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March 30, 2009

Line of Sight @ Visionary Film

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The Cosmic Baseball Association honors the memory of Paul Arthur with this first annual Paul Arthur Memorial Cosmic Baseball Game.

Paul S. Arthur (March 30,1948-March 25, 2008) film historian, scholar, and critic was well known for writing about American avant-garde cinema and documentaries. A professor of English and film studies at Montclair State University in New Jersey, where he had been named a distinguished scholar for 2007-08, Arthur had a decades-long passionate involvement with the American avant-garde film scene. In 2005 he published a well-received study, A Line of Sight: American Avant-Garde Film Since 1965. He died of melanoma, for which he had just started treatment, in White Plains, New York on March 25, 2008.

Paul Arthur was a "leading observer and critic as well as a direct participant in America's avant-garde cinema. Paul was also an important player in the development of the film department at Bard College (New York).

On November 15, 1981 Paul was named the first Commissioner of the Cosmic Baseball Association, serving honorably until August 31, 1984.

The game was played between chapters from two books about the avant-garde filmmaking enterprise. The visiting LINE OF SIGHT team played the VISIONARY FILM team. The players on the home team are derived from the chapters found in the book called Visionary Film: The American Avant-Garde 1943-1978, by P. Adams Sitney and published by the Oxford University Press (2nd Edition). The LINE OF SIGHT players are chapters in a book called A Line of Sight: American Avant-Garde Film since 1965 by Paul Arthur and published by the Regents of the University of Minnesota in 2005.


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Game Notes
Game Time
2 hours, 40 minutes
74o, Sunny, wind W 3mph
James Broughton, Peter Kubelka, Jonas Mekas
History of the Filmmakers Cooperative in New York
Official Scorer
Game MCP
Apocalypses and Picaresques
The bottom of the eighth inning was decisive. The Potted Psalm walked and stole a base. The Magus walked. The Lyrical Film sacrificed (2-3) to move the two runners over. One out, runners at second and third. Major Mythopoeia hits the first pitch (surprisingly) sharply at the Line of Sight shortstop The Last of the Last Machine? Two outs, two on. Absolute Animation draws the third walk of the inning to load the bases. The Line of Sight team has no relief pitcher available. The Graphic Cinema comes up to the plate and after 12 pitches draws a walk moving Potted Psalm across the home plate for the first run of the game. Apocalypses and Picaresques, the seventh batter of the inning struck out, leaving the bases loaded but with a solid chance to win the game. And the top of the ninth inning was almost a one-two-three inning except for the bloop single by The Redemption of the City. But Redemption was stranded on first as the game ended. The Visionary Film chapters won, 1-0 in a tight exciting game. For a game superbly pitched and for the shutout, Apocalypses and Picaresques was named the game's Most Cosmic Player.



(Visionary Film Roster)
Emancipation, Rightfield
Chapter 1. Routines of Emancipation: Jonas Mekas and Alternative Cinema in the Ideology and Politics of the Sixties

The [New American Cinema] Group dedicated its rebellious spirit to the freeing of "personal expression" as the highest ideal of cinema. (p.9)
Identity, Thirdbase
Chapter 2. Identity and/as Moving Image

In what might be the earliest example of a genuine avant-garde portrait, Mr. Hayashi (1961), Bruce Baillie blends poetic syntax with oddly instrumental ends. According to Baillie the film was made as a short, silent, in-camera "newsreel" advertising the gardening services of an unemployed friend to be shown before screenings at the fledgling Canyon Cinema. (p.28)

Redemption, Secondbase
Chapter 3. The Redemption of the City

Brakhage's Wonder Ring (1955) transforms a ride on the Third Avenue El in New York into an elegant, if silent, fugue of jiggling hand-held camera movements against layered planes of buildings, ghostly subway passages, and the onrush of parallel trains-- all of which are superimposed through natural reflections on glass surfaces. (p.47)

Essay, Firstbase
Chapter 4. The Resurgence of History and the Avant-Garde Essay Film

A disparate group of films are examining key aspects of historical representation and the filmic discourse of social memory. This movement, if it is that, may be understood as a...revision of longstanding concerns associated with the avant-garde's core mission: the uses of autobiography; the dissection of photographic illusion; the contradictions of subjectivity in cinema. (p. 62)

LastMachine, Shortstop
Chapter 5. The Last of the Last Machine?

