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Treasures IV: American Avant-Garde Film, 1947-1986

5.0 out of 5 stars 1 customer review

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  • Language: English
  • Number of discs: 2
  • Average Customer Review: 5.0 out of 5 stars 1 customer review
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: #70,829 in DVD (See Top 100 in DVD)
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Format: DVD Verified Purchase
This DVD compilation of seminal American postwar avant-garde cinema is a *must-have* for lovers of experimental film or anyone who wants to expand his/her sensibility of what "cinema" is or could be. Abandon mainstream film conventions, expectations, or narrative guidelines, and just let your mind or body encounter a diverse range of new experiences. While a couple of the films in this collection can be found on DVD editions dedicated to their respective filmmakers, Treasures IV is a fairly comprehensive collection of 26 short films that are difficult to find anywhere else -- unless you can sustain the costs of renting actual film prints or happen to live near a great experimental film society. The image quality is definitely not the same as watching them on film in a theatre, but still far, far superior than anything you can find in online streaming. I really appreciate that the DVD includes work by the most often-cited pioneers (eg. Jonas Mekas, Stan Brakhage, Andy Warhol, Hollis Frampton), but also brilliant pieces by filmmakers who tended to be more ignored or overlooked by historians (eg. Standish Lawder, Marie Menken, Storm deHirsch). Represented filmmaking approaches range from more conceptual and structural pieces to more lyrical and expressive films, from long-take photographed films to single-frame animated experiments. Tackling with issues as diverse as sexuality, vision, memory, death, violence, and the nature of perception, the films represent some of the most daring and influential artists working through the 1950s-80s.

Don't be confused by the number "IV" in the title: this is not the fourth in a longer DVD series of avant-garde films, but the fourth in a DVD series of films preserved by the National Film Preservation Foundation.
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews on (beta) HASH(0x9dd2a6e4) out of 5 stars 8 reviews
53 of 53 people found the following review helpful
HASH(0x9dd30144) out of 5 stars Magnificent treatment of a neglected tradition.... March 18 2009
By Douglas M. May - Published on
Format: DVD Verified Purchase
My first encounter with the American Avant-Garde occurred in the mid-70's, when the Museum of Modern Art sponsored a six-part retrospective at one of the local cultural venues. I remember the initial program included Kenneth Anger's "Fireworks" and--I believe--Maya Deren's "Meshes of the Afternoon." The hall was filled to capacity. With each successive showing, attendance declined by 50%. By the final showing six weeks later--which featured "nostalgia" by Hollis Frampton and George Landau's "Bardo Follies"--the audience had shrunk to no more than a dozen people, myself included. One of my friends wouldn't speak to me for months because I'd made him sit though a Paul Sharits flicker film.

Probably no other art form has alienated audiences in America like the experimental film. Casual viewers can at least accept non-objective art as decorative, casual listeners can handle some electronica and even the prepared piano music of John Cage as background music. But only a tiny minority of people can seem to put aside their Hollywood prejudices to meet experimental cinema halfway.

There are multiple sticking points. There is usually no "story," as such. Editing is employed to confound the viewer's expectations more often than to further the plot or to create a spurious identification with the characters. Non-diegetic music, which is used in most Hollywood films to "cue" the audience's emotions, is notably absent. There are no chase scenes, contrived coincidences, or shock endings. In other words, none of the conventions which television and Hollywood movie fans have come to expect.

In exchange, the willing viewer gets to experience something truly challenging and potentially life altering--a chance to explore film as a metaphor for consciousness itself. In my case, I could never forget certain things from those six weeks--the steadily advancing camera in Michael Snow's "Wavelength," the pulsating corridor in Ernie Gehr's "Serene Velocity," the death imagery in Kenneth Anger's "Scorpio Rising," or the immolated photographs in Frampton's "nostalgia."

I've been waiting for over a year for this National Film Preservation Foundation issue, and it is tremendous and tremendously needed. There are a few omissions--in particular, "Serene Velocity" or one of Ernie Gehr's other process films from the same period. "The Riddle of Lumen" is a fine film, but personally I would have preferred Brakhage's magnificent "Anticipation of the Night" or one of his "Songs" from that series. And while he has steadfastly refused to sanction a DVD edition of "Wavelength," I hope that Michael Snow reconsiders someday. Even a comic-book version of a Vermeer is better than no Vermeer at all, and there's always a chance that with increased exposure will come increased demand for 16mm showings.

