Underground Film Journal

Underground Film Timeline: 1950 — 1959

Below is a list of significant events and films in underground film history between the years 1950 and 1959.

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.
J.M.: Jonas Mekas. Movie Journal: The Rise of a New American Cinema, 1959-1971. Collier Books, 1972.
J.S.: Jack Sargeant. Deathtripping: the Extreme Underground. Brooklyn: Soft Skull, 2008. (Originally published: London: Creation, 1995.)
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.

1950

Major Events:

Andy Warhol graduates from the Carnegie Institute in art. (S.R.)

Kenneth Anger moves to Paris. (P.A.S.)

Significant Films:

U.S.:

Kenneth Anger:
La Lune des Lapins (D.C.) (P.A.S. is unfinished due to lack of funds)

James Broughton:
The Adventures of Jimmy (DVD) (S.R.; D.C.; P.A.S.)

Rudy Burckhardt:
Mounting Tension (starring Larry Rivers) (S.R.)

Carmen D’Avino:
Vernissage (uncompleted) (S.R.)

Film Still from Blacktop by Charles Eames featuring abstract imagery

James Davis:
Color and Light No. 1 (S.R.)

Charles Eames:
Blacktop
Parade
(S.R.)

Ian Hugo:
Ai-Ye (S.R.) (S.M. lists as 1951)

Gregory Markopoulos:
Swain (Robert C. Freeman Jr. chose locations and mechanically operated the camera) (P.A.S.) (S.R. lists as 1951)

Harry Smith:
Number 4
Number 5
(S.R.)

France:

Jean Cocteau:
Orphée (DVD) (D.C.)

Jean Genet:
Un Chant d’Amour (DVD) (J.S.) (S.M. lists as 1952)

1951

Major Events:

Amos Vogel publishes his first brochure of “20 Experimental/Rental Films, from Cinema 16.” (S.M.)

Significant Films:

U.S.:

Kenneth Anger:
Le Jeune Homme et La Mort (short film of Cocteau’s ballet made in hopes of raising money for a feature-length version — not enough funds were raised) (P.A.S.) (S.R. lists as 1953 and says only B&W version exists)

James Broughton:
Four in the Afternoon (DVD 1, DVD 2, DVD 3) (S.R.; D.C.; P.A.S.)
Loony Tom (DVD) (S.R.) (D.C. lists as Loony Tom the Happy Lover)

Carmen D’Avino:
Finland (uncompleted) (S.R.)

James Davis:
Reflections No. 11
Refractions No. 1
(S.R.)

Chester Kessler:
Plague Summer (DVD) (S.R.)

Philip Leff:
Symphony (S.R.)

Film Still for Celery Stalks at Night featuring an abstract green shape

Gregory Markopoulos:
Flowers of Asphalt (aka Xmas USA 1949; Jackdaw; Father’s Day) (DVD) (S.R.) (P.A.S. just gives title Flowers of Asphalt)

Roger Bruce Rogers:
Rhapsody Motion Painting III (S.R.)

Harry Smith:
Number 6
Number 7
(S.R.)

John Whitney:
Celery Stalks at Midnight (B&W) (S.R.)

1952

Major Events:

Robert Breer starts filming while living in Paris. (S.R.)

Stan Vanderbeek goes to Black Mountain School of Art, not to study, but to tend to the school farm and work on painting and calligraphy. (S.R.)

Significant Films:

U.S.:

Kenneth Anger:
Maldoror (1951-52) (unfinished) (S.R.)

Jordan Belson:
Mambo (S.R.) (P.A.S. lists as 1951)
Caravan (S.R.; P.A.S.)

Robert Breer:
Form Phases I (P.A.S.) (S.R. lists as 1953)

Richard S. Brummer:
The Drum
First Fear
(S.R.)

James Davis:
Color Dances No. 1 (S.R.)

Wheaton Gelentine:
Water Stars (S.R.)

