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Taste Film Series Brings New York Avant-Garde Films to SMU

Semester-long Meadows event to bring rare works to Dallas audience

by Armando Aguirre (B.A. Creative Advertising ’12)

Ever seen Christmas on Earth? It’s an experimental film by celebrated filmmaker Barbara Rubin – and odds are that unless you live in New York City, the answer is “no.” The reason is that Rubin’s film, a 1960s experimental classic, is housed and only shown in the East Coast’s largest city. This semester, however, Dallas-area film lovers have the opportunity to watch Christmas on Earth and other avant-garde favorites through the Taste Series at SMU.

The Taste Series is a survey of films from the experimental and extremely influential New York avant-garde film scene of 1950-1980. “The purpose of the Series is to start a dialogue about the art of filmmaking and the importance of these particular films in the overall history of moviemaking,” explains Sean Griffin, chair of the Cinema-Television Division at Meadows. “It’s a way to broaden viewers’ palates, and can even act as an education to professors like myself.” The Series specifically emphasizes those movies shot on 16-millimeter film. Because the films are not available on DVD or VHS (or any other watchable format), they must be shown in a professional screening room with the use of a projector.

The idea for the Taste Series was initially brought to SMU by curator Chad White, a Cinema-Television graduate student who formerly lived in New York. White has even had the opportunity to meet some of the filmmakers featured in the Series. When asked why the sole focus of the Series is films with New York City origins, Griffin explained that it’s the place where the largest growth of experimental filmmaking occurred, especially after World War II. “The 1960s and ‘70s were some of the most important times for counter-culture and new ways of thinking. Filmmakers were really doing their own things and expanding the boundaries of their movies.” Films to come out of the avant-garde movement are often characterized by the use of different, unconventional types of editing and the occasional absence of a soundtrack. In Dog Star Man (a film by filmmaker Stan Brakhage and one of the pieces being showcased through the Series), viewers watch as a mountain man scales a snowy slope, accompanied by a dog. There is no music paired with the action, and the film itself has been divided up into sections. These attributes are more than simple arbitrary filmmaking choices, however. Griffin explains that the Taste Series is a chance to watch a film while truly learning something. “It’s more than just going to the theater with a bucket of popcorn; it’s not escapism,” he said. “This is a different experience where we highlight not what movies should be, but rather what they can and could be.”

While the Series itself has obvious strong ties to the world of filmmaking, it is also heavily influenced by the arts movement as a whole. A few classes currently offered within Meadows correspond to the general aim of the Taste Series, specifically “Experimental Camera Work” and “Art History – 20th Century Art and Architecture.”

The Taste Series will feature numerous film screenings throughout the semester. Upcoming films include Christmas in July by filmmaker Shirley Clarke, a film that uses unique projection methods to show two films simultaneously. Showings are scheduled at 7 p.m. on September 27, October 4 and 18, and November 1 and 15 in screening room 3527 in the Greer Garson building at the Owen Arts Center. Attendance is free and open to the public. For more information, check out the Cinema-TV program at SMU.

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