Breathdeath (1963) – Stan Vanderbeek

VanDerBeek’s 1963 film Breathdeath is full of animated collages satirizing gender roles and politics. There’s also an arresting staged scene — a woman sits on a bed nuzzling a figure made from an empty shirt and trousers, topped by a television set showing men’s faces; she looks into the camera while “I Put a Spell on You” wails on the soundtrack.

Visual Velocity: The Work of Stan VanDerBeek

Stan VanDerBeek is a legendary name in the history of experimental film. A restless adventurer who began making experimental animated films in the 1950s, VanDerBeek filmed happenings, designed windows for Tiffany’s and worked with John Cage and Claes Oldenburg.

He also explored the artistic possibilities of new technologies of his time: video, computers, even the fax machine. He was artist-in-residence at Bell Labs and at NASA.

Now, a survey of VanDerBeek’s work is on display at the Contemporary Arts Museum in Houston.

VanDerBeek made dozens of these collage films in the 1950s and early ’60s, using altered clippings from magazines and newspapers to create whimsical but pointed commentary. The films look like they must be the primary inspiration for Terry Gilliam’s Monty Python animated sequences, which appeared a few years later.

But VanDerBeek did not start out as a filmmaker. He attended Black Mountain College in North Carolina to study visual art. There he met people who were transforming art: composer John Cage, choreographer Merce Cunningham, painter Robert Rauschenberg. But painting wasn’t enough for VanDerBeek.

Jamestown Baloos (1957) – Robert Breer

Robert Breer moved to Paris and became heavily influenced by the hard-edged geometric qualities of Neo-plasticism and the abstractions of De Stijl and Blue Rider movements. He also experimented with rapid montage by juxtaposing frames of images in quick succession.