Curtis Harrington:
Dangerous Houses (S.R.; D.C.)

Hy Hirsch:
Divertissement Rococo (S.R.)

Ian Hugo:
Bells of Atlantis (starring Anais Nin; technical assist from Len Lye; electronic sound by Louis and Bebe Barron; inspired by Nin’s poem “House of Incest”) (DVD)
Venice Etude No. 1
(S.R.)

Weldon Kees:
Hotel Apex (S.R.)

Gregory Markopoulos:
Eldora (S.R.; P.A.S.)

Film still from Colour Cry featuring abstract squiggly lines on a plaid background

Frank Stauffacher:
Notes on the Port of St. Francis (S.R.; S.M.)

England:

Len Lye:
Colour Cry (S.R.; D.C.)

France:

Dimitri Kirsanov:
Arrière Saison (DVD) (S.R.)

1953

Major Events:

Oct. 28: Willard Maas, Maya Deren, Parker Tyler, Arthur Miller and Dylan Thomas gather at Cinema 16 to discuss applying poetic styles to filmmaking. (P.A.S.)

Jonas Mekas, Christopher MacLaine and Stan Brakhage finish their first films. (S.R.)

Christopher MacLaine’s The End signifies the end of a highly productive time of underground filmmaking in San Francisco that began with 1946’s The Potted Psalm. (P.A.S.)

Significant Films:

U.S.:

Kenneth Anger:
Eaux d’Artifice (DVD 1,DVD 2) (S.R.; D.C.; P.A.S.)

Jordan Belson:
Bop Scotch (1952-53) (S.R.; D.C.) (P.A.S. lists as just 1953)
Mandala (1952-53) (S.R.) (D.C. lists as just 1952) (P.A.S. lists as just 1953)

Stan Brakhage:
Interim (DVD) (S.R.)
Unglassed Windows Cast a Terrible Reflection (DVD) (S.R.)

Film still from The Pleasure Garden featuring a man chisling a statue

Robert Breer:
Form Phases II (S.R.; P.A.S.)
Form Phases III (S.R.)

James Broughton:
The Pleasure Garden (DVD) (S.R.; D.C.; P.A.S.)

Rudy Burckhardt:
The Automotive Story (S.R.)

Mary Ellen Bute:
Polka-Graph (S.R.; D.C.)

Shirley Clarke:
Dance in the Sun (S.R.; D.C.)

James Davis:
Analogies No. 1 (S.R.)

Morris Engel:
The Little Fugitive (S.R.)

Oskar Fischinger:
Muntz TV (D.C.)

Curtis Harrington:
The Assignation (S.R.) (D.E.J. lists as 1952)
Wormwood Star (D.C.) (S.R. lists as 1955 and begins title with “The“) (D.E.J. lists as 1956 and also begins title with “The“)

Christopher MacLaine:
The End (DVD) (S.R.; P.A.S.)

Patricia Marx:
Obmaru
Things to Come
(S.R.)

Jonas Mekas:
Grand Street (S.R.)

Robert Vickrey:
Texture of Decay (1947-53)
Oedipus (1950-53)
Appointment With Darkness (1950-53)
Carnival (1950-53)
(S.R.)

England:

Len Lye:
Rhythm (S.R.; D.C.; P.A.S.)

1954

Major Events:

Larry Jordan, the Kuchar brothers, Carmen D’Avino and Stan Vanderbeek finish their first films. (S.R.)

Kenneth Anger goes back to California to settle a family inheritance. (P.A.S.) (D.E.J. says Anger returned to L.A. in 1953 following his mother’s death)

Significant Films:

U.S.:

Kenneth Anger:
Inauguration of the Pleasure Dome (1954, recut 1966) (DVD) (S.R.; D.C.) (P.A.S. lists film as having three versions: this one, a 1958 version and a ’66 version) (D.E.J. notes film was shot in 1953 in the bungalow owned by Samson De Brier in the Hollywood Hills)

Film still from Desistfilm featuring a beatnik removing his shirt

Jordan Belson:
LSD (D.C.)

