Underground Film Journal

Underground Film Timeline: 1920 — 1929

Timeline: Index

Below is a list of significant events and films in underground film history between the years 1920 and 1929.

Reference key:
D.C.: David Curtis. Experimental Cinema. New York: Dell Pub., 1978.
D.E.J.: David E. James. The Most Typical Avant-garde: History and Geography of Minor Cinemas in Los Angeles. Berkeley: University of California, 2005.
F.S.: Frank Stauffacher. Art in cinema; a symposium on the avantgarde film. New York: Arno Press, 1968. (reprint from 1947)
P.A.S.: P. Adams Sitney. Visionary Film: the American Avant-garde, 1943-2000. New York: Oxford UP, 2002.
S.M.: Scott MacDonald. Canyon Cinema: the Life and times of an Independent Film Distributor. Berkeley: University of California, 2008.
S.R.: Sheldon Renan. An Introduction to the American Underground Film. New York: Dutton, 1967.

1920

Major Events

January: First publication of Cine Club by Louis Delluc in France. Jean Epstein, Marcel L’Herbier and Germaine Dulac are all eventually involved in the club. (D.C.)

In France, Ricotto Canudo forms the world’s first film club: Club des Amis du Septième Art (CASA). (D.C.)

Kodak develops 16mm for amateur use. (D.C.)

Significant Films:

Still from The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari where Caligari greets Cesare rising from coffin

U.S.:

Dudley Murphy:
Aphrodite (D.E.J.)
Soul of the Cypress (D.E.J.)
Anywhere Out of the World (D.E.J.)

France:

Marcel Duchamp:
abandoned films (D.C.)

Marcel L’Herbier:
L’Homme du Large (D.C.)

Germany:

Robert Wiene:
The Cabinet of Doctor Caligari (S.R.) (F.S. lists as 1919)

1921

Major Events:

Louis Delluc launches Cinéa film magazine and imports The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari from Germany into France. Jean Epstein, Marcel L’Herbier and Germaine Dulac are all also involved with Cinéa. (D.C.)

Robert Florey moves to Los Angeles where he works as a movie journalist for French magazines, and as a publicist for Mary Pickford, Douglas Fairbanks and Rudolph Valentino. (D.E.J.)

Slavko Vorkapich arrives in Los Angeles where he makes a living as a painter and photographer in the studio of dance photographer Thomas Bouchard. (D.E.J.)

Skyline of '20s New York City including the Brooklyn Bridge

Bell and Howell market the first 16mm camera. (D.E.J.)

Significant Films:

U.S.:

Charles Sheeler and Paul Strand:
Manhatta (DVD 1, DVD 2) (S.R.; D.C.; D.E.J.)

France:

Louis Delluc:
Fièvre (1921) (D.C.) (S.R. credits film as 1922)

Marcel L’Herbier:
El Dorado (D.C.)

Abstract film still featuring black and white rectangles of various shapes

Germany:

Fritz Lang:
Destiny (S.R.)

Hans Richter:
Rhythmus 21 (DVD) (S.R.; F.S.; P.A.S.) (D.C. also calls film Film Is Rhythm)

Walther Ruttman:
Lichtspiel Opus 1 (D.E.J.)

Russia:

Dziga Vertov:
History of the Civil War (S.R.)

1922

Major Events:

Maya Deren emigrates to America from Kiev with her parents. (P.A.S.) (D.E.J. also notes that she grows up in Syracuse.)

Significant Films:

U.S.:

Charles Bryant
Salomé (D.E.J.)

France:

Louis Delluc:
La Femme de nulle Part (S.R.; D.C.)

Germaine Dulac:
La Souriante Madame Beudet (The Smiling Madame Beudet) (S.R.; D.C.; F.S.) (DVD)

B&W abstract shapes

Jean Epstein:
L’Auberge Rouge (D.C.)

