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Underground Film Timeline: 1940 — 1949

Below is a list of significant events and films in underground film history between the years 1940 and 1949. Reference key of sources appears at the bottom of the page.

1940

MAJOR EVENTS

October: May Ray arrives in Los Angeles after driving cross country from NYC.

(D.E.J.)

Maya Deren goes on tour with professional dancer Katherine Dunham in hopes of writing a theoretical book on modern dance. However, that book was never written.

(P.A.S.)

SIGNIFICANT FILMS

ENGLAND

Len Lye

Musical Poster

(S.R.)

U.S.

Mary Ellen Bute

Escape

(S.R.)

Douglass Crockwell

Fantasmagoria series (1938-40)

(D.C.) (S.R. just lists Fantasmagoria I only — see 1938)

Oskar Fischinger

An American March

(for MGM; set to “Stars and Stripes” by John Philip Sousa) (D.C.) (S.R. lists as 1939)

Dwinnel Grant

Themis

(S.R.)

Film still from Mary Ellen Bute's Escape featuring a triangle amid a spiral background
Escape

1941

MAJOR EVENTS

May Ray has show at Frank Perls Gallery on Sunset Boulevard.

(D.E.J.)

Maya Deren arrives in Los Angeles with choreographer Katherine Dunham and her dance troupe whom she was working for as a publicity director.

(D.E.J.)

SIGNIFICANT FILMS

U.S.

Kenneth Anger

Who Has Been Rocking My Dream Boat?

(S.R.; P.A.S.)

Mary Ellen Bute

Tarantella

(S.R.) (DVD1, DVD2)

Dwinnel Grant

Contrathemis

(S.R.)

Frances Lee

1941

(S.R.)

Christopher Young

Object Lesson

(S.R.)

1942

MAJOR EVENTS

Twin brothers George and Mike Kuchar are born in the Bronx.

(J.S.)

Maya Deren and Alexander Hammid marry.

(P.A.S.)

Salvador Dali publishes his first autobiography.

(P.A.S.)

SIGNIFICANT FILMS

U.S.

Kenneth Anger

Tinsel Tree

(1941-42) (S.R.; D.C.; P.A.S.)

Prisoner of Mars

(S.R.; P.A.S.)

John Hoffman & Slavko Vorkapich

Moods of the Sea

(D.E.J.)

Mylon Meriam

unnamed abstract films (1941-42)

(S.R.)

Harry Smith

Number 2 (1940-42)

(S.R.)

1943

MAJOR EVENTS

October 15: Man Ray has a screening of his films at the American Contemporary Gallery.

(D.E.J.)

Surrealist cinema is revived in the U.S.

(P.A.S.)

SIGNIFICANT FILMS

FRANCE

Alexandre Alexeieff (with Clair Parker, his wife)

En Passant

(D.C.)

U.S.

Kenneth Anger

The Nest

(S.R.; D.C.; P.A.S.)

Maya Deren

Meshes of the Afternoon

(S.R.; D.C.; F.S.; P.A.S.) (With Alexander Hammid) (DVD1, DVD2, DVD3)

Willard Maas

Geography of the Body

(photography by Marie Menken) (S.R.) (D.C. credits film to Maas and Menken, too, but also credits as being made by the Gryphon Group and also partially involved Norman McLaren.) (P.A.S. says film is made with Marie Menken and poet George Barker) (DVD)

Man Ray

Juliet

(D.E.J. says “around 1943”)

John and James Whitney

Variations (1941-43)

(S.R.; D.C.)

Film Exercise 1

(S.R.) (F.S. has a 1943 entry for the Whitneys listed as “First sound film”)

Film still from Meshes of the Afternoon featuring Maya Deren looking out a window
Meshes of the Afternoon

1944

MAJOR EVENTS

After reediting documentaries for NYC’s Museum of Modern Art for a few years, Luis Bunuel is fired over his Communist affiliations. He returns to Los Angeles afterward.

(D.E.J.)

Salvador Dali visits Hollywood for a year where he creates the dream sequences for Alfred Hitchcock’s Spellbound.

(P.A.S.)

The book The Hollywood Hallucination by Parker Tyler is published.

(D.E.J.)

SIGNIFICANT FILMS

U.S.

Kenneth Anger

Escape Episode

(sound version in 1946) (P.A.S.) (D.E.J.)

Maya Deren

At Land

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

Gjon Mili

Jammin’ the Blues

(F.S.) (WATCH)

Man Ray & Hans Richter

View

(D.E.J. says scenario written by Man Ray and shot by Hans Richter)

John and James Whitney

Film Exercise 2
Film Exercise 3
Film Exercise 4
Film Exercise 5

(S.R.) (F.S. has three entries for the Whitneys in 1944 — they’re listed as  “Fragments,” “Fourth film” (four sections), and “Fifth film”)

1945

MAJOR EVENTS

Maya Deren enters Meshes of the Afternoon into a competition hosted by the Amateur Cinema League and wins an Honorable Mention.

