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, 4,000+ Free Movies Online: Great Clas­sics, Indies, Noir, West­erns, Doc­u­men­taries & More

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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