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Film Love Presents: Cinema 16, May 1950

September 23, 2014


Amos Vogel is a maverick in cinematic history. From the 1947-1963 the Austrian native held the reigns of Cinema 16, a New York Film Society centered around an adoration for the avant-garde. The films shown by Vogel and his wife Marcia during this period were beyond anything the general public had the opportunity to see at the time and well beyond its years. The 1950s were an amazing time for experimental film, a strange reality considering Hollywood was perhaps at its most conservative. Vogel’s screenings at their height boasted 7000 paid members who would react to films in his series visceral emotion. In all my years of learning film history and its important figures, Vogel as a curator has been skipped over.

Luckily for Atlanta film enthusiasts, Film Love, a film society devoted to showing cinematic rarities to audiences revived Vogel’s legacy. This past Friday, as part of a monthly serial, Film Love curator Andy Ditlzer presented a room full of us lusty film goers five unique, thought-provoking shorts. A handful of the shorts ticked and clacked away on 16mm film while other’s claimed the white-washed wall through digital renderings. Centered around the spirit of the Cinema 16 showings,  Film Love’s screening consisted of a 5-minute intermission (1 minute over Vogel’s traditional intermissions) and ended with group comments and discussions.

The film’s featured throughout the night ranged from the experimental to cataclysmic. In the near 2-hour program our treat was a soiree of stunning animation, documentary, and experimental narratives. The films highlighted during the May 1950 program consisted of films not intended to be seen by the general public during its time. Like Vogel before him, Ditlzer tracked down gems to screen in the attempt to expand audience perception of film and how it can be used as a subversive, interrogating art. Each short film is an obscure piece of history that I’m grateful to have received the opportunity to see.

The Work of Oskar Fischinger:

Absolute Film Study No. 11 (1932)
Allegretto (1936-43)
Motion Painting 1 (1947)


Oskar Fischinger’s trio of shorts present stunning examples of animation that exceeds our notion of how flickering light can allow an image to breathe. Fischinger’s works lack narrative which gives viewers the treat of witness purely superb images in animation synced to the sonic beauty of classical music. Fischinger’s shorts reminded me of the true, simplistic beauty that film can possess as well as its ability to transform flat images into three denominational movement filled with mind-blowing depth. At times his images appeared on screen bursting with a hypnotic bulging effect that did more wonders of filling space and pushing an image to the forefront of the screen than multi-million dollar 3D films do today.

The Battle of San Pietro (John Huston, 1945)

John Huston’s historical documentary mixes  images of war during the epic and deadly battle of San Pierto with biting narrative. The Battle of San Piertro was created with the U.S. Army’s hand in it’s creation, but immediately raised officials’ eyebrows with its grisly view of war and blunt look at battle. The short is an interesting look into how images edited together can be manipulated to portray a particular narrative or idea. Despite its disparity in image and sound, the film is a reminder of the horrors of war and how precious human lives is within the tragedies of  war.

The Lead Shoes (Sidney Peterson, 1949)

One of the more trippy films I’ve ever seen, The Lead Shoes is a quintessential example of the avant-garde at its finest. On par with Salvador Dali and Luis Bunuel’s Un Chien Andalou, The Lead Shoes is a jumbled  set of images surrounding a woman and an a deep sea diver intercut with images of a lead shoe wearing girl playing hopscotch. The narrative is fragmented by backwards shots, slow motion treading, and scored by a jarring, abrasive soundtrack reminiscent of the music John Lennon and Yoko Ono pieced together during the beginning of their relationship nearly twenty years later.

Unconscious Motivation (Lester F. Beck, 1949)

The hardest film for me to get through happened to be the last film of the night, Unconscious Motivation. In fact, due to hunger and tiredness, I unfortunately gave up about nearly 20 minutes in. Unconscious Motivation is a video supposedly not intended for public use, only that of a psychologist. It involves a man and a woman going under hypnosis by doctor under which they are implanted with the “memory” of a childhood deed that has wrecked them with guilt. Once out of the hypnotic spell of their ringleader the two then undergo a series of tests and questions to see if they remember the “suppressed” event. What follows is a frustrating tango between the two as they slowly grasp for words to describe the feeling of discomfort that they now feel. The piggy backing on ideas between the two becomes a tedious merry go round of repeated explanations, some of which seem staged especially when edits reveal different angles of the discussion taking place. Getting through the subjects awkward, nearly wooden conversations was a tad bit painful, though an intriguing reminder of what film can capture.

The Film Love series was a phenomenal outing that reinvigorated by passion for cinema and all of its quirks and power. I’m excited to see more and involve myself in the programs upcoming events!

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