When I was a young man going to Bard College I took a course in the history of avant-garde
cinema, about which I knew nothing. Having come from a Hollywood family that thrived on classic movies, and having already become a certified movie-geek myself, I was curious to see what this other side of the cinematic universe had to offer.

At first the films confused me. Maya Deren, Sidney Petersen and others of their ilk were making their strange little films in the 1940s. A little esoteric, a little boring but worth puzzling through. Then as the work progressed I grew steadily more annoyed--Stan Brakhage, the AG cinema's saint, threw me completely with his stuff--painting on film? Really?

But it was Michael Snow's 'Back And Forth' (posted above) that finally unleashed the torrents of hatred and contempt that I felt for the whole Avant-Garde cinema movement. And I wasn't alone. I recall sitting in the unheated barn of a theater that we watched these films in (the 16mm prints were always  execrable) and, as a group, the audience began to revolt. Watch 'Back and Forth' (or at least as much of it as you can bare) and you will experience the true cinematic equivalent of nails scraping a chalkboard. It runs fifty minutes and I won't tell you what the gimmick of the movie is--I'll let you experience it yourself.  I remember the gradual astonishment that came over the audience as we began to realize what it was we were going to be subjected to for almost an hour. People started yelling at the screen. Or walking out, cursing loudly. I didn't make it through the whole thing then and I didn't now...but with age comes a modicum of wisdom and perhaps our reactions to the film were precisely what Michael Snow wanted them to be. Pretty frigging avant-garde. What a load of crap.

 Subscribe in a reader