You may be wondering, sometimes, why we keep making little movies, underground movies, why are we talking about Home Movies, and you hope, sometimes, that this all will change soon. Wait, you say, until they begin making big movies. But we say, No, there is a misunderstanding here. We are making real movies. What we are doing comes from the deeper needs inside a man’s soul. Man has wasted himself outside himself; man has disappeared in his projections. We want to bring him down, into his small room, to bring him home.
-JONAS MEKAS 
Most of my films accept the traditional theatre situation. Audience here, screen there. It makes concentration and contemplation possible. We’re two sided and we fold… My work is classical in the sense that it involves a definite directing of one’s attention. The single rectangle can contain a lot.
-MICHAEL SNOW 
[I]n the closed space of cinema there is no circulation, no movement, and no exchange. In the darkness, spectators sink into their seats as though slipping into bed… This model is broken apart by the folding of the dark space of cinema into the white cube of the gallery.
-CHRISSIE ILES 
Prior to 1945, there was little consideration of film within the collection, exhibition, dissemination and scholarship of American art. Subsumed inside the realm of popular entertainment, cinema was shunned by academia, overlooked or outright ignored by art galleries and museums, and rendered absent in the pages of art publications. J. Ronald Green points out that
in 1935, when The Museum of Modern Art made the decision, not just to archive films, but to distribute them non-theatrically, there were no film societies, no university courses in media, no non-theatrical distributors, no American Film Institute, no media arts centers… and there were no independent media artists manifest in our culture. 
During the 1940s, studio directors like John Ford, Howard Hawks, Preston Sturges, and Alfred Hitchcock had yet to be pronounced auteurs by the French critics at Cahiers du cinéma, while European émigrés such as Oskar Fischinger, Douglas Sirk, Otto Preminger and Billy Wilder were still seeking a toehold in American’s motion picture industry. Up until the end of Hollywood’s Golden Age in the mid-40s, experimental films were either categorized as an extension of previous artistic practices, such as the Kandinsky-like visual abstraction of John and James Whitney, Fischinger and Hans Richter, or marginalized as “home movies.” As Jan-Christopher Horak notes, “In the earliest phases the American avant-garde movement cannot be separated from a history of amateur films.” 
Initially “amateur” film experimentalists functioned as artisans outside both the industrial setting and the artistic community. For years they worked in relative isolation before uniting along the lines of two parallel movements. The West Coast underground cinema, formally and spiritually inspired by San Francisco’s literary community, developed in the late-40s. The New American Cinema, a multidisciplinary group of New York-based artists, organized around issues of cooperation, exhibition and distribution in the late-50s. The commercial success of New American films such as Shadows (John Cassavetes, 1958) and Pull My Daisy (Robert Frank and Alfred Leslie, 1958) at the end of the ‘50s, as well as Andy Warhol’s Chelsea Girls in 1966, provided American independent cinema with a measure of art world respect. From the fractured, experimental narratives of the New American Cinema, to the cinema vérité movement in documentary film, to the first person films of Jonas Mekas, Marie Menken, Stan Brakhage, Bruce Baillie and others, a framework was developed for the consideration of film as an art form. This structure took a tangible shape in the mid-60s, when galleries and museums such as the Museum of Modern Art and the Whitney Museum of American Art in New York, and art magazines such as Artforum in Los Angeles began to devote attention and resources to the interpretation, dissemination and presentation of experimental film.
Beneath the Underground:
Origins of the American Avant-Garde Cinema
The filmmaker, film organizer and avant-garde polemicist Maya Deren was one of the first in America to position experimental film as an “amateur” alternative to Hollywood, with its cumbersome technology and labour practices.  She argued that only by circumventing the professional world of trained specialists, careful divisions of labour and financial motivations could a filmmaker fully realize the medium’s potential.  Her work also served as an aesthetic bridge between European Surrealism and American avant-garde cinema. Meshes of the Afternoon (1943), co-directed with her husband, the Czech documentary filmmaker Alexander Hammid, set the form for early films by Sidney Peterson, Curtis Harrington, Ian Hugo, Kenneth Anger and Stan Brakhage.
