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Underground Film Timeline: 1920 — 1929

Below is a list of significant events and films in underground film history between the years 1920 and 1929. Reference key of sources appears at the bottom of the page.

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

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)

U.S.

Dudley Murphy

Aphrodite

(D.E.J.)

Soul of the Cypress

(D.E.J.)

Anywhere Out of the World

(D.E.J.)

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

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.)

Bell and Howell market the first 16mm camera.

(D.E.J.)

SIGNIFICANT FILMS

FRANCE

Louis Delluc

Fièvre

(D.C.) (S.R. credits film as 1922)

Marcel L’Herbier

El Dorado

(D.C.)

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)

Walter Ruttman

Lichtspiel Opus 1

(D.E.J.)

RUSSIA

Dziga Vertov

History of the Civil War

(S.R.)

U.S.

Charles Sheeler and Paul Strand

Manhatta

(DVD 1, DVD 2) (S.R.; D.C.; D.E.J.)

Abstract film still featuring black and white rectangles of various shapes
Rhythmus 21
Skyline of '20s New York City including the Brooklyn Bridge
Manhatta

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

FRANCE

Louis Delluc

La Femme de nulle Part

(S.R.; D.C.)

Germaine Dulac

La Souriante Madame Beudet (The Smiling Madame Beudet)

(DVD) (S.R.; D.C.; F.S.)

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.)

U.S.

Charles Bryant

Salomé

(D.E.J.)

B&W abstract shapes
Diagonal Symphony

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.)

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)

An abstract shape casting a shadow
La Retour à la Raison

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)

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.)

Kaleidoscope image of a woman's face
Le Ballet Mécanique

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

FRANCE

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.)

U.S.

Robert Flaherty

24 Dollar Island

(S.R.; D.C.)

Josef von Sternberg

The Salvation Hunters

(D.E.J.)

Woman in silent movie looking forlorn
Brumes d’Automne

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.)

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.)

Man Ray adjusts the lens on his camera
Emak Bakia

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

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.)

Still from Anemic Cinema featuring a circular abstract image
Anemic Cinema

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

ENGLAND

Len Lye

Tusalava

(S.R.; P.A.S.) (D.C. lists as 1929)

FRANCE

Luis Buñuel

Un Chien Andalou

(DVD)(with Salvador Dali) (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”)

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.)

U.S.

Walt Disney

Steamboat Willie

(F.S.)

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

(DVD 1, DVD 2) (designed by Slavko Vorkapich; photographed by Gregg Toland) (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

(DVD)(written by Melville Webber) (S.R.; D.C.) (P.A.S. and D.E.J. don’t distinguish credits, just call film by Watson & Webber)

A priest pushes a man hanging from a rope
La Coquille et le Clergyman
Close-up of a man pointing a gun
Ghosts Before Breakfast
Man with 9413 written on his forehead yells into a telephone
The Life and Death of 9413

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

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.)

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.)

U.S.

Boris Deutsch

Lullaby

(D.E.J.)

Walt Disney

The Skeleton Dance

(F.S.)

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.)

Still from Man With a Camera featuring an eyeball in a camera lens
Man With a Movie Camera
Water pours out of a pump
H2O

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.