Presented within the Museo Reina Sofía’s programme centred on experimental cinema historian and theorist P. Adams Sitney (New Haven, Connecticut, 1944), this research seminar, conducted by Sitney and addressed to the scholar public, revolves around the structure and language of auteur cinema. The seminar’s two sessions will explore the methods upon which Sitney has reflected in his writings on avant-garde cinema and the different ways of understanding film as poetic expression, setting out to identify the stylistic and narrative motifs that result in a film being considered difficult, hermetic or simply beyond our understanding, thus viewing them through a new grammar of the image. For instance, the unusual movement of a camera repeated one or more times, as exercised by film-maker Dimitri Kirsanoff, with the potential to become an expression of the complex thought processes of a character; or the reiteration of a discourse akin to that which features in Ingmar Bergman’s Persona — a clue to the psychological infrastructure of the entire film. In other instances, the absence of an anticipated grammatical strand, for example in Carl Theodor Dreyer’s Ordet (The Word) with its lack of reverse angles, directs and disguises the film’s stylistic system.
The first session in this seminar contrasts three highly complex narrative films, the aforementioned Persona (1966), Andrei Tarkovsky’s Mirror (1975), and Dimitri Kirsanoff’s Ménilmontant, with the different cinematic strategies based on the poetry and opera exerted by Stan Brakhage in his Visions in Meditation (1989-1990) and Straub-Huillet in Moses und Aron (1975). With the narrative or quasi-narrative films, highly subtle psychological nuances are expressed through montage, association, camera movements, and the exchange of meticulously selected reverse angle shots, whereas in the examples of Brakhage and Straub-Huillet the density of repetitions and superimposed images of the former and the simplicity of the latter trigger metaphysical and theological strands. The second session will carry out an analysis with Ordet at its centre.
P. Adams Sitney is a historian of American avant-garde cinema. In 1970, he co-founded Anthology Film Archives, and has served as a professor at Princeton University since 1980. His most notable works include Visionary Film: The American Avant-Garde (1943–2000) (2002), the first historiographical study of American avant-garde films in the post-war period, Eyes Upside Down. Visionary Filmmakers and the Heritage of Emerson (2008) and The Cinema of Poetry (2014). As a member of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, he has received a number of accolades, including Princeton's President's Award for Distinguished Teaching (2010) and the Anna-Maria Kellen Berlin Prize from the American Academy in Berlin (2011).