Germany:

Viking Eggeling:
Diagonal Symphony (1920-22) (DVD) (S.R.; P.A.S.) (D.C. lists as 1920-22)  (F.S. lists as 1918-20 and calls it Symphonie Diagonale) (D.E.J. lists as 1924 and calls it Symphonie diagonale)

F. W. Murnau:
Nosferatu (S.R.)

1923

Major Events:

Ricotto Canudo dies. (D.C.)

Dziga Vertov and his group the Kinoks extend their film magazine Kino-Pravda into a newsreel format that runs for 20 issues until 1925. (D.C.)

B&W silent 16mm film stock is marketed. (D.C.)

Kodak markets its first 16mm camera. (D.E.J.)

Significant Films:

France:

René Clair:
Paris qui dort (or) Le Rayon Invisble (The Crazy Ray) (S.R.; D.C.)

Marcel Duchamp:
abandoned films (D.C.)

Jean Epstein:
Coeur Fidèle (D.C.)

Abel Gance:
La Roue (D.C.)

An abstract shape casting a shadow

Marcel L’Herbier:
L’Inhumaine (sets designed by Fernand Léger and Alberto Cavalcanti) (D.C.) (S.R. lists as 1925)

Dimitri Kirsanov:
L’Ironie du Destin (1922-3) (D.C.)

Man Ray:
La Retour à la Raison (DVD) (S.R.; D.E.J.)

Germany:

Hans Richter:
Rhythmus 23 (S.R.)

1924

Major Events:

Louis Delluc dies. (D.C.)

Jean Tedesco opens full-time avant-garde cinema at Théâtre du Vieux Colombier. (D.C.)

Kodak introduces 16mm film, which helps encourage thousands of amateur filmmakers, many of whom belong to a network of amateur film clubs, “little theaters” and the Amateur Cinema League. (S.M.)

Significant Films:

France:

Claude Autant-Lara:
Fait-Divèrs (S.R.)

René Clair:
Entr’acte (DVD) (S.R; F.S.) (D.C. also gives credits: Producer: Rolf de Maré; Scenario: Picabia; Music: Erik Satie; Actors: Man Ray, Inge Fiis, Marcel Duchamp, Georges Auric, Jean Borlin, Erik Satie) (P.A.S. gives credits: negative titling and film scenario written by Francis Picabia; music by Erik Satie)

Louis Delluc:
L’Innondation (D.C.) (S.R. spells as L’Inondation)

Kaleidoscope image of a woman's face

Jean Epstein:
La Belle Nivernaise (with Marcel L’Herbier) (D.C.)

Dimitri Kirsanov:
Ménilmontant (DVD) (S.R.; D.C.) (F.S. lists as 1924-25)

Fernand Léger:
Le Ballet Mécanique (DVD 1, DVD 2, DVD 3) (D.C.; F.S.; P.A.S.) (S.R. also credits with “assisted by Dudley Murphy”)

Germany:

Viking Eggeling:
Parallèle
Horizontale
(S.R.)

Walter Ruttmann:
Opera (Opus 1, 2, 3 etc.; 1922-4) (D.C.) (S.R. lists only under “Opus series” and as 1921-25) (D.E.J. lists Lichtspiel Opus 1 — see 1921 above)
“Dream of Hawks” animated sequences for Fritz Lang’s Die Nibelungen (S.R.; D.C.) (only D.C. provides the “Dream of Hawks” title)

Russia:

Sergei Eisenstein:
Strike (S.R.)

Dziga Vertov:
Kino-Eye (S.R.)

1925

Major Events:

In England, Film Society forms and includes members Ivor Montagu, Adrian Brunel, Alberto Cavalcanti and Thorold Dickinson. Sergei Eisenstein and Vsevolod Pudovkin give lectures. Hans Richter conducts an “abortive” film class. (D.C.)

“First international avant-garde film show was held in Berlin at UFA’s theatre Kurfürstendamm.” Screened: Clair’s Entr’acte (1924), Fernand Léger’s Ballet Mécanique (1924), Viking Eggeling’s Diagonal Symphony (1921), Hans Richter’s Rhythmus 23 (1923). (D.C.)