By developing an impressive array of strategies and techniques for affecting a personal/poetic cinema (including fluid handheld camera movements, unpredictable editing rhythms, superimposition, and the use of abstract imagery), Deren, Brakhage and other avant-garde pioneers severed cinema from its industrial ties by conceptualizing the filmmaker as an individual artist. Foremost among Brakhage’s innovations was the development of the first person camera, illustrated in films such as Daybreak and Whiteye (1957), Anticipation of the Night (1958) and Window Water Baby Moving (1959). In contrast to the psychodrama, a mode that dominated early American avant-garde cinema, this technique posited the filmmaker as a conscious subjective presence. Brakhage was also a leading contributor to the development of direct (camera-less) cinema; besides painting on 16mm, 35mm and 70mm film stocks, he “scratched, dyed, baked, and otherwise directly intervened on the ‘sovereignty’ of the photographic.”  In Mothlight (1963) he effaced the frame’s threshold entirely by attaching moth wings, leaves and crystals to strips of clear film. His hand-painted films have subsequently extended this line of approach in multiple directions.
The appearance and projected scale of Brakhage’s hand-painted films share formal qualities (all-over topology, rapid brushstroke, indeterminate depth) with Action Paintings. This analogue did not go unnoticed by the filmmaker or his critics. As James Peterson notes, since the earliest comparisons in 1961, “scarcely anyone writing about Brakhage’s work can avoid linking it to Abstract Expressionism.”  Moreover, the comparison provided an interpretive schema for his films that was free of literary associations, allowing Brakhage an entry into visual art discourses, and by extension, art world authenticity. 
This connection with Abstract Expressionism was also tied to his larger project of separating visual perception from descriptive language. David Sterritt points out that, “Brakhage seeks immersion in… mystery via strategies he has developed… for baffling the intellect and cultivating a ‘knowledge foreign to language.’”  Brakhage explains he was
strongly drawn to the Abstract Expressionists—Pollock, Rothko, Kline—because of their interior vision… To me, they were all engaged in making icons of inner picturisation, literally mapping modes of non-verbal, non-symbolic, non-numerical thought. So I got interested in consciously and unconsciously attempting to represent this. 
Juxtaposing a frame from Thigh Line Lyre Triangular (1961) with a reproduction of Willem de Kooning’s “Woman with a Green and Beige Background” (1966), P. Adams Sitney illustrates the material relationship between Brakhage’s flat, hand-painted surface and the compressed visual field of Abstract Expressionist painting.  In “Pioneer of the Abstract Expressionist Film,” Charles Boultenhouse establishes a parallel between Brakhage’s erratic hand-held camera movements and Pollock’s loose, gestural brush stroke.  Kerry Brougher likewise notes that “Brakhage’s hand-held, roving camerawork dissolves the grounded, fixed camera of Hollywood productions, making the camera a fluid, mobile eye more directly related to that of the painter of abstraction.”  The desire to deconstruct and transcend Hollywood forms and conventions such as illusionistic shooting and editing styles, deep focus and naturalistic acting, coupled with the influx of European artists, writers and filmmakers around the time of World War II, catalyzed American independent cinema at mid-century.
Well-known on the West Coast for his collage sculptures before turning to film assemblage, Bruce Conner emerged in the ‘60s as a major avant-garde filmmaker. His films A Movie (1958), Cosmic Ray (1961), and Report (1963-67)—a deconstruction of John F. Kennedy’s assassination and an unpacking of the Kennedy myth—spanned the initial emergence and explosive expansion of the post-Maya Deren underground film movement. A Movie is a montage of found materials culled from various sources including war documentaries, nudie films, old westerns and disaster footage, assembled in a rapid collage to Respighi’s Pines of Rome. It premiered in 1958 on the opening night of Conner’s second show of assemblage sculptures at the East/West Gallery in Fillmore, California. The fact that A Movie was included in a sculptural exhibition is significant, because at the time art museums and galleries did not commonly screen films. In 1958 this novel use of public art space played a major role in the fusion of art and film audiences that would determine the future success of underground cinema.
