Wednesday, February 10, 2010


The "avant-garde" - its a French term which means "advance guard." Though its original usage had military connotations, today it commonly refers to artworks (including film) which is experimental or innovative or in someway progressive beyond that which is popularly accepted. However you define it, the avant-garde is out there.

If you were brave enough to have attended the screening of The Fall of the House of Usher (La Chute de la maison Usher) this past July at the 14th annual San Francisco Silent Film Festival, then you saw an avant-garde film. And if liked it, then you will want to know there is more out there. Don't wait for these sorts of films to be shown on television. [Be sure and check out Shari Kizirian's excellent program notes on The Fall of the House of Usher which can be found on the ever growing SFSFF website archive.]

Recently KINO has released Avant-Garde 3: Experimental Cinema 1922-1954 (link2buy), the third volume of in a series devoted to experimental and innovative cinema. it, along with the earlier Avant Garde - Experimental Cinema of the 1920s & 1930s (link2buy) and Avant-Garde 2: Experimental Cinema 1928-1954 (link2buy), are chock full of strange, weird, and wonderful short and not so short films. There are American films and French films. There are surreal films and films by Surrealists. There are films by Orson Welles, Paul Leni, Man Ray, Marcel Duchamp and the late Bay Area poet James Broughton - and many others. The first volume in the series even has the 1928 American The Fall of the House of Usher, a different but no less poetic telling of the Poe story.

Each of the three two-disc KINO sets is recommended, as is the massive, 7 disc Unseen Cinema - Early American Avant Garde Film 1894-1941 (link2buy) from Image as well as the single disc Unseen Cinema: Picturing a Metropolis (link2buy), also from Image. Of course, there is some overlap between the sets. But half the fun of exploring this little seen realm of the cinema is discovering its history. Another two-disc set from Image, Treasures IV: American Avant-Garde Film, 1947-1986 (link2buy), continues the story of the avant-garde cinema in America.

Each of the DVDs pictured here can be purchased online, through their respective studio, or at a local shop. The (link2buy) text takes you to an page with additional details about each set.


  1. The San Francisco Silent Film Festival is not the only place to see avant-garde film in local theatres, on the format (film) which they were originally intended to be showcased through.

    There's also SFMOMA, which begins a series of avant-garde short films from the silent and sound era tomorrow, the Pacific Film Archive, which regularly programs avant-garde work, such as an upcoming set of films by great local "neo-silent" film-maker Nathaniel Dorsky, and SF Cinematheque, one of the nation's most venerated institutions of avant-garde film exhibition, which begins its Spring calendar next week.

  2. Thank you Brian. The SFMOMA series looks great. I love Oskar Fischinger