Richard Foreman has a busy spring ahead. Along with the opening of his new play Old-Fashioned Prostitutes at the Public Theater this April, his film Once Every Day will begin a short run at the Anthology Film Archives on Friday 8 February, following its premiere at the New York Film Festival last year and simultaneously with its screening at the Berlin Film Festival next month.
The Anthology Film Archives screening is appropriate; one of Foreman’s acknowledged direct influences was the American independent avant-garde film movement of the 1960s and 1970s. Thanks to Ubu web, I’ve been able to revisit several of these films over the past few days after having been first exposed to them during my college years in the early 1980s. Films like Ernie Gehr’s Serene Velocity, George Landow’s Film In Which There Appear Edge Lettering, Sprocket Holes, Dirt Particles, Etc. (“the dirtiest film ever made”), and Michael Snow‘s Wavelength approach philosophy in their contemplation of the filmic image. These three filmmakers especially, more than the better-known Stan Brakhage of the movement, seem to me to have a direct relationship with Foreman’s theatre and film work. These meditative films deserve to be more widely seen again; fortunately, the Anthology’s Essential Cinema series rescreens them every now and again. Keep an eye out; if you’re not familiar with this remarkable part of American film history, I recommend taking a look at P. Adams Sitney’s Visionary Film, now in its third edition.
So many of these films have to deal with the imperfections of the recording media and how they draw attention to the images they reproduce — making comparison with the clean, cold surface of digital video inevitable and surprising. One of my favorite filmmakers of the period was George Landow, later known as Owen Land; one of his first films, Film In Which There Appear Edge Lettering, Sprocket Holes, Dirt Particles, Etc. (1965-66) is below. His later Wide Angle Saxon and other films were witty and philosophical reflections on religion and art, but Film In Which There Appear … is also remarkable, bearing comparison to the music of Morton Feldman (as do Michael Snow’s films), in which so much happens among such little movement: