WRITING THE HISTORY OFTHE POSTWAR AVANT-GARDE
The experimental film in America has benefited from strong polemicists and critics with a vivid sense of history. Parker Tyler proved one of the sharpest observers of emerging trends, identifying the "trance film" and dubbing the film of hipsters hanging out the "pad movie." Tyler produced an astute chronicle of the avant-garde in essays collected in The Three Faces of the Film (New York: Barnes, 1967) and Sex Psyche Etcetera in the Film (New York: Horizon, 1969). Later he accused underground filmmakers of infantile exhibitionism (Underground Film: A Critical History [New York: Grove, 1969]).
The assimilation of avant-garde cinema to the underground aesthetic is evident in Sheldon Renan's An Introduction to the American Underground Film (New York: Dutton, 1967). The New American Cinema: A Critical Anthology, ed. Gregory Battcock (New York: Dutton, 1967) collects important manifestos and critical essays. From the West Coast came Gene Youngblood's Expanded Cinema (New York: Dutton, 1970), a fund of technical information as well as a document of the 1960s merger of electronics, space exploration, parapsychology, Zen, and cosmic consciousness.
P. Adams Sitney, who became a devotee of experimental cinema in high school, emerged as the most scholarly critic of the avant-garde. In Film Culture and his periodical, Filmwise, he printed interviews with filmmakers and close critical discussions of films. In the early 1970s, he elaborated a comprehensive history of the postwar American avant-garde, plotting a shift from the trance film through the lyric to the "mythopoeic" form (Dog Star Man, Scorpio Rising). Sitney saw the filmmakers as part of a Romantic tradition, with each movement seeking to represent an essential aspect of the human mind: dream in the psychodramas, perception in the lyric, and the collective unconscious in the myth films. Sitney elaborated this argument in "The Idea of Morphology," Film Culture 53–55 (spring 1972): 1–24, and developed it at full length in Visionary Film: The American Avant-Garde 1943–1978 (New York: Oxford University Press, 1974). Sitney's wide-ranging scheme, as well as his sensitive scrutiny of films, became the standard historical account. His framework is utilized in Marilyn Singer, ed., A History of the American Avant-Garde Cinema (New York: American Federation of the Arts, 1976).
Four other monographs offer different treatments. Steven Dwoskin's Film Is: The International Free Cinema (Woodstock, NY: Overlook, 1975) supplies essays on the international avant-garde. Dominique Noguez provides an institution-based account in Une Renaissance du cinéma: Le cinéma "underground" américain: Histoire, économique, esthétique (Paris: Klincksieck, 1985). David James situates experimental filmmaking in relation to Hollywood cinema and militant film in Allegories of Cinema: American Film in the Sixties (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1989). James Peterson examines various types of postwar avant-garde cinema and the cognitive strategies spectators may use to understand them in Dreams of Chaos, Visions of Order: Understanding the American Avant-Garde Cinema (Detroit: Wayne State University Press, 1994).