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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 of sources appears at the bottom of the page.

1950

MAJOR EVENTS

Andy Warhol graduates from the Carnegie Institute in art.

(S.R.)

Kenneth Anger moves to Paris.

(P.A.S.)

SIGNIFICANT FILMS

FRANCE

Jean Cocteau

Orphée

(D.C.) (DVD)

Jean Genet

Un Chant d’Amour

(J.S.) (S.M. lists as 1952) (DVD)

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

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

Rudy Burckhardt

Mounting Tension

(S.R.) (starring Larry Rivers)

Carmen D’Avino

Vernissage

(S.R.) (uncompleted)

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

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

Harry Smith

Number 4

Number 5

(S.R.)

Film Still from Blacktop by Charles Eames featuring abstract imagery
Blacktop

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

(S.R.; D.C.; P.A.S.) (DVD 1, DVD 2, DVD 3)

Loony Tom

(S.R.) (D.C. lists as Loony Tom the Happy Lover) (DVD)

Carmen D’Avino

Finland (uncompleted)

(S.R.)

James Davis

Reflections No. 11

Refractions No. 1

(S.R.)

Chester Kessler

Plague Summer

(S.R.) (DVD)

Philip Leff

Symphony

(S.R.)

Gregory Markopoulos

Flowers of Asphalt (aka Xmas USA 1949; Jackdaw; Father’s Day)

(S.R.) (P.A.S. just gives title Flowers of Asphalt) (DVD)

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.)

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

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

ENGLAND

Len Lye

Colour Cry

(S.R.; D.C.)

FRANCE

Dimitri Kirsanov

Arrière Saison

(S.R.) (DVD)

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.)

Frank Stauffacher

Notes on the Port of St. Francis

(S.R.; S.M.)

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

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

ENGLAND

Len Lye

Rhythm

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

U.S.

Kenneth Anger

Eaux d’Artifice

(S.R.; D.C.; P.A.S.) (DVD 1,DVD 2)

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

(S.R.) (DVD)

Unglassed Windows Cast a Terrible Reflection

(S.R.) (DVD)

Robert Breer

Form Phases II

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

Form Phases III

(S.R.)

James Broughton

The Pleasure Garden

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

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

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

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.)

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

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

FRANCE

Dimitri Kirsanov

Mort D’un Cerf

(S.R.) (DVD)

U.S.

Kenneth Anger

Inauguration of the Pleasure Dome (1954, recut 1966)

(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) (DVD)

Stan Brakhage

Desistfilm

(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) (DVD)

The Extraordinary Child

(S.R.) (DVD)

Jordan Belson

LSD

(D.C.)

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.)

Film still from Desistfilm featuring a beatnik removing his shirt
Desistfilm

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

AUSTRIA

Peter Kubelka

Mosaik im Vertrauen (1954-55)

(P.A.S.)

FRANCE

Alexandre Alexeieff

Seve de la Terre

(with Clair Parker, his wife) (D.C.)

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

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

Reflections on Black

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

The Wonder Ring

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

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.)

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

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.)

Film still from Gumbasia featuring stop-motion clay figures
Gumbasia

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.

(D.E.J.)

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.) (P.A.S. lists as just 1956)

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
A Man and His Dog Out for Air

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.) (Article)

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
A Movie

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.)

May 5: Jonas Mekas meets Ron Rice for the first time. Rice is anxious to start making movies.

(Article)

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.) (Award given in issue 19 of Film Culture)

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, N.Y.

(P.A.S.)

Maya Deren has her essay “Amateur versus Professional” published.

(D.E.J.)

Robert Breer resettles in the U.S. in Palisades, N.Y. 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
Bridges-Go-Round

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.)

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.