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The history of Cinema 16—the nation's first film society—through letters, programs, interviews, and the society's own documents

Cinema 16

Documents Toward a History of the Film Society

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Scott MacDonald

"The ABCs of independent film-making in the 20th century. From Kenneth Anger to Luis Bu˝uel to John Cassavetes, these letters, programs, notes, and conversations reveal the vibrant history of the Cinema 16 Film Society and its central role in the development of independent film. This insider's view is an essential read to filmmakers and film lovers alike."
Michelle Citron, Professor, Radio/TV/Film, Northwestern University; media artist; and author of Home Movies and Other Necessary Fictions

As the most successful and influential film society in American history, Cinema 16 was a crucial organization for the creation of a public space for the full range of cinema achievement in the years following World War II. A precursor of the New York Film Festival, Cinema 16 screenings became a gathering place for New Yorkers interested not only in cinema, but in the use of media in the development of a more complete, effective democracy. For seventeen years, many of the leading intellectuals and artists of the time came together as part of a membership society of thousands to experience the creative programming of Cinema 16 director, Amos Vogel. What audiences saw at Cinema 16 changed their lives and had an enduring impact not only on the New York City cultural scene, but nationwide. Vogel's distribution of landmark documentary and avant-garde films helped make a place for many films that could never have had commercial release, given the pressures of commercialism and censorship during the postwar era.

Vogel's commitment to the broadest range of cinema practice led him to develop a programming strategy, inherited from the European cine-club movement, that involved confronting audiences with such a wide range of cinematic forms that viewers left the theater considering not only the often remarkable films Vogel showed, but the place of Cinema itself in modern life.

Cinema 16: Documents Toward a History of the Film Society is the first book on Cinema 16. Scott MacDonald provides a sense of the life and work of the society, using the complete Cinema 16 program announcements, selected letters between Vogel and the filmmakers whose films he showed; selections from the program notes that accompanied Cinema 16 screenings, theoretical essays by Vogel on curating independent cinema; conversations between MacDonald and Cinema 16 members; photographs and stills; and a variety of other documents.

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Excerpt

Read an excerpt from the Introduction (pdf).

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Reviews

"The largest and most seminal of American film societies, Cinema 16 was an important sponsoring institution for the great post-war explosion of non-commodity American filmmaking. Scott MacDonald's lovingly-edited new collection of documents provides fascinating historical insights into Cinema 16, and gives at last recognition to Amos and Marcia Vogel's long-overlooked contributions to this vital and socially-responsive era of American culture."
David James, Critical Studies, School of Cinema, USC

Read a review from Film Quarterly, December 2003, written by Ara Osterweil (pdf).

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Contents

List of Illustrations
Acknowledgments
Introduction
An Interview with Amos Vogel
An Interview with Marcia Vogel
An Interview with Jack Goelman