The artist-run gallery became an important site for multidisciplinary crossovers during the ‘50s and ‘60s and its continued vitality remains one of the most significant Beat legacies. Many of the Beat movement’s seminal events took place in artist-run spaces. The 6 Gallery in San Francisco was the site of Ginsberg’s famous first reading of “Howl” in 1955. Ginsberg was joined that night by the poets Gary Snyder, Philip Whalen, Philip Lamantia, Robert Lowell and Kenneth Rexroth; Jack Kerouac, Neal Cassady and Lawrence Ferlinghetti were among those in attendance. Ferus, a West Coast gallery co-founded by the critic Walter Hopps and the artist Ed Kienholz in Los Angeles in 1957, exhibited multidisciplinary artists such as Conner, Warhol, Walter Berman and Ed Ruscha. The same year New York’s Brata Gallery and Circle in the Square hosted the first jazz/poetry performances organized by Kerouac and the musician David Amram.
From the Shadows:
The Rise of a New American Cinema
Conner was characteristic of the West Coast art/film synergy, wit, and sensibility that developed in the late-50s and early-60s. At the same time, Jonas Mekas was emerging as a representative figure of the East Coast avant-garde film community. In addition to pioneering a unique style of longer-form diary filmmaking, he founded and co-edited Film Culture, the first American journal dedicated solely to the coverage of independent cinema; spearheaded the Film-makers’ Co-operative, the Film-makers’ Cinematheque and Anthology Film Archives in New York; wrote a regular column, “Movie Journal” for the New York arts weekly, The Village Voice; and likely co-authored the term “New American Cinema” in 1960. 
An auxiliary development of the American avant-garde cinema, the New American Cinema Group included twenty-three independent filmmakers brought together by Mekas and Lewis Allen. Their manifesto emphasized personal expression, the rejection of censorship and “the abolishment of ‘the Budget myth’” (Mekas et al. 81-82). Rather than a cohesive collective, the New American Cinema was a diffuse band of New York-based filmmakers, photographers, painters, dancers, actors, and artists. The lasting quality of its members’ films—including Cassavetes’ Shadows, Frank and Leslie’s Pull My Daisy, Lionel Rogosin’s Come Back, Africa (1959), and Shirley Clarke’s The Connection (1960), an adaptation of Jack Gelber’s controversial 1958 Living Theatre production—demonstrate the strength and diversity of American independent filmmaking at the end of the 1950s.
The film critic Ken Kelman identifies two necessities underlying the New American Cinema. The first, he writes, “is an aesthetic need, born of the exhaustion of film form by mid-century.” The second is, simply and most importantly, “the need for freedom in an increasingly restrictive world.”  These comments support Mekas’ belief that what America really needed, apropos Hollywood and European art cinema, were “less perfect but more free films.”  The pursuit of artistic and financial freedom that united independent filmmakers in the ‘50s finds an echo within the frustrations and motivations that sparked several process-based art movements and musical advancements (including free jazz) a decade later.
The Filmmaker as Artist:
Cinema Enters the Museum
Following the more freewheeling artist-led initiatives of the late-50s and early-60s, The Museum of Modern Art (MoMA), the Whitney Museum of American Art and Minneapolis’ Walker Art Center were among the first American museums to introduce film into their regular programming. As mentioned above, the MoMA started collecting and distributing “archival” films in the mid-30s, but didn’t begin exhibiting films as art until the 1960s. In 1970 the Whitney staged New York’s first major exhibit of video art and launched a New American Filmmakers Series, devoted to independent, non-commercial cinema. Meanwhile, the American Federation of Art’s traveling exhibition, A History of the American Avant-Garde Cinema, first held at the MoMA in May 1976, crystallized film’s place in American art museums. As the catalogue states, the exhibition was developed “out of a desire to increase understanding of the art of the film, and particularly that branch of filmmaking that is concerned with the use of the medium as a vehicle for personal expression.” 
With the integration of cinema into fine arts institutions in the United States, the distinction between conventional, modernist categories of “art” and “film” began to collapse and new hybrid genres were created, manifested in the artist film and video art.  Beginning in the 1960s artists working in traditional disciplines such as painting, photography, sculpture and dance started to make their first audio-visual works, including Robert Morris, Richard Serra, Carolee Schneemann, Hollis Frampton, Dan Graham, Paul Sharits, Yvonne Rainer and others. As a result the late-60s and early-70s saw an increased dematerialization of the art object, de-emphasizing the importance of the medium in art making.  Informed by Conceptual Art, Minimalism, Earth Art and other ephemeral art movements, the accent shifted from the self-contained object to process, practice, performance and language. This trend can be considered as a reaction against “the prescriptive modernist purism of Clement Greenberg and Michael Fried, on the one hand, and the commodification of the art object on the other.”  Due to factors inherent to the medium, film emerged as a perfect vehicle for realizing this project. Mechanically reproducible and therefore less marketable as a commodity, film is also difficult to project in the home because of its material fragility and expensive, specialized technological apparatus. Uniquely, film can also contain numerous art forms at once, such as painting, sculpture, performance, music and photography.
