A Hollywood Extra” (1927), “Anémic cinema” (1926), and even an entry from Kenneth Anger with 1953’s “Eaux d’artifice.” This is not to say that the set serves purely as some sort of beginner’s guide to the avant-garde though, as it does contain such less introductory, yet no less exciting, works as animator Oskar Fischinger’s “An Optical Poem” as released by MGM in 1938; Joseph Cornell’s hysterical absurdist collage, “Thimble Theater” (completed in 1968), and even, amongst the bonus features, Phil Solomon and Stan Brakhage’s “Seasons…” (2002). Having the ability to call up these films at a moment’s notice, and on stunning Blu-ray no less, makes Flicker Alley’s Masterworks an instant staple of any home video library to my mind, an immediate must-own for anyone remotely passionate about the film form.
Produced by Flicker alley and Blackhawk Films® Collection, in collaboration with Filmmakers Showcase, Masterworks of American Avant-Garde Experimental Film 1920-1970 boasts numerous unique versions of films in the set including “Meshes of the Afternoon,” and also comes package with a 28-page booklet featuring an essay and extensive notes on restorations by curator, filmmaker, and film historian Bruce Posner. For more information on the collection, including a complete listing of the 37 films in the set, visit Flicker Alley.