The Documents

1. Letter to Frank Stauffacher from Amos Vogel (Vogelbaum), 9/1/47
2. Letter to Amos Vogel (Vogelbaum) from Frank Stauffacher, 9/20/47
3. Conversation with Cecile Starr, 12/19/00
4. Letter to Frank Stauffacher from Amos Vogel, 10/2/47
5. Letter to Frank Stauffacher from Amos Vogel, 10/16/47
6. Program Notes by Amos Vogel for Cinema 16's First Program, November 1947
7. Archer Winsten, "Cinema 16's Project Starts Auspiciously," New York Post, November 6, 1947
8. Letter to Amos Vogel from Kenneth Anger, 11/20/47
9. Letter to Sidney Peterson from Amos Vogel, 11/28/47
10. Archer Winsten, "Cinema 16's Fast Start Continues for 2nd Bill," New York Post, 12/4/47
11. Letter to Amos Vogel from Gregory Markopoulos, 12/6/47
12. Letter to Amos Vogel from Sidney Peterson, 12/12/47
13. Letter to Robert Flaherty from Amos Vogel, 12/17/47
14. Letter to Kenneth Anger from Amos Vogel, 12/17/47
15. Letter to Amos Vogel from Joseph Cornell, 1/19/48
16. Letter to Robert Flaherty from John Grierson, 1/27/48
17. Letter to Amos Vogel from Kenneth Anger, 2/13/48
18. Program Announcement: Spring 1948
19. Letter to Amos Vogel from Joseph Cornell, 6/22/48
20. Letter to Amos Vogel from Sidney Peterson, 6/25/48
21. James Agee, Review in The Nation, 7/3/48
22. Letter to Amos Vogel from Gregory Markopoulos, 7/8/48
23. Letter to Robert Flaherty from Amos Vogel, 11/8/48
24. Program Announcement, Fall 1948
25. Program Announcement, Spring 1949
26. Program Notes by James Broughton for Mother's Day, Shown on March 9, 1948
27. Letter to Amos Vogel from Jordan Belson, 3/18/49
28. Letter to Amos Vogel from James Broughton, 3/25/49
29. Letter to Amos Vogel from Joseph Cornell, 4/9/49
30. Letter to James Broughton from Amos Vogel, 4/12/49
31. Letter to Amos Vogel from Frank Stauffacher, Circa 4/49
32. Letter to Amos Vogel from Sidney Peterson, 5/23/49
33. Letter to Amos Vogel from Gregory Markopoulos, 5/31/49
34. Letter to Gregory Markopoulos from Amos Vogel, 6/8/49
35. Letter to Amos Vogel from Frank Stauffacher, 7/15/49
36. Mr. Harper, "The Only Path," Harper's, 7/49
37. Amos Vogel, "Film Do's and Don'ts," Saturday Review, 8/20/49
38. Program Announcement, Fall 1949
39. Archer Winsten, "Cinema 16 Begins Its Third Season," New York Post, 9/14/49
40. Letter to Amos Vogel from Frank Stauffacher, 10/17/49
41. Letter to Frank Stauffacher from Amos Vogel, 11/15/49
42. Letter to Gregory Markopoulos from Amos Vogel, 12/15/49
43. Program Announcement, Spring 1950
44. Program Notes by Arthur Knight for Arne Sucksdorff's Valley of Dreams and A Divided World, Shown in March 1950
45. Program Notes by Parker Tyler for Sidney Peterson's The Lend Shoes, Shown in May 1950
46. Letter to Amos Vogel from Parker Tyler, 5/11/50
47. Letter to Amos Vogel from Joseph Cornell, 6/3/50
48. Letter to Amos Vogel from Gregory Markopoulos, 6/13/50
49. Letter to Gregory Markopoulos from Amos Vogel, 9/18/50
50. Letter to Amos Vogel from Gregory Markopoulos, Circa 9/50
51. Program Announcement, Fall 1950
52. Letter to Amos Vogel from Sidney Peterson, 10/21/50
53. Letter to Amos Vogel from Frank Stauffacher, 1/6/51
54. Program Announcement, Spring 1951
55. Letter to Amos Vogel from Hans Richter, ?/?/51
56. Program Announcement, Fall 1951
57. Program Announcement, Spring 1952
58. Program Notes Compiled from Various Authors for Georges Franju's The Blood of the Beasts and Kenneth Anger's Fireworks, Shown in May 1952
59. Parker Tyler, "Rashomon as Modern Art," Cinema 16 Pamphlet (1952)
60. Letter to Amos Vogel from Jean Renoir, 8/11/52