Significant Films:

U.S.:

Robert Flaherty:
24 Dollar Island (S.R.; D.C.)

Josef von Sternberg:
The Salvation Hunters (D.E.J.)

France:

Woman in silent movie looking forlorn

Henry Chomette:
Reflets de Lumière et de Vitesse (S.R.; D.C.)

Jean Epstein:
Photogénie (S.R.)

Dimitri Kirsanov:
Brumes d’Automne (DVD) (D.C.) (S.R. credits as 1926)

Marcel L’Herbier:
Feu Mathias Pascal (D.C.) (S.R. credits as 1924)

Germany:

Hans Richter:
Rhythmus 25 (S.R.)

Russia:

Sergei Eisenstein:
Potemkin (S.R.)

Dziga Vertov:
Kino-Pravda (1923-25) (S.R.)

1926

Major Events:

The Parufamet Agreement allows the immigration of German experimental filmmakers into Hollywood. (D.E.J.)

The Amateur Cinema League formed. Publishes magazine Movie Makers. (D.C.)

Lectures given by Slavko Vorkapich to the American Society of Cinematographers (ASC) are printed as articles in The Film Mercury and the ASC’s American Cinematographer. (D.E.J.)

Significant Films:

France:

Alberto Cavalcanti:
Rien que des heures (DVD) (S.R.; F.S.)

Man Ray adjusts the lens on his camera

Henry Chomette:
Cinq Minutes de Cinéma Pur (S.R.; D.C.)

René Clair:
Le Voyage Imaginaire (D.C.)

Man Ray:
Emak Bakia (DVD) (S.R.; D.C.; F.S.)

Jean Renoir:
Charleston (DVD) (S.R.)
Nana (D.C.)

Germany:

Hans Richter:
Film Study (S.R.; D.C.)

Russia:

Dziga Vertov:
Forward Soviet
The Sixth Part of the World
(S.R.)

1927

Major Events:

The Life and Death of 9413 — A Hollywood Extra is shot on 35mm for $97 over several weekends mostly in Slavko Vorkapich’s kitchen. (D.E.J.)

Kenneth Anger is born in Santa Monica as Kenneth Anglemyer. (D.E.J.) (P.A.S. says 1930)

Significant Films:

Still from Anemic Cinema featuring a circular abstract image

France:

Abel Gance:
Napoléon (S.R; D.C.)

Marcel Duchamp:
Anemic Cinema (DVD 1, DVD 2, DVD 3) (S.R.) (D.C. lists as 1926) (F.S. lists as 1925)  (F.S. and S.R. both spell as Anaemic Cinéma) (P.A.S. has listed as 1926 and 1927 in different chapters)

Germany:

Walter Ruttmann:
Berlin, the Symphony of a Great City (S.R.; F.S.) (P.A.S. titles film Berlin — Die Symfonie der Grosstadt)

Russia:

Sergei Eisenstein:
October or Ten Days That Shook the World (S.R.)

1928

Major Events:

Paramount hires Slavko Vorkapich to create montage sequences for their narrative films. (D.E.J.)

Curtis Harrington is born in Los Angeles. (D.E.J.)

Gregory Markopoulos is born to Greek immigrant parents in Toledo, Ohio. (D.E.J.)

Significant Films:

U.S.:

Walt Disney:
Steamboat Willie (F.S.)

Man with 9413 written on his forehead yells into a telephone

Paul Fejos:
The Last Moment (D.C.; D.E.J.) (S.R. lists as 1927)

Robert Florey:
The Life and Death of 9413 — A Hollywood Extra (designed by Slavko Vorkapich; photographed by Gregg Toland) (DVD 1, DVD 2) (S.R.) (D.E.J.) (D.C. lists, but doesn’t give a year)

Charles Klein:
Tell-Tale Heart (DVD) (S.R.; D.E.J.)