These elements can be seen at play in ‘60s structural film,  a sub-category of avant-garde cinema that rigorously tested the limits and possibilities of film’s irreducible elements (i.e. light, time, space, rhythm, colour, flicker, camera movement). The genre developed, in part, as an alternative mode of practice to the first-person, “thumbprint” films of Brakhage, Baillie, Menken, Mekas and others. Based on the principles of Conceptual Art, structural film is exemplified by the medium-specificity of Michael Snow’s Wavelength (1967), the flicker films of Paul Sharits and Tony Conrad, and the ontological reduction of Warhol’s Empire (1965), an 8-hour index of the Empire State Building as it passes from morning into night.
After a rich period of production, structural film reached a crisis point at the end of the ‘70s, similar to the one which faced Abstract Expressionists in the 1950s: that is, once you’ve reduced a medium down to its purest elements, to its zero degree, what else can be done? Endless experimentation became a creative cul-de-sac perpetuated by avant-garde notions of progress. As a result, several artists turned the moment of projection into a live performance, signalling the beginnings of installation art.
The Other “Other” Cinema: 
Into the Light: The Projected Image in American Art 1964-1977
A recent exhibition that situates the historical intersection of visual arts and cinema at the point of installation is Into the Light: The Projected Image in American Art 1964-1977, held at the Whitney Museum from October 18, 2001 to January 6, 2002.  Curated by Chrissie Iles, Into the Light claims itself as the first exhibition to explore the history of projected installations. Featuring one work each by nineteen different artists including such mega-watt stars as Vito Acconci, Bruce Nauman, Andy Warhol and Yoko Ono, the exhibition delineates a period of American art when the gallery space was being transformed by Minimal and Conceptual Art into a perceptual field. The exhibition reflects the Whitney’s ongoing commitment to the scholarly reassessment of critical moments in the history of American art, culling together video art pieces (by Ono, Gary Hill, William Anastasi, Beryl Korot); dance and holography (Simone Forti); multi-screen films (Warhol, Snow, Sharits, Nauman, Dan Graham); film sculpture (Robert Whitman, Anthony McCall); audio art (Keith Sonnier); photography (Mary Lucier); performance (Joan Jonas); and other multidisciplinary projected image and sound works (Peter Campus, Dennis Oppenheim, Robert Morris, Acconci).
Upon entering Into the Light, the first piece most visitors would see was Robert Whitman’s Shower (1964), one of four film sculptures that he produced from 1963-64. Whitman was also one of the earliest participants in multimedia Happenings, incorporating Super-8 film projections into his classic performances. In Shower the image of a woman showering is projected into a real shower stall, creating a three-dimensional film environment. The looped sequence has an ambiguous duration; although it insinuates suspense, suggesting Hitchcock’s Psycho (1960), the film lacks both development and closure. Andy Warhol’s Lupe (1965), one of the artist’s first double screen films, similarly thwarts narrative expectations. According to Warhol’s distribution instructions, Lupe can either be shown on one screen at 72 minutes, or on two screens at 36 minutes. By constructing a film that can be exhibited in multiple ways, Warhol disrupts narrative logic. The film is ostensibly a recreation of the last hours before Hollywood starlet Lupe Velez’s suicide, but without action or drama. The characters perform a series of domestic banalities and clichés of mainstream fictional films. By creating structures built on uncertain and/or shifting durations without climax, both Shower and Lupe can be considered deconstructions of narrative film language.