All the films included in this collection are worth watching, and there are two unqualified masterpieces: "The End" by Christopher Maclaine, and Frampton's "nostalgia." Both films play with time, space, and the filmic representation of reality in a way that invites repeated and obsessive re-viewings. It was great to see the early Harry Smith No. 3, one of the most complicated hand-painted films ever created. And I loved the Chick Strand documentary mostly composed of fragmented close-ups--a sui generis fusion of anthropological documentary and surrealist dream. I was also deeply moved by the Bruce Baillie film, which explores the daily lives of emotionally abused and dysfunctional children in a way that enlightens without ever seeking to explain.

Some of the films are clearly "of their time": the psychedelic effects of "Peyote Queen" and the Max Ernst-flavored animations of "Hamfat Asar" in particular. The shtick in "The Offhand Jape..." or Owen Land's "New Improved..." I found amusing, but many viewers may be turned off by what they perceive to be arch and "pretentious." And in a digital age, most will probably not be able to accept the crudity of these works. After all, it's not the same as viewing Melies or Griffith and marveling at the brilliance of what they were able to accomplish at that early stage of filmmaking. These films attack head-on the conventions of narrative cinema, and they often do it through grainy textures, visible sprocket holes and unfocused lenses.

But for those who dare, this is an exceptionally well-produced box with tons of accompanying information on the films and alternate soundtracks by the always reliable John Zorn. It would be one of the most important archival DVD issues of the year at any price--at around [...] bucks, it's a steal.
41 of 43 people found the following review helpful
HASH(0x9dd30390) out of 5 stars Takes a completely different approach than the first three sets Dec 14 2008
By calvinnme - Published on
Format: DVD
This set contains 26 Avant Garde films never before on VHS or DVD. The artists/directors include those who worked outside the mainstream of cinema for much of their careers. The running time is five hours and includes animation, documentary, and live-action shorts. This set is more like the first "Treasures" in that it is more modern in its content. Treasures 2 and three are more for film buffs that are interested in cinema up to the year 1930. I believe that all of these films are very short (under one half hour) in length. Below I show the film, the director, and the year it was made if I can find that information.

Featured Films include:
"Here I Am" (Bruce Baillie) - 1962,
"Aleph" (Wallace Berman),
"The Riddle of Lumen" (Stan Brakhage) - 1972,
"Eyewash" (Robert Breer) -1959,
"Bridges-Go-Round" (Shirley Clarke) - 1958,
"By Night with Torch and Spear" (Joseph Cornell),
"Pey ote Queen" (Storm De Hirsch),
"nostalgia" (Hollis Frampton),
"Fog Line" (Larry Gottheim) - 1970,
"Little Stabs at Happiness" (Ken Jacobs) - 1960,
"Hamfat Asar" (Lawrence Jordan),
"I, an Actress (George Kuchar) - 1970,
"New Improved Institutional Quality" (Owen Land) - 1969,
"Necrology" (Standish Lawder) -1971,
"Note to Patti" (Saul Levine),
"The End" (Christopher Maclaine) -1953,
"Notes on the Circus" (Jonas Mekas) - 1966,
"Go! Go! Go!" (Marie Menken) - 1964,
"The Off-Handed Jape... and How to Pull It Off" (Robert Nelson & William T. Wiley),
"7362" (Pat O'Neill) - 1989,
"Chumlum" (Ron Rice) - 1964,
"Bad Burns" (Paul Sharits) ,
"Odds & Ends" (Jane Conger Belson Shimane),
"Film No. 3: Interwoven" (Chick Strand) - 1979,
"Mario Banana (No. 1)" (Andy Warhol) -1964