Stan Brakhage:
Desistfilm (DVD) (S.R.; D.C.; P.A.S.) (P.A.S. says that Larry Jordan appears in the film; and also has one reference (a typo?) to this being a 1953 film)
The Extraordinary Child (DVD) (S.R.)

Robert Breer:
Form Phases IV (S.R.)
Image by Images I (S.R.; P.A.S.)
A Miracle (S.R.) (P.A.S. lists as Un Miracle)

Mary Ellen Bute:
Abstronics (S.R.; D.C.) (DVD)
Color Rhapsody (S.R.)
Mood Contrast (S.R.)

Carmen D’Avino:
Patterns for a Sunday Afternoon (S.R.)

James Davis:
Thru the Looking Glass (S.R.)

Allen Down:
Freight Stop (S.R.)

Oskar Fischinger:
Oklahoma (D.C.)

Wheaton Gelentine:
Treadle and Bobbin (S.R.)

Ian Hugo:
Jazz of Lights (S.R.)

Larry Jordan:
Morning Game
The Child’s Hand
(S.R.)

George and Mike Kuchar:
The Wet Destruction of the Atlantic Empire (S.R.)

Harry Smith:
Number 8
Number 9
(S.R.)

France:

Dimitri Kirsanov:
Mort D’un Cerf (DVD) (S.R.)

1955

Major Events:

Bruce Baillie earns a degree in art at the University of Minnesota. (S.R.)

Jonas Mekas publishes the first issue of Film Culture. It includes an article by Hans Richter, who taught Jonas and his brother Adolfas at the Film Institute of City College of New York. (P.A.S.) (D.C. just says that Mekas “founds” Film Culture.)

Kenneth Anger completes a documentary of the erotic paintings of Aleister Crowley, but it is either lost or Anger just refuses to show it. (P.A.S.)

Significant Films:

U.S.:

Kenneth Anger:
Thelema Abbey (documentary for BBC) (S.R.) (P.A.S. claims Anger “lost” a documentary during this year — see above — but it’s unclear if he means Thelema Abbey or another project)

Stan Brakhage:
In Between (S.R.; D.C.; P.A.S.)
The Way to the Shadow Garden (DVD) (S.R.; D.C.; P.A.S.)
Reflections on Black (S.R.; D.C.; P.A.S.)
The Wonder Ring (DVD) (S.R.; D.C.; P.A.S.)

Robert Breer:
Image by Images II
Image by Images III
(S.R.)

Rudy Burckhardt:
Under the Brooklyn Bridge (S.R.)

Mary Ellen Bute:
The Skin of Our Teeth (1955 — ) (S.R.)

Film still from Gumbasia featuring stop-motion clay figures

Shirley Clarke:
Bullfight (S.R.) (D.C. includes credit “with Anna Sokolow”)

Art Clokey:
Gumbasia (S.R.)

James Davis:
Becoming
Evolutions (DVD)
Writ in Water
(S.R.)

Charles Eames:
House (S.R.)

Larry Jordan:
Romantic Adventure of Edward (1955, recut 1957, 1965) (S.R.)
Man Is in Pain (S.R.; P.A.S.)

Willard Maas:
The Mechanics of Love (with Ben Moore) (DVD) (S.R.; D.C.)

Norman McLaren:
Blinkety Blank (D.C.)

Jonas Mekas:
Silent Journey (S.R.)
Circus Notebook (D.C.)

Stan Vanderbeek:
What Who How
Visioniii
(S.R.)

James Whitney:
Yantra (S.R.; P.A.S.) (D.C. lists as 1950-57)

Christopher Young:
Subject Lesson (1953-55) (S.R.)

Austria:

Peter Kubelka:
Mosaik im Vertrauen (1954-55) (P.A.S.)

