Seven Stan VanDerBeek films from the 1950s and ’60s, a trio of acclaimed experimental visions from Marjorie Keller, and an animated cut-out film from Flora Mock will be preserved through the 2018 Avant-Garde Masters Grants, awarded by The Film Foundation and the National Film Preservation Foundation. All told, 11 films will be preserved and made available through this year’s grants.
“Stan VanDerBeek is one of the major American Avant-Garde film artists,” writes P. Adams Sitney, Professor Emeritus of Visual Arts at Princeton University and one of the most prominent writers on American experimental cinema. “He was a prophet of the emerging multimedia and a proponent of the power of those media for political satire. As soon as he began to make and exhibit films, his originality and wit were manifest. In the period between 1957 and 1965 when he made a dozen or so films he worked in relative isolation and in doing so kept alive the avant-garde cinema movement initiated by Maya Deren in 1943, but which had nearly died of neglect in the Fifties.”
The Film-Maker’s Cooperative will supervise the preservation of seven animated collage films by VanDerBeek. The selection includes What Who How (1957), VanDerBeek’s first film; Wheeeels No. 1 (1958) and Wheeeels No. 2 (1958), comedic explorations of America’s infatuation with cars; BreathDeath (1963) a black comedy assemblage of photos and newsreels; and the anti-authoritarian Skullduggery Part 2 (1960), which literally draws on live action footage of world leaders. In a more dreamlike vein are A Dam Rib Bed (1964), a two-screen work, and See Saw Seems (1965), a meditative study of illusion and transformation, created from painted-over photographs.
Majorie Keller, praised by film critic Amy Taubin as “perhaps the only major filmmaker that the American independent film has produced since the end of the Sixties,” is represented by three films, to be preserved by Anthology Film Archives. The early work She/Va (1973), reworks found footage from a conventional home movie into an experimental portrait of sisterhood; the late work Part IV: Green Hill (ca.1986) is from a series of diary films and meditatively documents nature in a Rhode Island tidal inlet. Daughters of Chaos (1980), an elliptically edited portrayal of the wedding of Keller’s niece and one of her most acclaimed films was described by critic J. Hoberman as “an ambivalent depiction of WASP ethnicity, a loaded evocation of a young girl’s fantasy life, and a model of feminine conditioning.”
This year’s grant round also features a film from experimental artist Flora Mock (1914–2014), who was based in Los Angeles and studied filmmaking at UCLA. Paper Moon (1949) is an improvisational color collage that visually interprets Nat King Cole’s titular recording and was described by the Los Angeles Times as a “West Side Story–style romance told in the vocabulary of cut and torn paper.” The film will be preserved by UCLA Film & Television Archive.
Now in its sixteenth year, Avant-Garde Masters was created by The Film Foundation and the NFPF to save films significant to the development of the avant-garde in America. Funding is provided by the George Lucas Family Foundation.The grants have preserved works by 65 artists, including Kenneth Anger, Shirley Clarke, Bruce Conner, Joseph Cornell, Oskar Fischinger, Hollis Frampton, Barbara Hammer, Ernie Gehr, George and Mike Kuchar, and Carolee Schneemann.