A 70-page book of program notes will be included that is in the same format as the program notes in the other Treasures from the Film Archives sets.
14 of 14 people found the following review helpful
HASH(0x9dd305d0) out of 5 stars Diverse collection, a must have July 21 2009
By Kevin Shipp - Published on
Format: DVD
Really, you can't argue with a two disc, five hour set that truly delivers at the rate this does, including newly remastered films previously unavailable on video or DVD by artists like Stan Brakhage, Marie Menken, Ken Jacobs, George Kuchar, Hollis Frampton and many, many more. The packaging is fantastic, coming in a great thick case to house both DVDs and the greatly informative booklet with about 1 1/2 to 2 pages of text about each contributing film maker. Some films here include an optional sound track of new music by Anthology Film Archives composer-in-residence John Zorn. This particularly works with Wallace Berman's "Aleph." In fact, the optional soundtracks for many of these offer a little insight. For example, Shirley Clarke's "Bridges Go Round" has the option to play either the original track intended for it by Louis and Bebe Barron, or music by Teo Macero, composed later on as a replacement soundtrack after copyright troubles forbid the use of the Barron track. Shirley, as the booklet illustrates, would often screen both versions of "Bridges" back to back, and you can do the same here.
Ron Rice's "Chumlum" is another great inclusion; it contains a classic performance by one of the most influential people in the New York underground, Jack Smith, and haunting music by Angus MacLise that both perfectly compliment Rice's intricate costuming, unreal multiple superimpositions and jarring angles. This collection is essential for a lover of independant cinema, and completely worth it even if only for "Chumlum," Stan Brakhage's "Riddle of Lumen," and Joseph Cornell's "By Night with Torch and Spear." Your money will go quite far on this purchase.
4 of 5 people found the following review helpful
HASH(0x9dd3084c) out of 5 stars Let 'er roll! March 26 2009
By R Atherton - Published on
Format: DVD Verified Purchase
The best way to approach "Treasures IV: American Avant-Garde Film" is simply to press the "Play All" button and prepare for a roller-coaster of a visual ride. I didn't care for a few of the films, but I just forward-clicked out of them. Generally, the films are exciting presentations that still haven't been topped after all these years. The concentration demanded is paid back in rich visual experiences. And if you *haven't* seen any of these, be prepared to enrich your soul.
1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
HASH(0x9dd306e4) out of 5 stars Treasures from the archive Aug. 4 2010
By technoguy - Published on
Format: DVD
26 Major Avant Garde Films Never Before on Home Video! 27 artists from Bruce Baillie to Andy Warhol who worked outside the mainstream and redefined American cinema are collected in this stunning, five-hour set sampling an array of film types and styles. An array of film styles from animation to documentary are showcased in this collection of classics and rediscoveries, selected from five of the nation's foremost avant-garde film archives. This is a stunning alternate history of cinema.These filmmakers saw with new eyes and re-envisioned it as visual music or personal diary or city poem or found object.These films were shown in lofts, coffee houses,backyards or museums,the college circuit or underground cinemas.The disappearance of the 16mm circuit made screenings that much rarer.People like Stan Brakhage,Bruce Baillie,Ken Jacobs,George and Michael Kuchar,Hollis Frampton,Robert Beer,Owen Land,Shirley Clarke and Pat O'Neill were saved on DVD by the National Film Foundation from their fugitive existence.Their films felt genuinely homemade,in which every image,every cut,every sound,felt as if it had been crafted,lived with and worked through over time.

Some came to filmmaking from painting or sculpture,others from music, anthroplogy,photography or political activism.Of the featured films on side 1,I particularly liked "The Riddle of Lumen"(Brakhage),"Odds and Ends"(Belson Shimane),"By Night with Torch and Speer"(Cornell) and "The End" (Maclaine).On side 2 I liked "Go!Go!Go!"(Menken),"I,an Actress"(Kuchar),"New Improved Institutional Quality"(Land),"Fog Line" (Gottheim), "nostalgia"(Frampton).There is no pretence at narrative conventions,but another way of experiencing space,time and identity or another form of representing reality.I won't say I liked every film,but you can fast-forward into the next film if you wish.

Featuring newly recorded music by John Zorn, a 70-page book of program notes with a forward by Martin Scorsese, more than 200 interactive screens,where you can choose to play all the films,or choose from a menu a specific film with notes about the film or with alternative versions or soundtracks and an introduction by Martin Scorsese.For
aficianados of film and film studies.

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