France:

Alexandre Alexeieff (with Clair Parker, his wife):
Seve de la Terre (D.C.)

1956

Major Events:

Ken Jacobs and Jack Smith finish their first films. (S.R.)

Cinema 16 hosts the New York premiere of Kenneth Anger‘s Inauguration of the Pleasure Dome. (P.A.S.)

Stan Brakhage, age 23, comes to Hollywood in the fall, hoping to work on Charles Laughton’s The Naked and the Dead, except that Laughton by then was off the project. Instead, he ended up taking odd jobs at commercial filmmaking houses. He also met Sidney Peterson, Kenneth Anger and Curtis Harrington.

Significant Films:

U.S.:

Stan Brakhage:
Zone Moment (S.R.)
Night Cats (S.R.; D.C.; P.A.S.; D.E.J.)
Flesh of the Morning (D.C.) (S.R. lists as 1956-57) (P.A.S. & D.E.J. call film Flesh of Morning)

Robert Breer:
Image by Images IV
Motion Pictures
Cats
(S.R.; P.A.S.)

Rudy Burckhardt:
What Mozart Saw on Mulberry Street (S.R.)

Carmen D’Avino:
Theme and Transition (S.R.)

Morris Engel:
Lovers and Lollipops
Weddings and Babies
(S.R.)

Ken Jacobs:
Orchard Street (1956– ) (unfinished) (S.R.)

Larry Jordan:
Trumpit (1955-56) (S.R.) (P.A.S. lists as just 1956)
3 (1955-56) (S.R.)
Undertow (S.R.)

Willard Maas:
Narcissus (starring Ben Moore) (P.A.S. also lists films as 1958)

Harry Smith:
Number 10
Number 11
(S.R.)

Jack Smith:
Buzzards Over Baghdad (1951-56) (never completed) (S.R.; J.S.)

Robert Vickrey:
Miracle for Sale Cheap (S.R.)

James Whitney:
Lapis (1953-56) (D.C.) (S.R. lists as 1963-66)

1957

Major Events:

October 11: Raymond Rohauer is arrested in Los Angeles for screening “obscene” films. The films are Kenneth Anger‘s Fireworks and John E. Schmitz’s The Voices. (Article)

Vortex Concerts, curated by Henry Jacobs, begin at the Morrison Planetarium at the California Academy of Sciences in San Francisco. The concerts ran until 1959 and included footage by James Whitney, Jordan Belson and Hy Hirsch. (S.R.) (D.C. claims Jordan Belson made films for the concert series 1957-60)

Marie Menken returns to film. (S.R.)

Joseph Marzano and George Manupelli begin their film careers. (S.R.)

Bob Pike founds the Creative Film Society in Los Angeles to help underground filmmakers share their ideas and equipment; and to distribute their films. (S.M.) (D.C. also lists founding members as Wallace Berman, Curtis Harrington, John and James Whitney, Ray and Charles Eames and Oskar Fischinger.)

Although Film Culture was originally hostile to the experimental film scene, the November issue devotes half of its pages to presenting “The Experimental Scene” in a positive light. (P.A.S.)

Significant Films:

U.S.:

Film still from A Man and His Dog Out for Air featuring a drawing of a fat man walking his dog

Stan Brakhage:
Daybreak and Whiteye (P.A.S.) (S.R. calls film just Whiteye)
Loving (P.A.S.) (D.C. lists as 1956) (S.R. lists as 1957-58)

Robert Breer:
Jamestown Baloos (S.R.; D.C.; P.A.S.)
A Man and His Dog Out for Air (S.R.; P.A.S.)
Par Avion (S.R.; P.A.S.)
Recreation I (1956-57) (S.R.; P.A.S.) (D.C. lists just as 1956 and as Recreation)
Recreation II (1956-57) (S.R.)

Rudy Burckhardt:
Eastside Summer (S.R.)

John Cassavetes:
Shadows (S.R.)