(D.E.J.) (Read Article)

Man Ray has show at Julien Levy Gallery and a retrospective at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art.

(D.E.J.)

Curtis Harrington transfers to the USC film program after beginning his studies at Occidental College.

(D.E.J.)

SIGNIFICANT FILMS

U.S.

Kenneth Anger

Drastic Demise

(S.R.; P.A.S.)

Maya Deren

A Study in Choreography for Camera

(S.R.; D.C.) (F.S. lists as a collaboration with Talley Beatty) (P.A.S. calls Beatty a “performer”) (DVD)

Dwinnel Grant

Three Dimensional Experiments

(S.R.)

Alexander Hammid

The Private Life of a Cat

(S.M.) (DVD)

Marie Menken

Visual Variations on Noguchi

(DVD 1, DVD 2)

Film still from Visual Variations on Noguchi featuring bike wheel spokes
Visual Variations on Noguchi

1946

MAJOR EVENTS

Maya Deren publishes monograph An Anagram of Ideas on Art Form and Film (Bookshop Press).

(D.C.)

Maya Deren rents the Provincetown Playhouse on MacDougal Street, NY for a one-night show of her first 3 films. Repeat screenings were arranged immediately.

(D.C.)

Maya Deren is the first female recipient of a Guggenheim Foundation grant. She used the money to travel to Haiti to film dances and rituals.

(P.A.S.)

Sidney Peterson, James Broughton and two other people — one owned a small film company and the other had some money — gather in Peterson’s living room to discuss making their first film together. They would shoot The Potted Psalm over the summer, although the money guy abandoned the project and the film company guy just lent equipment.

(P.A.S.)

Jordan Belson graduates from the California School of Fine Arts.

(P.A.S.)

Man Ray marries Juliet Browner.

(D.E.J.)

Believing he’ll never have a chance to make another film, Luis Bunuel leaves Los Angeles for Mexico.

(D.E.J.)

Walt Disney asks Salvador Dali to create a six-minute animated segment for the compilation film Destino. Only a color test is shot before the whole project falls apart.

(D.E.J.)

Gregory Markopoulos enrolls in the USC film program where he lives across the hall from Curtis Harrington.

(D.E.J.)

SIGNIFICANT FILMS

U.S.

Kenneth Anger

Escape Episode

(silent version in 1944) (P.A.S.) (S.R. just lists as 1944-46)

Douglass Crockwell

Glen Falls Sequence

(S.R.; D.C.)

Maya Deren

Ritual in Transfigured Time

(S.R.) (F.S. lists as 1945-46) (DVD)

Curtis Harrington

Fragment of Seeking

(S.R.; P.A.S.; S.M.) (D.C. also credits Camera Assistant as Gregory J. Markopoulos) (D.E.J. notes Gregory Markopoulos “pushed the starter” on the camera)

Sidney Peterson and James Broughton

The Potted Psalm

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

Hans Richter

Dreams That Money Can Buy

(scenarios by: Alexander Calder, Marcel Duchamp, Max Ernst, Fernand Léger and Man Ray) (S.R.; D.C.) (F.S. lists as 1944-46)

Film still from The Potted Psalm featuring a man with a bird cage on his head
The Potted Psalm

1947

MAJOR EVENTS

April: A screening of the films of Maya Deren is held by the Experimental Film Society, a short-lived organization formed by Curtis Harrington and Kenneth Anger.

(D.E.J.)

Frank Stauffacher and Richard Foster begin the “Art in Cinema” series of film screenings. The first season was accompanied by an Art in Cinema book, which includes mentions of Mary Ellen Bute, Maya Deren, Dwinell Grant, Douglass Crockwell, Hans Richter, John and James Whitney, James Broughton, Sidney Peterson and Oskar Fischinger.

(S.R.; D.C.) (D.E.J. says Art in Cinema was launched in October of 1946)

Anais Nin meets Curtis Harrington and Kenneth Anger, noting that the pair were “devoted to [Jean] Cocteau and Maya Deren.”

(D.E.J.)

SIGNIFICANT FILMS

U.S.

Kenneth Anger

Fireworks

(D.C.; P.A.S.) (S.R. also credits “assistant camerawork” to Chester Kessler) (DVD)

Sarah Arledge

Introspection

(S.R.)

Jordan Belson

Transmutation

(S.R.; D.C.; P.A.S.)

Douglass Crockwell

The Long Bodies (1946-47)

(S.R.) (D.C. doesn’t include “The” in the title)

John Hoffman & Slavko Vorkapich

Forest Murmurs

(D.E.J.)

Robert Howard

Meta

(S.R.)

Francis Lee

Le Bijou

(S.R.)

Gregory Markopoulos

Psyche (1947-48)

(P.A.S.; S.M.) (S.R. lists as 1947-48)

Hal McCormick

Suite #2

(S.R.)

Norman McLaren

Fiddle-De-Dee

(S.M.)

