OVID.tv Presents ABSTRACT CINEMA Film Review- There’s more to filmmaking than blockbusters

Editor's Note: Read more reviews of OVID.tv films here

Bright, flashing, angular shapes… 

An animal’s body overlaid with contrasting colors… 

Spherical orbs bouncing across the screen… 

How can one describe images that do not exist in the actual world? Such is the case when discussing abstract cinema, an important yet often overlooked area of artistic filmmaking that has been around since the birth of the form. 

OVID.tv Presents Cinephile Classic—ABSTRACT CINEMA

The classic documentary ABSTRACT CINEMA, first made for television in 1993 and now available to stream, helps provide a vocabulary and context as an introduction to experimental filmmaking. Narrated by many of abstract cinema’s most recognizable pioneers, including Stan Brakhage and Jules Engel, the film examines some of the earliest experiments in film, notably the work of Oskar Fishinger and Len Lye. 

We learn from the film that Fishinger’s work from the 1920s and 30s uses music to create a visual poem. Lye began as a painter in the 1930s, and his work often integrates textures and techniques like stencil, etching, and fabrics to create unique patterns. Computers  and other electronic tools for image generation enabled their work. We also learn about the growing lack of freedom that experimental animators had at the time of the film’s production, as compared to the freedoms enjoyed by artists thirty years prior 

It takes almost 45 minutes, but fellow feminist cinephiles will appreciate that at last a female artist does contribute to the documentary. Vibeke Soren creates stereoscopic images, first working with video synthesizers in the 1970s, then three-dimensional computer graphics. 

Abstract Cinema gives those of us who seek to understand all aspects of the medium, and who want to get to know some of the unsung geniuses behind the beautiful visuals we enjoy today much to ponder and enjoy.   Visuals that were wild and rule-breaking in the early days of experimental film are commonplace today.  The rejection of narrative structure as a way of viewing the world—once unique and revolutionary—is now ubiquitous. The new logic to consider time and visuals these pioneers gave us is not so new any more.

Though this particular film leaves off in the mid-90s, it still provides an important historic document for an art form that this writer believes should be better understood by all cinephiles. 


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For more information and to watch visit the Ovid.TV page for ABSTRACT CINEMA

Directed by Keith Griffiths


Stan Brakhage

Jules Engel

Malcolm Le Grice

William Moritz

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Ryan Davis

About the Author: Ryan Davis

Ryan Davis (@indieartsvoice) is a film publicist and communications professional with over ten years experience in the film industry and arts marketing. She is co-founder and Principal at Smarthouse Creative. Named by Media Inc. as one of Washington State's most influential women in film, TV, and media, Ryan has worked with outlets ranging from CNN and The New York Times, to community newspapers and local radio. She has worked in almost every aspect of the film business--from production and festivals to distribution, exhibition and sales.

Ryan worked for Arab Film Distribution/Typecast Films where she was part of the production and release of the Academy Award-nominated Iraq in Fragments. She has worked for a variety of nonprofit arts groups and organizations, including heading the marketing departments for Northwest Film Forum and Northwest Folklife, and was the assistant director of Couch Fest Films from 2010-2014. Ryan was on the jury for the International Documentary Challenge for 2012-3, and a juror for the 2015 Seattle Shorts Festival. Ryan currently sits on the board of The Grand Cinema in Tacoma, WA.

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