Marie Menken was an American avant-garde filmmaker and painter. She was also an exceptionally influential figure with many of the major underground filmmakers of the 1950s and '60s. She passed away on December 29, 1970.
Born in 1910 in Brooklyn, New York, Menken studied at the New York School of Fine and Industrial Arts and at the Art Students League. She began her artistic career as a painter, then made her first avant-garde film in 1945. Visual Variations on Noguchi was filmed with a hand-cranked Bolex 16mm camera and Menken was instantly celebrated for her intuitive, free-form cinematic style.
However, Menken did not finish another film until 1957's Hurry! Hurry!, after which she became quite prolific with her filmmaking. Her style primarily bounced between single-frame documentaries, like the acclaimed Go! Go! Go!; and her portraits of other artists and filmmakers, like Kenneth Anger and Andy Warhol.
Menken also earned a reputation as an influential, muse-like figure to many of the underground filmmakers of the 1960s. In 1962, she and her husband Willard Maas let L.A. filmmaker Kenneth Anger live with them in Brooklyn, during which time Anger would film the motorcycle gang featured in his masterpiece Scorpio Rising. Menken also collaborated with other filmmakers, such as by animating the chess sequence in Maya Deren's At Land; and serving as cinematographer on Maas's classic Geography of the Body. She also acted in films, such as Dov Lederberg's Eargogh and in Andy Warhol's The Life of Juanita Castro.
Watch Streaming Films By Marie Menken:
Watts With Eggs (1967)
Drips and Strips (1961-65)
Andy Warhol (starring Gerard Malanga) (1965) (WATCH)
Lights (1965– ) (unfinished)
Go! Go! Go! (1962-64) (DVD)
Mood Mondrian (1965)
Moonplay (1962– ) (unfinished)
Eye Music in Red Major (1961)
Arabesque for Kenneth Anger (1961) (DVD)
Bagatelle for Willard Maas (1961)
The Gravediggers from Guadix (1960)
Faucet (1960– ) (unfinished)
Glimpse of the Garden (1957) (DVD)
Hurry! Hurry! (1957) (DVD)
Visual Variations on Noguchi (1945)
Film-Makers’ Cooperative: The First Films
Experimental Film Coalition: The Monthly Screenings
In a letter dated June 1, 1962, the newly formed Film-Makers’ Cooperative offered their first list of films that were available to rent. Fourteen filmmakers were represented.
Boston Film-Makers’ Cinematheque 1966-67: The Posters
This is Part Two in a series about Chicago’s Experimental Film Coalition; and covers their screening series. Formed in 1983, the Experimental Film Coalition started holding regular monthly screenings starting in 1984. The screenings brought to Chicago the work of independent, experimental filmmakers across the country, as well as screening local work.
Andy Warhol — Marie Menken
In 1966, as the underground film wave was sweeping the country, a Boston off-shoot of New York City’s Film-Makers’ Cinematheque opened at a performance space at 53 Berkeley Street. Underground films were shown on weeknights, while on the weekends the space transformed into a music venue called The Boston Tea Party.
Marie Menken Would Be 102 Today
Andy Warhol by Marie Menken. Competed 1965. Marie Menken made several films inspired by and starring artists she knew, such as Visual Variations on Noguchi (1945) and Arabesque for Kenneth Anger (1961).
7 Cool Documentaries About Filmmakers
’60s underground filmmaker Marie Menken would be 102 today. She passed away on Dec. 29, 1970. In her honor, go buy or rent the documentary Notes on Marie Menken, directed by Martina Kudlácek. It’s available on Amazon and Netflix. The DVD also includes three of Menken’s short films.
Some really excellent documentaries have been made about underground filmmakers, both old and new. These 7 are easily caught on DVD.
Martin Scorsese: Champion Of The Underground
Outrageous Underground Film Moment 6: Artist Andy Warhol films the Empire State Building for eight hours straight for his avant-garde film Empire.
L.A. Filmforum: Treasures From American Film Archives IV Selections
Martin Scorsese’s Film Foundation has helped preserve underground film classics like David Lynch’s Eraserhead and Jonas Mekas’ Lost Lost Lost.
Underground Film Yearbook: 1971
L.A. Filmforum is screening six underground film classics from the Treasures From American Film Archives IV DVD. See films by Ron Rice, Marie Menken and more.
Some notable underground film events in 1971 were Jonas Mekas ending his Movie Journal column, Willard Maas passing away and the first festival was held.