The founding of the New American Cinema Group in 1962 was a defining moment in art history. For the first time, US filmmakers took control of their own work, marking a significant departure from Hollywood’s creative and legal constraints. “We don’t want fake, polished, slick films,” the group declared in its manifesto. “We prefer them rough, unpolished, but alive.”
This month, three Manhattan art spaces celebrate New York’s contributions to the movement with two comprehensive film series and an exhibition. New York, 1962-1964: underground and experimental cinema focuses on a period of three years with feature films, documentaries and short films to influence generations of indie filmmakers. Film at Lincoln Center’s program is coupled with a Jewish Museum exhibition tracing its influence on artists of the time, complemented by a more global overview at the Film Forum. A trailer released today, included below, shows some of the highlights of the dynamic program.
The years 1962–1964 saw the rise of pop, minimalism, and performance art as filmmakers and artists such as Agnès Varda, Kenneth Anger, Luis Buñuel, and Carolee Schneemann expanded the definition of narrative and performance. The work of these underground and experimental filmmakers also informed directors of popular films at the time, including Stanley Kubrick, Alfred Hitchcock and Joseph Mankiewicz.
Thomas Beard and Dan Sullivan, who programmed the series, claim that the New York underground, embodied in the Filmmakers’ Cooperative, created a blueprint that was replicated around the world – but their aesthetic intervention initially met with hostile reactions.
“There was a freedom that artists had in this milieu that others with studio contracts didn’t have,” Beard said in an interview with Hyperallergic. “At the same time, some were arrested for obscenity, such as Ken Jacobs, Florence Karpf and Jonas Mekas after showing Jack Smith’s Flaming Creatures (1963), so there is also a political dimension to the way they became targets of police and censorship.”
“The iconoclasm of these works existed outside of the industrial prerogatives of major Hollywood films, and they have a noticeably more crafted quality,” Sullivan added. “This is a very important precursor to the emergence of New Hollywood, which quickly started ripping them off.”
Beard and Sullivan point to Barbara Rubins Christmas on earth (1963), a milestone in expanded cinema with multiple projections, gels over the lenses, and AM radio as the soundtrack. Others pushed the limits of performance, such as Mekas the brig (1964), which was filmed in a military prison.
Other non-narrative forms emerged in the work of women filmmakers, such as Storm De Hirsch prophecies (1964) and Shirley Clarke’s idiomatic feature The cool world (1963), which was cast exclusively with non-professional performers. The story also acted as a muse for filmmakers such as Gregory Markopoulos, whose 49-minute drama Twice a man (1963) restored the classical Greek myth of Hippolytus in a contemporary setting.
These are among the many works being screened at Lincoln Center’s Francesca Beale Theater, while the Film Forum 35 presents films by veterans such as Jean-Luc Godard, Francis Ford Coppola and many others that represent “the dying breath of the Hollywood studio.” represent system.” At the Jewish Museum, visitors can see works by dozens of artists, including Diane Arbus, Lee Bontecou, Marisol, and Faith Ringgold, whose practices were intertwined with the social and political upheavals of the period – a moment inspired by historical events how shaped was the 1962 Cuban Missile Crisis and the 1963 March on Washington for jobs and freedoms.
In an era of CGI fetishism, this series showcases what old-school film and independent cinema can achieve, and proves an important lesson for today’s artists – that style is far more dynamic than spectacle.
New York, 1962-1964: underground and experimental cinema at Film at Lincoln Center runs July 29-August 4, and Film Forum’s 1962…1963…1964 Series runs from July 22nd to August 11th. The exhibition of the Jewish Museum, New York, 1962-1964opens on July 22nd and can be seen until January 8th, 2023. Tickets are available on the websites of the respective venues.