Watch the Meditative Cinepoem “H20”: A Landmark Avant-Garde Art Film from 1929

We all stand to benefit from a bit of hydrotherapy, but in these hectic, trying times, it's challenging to find the time for a bath, let alone come up with the dough for a tropical vacation or soothing spa experience.

Given the circumstances, the nearly hundred-year-old experimental film above may be your best option.

In 1929, photograher and filmmaker Ralph Steiner turned his camera on a number of watery subjects—hydrants, waterfalls, streams, raindrops disturbing placid puddled surfaces....




The result was H20, an 11-and-a-half minute cinepoem, considered by film historians, The New York Times noted in Steiner’s obit, to be “the second American art film.”

(Have a look at James Sibley Watson and Melville Webber’s impressionistic 1928 adaptation of Poe’s The Fall of the House of Usher if you’re curious about the first.)

Photoplay magazine bestowed its first prize for amateur filmmaking upon H20, praising Steiner’s pure abstract patterns and astonishing tempo, and gushing that "the picture is bound to attract wide attention and a great deal of discussion wherever it is shown.”

He revisited the subject two years later with Surf and Seaweed, above, though his fascination with movement was not limited to the natural world, as evidenced by 1930’s Mechanical Principles.

The hubbub may have died down a bit in the 90 years since H20’s release, though Steiner’s spirit lives on in a number of young experimental filmmakers—witness Norbert Shieh’s award-winning Washes, Dave Krunal’s Waterbomb, and Jaden Chen’s A Cup of Water, below.

H2O has been preserved for posterity by the Library of Congress’ United States National Film Registry. The original piano score in the version featured on Open Culture was composed by William Pearson.

Download a free copy of H20 from the Internet archive for use in future trying times.

Steiner's films will be added to our collection, 1,150 Free Movies Online: Great Classics, Indies, Noir, Westerns, etc.

via Aeon

Related Content:

The First Avant Garde Animation: Watch Walter Ruttmann’s Lichtspiel Opus 1 (1921)

Man Ray and the Cinéma Pur: Watch Four Groundbreaking Surrealist Films From the 1920s

The Hearts of Age: Orson Welles’ Surrealist First Film (1934)

Ayun Halliday is an author, illustrator, theater maker and Chief Primatologist of the East Village Inky zine.  See her onstage in New York City in February as host of  Theater of the Apes book-based variety show, Necromancers of the Public Domain. Follow her @AyunHalliday.


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  • gwr says:

    Beautiful! Since we are on the subject of experimental film, I’d like to make a second appeal for a post honoring Jonas Mekas – who passed away last week after a very long life doing more than almost anyone to advance and support avant garde filmaking.

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