Conversely, many of the pieces in Into the Light attempt to deconstruct the cinematic experience by investigating film’s unique and irreducible properties and operations. By foregrounding projector, light beam, screen and frame, Snow’s Two Sides to Every Story (1974), McCall’s Line Describing a Cone (1973) and Sharits’ Shutter Interface (1975) tempt participatory viewers with their demystifying treatment of light, time and space. In Two Sides to Every Story, a woman performing various activities is filmed from both sides. Each film is projected onto opposite sides of a metal screen located in the centre of the room, requiring the viewer to circumnavigate the screen in order to perceive the whole piece. Line Describing a Cone is a 30-minute film that sculpts the projector’s beam into a three dimensional cone with the aid of space-visualizing fog. Because of its ephemeral tactility, Line Describing a Cone enthuses audience participation and exchange. Viewers can hardly resist reaching, stepping or leaping through what appears to be a solid cone, thereby entering into others’ personal experience of the piece. Shutter Interface is one of many multiple screen “locational” film installations that Sharits produced in the 1970s. The two-screen version presented at the Whitney (a four screen version also exists) projects two overlapping film loops that cycle through various colour permutations, creating a percussive composition.
Two of show’s simplest yet most sublime pieces, Yoko Ono’s Sky TV (1966) and William Anastasi’s Free Will (1968), demonstrate video’s impact on the shifting engagement between the audience and the space of the gallery. Sky TV, Ono’s only video work, places a closed-circuit camera on the museum’s roof, which transmits a live feed of the sky onto a television monitor placed within the exhibition space. In Free Will, a camera on top of a monitor is trained at the right-angled corner between the floor and the wall, whose black and white image is relayed onto the monitor screen. Imitating surveillance mechanisms (to humorous and/or contemplative effect), both video sculptures draw attention to aspects of the museum that are rarely observed—the sky above and a corner below, respectively. Through video technology these works negotiate new relationships between art object (Sky TV exists as a set of instructions), spectator, and public space, while anticipating the more current experiments in virtual reality.
All of the above works subvert passive spectatorship and bring to light the hidden play of seduction, twin elements of the classical motion picture apparatus, by shattering narrative illusion and suspense and/or by accenting the machinery of representation. Rather than films or videos in themselves, they function as reflections on the projected image, drawing cinema’s one-sided, author-spectator relationship into question. In these pieces, the idea of cinema—the cinematic—supplants cinema proper.
After years of struggle for respect and acceptance American independent filmmakers finally gained artistic status in the 1950s and ‘60s. In Sheldon Renan’s words, the result was newfound “freedom to make complex films, intimate films, films close to life or made of dreams, films like poems and films like paintings. This is what the underground is all about.”  From the late-60s to the late-70s, the territory paved by the underground cinema and its more over-ground auxiliary, the New American cinema, provided carte blanche for visual artists looking to circumvent medium-specificity and the commodification of art.
Into the Light investigates this flip side of avant-garde film’s purest approach. Only after cinema gained artistic status did painters, sculptors and other artists working in traditional mediums begin to produce time-based audiovisual works on a wide scale. While some artists like Michael Snow, Paul Sharits and Hollis Frampton took up a structural film practice, making films to be screened in theatres, others began to present projected images within a nexus of performance, Happenings and installation art. As a result of this multidisciplinary approach, the projected imaged has transformed the way we look at contemporary art. This has also altered the economic structure of artistic production, exhibition and art collecting.
In the context of ‘60s and ‘70s commercially unviable, process-based art forms such as Earth Art, Performance Art, Minimalism and Conceptual Art, the development of installation art over the past three decades can be read as a strategy for re-entry into the commercial art world. This re-commodification of art created a starting point for the meta-cinematic27 work of contemporary visual artists such as Douglas Gordon, Stan Douglas, Matthew Barney, Mark Lewis, Pierre Huyghe, Sam Taylor-Wood, Pipilotti Rist and others. Addressing recent developments in contemporary art, Chris Dercon argues that film and video installation “are perfect examples of the strategies of imitation inherent in the way young artists from all over the world produce art in general.”28 However, while commercial artists such as Barney, Gordon and Rist benefit from the public’s unquenchable desire for cinematic signifiers and pop culture references, the future of film as a medium and not just a visual referent seems precarious. Projection of 16mm film is disappearing from festivals and university campuses, museums are exhibiting flicker films on DVD, and independent distributors are functioning like archives. After a rich period of crossover and interaction through the ‘60s and ‘70s, the divisions between experimental film and projected installation have become more entrenched than ever before. Rather than two sides, we can now perceive two parallel worlds of the moving image.