Top of Sidebar
Mission Statement
Do It Yourself Tips and Tricks
Books, Equipment, Software, and Training Reviews
Film Critiques
Community Section
Savings and Links
Bottom of Sidebar
Back to the Home Page
   Special Film Critique: 
   Unseen Cinema: Early American    Avant-Garde Film from 1893-1941

Bruce Posner
   Expected Rating: Unrated
   Distribution: Image Entertainment
   Budget: Various
   Genre: Avant-Garde/Shorts

   Running Time: 1140 minutes

   Release Dates: October 15, 2005
   Clips: Click Here
   MSRP: $99.99
   Special Price: $74.99 (with free shipping)
   Review Date: December 15, 2005
   Reviewed By: Jeremy Hanke

Unseen Cinema is one of those projects that needs to be reviewed on this website because of what it represents in the history of no-budget filmmakers. But it's a very difficult thing to review because I am torn between putting it in the DVD training review section or the film critique section. In the end, I felt that it was a leader by example, rather than a leader by explanation, which meant that it should be looked at as a film rather that reviewed as a training set. As such, I created a special critique section for works like this.

The avant-garde movement is the birthplace of the Micro-Cinema and, now, Microfilmmaking movement. In the French, it literally translates into "ahead of the pack" or "leader of the pack." Hollywood was first started when a group of avant-garde filmmakers who were pushing the envelope in film production fled from the East Coast where Edison ran a studio conglomeration (that is not so different from old Hollywood today!) to the West Coast where they could try new things with freedom and exploration. As we all know, another studio system developed in this West Coast outreach of filmmakers and, once again, avant-garde filmmakers were pushed to the fringes. Some departed this Hollywood that they had helped birth and pursued film projects at other ports of call, while others stayed in the system and made their avant-garde films over the weekends.

While the studios of Hollywood muddled through with black and white, the avant-garde played with post-production colorizing-a procedure that is not so very different from modern colorization of old black and white films. This counter-culture that some would argue was the counter point to Hollywood (though I would argue that Hollywood was the true counter point to it!), was not limited by the studios and tried new things that hadn't been proven to be commercially "viable" yet. Filmmaker Vorkapich was exploring high level special effects and spectral elements in 1937, long before Hollywood was willing to admit that his ideas were on the money. 1913's film Suspense used split-screens long before it became the fad for Hollywood studios to do so.

There are many more stories like this that can bee seen in this fascinating, must-own set of short films.


Curated and edited by Bruce Posner, the 155 avant-garde films in this set have been broken into seven DVDs: The Mechanized Eye, The Devil's Plaything, Light Rhythms, Inverted Narratives, Picturing a Metropolis, The Amateur as Auteur, and Viva la Dance.

The Mechanized Eye - We see the first explorations camera effects and mechanical filming elements. While this is not a perfect summary, it's close enough. Some of the elements, like Poem 8 and Portrait of a Young Man, look at the mechanics of the world we're in, rather than in terribly mechanical filming techniques.

Some of the films are excessively long, like the intentionally-silent Portrait of a Young Man that drags on for an hour-long look at close-ups of water and is designed to get you to become introspective. Eventually, you become introspective in the way that Native Americans became introspective in steam lodges, with all the glimmers on the water making your eyes glaze over and see strange visions.

While this wasn't my cup of tea, there were many other short films on this disc that really did capture my mind. For example, the Paris Exposition Films, which were shown at a convention in 1902, showed an aerial tilt of the Eiffel Tower in Paris. What made this fascinating was that, after the cameraman tilted back down to ground level, there were a bunch of French people waving at the camera as though they were in the background at Good Morning America proving that people never change! Another great segment was called Oil - A Symphony in Motion, a short film that offered the theory that it is not man that controls oil, but oil that controls man. A fascinating little study, especially in consideration of our current oil and gas issues and the way in which we've become enslaved by the 'black gold.'

Some shorts dealt with problems
in the '20's and '30's...
...while others dealt with oil issues
that plague us to this day.

The Devil's Plaything - We see the early explorations of American surrealism in this disc and it is truly fascinating to watch. Some things are fascinatingly revolutionary, like the 360 degree romp of a man who has had too much rarebit before bed in 1906's Dream of a Rarebit Fiend that actually showcased a person walking up walls and ceilings in a very convincing manner. Humor can be found in short films like The Thieving Hand, the story of an artificial hand that steals compulsively, regardless of who's body it happens to be attached to. Meanwhile, hard commentary on Hollywood's studio system can be seen in Florey and Vorkapich's film, The Life and Death of 9413 - A Hollywood Extra, which was shot in Vorkapich's kitchen with live actors and models over the course of several weekends and a combined budget of $97 in 1927. This film pointed out that the studio dream of starting out as an extra and then becoming a star was a largely unrealistic and potentially life-shattering.

Light Rhythms - This is somewhat like a combination of both the Mechanized Eye and Viva la Dance, looking at subjects that fall into both categories but are delineated by light play and rhythm. Busby Berkely By a Waterfall segment from Footlight Parade may seem like pure water dance, but, as you watch the entertwining bodies moving in light and shadow, you see almost M.C. Escher-like maze of line and shape. Segments from Vorkapich's MGM-released The Firefly show how the avant-garde director had incorporated fascinating light and over exposure special effects into his personal cut of the film which were scrapped by MGM in their release of the film. Prohibition uses the changing light of the last hour before Prohibition takes hold to look at one last drunken binge for America. Meanwhile, H20 and Surf and Seaweed revisit some of the aquatic musings of Portrait of a Young Man, but this time look at water in altogether different ways that focus more on their fluid movement.

Mission | Tips & Tricks | Equipment & Software Reviews | Film Critiques
Groups & Community | Links & Savings
| Home

Contact Us Search Submit Films for Critique