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Early American Avant-Garde Cinema

2. 1929 to 1945

2. 1929–1938

  1. Jan-Christopher Horak

Published Online: 13 NOV 2011

DOI: 10.1002/9780470671153.wbhaf025

The Wiley-Blackwell History of American Film

The Wiley-Blackwell History of American Film

How to Cite

Horak, J.-C. 2011. Early American Avant-Garde Cinema. The Wiley-Blackwell History of American Film. 2:2:25.

Publication History

  1. Published Online: 13 NOV 2011


Avant-garde film movements can only be historically circumscribed if they are constituted in terms of production, distribution, exhibition, and reception. Their place in the history of cinema should not only be gauged according to their individual aesthetic achievements, but also in terms of the myriad contexts of their reception. In addition to my own work, histories of the avant-garde by Paul Arthur, David James, and Scott MacDonald have employed such a strategy. In contrast, avant-garde film histories by P. Adams Sitney and Jonas Mekas have served polemical argument and the aesthetic legitimization of filmmakers enshrined in their canon, thus eliminating discontinuities and dead ends, which necessarily mark a film form based on individual modes of production. Contemporary reception of such work was sporadic, exhibition venues rising and falling — oftentimes victims of larger economic forces — while publications dedicated to the film avant-garde, too, appear more fragile than those catering to commercial markets.


  • abstraction;
  • American avant-garde;
  • art cinema;
  • cinema clubs;
  • film amateurs;
  • little theaters;
  • modernism;
  • parody;
  • subjectivity;
  • surrealism