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History of Avant-Garde Film

These posts present portions of Michael Betancourt's current research. If you are looking for more published articles on his media history work, you can find them posted in .pdf and with links to the magazines, under "articles" on

  • "The Invention of Glitch Video: Digital TV Dinner (1978) [preview]

  • The 3 Periods of Abstract Film & Video in the US

  • Commentary on misinformation about my research
  • Interesting primary source documents:

  • The Last of the Mohicans: Oskar Fischingers Symphony in Blue, FilmLiga, 15 November 1935, pp. 314-315 [.pdf]

  • Dreams That Money Can Buy, Hans Richter, 1947 [.pdf]

  • Tinting and Toning of Eastman Positive Motion Picture Film, second edition, 1918 [.pdf]
  • More articles and translations into Spanish, Portuguese and Greek are posted on


    Generative Color and Time Displacement

    story © Michael Betancourt | published September 7, 2016 | permalink | TwitThis Digg Facebook StumbleUpon  |  Print


    OtherZine 31 is running my discussion of using digital tools to create a movie with the same kind of RGB-based generative color used by Len Lye in Rainbow Dance .


    Joshua Gen Solondz's Prisoner's Cinema (2012)

    story © Michael Betancourt | published July 26, 2015 | permalink | TwitThis Digg Facebook StumbleUpon  |  Print


    Bright Lights Film Journal has my article on Johsua Gen Solondz's flicker film Prisoner's Cinema. This article discusses how the duplicity of hallucination/sight and transcendence/imprisonment is essnetial to the meaning in flicker cinema.


    Un-Dependently Yours - The Experiments in Cinema 2015 Yearbook

    story © Michael Betancourt | published April 11, 2015 | permalink | TwitThis Digg Facebook StumbleUpon  |  Print


    The 10th Anniversay book from the Experiments in Cinema festival Un-Dependently Yours: Imagining a World Beyond the Red Carpet is out.

    read more


    The Early History of American Avant-Garde Film

    story © Michael Betancourt | published February 13, 2015 | permalink | TwitThis Digg Facebook StumbleUpon  |  Print


    The Museum of Modern Art in New York began a bibliographic indexing project focused on the history and criticism of motion pictures with The New York City WPA Writers Project, following the organization of the museums Film Library in 1935. This project, developed over several years was completed as a three volume survey of English language publications about motion pictures in 1941.

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    List of US Avant-Garde Film Histories

    story © Michael Betancourt | published January 30, 2015 | permalink | TwitThis Digg Facebook StumbleUpon  |  Print


    There are lots of histories published about US avant-garde film. Here's an extended list of some of them, arranged in order of publication year:

    Frank Stauffacher and Richard Foster, Art in Cinema (catalog, 1946)

    Lewis Jacobs, Experimental Cinema in America 1921-1947 in The Rise of the American Film (1948)

    Roger Manvell, Experiment in the Film (1949)

    Robert Pike, A Critical Study of the West Coast Experimental Film Movement (UCLA dissertation, 1960)

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    OtherZine Issue 27: FRAME LINES is Out!

    story © Michael Betancourt | published September 14, 2014 | permalink | TwitThis Digg Facebook StumbleUpon  |  Print


    OtherZine 27 is now out!. I have an article in this issue, Motion Pictures- An Expanded Framework, that is a discussion of "formal" approaches to motion pictures.


    'Dreams That Money Can Buy' Book

    story © Michael Betancourt | published May 1, 2014 | permalink | TwitThis Digg Facebook StumbleUpon  |  Print


    Hans Richter's 1947 film Dreams That Money Can Buy (available for download here) was accompanied by a 24 page soft cover book with a collage on the cover by Max Ernst, and illustrated throughout with photographs from the color film. This book is relatively expensive to own, but is a very valuable source of information on the film, including materials on/by all of Richter's collaborators.

    download a pdf here


    Modernist 'Purity' & Avant-Garde Film

    story © Michael Betancourt | published September 18, 2011 | permalink | TwitThis Digg Facebook StumbleUpon  |  Print


    Clement Greenbergs essay, Modernist Painting, appearing as a Voice of America pamphlet in 1960, then reprinted in 1966, implicitly conditions how artists understood the idea of formal during the beginning of the institutional period for the avant-garde film. His basis in philosopher Immanuel Kants self-critical approach tempers the construction of Modernism:

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    Optical Printing and Digital Computers

    story © Michael Betancourt | published August 31, 2011 | permalink | TwitThis Digg Facebook StumbleUpon  |  Print


    I have been describing my own working process as 'using the computer like an optical printer' since I made the digital transition in 2000. This approach is based on the fundamentals described by Raymond Fielding at the very end of his book Special Effects Cinematography that I read during the two month faculty strike that happened my first semester as an undergraduate at Temple University. Since I wasn't able to take classes, I spent my time reading things that interested me.

    With the revolution in digital video that started in the 1990s, the historical basis for these technologies is now quite distant. But these technologies evolved from an application of the digital computer to historical techniques and approaches, thus enabling ever greater control over the image. Writing in 1984, Raymond Fielding considers the optical printer as a variety of mechanical, analog computer. We can recognize the limiting factors of analog mediamost especially generation loss, grain, and errors (dirt, etc)that disappear when producing these same effects with digital means:

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    On Knowlton & VanDerBeek's Computer Animations

    story © Michael Betancourt | published August 21, 2011 | permalink | TwitThis Digg Facebook StumbleUpon  |  Print


    Kenneth C. Knowlton (1931 ) worked in the Computer Techniques Research Department at Bell Labs in Murray Hill, New Jersey starting in 1962; he collaborated with experimental animator Stan VanDerBeek (1927 1984) on film experiments done in the artist-in-residency program. This was concerned with the use of computers to create graphics, and while there he produced twelve films between 1963 and 1967. He developed the first programming language specifically meant for animation: BEFLIX, a portmanteau of bell flicks. The animations this language created used a limited number of pixels arranged into a grid 252 by 184 in size, with seven shades of grey. Finished films had color added through optical printing.

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