From a current perspective (1985), nearly all that is vital in American avant-garde film-- along with much that isn't-- aspires to the condition of television. (p. 74)

OilofLA, Leftfield
Chapter 6. The Western Edge: Oil of LA and the Machined Image

If there is a case to be made for regionalism, it must take into account two unavoidable, and interrelated predicaments: the proximity of the commercial film industry; and the role played by high technology in [Southern California's] postwar economic development and its contemporary social mythology. (p. 94)

TiredChains, Centerfield
Chapter 7. Springing Tired Chains: African American Experimental Film and Video

On the face of it, the assertion of a distinct African American avant-garde cinema seems dubious, perhaps faintly dismissive. Indeed, there is little in the extensive history of post-World War II filmic experimentation that appears conducive to a black presence. It is not that the movement's aesthetic foundations, institutional paradigms, or political agendas barred inclusion; it is simply that until recently the domain of avant-garde concerns and practices appeared culturally irrelevant-- and often economically prohibitive-- to black artists. (p. 111)

Impeachment, Catcher
Chapter 8. Bodies, Language, and the Impeachment of Vision: The Avant-Garde at Fifty

It is only an ostensible paradox that as cinema nears the end of its filmic phase, the avant-garde has adopted the inquest of history as one of its dominant projects...It is in the area of found-footage collage, easily the most ubiquitous practice of the last twenty years, that the full implications of a return to history can be assessed. (p.139)

Circa2003, Pitcher
Chapter 9. "I just Pass My Hands over the Surface of Things": On and Off the Screen, circa 2003

A third, nearly ubiquitous practice involves the archeological or demystifying recontextualization of found footage, what might be regarded as the preeminent gesture in postmodern aesthetics...A variety of factors contribute to the immense popularity of found-footage critique: archival material is easy to obtain and cheap to work with; it celebrates the fragment, confounds romantic residues of originality or individual genius; and it solicits an automatic connection with history (either mainstream Hollywood or fringe, non- or anti-industrial artifacts such as pornography and early cinema.) (p.163)


(Line of Sight Roster)
MeshesAfter, Firstbase
Chapter 1. Meshes of the Afternoon

The central tradition of the American avant-garde film begins with a dream unfolded within shifting perspectives. Much of the subsequent history of that tradition will move toward a metaphysics of cinematic perspective itself. (p. 19)

RitualNature, Thirdbase
Chapter 2. Ritual and Nature

The trance film gradually developed into the architectonic, mythopoeic film, with a corresponding shift from Freudian preoccupations to those of Jung; and then how the decline of the mythological film was attended by the simultaneous rise of both the diary and the structural film. (p. 31)

PottedPsalm, Leftfield
Chapter 3. The Potted Psalm

If [Sidney] Peterson and [Maya] Deren purified cinema and used its perspectives to imitate the human mind, [James] Broughton took cinema back to the time before the elaborate narratives of the early [20th] century in order to recapture the excitement of seeing and showing human bodies in action, apparitions, and sudden disappearances, and to imbue that cinema of action with a more profound sense of the cyclical rhythms of life and the feeling for the essential he equates with poetry. (p.80)

Magus, CF
Chapter 4. The Magus

The recurrent theme of the American avant-garde film is the triumph of the imagination...The triumph of the mythopoeic film in the early sixties sprang from the film-makers' liberation from the repetition of traditional mythology and the enthusiasm with which they forged a cinematic form for the creation or revelation of new myths. [Kenneth Anger's] Scorpio Rising (1962-63) is an excellent example of this new vitality. (p. 115)

Lyrical, RF
Chapter 5. The Lyrical Film

[Stan] Brakhage begins to formulate an equation between the process of making film and the search for consciousness which will become more clearly established in his later work as he has greater confidence in the truth of the imagination. (p.139)

Mythopoeia, Secondbase
Chapter 6. Major Mythopoeia

[Stan Brakhage's] Dog Star Man (1960-64) elaborates in mythic, almost systematic terms, the world-view of the lyrical films. More than any other work of the American avant-garde film, it stations itself within the rhetoric of Romanticism, describing the birth of consciousness, the cycle of the seasons, man's struggle with nature, and sexual balance in the visual evocation of a fallen titan bearing the cosmic name of the Dog Star Man. (p. 173)

Animation, Catcher
Chapter 7. Absolute Animation

In 1971 at Anthology Film Archives [Harry Smith] spontaneously delivered a lecture to a group of students he happened upon in that theater. As they were looking at a film, not by him, in the realist tradition-- a film of photographed actuality-- he said, "You shouldn't be looking at this as continuity. Film frames are hieroglyphs, even when they look like actuality. You should think of the individual film frame, always, as a glyph, and then you'll understand what cinema is about." (p. 261)

Bolex Poetics Team Index
Graphic, Shortstop
Chapter 8.The Graphic Cinema: European Perspectives

The subject matter of [Peter Kubelka's] Adebar (1957) is dancing. In fact, like all of Kubelka's films, it was a commission; in this case as an advertisement for the Cafe Adebar in Vienna. (p. 295)

Apocalypses, Pitcher
Chapter 9. Apocalypses and Picaresques

These filmmakers of the fifties and sixties [Bruce Conner, Christopher MacLaine, Robert Nelson, Ron Rice] were perhaps the first to explore the fundamental disparity between the nostalgia of the photographic image and the "nowness" of the projected film. Once this chasm began to open for them, they created an apocalyptic and a picaresque form that commented ironically on that temporality. (p. 329)

