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Kino on Video presents
Avant-Garde 2: Experimental Cinema 1928-1954 (1928-54)

"I believe firstly that the cinema is too rich. It is obese. It's reached its limits, its maximum. With the first movement of widening which it will outline, the cinema will burst! Under the blow of a congestion, this pig filled with grease will tear into a thousand pieces. I announce the destruction of the cinema, the first apocalyptic sign of disjunction, rupture, of this corpulent and balloon organization which is called film."
- Jean-Isidore Isou (himself)

Review By: Jeff Wilson   
Published: September 06, 2007

Director: various

MPAA Rating: Not Rated for nudity, violence
Release Date: July 24, 2007
UPC: 738329053727
Genre: experimental

Image Transfer
Audio Transfer
B- B-C+C+ C-

DVD Review

Kino picks up where their first Avant Garde set left off with Avant Garde 2: Experimental Cinema 1928-1954. The set gathers films , once again gathering its selections from the Raymond Rohauer collection. For the uninitiated, Rohauer was a longtime film collector, perhaps best known for helping Buster Keaton get his classic silent work back into circulation. Rohauer was a firm supporter/collector of experimental film, and his work, intentionally or not, saved numerous films from being lost forever. Now, Kino gathers another batch of experimental films for collectors and the curious alike. While the results aren't as essential as the first set, there is plenty here that is worthwhile and thought-provoking.

There are fifteen short films, including four from legendary filmmaker Stan Brakhage. The Brakhage films are all black and white, psycho-drama material, with the exception of the bizarre comedy The Extraordinary Child. Brakhage externalizes his characters' internal mives in these films, which focus on dark emotional states. Similar films in the set include House of Cards and The Cage. In the realm of more overt experimental efforts are Geography of the Body and Visual Variations on Noguchi. An early Gregory Markopolis film, Christmas, U.S.A. is here as well, and given the rarity of his work, will be welcome to many. Well known works The Fall of the House of Usher and Rebus Film No. 1 get another airing as well.

The set's centerpiece is Venom and Eternity. This film alone is either worth the price of the set, or reason to run screaming. Or both. Made by Jean Isidore Isou (who died a couple months ago), this 1951 feature-length film sees Isou take cinema and beat it with a blunt object. Isou was the founder of Letterism, an art movement he began in the early 1940s. Letterist film made a point of disassociating image from sound, making sound more intrinsic to the experience than the image, which was encouraged to be defaced by scratching or otherwise altering the film stock itself. Isou states bluntly that cinema is in a state of decline, having done all it can do, now being obsessed with pointless perfection of the depiction of reality. Whether you agree with that or not is up to you. The film famously provoked a riot at the Cannes Film Festival, something not too hard to understand once you watch it.

The then 25-year-old Isou lays out his manifesto in this film, and provides a demonstration of what Letterist film is all about. Mostly, it seems to be about stroking Isou's massive ego, as the film consists of an Isou-esque character getting berated by snobbish cineastes while he states his beliefs about the cinema. That initial portion of the film then segues into Isou's demonstration of what Letterist film entails, which is a split between gibberish masquerading as Letterist "poetry" (literally, it is spoken gibberish) and Isou's womanizing and self-aggrandizement, meant to demonstrate how he stands alone and above everyone else. Much of it is silly and endurance-testing, especially beyond the initial section, which had me interested, until I saw what his theory entailed. This cut is a restoration of the initial screening length of 111 minutes; mention is made of a four-hour plus cut that was edited down for the audience's sake. For that, I can only say, thank heaven for small mercies. If nothing else, the film was influential in leading Brakhage and others to experiment with working directly on the film stock itself, and for that, it has its place. Otherwise, this is often excruiatingly self-important, tedious nonsense.

Rating for Style: B-
Rating for Substance: B-


Image Transfer

Aspect Ratio1.33:1 - Full Frame
Original Aspect Ratioyes

Image Transfer Review: Many of the films here look pretty poor. I wasn't really expecting greatness from this set, so the condition of some of this material didn't come as a shock. Still, some films feature images so dark that details are completely blotted out, and others have way out of whack contrast levels in the other direction. Detail level is rarely very high. I wouldn't call anything on here unwatchable, but it could all use some cleaning up. In many cases, we should be glad these films exist, and be happy with what we have. Subtitles, if used, are on the prints themselves and not removable; Venom and Eternity features contemporary white subtitles that can be hard to read depending on the background at hand.

Image Transfer Grade: C+


Audio Transfer

 LanguageRemote Access
MonoEnglish, Frenchno

Audio Transfer Review: Several of the films here were made without synchronized soundtracks; Kino has provided music for these films, for those who want them. These tracks sound fine; their quality/usefulness is left to the individual to judge. It's nice to have the option, at any rate. For those films with original sound, the quality varies much as it did with the image; some shorts feature very muffled sound, others have passable quality.

Audio Transfer Grade: C+


Disc Extras

Full Motion menu with music
Scene Access with 6 cues and remote access
Subtitles/Captions in English
Packaging: Double alpha
Picture Disc
2 Discs
1-Sided disc(s)
Layers: dual

Extra Extras:
  1. Optional scores for selected films
  2. Booklet with film information
Extras Review: The packaging promises notes by film critic/historian Elliott Stein, but my copy, which appears to otherwise be a release copy, did not include them. With a release like this, background information is especially welcome, so I was disappointed to not see them. Otherwise, extras are nil, aside from the optional scores as mentioned in the Audio section of this review.

Extras Grade: C-


Final Comments

Despite sometimes sub-par quality in terms of video and audio, those seeking out material in this area really don't have too many other choices, if any, to acquire the films included here. Better-looking releases of the films here could eventually come out, so unless you're a very patient sort, this is a release you won't want to pass up. And besides all that, Venom and Eternity and the four early Brakhage films will be plenty of reason to get this for most people. The paucity of extras is disappointing, as it was with the first volume, but not unexpected.


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