61. Program Announcement, Fall 1952/Spring 1953
62. Letter to Amos Vogel from Kenneth Anger, 12/8/52
63. Letter to Amos Vogel from Kenneth Anger, 1/31/53
64. Letter to Scott MacDonald from George Stoney, 3/22/01
65. Program Announcement, Spring 1953
66. Letter to Kenneth Anger from Amos Vogel, 4/23/53
67. Program Announcement, Fall 1953/Spring 1954
68. "Poetry and the Film: A Symposium" (with Maya Deren, Willard Maas, Arthur Miller, Dylan Thomas, Parker Tyler), 10/28/53
69. Program Notes by Amos Vogel in Response to Survey of Cinema 16 Membership, Fall 1953
70. Conversation with Robert Kelly, 12/19/00
71. Program Notes by Dr. Rene A. Spitz for Grief, Shown in January 1954
72. Letter to Amos Vogel from Willard Maas, 1/6/54
73. Letter to Amos Vogel from Kenneth Anger, 2/23/54
74. Program Announcement, Spring 1954
75. Letter to Cinema 16 from T.S. and Response by Amos Vogel, from May 1954 Program Notes
76. Letter to Amos Vogel from Gerd Stem, 5/9/54
77. Letter to Amos Vogel from Kenneth Anger, 5/79/54
78. Letter to Amos Vogel from Gerd Stem, 5/24/54
79. Letter to Kenneth Anger from Amos Vogel, 5/24/54
80. Letter to Gerd Stem from Amos Vogel, 6/1/54
81. Letter to Amos Vogel from Harry Partch, 6/3/54
82. Letter to Amos Vogel from Kenneth Anger, 7/9/54
83. Letter to Kenneth Anger from Amos Vogel, 8/19/54
84. Letter to Amos Vogel from Kenneth Anger, 8/28/54
85. Letter to Amos Vogel from Luis Bu˝uel, 9/17/54
86. Letter to Kenneth Anger from Amos Vogel, 9/21/54
87. Letter to Madeline Tourtelot from Amos Vogel, 1/11/55
88. Transcript of Tape Recording Made by King Vidor and Played at Cinema 16 on 2/1/55 at screening of Hallelujah
89. Letter to Amos Vogel from Kenneth Anger, 2/11/55
90. Letter to Kenneth Anger from Amos Vogel, 2/18/55
91. Letter to Amos Vogel from Kenneth Anger, 3/1/55
92. Program Announcement, Spring 1955
93. Letter to Amos Vogel from Kenneth Anger, 4/27/55
94. Letter to Kenneth Anger from Amos Vogel, 5/3/55
95. Amos Vogel, "Cinema 16 and the Question of Programming," Film Culture, no. 3 (1955)
96. Letter to Barbara Stauffacher [Solomon] from Amos Vogel, 8/22/55
97. Program Announcement, Fall 1955/Spring 1956
98. Letter to Amos Vogel from Samson de Brier, 9/1/55
99. Letter to Samson de Brier from Amos Vogel, 9/12/55
100. Letter to Amos Vogel from Kenneth Anger, 10/15/55
101. Letter to Madeline Tourtelot from Amos Vogel, 11/8/55
102. Letter to Amos Vogel from Madeline Tourtelot, 11/11/55
103. Letter to Amos Vogel from Willard Maas, 1/9/56
104. Program Announcement, Spring 1956
105. Conversation with Carmen D'Avino, 2/16/85
106. Letter to Amos Vogel from Stan Brakhage, 3/27/56
107. Program Notes by Stan Brakhage for Reflections on Black, Shown in April 1956
108. Letter to Kenneth Anger from Amos Vogel, 4/23/56
109. Letter to Amos Vogel from Fred Zinnemann, 6/6/56
110. Program Announcement, Fall 1956/Spring 1957
111. Letter to Amos Vogel from Kenneth Anger, 2/19/57
112. Program Announcement, Spring 1957
113. Program Notes by Amos Vogel for Roberto Rossellini's The Flowers of St. Francis, Shown in February 1957
114. Letter to Amos Vogel from Stan Brakhage, 3/25/57
115. Letter to Kenneth Anger from Amos Vogel, 4/27/57
116. Letter to Amos Vogel from Stan Brakhage, 5/13/57
117. Letter to Amos Vogel from Stan Brakhage, 7/28/57
118. Conversation with Stan Brakhage, 11/30/96
119. Program Announcement, Fall 1957/Spring 1958
120. Letter to Amos Vogel from Kenneth Anger, 10/29/57
121. Letter to Amos Vogel from Stan Brakhage, 11/1/57
122. Letter to Stan Brakhage from Amos Vogel, 11/4/57