Sidney Peterson

The Cage

(S.R.; S.M.) (D.C. credits “with Hy Hirsh”) (P.A.S. credits Hy Hirsh as cameraman) (DVD)

Horror Dream

(S.R.) (D.C. credits “with Hy Hirsh”)

Clinic of Stumble

(S.R.) (D.C. credits “with Hy Hirsh”)

Harry Smith

Number 3 (1942-47)

(S.R.) (DVD)

Joseph Vogel

House of Cards

(S.R.) (DVD)

All the News

(S.R.)

1948

MAJOR EVENTS

Lewis Jacobs writes the essay “Experimental Cinema in America,” which is published in Hollywood Quarterly 3.2 and is the first substantial history of avant garde filmmaking in the U.S. The article also favorably mentions Kenneth Anger‘s film Escape Episode.

(D.E.J.)

Gregg Toland passes away.

(D.E.J.)

Man Ray has show at the new Copley Galleries in Beverly Hills.

(D.E.J.)

SIGNIFICANT FILMS

U.S.

Dorsey Alexander

Life and Death of a Sphere

(S.R.)

Kenneth Anger

The Love That Whirls

(intended to be feature-length — unfinished when laboratory destroyed “obscene” footage of Mexican rituals performed in the nude) (P.A.S.) (S.R. identifies lab as Kodak Laboratories and calls footage a “fake nude sacrifice”)

Jordan Belson

Improvisations #1

(S.R.; D.C.)

James Broughton

Mother’s Day

(S.R.; D.C.) (P.A.S. credits Frank Stauffacher as cameraman) (DVD)

James Davis

Light Reflections

(S.R.)

Painting and Plastics

(S.R.)

Shadows and Light Reflections

(S.R.) (D.C. lists film as Light Reflections and Shadows)

Maya Deren

Meditation on Violence

(S.R.; D.C.; P.A.S.) (DVD1, DVD2)

Curtis Harrington

Picnic

(S.R.; D.C.; P.A.S.; S.M.; D.E.J.)

Hugo Latelin

Color Designs #1

(S.R.)

Francis Lee

The Idyl

(S.R.)

Willard Maas

Images in the Snow (1943-48)

(S.R.) (D.C. also credits as “assisted by Marie Menken“)

Gregory Markopoulos

The Dead Ones

(S.R.) (D.E.J. says film is shot in early 1949, but that Markopoulos was forced to leave film at the lab until he could recover it in 1965)

Lysis

(S.R.; S.M.)

Charmides

(D.C. lists Lysis, Charmides and Psyche under one title: Du Sang de la Volupté et de la Mort)

Sidney Myers

The Quiet One

(S.R.) (S.M. lists with Janice Loeb)

Sidney Peterson

The Petrified Dog

(S.R.) (DVD)

Frank Stauffacher

Sausilito

Zig Zag

(S.R.)

Willard Maas Images in the Snow film still
Images in the Snow

1949

MAJOR EVENTS

Robert Breer graduates in painting from Stanford.

(S.R.)

Ed Emshwiller graduates with a B.A. in Design from the University of Michigan.

(S.R.)

Brussels Experimental Film Festival is held.

(D.C.)

Curtis Harrington has an assessment of his mentor Josef von Sternberg, called “The Dangerous Compromise,” published in the Hollywood Quarterly. He claims the filmmaker is the biggest influence of the American experimental film scene.

(D.E.J.)

Creative Film Associates is a distribution company formed by Kenneth Anger and Curtis Harrington that offers for rental all of the films of the Los Angeles avant-garde: Films by Maya Deren, John Whitney, James Whitney, Anger and Harrington.

(D.E.J.)

SIGNIFICANT FILMS

FRANCE

Dimitri Kirsanov

Morte Moisson

(D.C.)

U.S.

Kenneth Anger

Puce Moment

(D.C.; D.E.J.) (S.R. lists as 1948) (P.A.S. says film is but a fragment from the unfinished Puce Women) (DVD)

Dorsey Alexander

Dime Store

(S.R.)

Oskar Fischinger

Motion Painting No. 1

(S.R.; D.C.)

Curtis Harrington

On the Edge

(S.R.; D.C.; S.M.; D.E.J.)

Sidney Peterson

Mr. Frenhofer and the Minotaur

(S.R.)

The Lead Shoes

(S.R.; D.C.) (P.A.S. notes that film was conceptualized and made with students in a summer Workshop 20 program)(DVD)

Roger Bruce Rogers

Toccata Manhatta

Round Trip in Modern Art

(S.R.)

Leonard Tregillus and R. W. Luce

Proem

(S.R.)

John and James Whitney

Five Abstract Film Exercises, Studies in Motion

(D.C.)

John Whitney

Mozart Rondo (1947-49)

Hot House (1947-49)

(S.R.)

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)
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.R.: Sheldon Renan. An Introduction to the American Underground Film. New York: Dutton, 1967.