Online Avant-Garde

Until recently, gleaning a history of experimental film and video required enrollment at a university with decent film classes, or dogged attendance at the local cinematheque (provided you lived in a big city coinhabited by dedicated curators). That’s changing — sort of. Two new Web-based endeavors are greatly expanding public access to some of the premier works from the history of avant-garde film and video. First, filmmaker Jonas Mekas recently posted 40 films on his Web site, most of them made by the 84-year-old filmmaker and former critic whose weekly columns in The Village Voice helped form the oppositional stance and sense of community for many of the American experimental and avant-garde filmmakers who emerged from the 1950s and ’60s. Many of Mekas’ shorts consist of fascinating encounters with the likes of Andy Warhol, Stan Brakhage, Allen Ginsberg and Patti Smith, while others are more characteristic of Mekas’ long-form personal documentaries, capturing poetic details of everyday life. Just a few minutes in length, the film snippets are lovely, their intimacy enhanced by their reduced scale on a computer screen or even video iPod. Beginning January 1, Mekas will start posting a new film every day, with the goal of creating a yearlong portrait of his life. Elsewhere, UbuWeb, a long-time online resource for experimental media in all forms (including Fluxus music and avant-garde poetry), recently relaunched its film and video section, and now offers an incredible array of streaming films and videos — everything from Marcel Duchamp’s 1926 Anemic Cinema to hard-to-find video art by Pipilotti Rist and Tracy Emin. Yes, the screen is small and many artists concerned precisely with the qualities of light, projection and space would be suitably horrified. But for those of us longing for any glimpse of these films and videos we’ve read about for years, this resource is nothing short of amazing. and

—Holly Willis

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