Shirley Clarke:
A Moment in Love (S.R.) (D.C. doesn’t include “A” in the title and does include credit “with Anna Sokolow”)

Jane Conger:
Logos (S.R.)

James Davis:
Energies (S.R.)

Ken Jacobs:
Saturday Afternoon Blood Sacrifice: TV Plug: Little Cobra Dance (starring Jack Smith) (S.R.) (J.S. gives titles as Little Cobra Dance: Saturday Afternoon Blood Sacrifice)
Star Spangled to Death (1957– ) (unfinished) (starring Jack Smith) (S.R.)

George and Mike Kuchar:
Screwball
The Naked and the Nude
(S.R.)

Marie Menken:
Glimpse of the Garden (DVD)
Hurry! Hurry! (DVD)
(S.R.; D.C.)

Charles Eames:
Toccata for Toy Trains (S.R.)

Larry Jordan:
Water Light (S.R.)

Hans Richter:
Dadascope 1 and 2 (D.C.)
8×8 (1952-7) (involving Marcel Duchamp, Jean Arp and Jean Cocteau) (D.C.) (S.R. lists film as just 1957 and only mentions Richter)

Lionel Rogosin:
On the Bowery (S.R.)

Francis Thompson:
N.Y., N.Y. (S.R.; D.C.) (DVD)

Stan Vanderbeek:
Mankinda (1956-57)
Yet
Street Meet
(S.R.)

Robert Vickrey:
Ellen in Window Land (1956-57)
Playground
(S.R.)

John Whitney:
Celery Stalks at Midnight (Color) (DVD) (S.R.)
Multiscreen collaboration with Charles Eames for a Moscow exhibition

Austria:

Peter Kubelka:
Adebar (P.A.S.) (D.C. lists as 1956-57)

Germany:

Werner Nekes:
Gurtrug 1 (D.C.)
Gurtug 2 (D.C.)

1958

Major Events:

February 20: Raymond Rohauer is found guilty in a jury trial in Los Angeles for screening “obscene” films. The films are Kenneth Anger‘s Fireworks and John E. Schmitz’s The Voices. (Article)

November 12: The Village Voice publishes Jonas Mekas‘s first “Movie Journal” column. (J.M.) (P.A.S. just says that Mekas became the film critic of the Village Voice.)

The fifth Vortex Concert is held at the Brussels World’s Fair. (S.R.)

Robert Branaman, Bruce Conner and Richard Preston begin film careers. (S.R.)

Brussels Experimental Film Festival is held. “When the awards were given out, the Americans were well represented, by people like [Stan] Brakhage, Hirsch, Kenneth Anger, Hilary Harris, and Len Lye.” (S.R.) (P.A.S. notes this was the 2nd edition of the festival)

Kenneth Anger screens 2nd version of Inauguration of the Pleasure Dome (1954, recut 1966) at Brussels Experimental Film Festival. (S.R.) (P.A.S. adds that film has a three-screen synchronous projection for the finale.) (D.E.J. also notes the three-screen film wins the Prix de l’Age d’or.)

At the international experimental film competition in Brussels, Len Lye won 2nd Prize ($5,000) for Free Radicals. (Article)

Significant Films:

U.S.:

Kenneth Anger:
Inauguration of the Pleasure Dome (2nd version) (P.A.S.)

Jordan Belson:
Flight (S.R.; D.C.; P.A.S.)

Stan Brakhage:
Anticipation of the Night (S.R.; D.C.; P.A.S.) (D.E.J. implies film was completed in 1957)

Film still from A Movie featuring an atomic bomb blast from the '50s

Mary Ellen Bute:
The Boy Who Saw Through (1956-58) (S.R.)

Bruce Conner:
A Movie (S.R.; D.C.; P.A.S.) (S.M. lists movie as 1959)

Carmen D’Avino:
The Big O
The Weavers
(S.R.)

