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Introduction
1971

Experimental Cinema, a fifty-year evoloution by David Curtis is published by Studio Vista.

In this wide ranging survey, David Curtis traces the development of film experimentation from the pioneer narrative efforts of Edwin S.Porter and the fantasmagoric and special effects of Emile Cohl and Norman O'Dawn early in the Twentieth century to the New American cinema films of Stan Brakhage, Gregory Markopoulos, Ron Rice, and Andy Warhol in the 1960s – and now in the 1970s. Sleeve introduction to Experimental Cinema, A Fifty Year Evolution by David Curtis, Studio Vista 1971.

The brief extract above shows the breadth with which David Curtis approaches the subject of experimental film in his book for Studio Vista. His rigorously researched historical overview of experimental film was significant as one of the first to be published in Britain, showing the extent to which avant-garde film was now considered a subject worthy of study, with a distinct history divergent from that of mainstream cinema.

A galvanising figure in the London experimental film world, David Curtis had been instrumental in introducing the films of the American experimental cinema to British audiences. As a co-founder with Jim Haynes of the Arts Lab at Drury Lane and later at Robert Street he organised many experimental film screenings, mixing the work of pioneers such as Hans Richter, Oscar Fishinger and Dziga Vertov with films by Kenneth Anger, Jack Smith and Andy Warhol and later showcasing the work of British co-op filmmakers such as Malcolm Le Grice. This is reflected in Experimental Cinema, which traces the roots of his contemporaries in those of an older avant-garde. Beginning with the French 'impressionists' and Dada and Surrealist filmmakers, Curtis also gave attention to the experimental animations of Len Lye and Berthold Bartosch and contextualised the individual histories of filmmakers with the social and economic conditions surrounding them. The book's main focus is American avant-garde cinema which suggests that European and British filmmakers were yet to make an impact, particularly as a later chronology by Curtis shows that he started researching his book with visits to America in 1969, some two years before Experimental Cinema's publication. However, the book's final chapter on Structural cinema starts to map new directions and includes mention of precedents in a distinct European structural cinema such as Birgit and Willem Hein and Kurt Kren.
LR.

Lucy Reynolds

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Cover of David Curtis' Experimental Cinema, 1971

Courtesy of the author
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