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A Line of Sight

American Avant-Garde Film since 1965

2004
Author:

Paul Arthur

A Line of Sight

A major reconsideration of avant-garde film in America

For three decades, Paul Arthur has been a leading observer and critic as well as a participant in America’s avant-garde cinema. In A Line of Sight, he provides a new account of the extravagant energies of American experimental cinema since 1965. Amid the resurgence of experimental filmmakers, A Line of Sight reaffirms the breadth and diversity of the avant-garde tradition in America.

An illuminating and unique critical overview of avant-garde filmmaking.

P. Adams Sitney, author of Visionary Film: The American Avant-Garde, 1943-2000

For three decades, Paul Arthur has been a leading observer and critic as well as a direct participant in America’s avant-garde cinema. In A Line of Sight, he provides a sweeping new account of the extravagant energies of American experimental cinema since 1965.

Balancing close analysis of both major and lesser-known films with detailed examinations of their production, distribution, and exhibition, Arthur addresses the avant-garde’s cultural significance while offering a timely reconsideration of accepted critical categories and artistic options. Rather than treating American avant-garde cinema as a series of successive artistic breakthroughs, A Line of Sight emphasizes the importance of social and institutional networks, material exchanges, and historical disruptions and continuities. Throughout, Arthur pays close attention to themes and visual practices neglected or underrepresented in previous studies, scrutinizing portraiture as a vehicle for projecting dissident identities, highlighting the essay film and the contemporary city symphony, and assessing the contributions of regional and African American filmmaking to the avant-garde. He also explores thematic and formal questions that have been central to the avant-garde achievement: experimental film's relationship with mainstream narrative cinema and postwar American painting as well as the legacy of sixties’s counterculture; the uses and theoretical implications of found footage and the allegorizing of technology; and the schism between a poetic, expressive cinema and the antisubjective, rationalist bias of structural filmmaking.

Amid the current resurgence of experimental filmmakers and the emergence of a new audience for their work, A Line of Sight reaffirms the extraordinary breadth and diversity of the avant-garde tradition in America.

A Line of Sight

Paul Arthur is professor of English and film studies at Montclair State University. He is a regular contributor to Film Comment and Cineaste, and is coeditor of Millennium Film Journal.

A Line of Sight

An illuminating and unique critical overview of avant-garde filmmaking.

P. Adams Sitney, author of Visionary Film: The American Avant-Garde, 1943-2000

Paul Arthur's A Line of Sight interrupts conventional wisdom and establishes the enduring value of American avant-garde film on a new terrain.

Chuck Kleinhans, Northwestern University

Provocative theorizing, fruitful categorizations and detailed accounts of the avant-garde ‘system’ are at the heart of the book and make it a genuine contribution to the advanced study of experimental/avant-garde film.

Film Quarterly

It is Arthur’s sensitivity to the various permutations of American counterculture that makes this study of experimental film so productive. A Line of Sight is a very welcome addition to the small but growing pile of histories dedicated to American avant-garde film.

Afterimage

Paul Arthur’s achievement—which reflects a lifetime of involvement in the field, an astonishing knowledgeability, and an astute appreciation of countless filmmakers—has been made possible through an openness to radical ideas and ephemeral and fugitive cultural activities. One finishes A Line of Sight realizing that avant-garde film is very much alive and has continued to be in a state of constant creative ferment even after critics started to tune out back in the seventies. Arthur leaves the reader eager to see the films touched upon and to attend the scores of venues that still present such work in our increasingly conservative culture. This might be the greatest legacy of his unquestionably seminal work.

Film Comment

Arthur is among the most thoughtful and sensitive chroniclers of the avant-garde. A Line of Sight showcases both is remarkably perceptive insights on particular films and emerging styles, and his uncanny prescience.

Cineaste

Arthur’s book is a first rate, first hand account of the films that contributed to shaping avant-garde films over the last 40 years.

Senses of Cinema