Underground Film Journal

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Watch Now: Early Work By Robert Breer

By Mike Everleth ⋅ September 16, 2007

Robert Breer was one of the pioneering members of the underground film movement of the 1960s and a couple people have posted some of his early films online. The ones I’ve found on YouTube are collected in the player above. While you can certainly watch them embedded in this post, I suggest going to my Breer YouTube playlist and going to each film’s individual page and blowing it up to full-screen. The video transfers are really clear and even withstand getting blown up.

I wasn’t really aware of Breer’s work until I started reading older underground film texts and I’m glad a smattering of his work appears online. I really enjoy these older kinds of experimental works, especially lo-tech stuff like this that’s then transferred to a “hi-tech” medium. Breer’s films are over-the-top hypnotic and relaxing, even though the blips, blobs, lines and objects in them move at a really furious, kinetic pace. What I also really like about them is how they feel as if they’re a portion of a larger animated film that’s occurring outside of the frame.

Robert Breer sitting in his animation studio

The first three films in the player are arranged in chronological order. They are: A Man and His Dog Out For Air (1957), 69 (1968) and 70 (1970). I’ve also included Blazes (1961) at the bottom, even though I’m pretty sure that’s just an excerpt and not the entire film. Each short is very different. A Man and His Dog Out For Air is probably the most “conventional” of the bunch in that while squiggly lines float about the screen they seem to interact in a logical progression leading up to the title characters. 69 is my favorite with its geometrical shapes rotating repetitively like clockwork with the occasional abstract flashes breaking them up, but not interrupting their movement. And 70 is the most colorful of the group and looks like one of those films that could induce an epileptic fit in certain viewers.

If you like these shorts, the avant garde archive UBU Web has some more of Breer’s work, but a) you can’t blow them up to full screen and b) they aren’t embeddable in other websites. So, I haven’t watched them yet. There’s also quite a few good articles and resources about Breer around the web. I don’t know how comprehensive his IMDB listing is, but it sure looks it at 42 films that stretch from 1952 to 2000. A great overview of the man’s career is up at Animation World News by Jackie Leger, which talks about his start in abstract painting before going into detail on his film work.

There’s also a very good, very lengthy interview with Breer by Hans Ulrich Obrist that includes a section on how Breer got into the underground via the Brussels Experimental Film Festival where he met Stan Brakhage, Kenneth Anger and, of course, Jonas Mekas who really actively promoted Breer’s work. Finally, here’s a Chicago Reader review of a Breer retrospective and a brief bit at Expanded Cinema, which is were I think I first watched 69 and got the idea to do this full post.