Discover the 1950s & 1960s Computer & Cut-Up Animation of Pioneering Filmmaker Stan VanDerBeek

Hey, lovers of ani­ma­tion and exper­i­men­tal film: do you know the name Stan Van­Der­Beek? If not, you’ll enjoy learn­ing it, for more rea­sons than that it allows you to type four cap­i­tal let­ters. End­less­ly adven­tur­ous in his quest to find new ways to craft (not to men­tion dis­play) mov­ing images, Van­Der­Beek, who in col­lege encoun­tered the likes of John Cage, Mer­ce Cun­ning­ham, and Robert Rauschen­berg, mobi­lized for his ani­ma­tion a vari­ety of tech­nolo­gies that, in his day, peo­ple did­n’t have much of a sense of what to do with, artis­ti­cal­ly or oth­er­wise. “Every­thing that artists made art from, or with, in the sec­ond half of the 20th cen­tu­ry, he pret­ty much touched,” this NPR piece quotes MIT LIST Visu­al Arts Cen­ter cura­tor Joao Ribas as say­ing about him. “The medi­um, what­ev­er he was work­ing with, was not ade­quate enough. Paint­ing was too sta­t­ic, and then one film was too lin­ear, and then four films were too cum­ber­some.”

You can see here some of the fruits of this dri­ve that kept Van­Der­Beek “con­stant­ly try­ing some­thing else that could get clos­er and clos­er to what he saw.” At the top, we have a 1966 exam­ple of the ani­mat­ed poet­ry he cre­at­ed with Bell Labs com­put­er graph­ics pio­neer Ken Knowl­ton, using a pro­gram­ming lan­guage of Knowl­ton’s own design and a score by jazz drum­mer Paul Mot­ian. But Van­Der­Beek built more of his rep­u­ta­tion with his mas­tery of cut-and-paste ani­ma­tion, the kind you see in action in 1959’s Sci­ence Fric­tion just above. Five years lat­er, he would put out Breathdeath below, which Tate calls “a sur­re­al fan­ta­sy based on 15th cen­tu­ry wood­cuts of The Dance of the Dead” made of “cut-up pho­tos and news­reels, reassem­bled into a black com­e­dy ded­i­cat­ed to Char­lie Chap­lin and Buster Keaton.” Does this all remind you a bit of Ter­ry Gilliam? It should. The Mon­ty Python ani­ma­tor, a notable Van­Der­Beek fan, named Breathdeath one of the best ani­mat­ed films of all time.

Find more exper­i­men­tal films in our col­lec­tion, 4,000+ Free Movies Online: Great Clas­sics, Indies, Noir, West­erns, Doc­u­men­taries & More.

Relat­ed Con­tent:

The Best Ani­mat­ed Films of All Time, Accord­ing to Ter­ry Gilliam

Watch 13 Exper­i­men­tal Short Films by Tezu­ka Osamu, the Walt Dis­ney of Japan

Opti­cal Poems by Oskar Fischinger, the Avant-Garde Ani­ma­tor Hat­ed by Hitler, Dissed by Dis­ney

Col­in Mar­shall hosts and pro­duces Note­book on Cities and Cul­ture and writes essays on cities, lan­guage, Asia, and men’s style. He’s at work on a book about Los Ange­les, A Los Ange­les Primer. Fol­low him on Twit­ter at @colinmarshall or on Face­book.

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