Dr. James Sibley Watson:
The Fall of the House of Usher (written by Melville Webber) (DVD) (S.R.; D.C.) (P.A.S. and D.E.J. don’t distinguish credits, just call film by Watson & Webber)

England:

Len Lye:
Tusalava (S.R.; P.A.S.) (D.C. lists as 1929)

France:

A priest pushes a man hanging from a rope

Luis Buñuel:
Un Chien Andalou (with Salvador Dali) (DVD) (S.R.; D.C.; P.A.S.) (F.S. lists as 1929)

Alberto Cavalcanti:
En Rade (S.R.)

Germaine Dulac:
La Coquille et le Clergyman (The Seashell and the Clergyman) (DVD 1, DVD 2) (S.R.; F.S.) (D.C. lists as 1926-7 and gives credit “scenario: Antoine Artaud”)

Jean Epstein:
Six et Demi Onze (D.C.)
La Glace à Trois Faces (DVD) (D.C.)
La Chute de la Maison Usher (The Fall of the House of Usher) (S.R.; F.S.) (D.C. also credits Louis Buñuel serving as apprentice)

Marcel L’Herbier:
L’Argent (D.C.)

Man Ray:
L’Etoile de Mer (DVD) (D.C.; F.S.) (P.A.S. titles film Étole de Mer and gives credit “Based on a poem by Robert Desnos”)

Close-up of a man pointing a gun

Jean Renoir:
Petite Marchande d’Allumettes (The Little Match Girl) (DVD) (D.C.) (S.R. lists as 1927)

Germany:

Hans Richter:
Ghosts Before Breakfast (1927-28) (DVD) (D.C.; F.S.) (S.R. just lists as 1928) (D.C. uses both the English and German title Vormittagsspuk) (F.S. spells German name as Vormittagspuk and lists as Ghosts Before Noon)

Walter Ruttmann:
Weekend (S.R.) (D.C. lists film with both the English title and the German title Wochenende)
Tonende Welle (Sounding Wave) (D.C.)

Holland:

Joris Ivens:
The Bridge
Rain (DVD)
(S.R.)

1929

Major Events:

The International Congress of Independent Film held at the Chateau de la Sarraz, Switzerland. Filmmakers from different countries in attendance are:
Alberto Cavalcanti and Isaacs (England)
Bela Balasz and Leon Moussinac (France)
Hans Richter and Walter Ruttmann (Germany)
Sergei Eisenstein, Edward Tisse and Grigori Alexandroff (Russia)
Film Liga (Holland)
(S.R., D.C.; D.E.J.)

C. Adolph Glassgold has his essay “The Films: Amateur or Professional?” published in The Arts, a journal mostly devoted to modernist painting. (D.E.J.)

The magazine American Cinematographer begins to include a column for amateurs, usually written by William Stull. (D.E.J.)

Significant Films:

U.S.:

Boris Deutsch:
Lullaby (D.E.J.)

Walt Disney:
The Skeleton Dance (F.S.)

Water pours out of a pump

Robert Florey:
The Loves of Zero
Johann the Coffin Maker
(S.R.) (D.E.J. lists both as 1928) (D.C. also lists both, but doesn’t give a concrete year)

Ralph Steiner:
H2O (DVD) (S.R.; D.C.)

Herman G. Weinberg:
City Symphony (S.R.; D.C.)

England:

Kenneth MacPherson:
Foothills (S.R.)

France:

Claude Autant-Lara:
How to Start a Fire (S.R.)

Georges Lacombe:
La Zone (S.R.)

Man Ray:
Les Mystères du Château du Dé (DVD) (S.R.; D.C.)

Jean Vigo:
A propos de Nice (made with Boris Kaufman) (S.R.)

Germany:

Oskar Fischinger:
Study No. 5 (F.S.)

Erno Metzner:
Uberfall (DVD) (S.R.; F.S.)

Still from Man With a Camera featuring an eyeball in a camera lens

Walter Ruttmann:
Melody of the World (S.R.) (P.A.S. titles film Die Melodie der Welt)

Holland:

Joris Ivens:
Branding (S.R.)

Russia:

Sergei Eisenstein:
The General Line or Old and New (S.R.)

Dziga Vertov:
Man With a Camera (DVD) (S.R.; D.C.)