Université de Paris
The astronomical sky in American experimental cinema
One of the major American experimental filmmakers, Stan Brakhage, once declared : “It was a big mistake for NASA not to send an artist to the moon, because all the pictures we were seeing were so dumb, like bad B-movies. We’ve got to remember that Columbus had Americus on his ship, after whom our country is named. Americus was a cartographer, who created pictures so that people could have a sense of what had been discovered.”
In the USA, the rise of avant-garde cinema, from the end of the 1950s, was historically parallel to the development of a vivid popular cultural interest in astronomy, which climaxed with Armstrong on the moon in 1969. In the Cold War context, outer space became a new frontier. But beyond “NASA/ART” state-commissioned programme, TV propaganda or the Star Wars saga, some independent artists were reshaping the national representations of the astronomical sky, to provide a broader anthropological meaning to the new scientific and technological possibilities. They re-used astronomical footage, created an astronomically-inspired imagery with painting, and even collaborated with astronomers. My overview will range from Stan Brakhage’s Dog Star Man (1961-64) and Stellar (1993) to Jeanne Liotta’s Observando El Cielo (2007).
Emilie VERGÉ is a Ph D scholar in film studies at the Université de Paris 3 / Sorbonne Nouvelle, currently preparing a dissertation on the experimental filmmaker Stan Brakhage. For this research, she was awarded a grant from the Terra Foundation for the American Arts. She has been a visiting scholar in New York University (2008) and Colorado University (2009), and she studied extensively at the MoMA and the Anthology Film Archives, in NYC. She has contributed to many conferences and publications on film as an art form, with a focus on the avant-garde of the 1960s. Her last published essay deals with Andy Warhol’s cinema, and appears in the book Images contemporaines. Arts, formes, dispositifs (Editions Aléas, 2009). Her forthcoming book will be on the work of the French underground filmmaker Philippe Garrel, to be released in 2010/2011. She currently contributes to the research group CRECI - Centre de Recherche en Esthétique du Cinéma et des Images - at the Université de Paris 3, whose two-year topic is “the representations of the sky in the visual arts”.