Underground Film Journal

Marie Menken

Portrait of filmmaker and painter Marie Menken holding a Bolex movie camera

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:

Filmography:

Excursion (1968)
Watts With Eggs (1967)
Sidewalks (1966)
Lights (1966)
Moonplay (1964-1966)
Drips and Strips (1961-65)
Andy Warhol (starring Gerard Malanga) (1965) (WATCH)
Lights (1965– ) (unfinished)
Go! Go! Go! (1962-64) (DVD)
Wrestling (1964)
Mood Mondrian (1965)
Notebook (1962-63)
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)
Dwightania (1959)
Zenscapes (1957)
Glimpse of the Garden (1957) (DVD)
Hurry! Hurry! (1957) (DVD)
Visual Variations on Noguchi (1945)

Articles:

Boston Film-Makers’ Cinematheque 1966-67: The Posters
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. The Cinematheque and the… Read More…
Andy Warhol — Marie Menken
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). According to Warhol’s memoir Popism: The Warhol Sixties (written with Pat Hackett), in 1963 Warhol was brought by his friend Charles Henri Ford… Read More…
Marie Menken Would Be 102 Today
’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.
Outrageous! Empire
Outrageous Underground Film Moment 6: Artist Andy Warhol films the Empire State Building for eight hours straight for his avant-garde film Empire.