Hy Hirsch:
Gyromorphosis (S.R.) (DVD)

Ian Hugo:
Melodic Inversion (S.R.)

Larry Jordan:
Tryptych (S.R.)

George and Mike Kuchar:
The Slasher (S.R.)

Stan Vanderbeek:
Astral Man
Ala Mode
Three-Screen-Scene
(S.R.)

John Whitney:
Opening title sequence for Alfred Hitchcock’s Vertigo (in association with Saul Bass) (D.C.)

Austria:

Peter Kubelka:
Schwechater (P.A.S.) (D.C. lists as 1957-58)

England:

Len Lye:
Free Radicals (S.R.; D.C.; P.A.S.)

1959

Major Events:

February 27: Raymond Rohauer has his obscenity conviction reversed by a Superior Court in Los Angeles. He had been convicted of screening films with homosexual content and a naked woman. The films were Kenneth Anger‘s Fireworks and John E. Schmitz’s The Voices. (Article)

Late FebruaryMaya Deren premieres The Very Eye of Night at a retrospective of her work at The Living Theatre. There were then two command performances at the Cherry Lane. (J.M.)

Mid November: Robert Frank and Alfred Leslie’s Pull My Daisy premieres at the Cinema 16 screening series in NYC. (J.M.)

Film Culture (Number 19, Spring, 1959) prints article “Morning for the Experimental Film” by Lewis Jacobs that reads: “film which for most of its life has led an underground existence.” (S.R.)

Film Culture establishes the Independent Film Award. (P.A.S.)

Bruce Baillie enters the London School of Film Technique. (S.R.)

Ed Emshwiller finishes first film. (S.R.)

During the summer, Maya Deren gives a series of lectures in Woodstock, NY. (P.A.S.)

Maya Deren has her essay “Amateur versus Professional” published. (D.E.J.)

Robert Breer resettles in the U.S. in Palisades, NY after studying art in Paris. (P.A.S.)

Significant Films:

U.S.:

Jordan Belson:
Raga
Seance
(S.R.; D.C.; P.A.S.)

Charles Boultenhouse:
Hand Written (D.C.)

Stan Brakhage:
Wedlock House: An Intercourse (DVD) (S.R.; D.C.; P.A.S.)
Window Water Baby Moving (DVD) (S.R.; D.C.; P.A.S.; S.M.)
Sirius Remembered (S.R.; D.C.; P.A.S.)
Cat’s Cradle (1958-59) (DVD) (S.R.; D.C.) (P.A.S. lists as just 1959)

Robert Breer:
Eyewash (1958-59) (DVD) (S.R.) (P.A.S. lists as just 1959)

Film still from Bridges-Go-Round featuring a blue tinted bridge view of New York City

Rudy Burckhardt:
Millions in Business as Usual (S.R.)

Shirley Clarke:
Bridges-Go-Round (1958-59) (DVD) (S.R.) (D.C. lists as just 1958)

Carmen D’Avino:
The Room (1958-59) (S.R.)

Maya Deren:
The Very Eye of Night (DVD) (S.R.) (D.C. lists as both 1959 & 1958) (P.A.S. lists as 1958)

Ed Emshwiller:
Dance Chromatic (S.R.; D.C.)
Transformations (S.R.)

George and Mike Kuchar:
The Thief and the Stripper (S.R.; J.S.)

Alfred Leslie and Robert Frank:
Pull My Daisy (J.M. says film premiered in NYC in November; but S.R. gives a year of 1958)

Marie Menken:
Dwightania (S.R.)

Lionel Rogosin:
Come Back Africa (S.R.)

Harry Smith:
Number 12 (1943-58) (aka The Magic Feature per Jonas Mekas) (S.R.) (P.A.S. lists as “approx. 1950-60” and calls film Heaven and Earth Magic)

Stan Vanderbeek:
Wheeels # 2 (1958-59) (S.R.)

France:

Jean Cocteau:
Le Testament d’Orphée (DVD) (D.C.)