123. Letter to Amos Vogel from Stan Brakhage, 11/8/57
124. Letter to Kenneth Anger from Amos Vogel, 11/27/57
125. Letter to Amos Vogel from Stan Brakhage, 12/2/57
126. Letter to Amos Vogel from Lindsay Anderson, 12/14/57
127. Letter to Amos Vogel from Kenneth Anger, 1/8/58
128. Letter to Lindsay Anderson from Amos Vogel, 2/3/58
129. Program Notes by Gideon Bachmann for Benjamin Christensen's Witchcraft Through the Ages, Shown in February 1958
130. Program Announcement, Spring 1958
131. Letter to Amos Vogel from Agnes Varda, 6/30/58
132. Amos Vogel, "The Angry Young Film Makers," Evergreen Review, November/December 1958
133. Program Announcement, Fall 1958/Spring 1959
134. Program Notes by Siegfried Kracauer for Fritz Hippler's The Eternal Jew, Shown in November 1958
135. Conversation with Melvin Van Peebles, 1/18/01
136. Program Announcement, Spring 1959
137. Archer Winsten, "Rages and Outrages," New York Post, 3/2/59
138. Jonas Mekas, "Movie Journal," Village Voice, 9/16/59
139. Program Announcement, Fall 1959/Spring 1960
140. Conversation with Ed Emshwiller, 1/4/85
141. Letter to John Cassavetes from Amos Vogel, 11/17/59
142. Letter to John Cassavetes from Amos Vogel, 11/20/59
143. Letter to Amos Vogel from John Cassavetes, 1/19/60
144. Program Announcement, Spring 1960
145. Program Announcement, Fall 1960/Spring 1961
146. Program Notes Compiled by Amos Vogel for the 1960 Creative Film Awards Presentation in January 1961
147. Conversation with Robert Breer, 12/19/00
148. Letter to Amos Vogel from Joseph Campbell, 10/10/61
149. Program Announcement, Spring 1961
150. Program Announcement, Fall 1961/Spring 1962
151. Dwight Macdonald, "Some Animadversions on the Art Film," Esquire, 4/62
152. Program Announcement, Fall 1962/Spring 1963
153. Letter to Friends of Cinema 16 from Amos Vogel, 2/63
154. Nat Hentoff, "Last Call for Cinema 16," Village Voice, 2/21/63
155. Conversation with Jonas Mekas, 5/24/85
156. Archer Winsten, "Rages and Outrages," New York Post, 3/11/63
156. Final Cinema 16 Distribution Catalog Film Listings, 1963
157. Letter to Amos Vogel from Stan Brakhage, 11/66
158. Amos Vogel, "Thirteen Confusions," Evergreen Review, 7/67
159. Amos Vogel, "The Eternal Subversion," from Film As a Subversive Art (New York: Random House, 1974)
160. Amos Vogel, "Foreword" to the New German Edition of Film As a Subversive Art (Vienna: Hannibal Verlag, 1997)

Index

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About the Author(s)

Scott MacDonald has taught at Hamilton College, Syracuse University, and Bard College. He is the author of seven previous books, including the acclaimed, multi-volume A Critical Cinema.

Subject Categories

Cinema Studies
American Studies


In the series

Wide Angle Books, edited by Erik Barnouw, Ruth Bradley, Scott MacDonald, and Patricia Zimmermann.

The mission of Wide Angle Books is to document, chronicle, and honor those institutions that have worked effectively to maintain a public presence and public spaces for alternative forms of media. These books recognize that institutional support of media happens at a variety of levels in a film series, in a video distribution organization, in a transnational digital network, in a grassroots production organization and in locations across the globe. Individual volumes in the series focus on such forms of primary documentation as letters, institutional records, and oral histories, presented and contextualized by leading media history scholars.

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