A Short Review Of An Old Book

book coverIn 1983 Jonathan Rosenbaum published a collection of essays profiling the work of some of cinema’s greatest artists of the avant garde in his Film: The Front Line 1983.  In this publication Rosenbaum puts into context such filmmakers as Chantal Akerman, Robert Breer, Jon Jost, Yvonne Rainer, Mark Rappaport, Jacques Rivette, Michael Snow, Jean Marie Straub & Danielle Huillet among others.  For Rosenbaum, this eclectic assortment of film artists represents the “front line” of filmmaking, the place where true invention and innovation occurs in the cinema.  What makes Rosenbaum’s collection of essays so striking is that his focus, in terms of subject, is so precise.  He does not include Derek Jarman or Hollis Frampton, but instead focuses the reader’s attention to a facet of cinema that is more often than not neglected or simply relegated to the footnotes of a comprehensive guide to the cinema.

At the moment of its first release, most of the filmmakers profiled in Film: The Front Line 1983 existed off the radar in the United States, their films screening only occasionally at a university of festival.  In general, the American public was completely unaware of the filmmakers that Rosenbaum chose to highlight.  Yet, after the advent of home video, his assumptions as to the cinematic significance of these artists were proven true.  It was only a few years ago that The Criterion Collection released a collection of Ackerman’s films, and a handful of the other filmmakers have had their most renowned works put out on video as well.  Without home video, a popular reassessment of these filmmakers would not have been possible.  Today, Rosenbaum’s book represents a uniquely contemporary account as to the critical reception of these filmmakers’ films.

-Robert Curry

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