Unseen Cinema: Early American Avant-Garde Film 1893 - 1941 is the first comprehensive retrospective of American avant-garde film before the 1940s. The complete programme includes 160 35 and 16 mm films, between new restorations and preserved copies, of which the Museo Nacional Centro de Arte Reina Sofía is presenting a selection of 36 films. Unseen Cinema explores the achievements - unknown to date - of pioneer filmmakers who worked in and outside the United States during the formative period of North American cinema.
The series offers an innovative and at times controversial view of experimental film, understood in this context as the product of avant-garde artists, Hollywood directors and amateur filmmakers working at all levels of film production during the last decade of the 19th and first half of the 20th centuries. Many of these films have not been available since they were created more than a century ago, while others have never been shown in public. Original projection copies were available in only very few cases.
Since the invention of motion pictures at the Edison Laboratory in New Jersey at the end of the 19th century, film production has attracted artists, writers, photographers, poets, choreographers, playwrights, designers and people from many other creative fields to the United States. These dreamers and schemers, who Herman G. Weinberg affectionately called ‘film lovers’, created an important group of films that captured the essential elements of the atmosphere of the era. The development of early American avant-garde film was simultaneous with (if not immediately prior to) many of the great 20th-century North American art movements. The aesthetics of the first avant-garde films abound with prominent examples that correlate, either in style or in substance, with modernism, surrealism, social realism, abstract expressionism, and later, minimalism, structuralism, beat, pop, punk and post-modernism. The final emergence of these art movements in painting, sculpture, performance art, theatre, literature and music included the legacy of the revolutionary work done by these oft-forgotten experimental filmmakers.
The programme, which includes pieces like Twenty-Four Dollar Island (Robert Flaherty, ca. 1926) and A Bronx Morning (Jay Leyda and Leo Hurwitz, 1931), is complemented by a conference with curator Bruce Posner and two special sessions in which musicians Alex Under and I. A. Bericochea give recitals to accompany the screenings, using music appropriate to the avant-garde nature of the films.