Recovered, Infield
Chapter 10. Recovered Innocence

Of all the major film-makers of the mythopoeic stage of the American avant-garde film, Jack Smith was perhaps the most gifted with imaginative powers. Each sequence of Normal Love (1963-) as it was serially unveiled demonstrated the sureness with which Smith could transform his creature-actors and the landscape in which he placed them into elements of a mythic vision of redeemed innocence and heightened sexuality. (p.357)

Structural, Outfield
Chapter 11. Structural Film

If, as I have claimed, the often unacknowledged aspiration of the American avant-garde film has been the cinematic reproduction of the human mind, then the structural film approaches the condition of meditation and evokes states of consciousness without mediation; that is, with the sole mediation of the camera. The trance film's somnambulist, the mythopoeic film's heroes and gods, and the picaresque wanderer had been the primary mediators of the earlier stages of the avant-garde film. (p.370)

Seventies, Utility
Chapter 12. The Seventies

The seventies have been a quiet period for the American avant-garde cinema...In general it was a decade of new and different kinds of showcases for avant-garde film, and of the incorporation of film-makers and their films into the academic establishment... The American avant-garde was powerfully challenged by several flourishing movements in Europe...[T]he rudimentary development of an art of video drew some attention and excitement away from avant-garde film-making. (p. 398)




      Inn. 1: Line of Sight
[Starter] Apocalypses
Emancipation      2          . . .
Identity          8          . . .
Redemption        5-3        . . .
     Inn. 1: Visionary Film
[Starter] Circa2003
MeshesAfter       1B         . . X
RitualNature      6-3        . X .
PottedPsalm       7          . X .
Magus             E-5        X . X
Lyrical           6-4 F      . . X
     Inn. 2: Line of Sight
Essay             7          . . .
LastMachine       8          . . .
OilofLA           1B         . . X
TiredChains       6          . . X
     Inn. 2: Visionary Film
Mythopoeia        7          . . .
Animation         9          . . .
Graphic           4-3        . . .
     Inn. 3: Line of Sight
Impeachment       6-3        . . .
Circa2003         K          . . .
Emancipation      1B/E-7     . X .
Identity          7          . X .
     Inn. 3: Visionary Film
Apocalypses       K          . . .
MeshesAfter       7          . . .
RitualNature      E-5        . . X
PottedPsalm       4-6 F      . . X
     Inn. 4: Line of Sight
Redemption        1B         . . X
Essay             6          . . X
LastMachine       7          . . X
OilofLA           7          . . X
     Inn. 4: Visionary Film
Magus             E-5        . . X
Lyrical           1B         . X X
*SB:Magus         SB         X X .
*SB:Lyrical       SB         X X .
Mythopoeia        K          X X .
Animation         3UN        X X .
Graphic           K          X X .
     Inn. 5: Line of Sight
TiredChains       5-3        . . .
Impeachment       1B         . . X
Circa2003         1-3 SAC    . X .
Emancipation      5          . X .
     Inn. 5: Visionary Film
Apocalypses       1B         . . X
MeshesAfter       7          . . X
RitualNature      E-5        . X X
PottedPsalm       7          . X X
Magus             8          . X X
     Inn. 6: Line of Sight
Identity          7          . . .
Redemption        8          . . .
Essay             7          . . .
     Inn. 6: Visionary Film
Lyrical           1B         . . X
Mythopoeia        7          . . X
Animation         9          . . X
Graphic           3UN        . X .
     Inn. 7: Line of Sight
LastMachine       7          . . .
OilofLA           8          . . .
TiredChains       8          . . .
     Inn. 7: Visionary Film
Apocalypses       6-3        . . .
MeshesAfter       4-3        . . .
RitualNature      5          . . .
     Inn. 8: Line of Sight
Impeachment       4-3        . . .
Circa2003         6          . . .
Emancipation      8          . . .
     Inn. 8: Visionary Film
PottedPsalm       BB         . . X
*SB:PottedPsalm   SB         . X .
Magus             BB         . X X
Lyrical           2-3 SAC    X X .
Mythopoeia        6          X X .
Animation         BB         X X X
Graphic           BB         X X X 1
Apocalypses       K          X X X
     Inn. 9: Line of Sight
Identity          7          . . .
Redemption        1B         . . X
Essay             7          . . X
LastMachine       5-4 F      . . X

Visionary Film Wins 1-0


Both books use the term "avant-garde" in their titles and Sitney explains why he selected the phrase. Sitney decided to use "avant-garde" after experimenting with terms like "film poems", "experimental films", and "underground films"...none of these seemed satisfactory. He notes the use of the term "avant-garde" is "unfortunate" and writes, "I have chosen to use the term 'avant-garde' cinema throughout the book simply because it is the one name which is not associated with a particular phase of the thirty-year span I attempt to cover."


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