Canyon collective artists: Micropolitics in West Coast experimental film, 1960-79

Ekin Pinar, University of Pennsylvania


In 1961, filmmakers Bruce Baillie, Chick Strand, Larry Jordan, and film critic Ernest Callenbach founded Canyon Cinema for weekly film screenings of a diverse selection of avant-garde, experimental and art-house films, newsreels, cartoons and animations as well as commercial Hollywood movies. Canyon screenings took place on locations expanding from San Francisco into Oakland, San Jose, and Berkeley as many as three times a week. This gravitation toward mobility, variation and flexibility also showed itself in the prolific film production of the members of the collective. Through use of methods such as appropriation, fragmentation, and reflexivity, Canyon filmmakers developed more intimate (memory), immediate (experience), and imaginative (fantasy) ways of engaging with the past. At the same time, their search for historic and ethnographic "realities" constantly question the conventional methods, genres, and medium-specific elements of filmmaking. In my dissertation, I re-evaluate the ways in which Canyon filmmakers approached the ethical, political, and cultural issues inherent in the representation of culture and history through the help of three concepts: performance in Strand's ethnographies and found footage films, allegory in Baillie's newsreels, and indexicality in Jordan's animations. In the first chapter, I focus on the evocation of issues of sexuality, minority politics, and history in Bruce Baillie's films. Reflecting on Baillie's approaches to representation of race, culture, and gender, I consider how and what type of minority movement allegories transpired in Baillie's cinema. My second chapter concentrates on Chick Strand's films in its entirety comprising both found footage and documentary works. I analyze Strand's citational, reflexive, and performative uses of pleasure, desire, and humor as productive strategies of bridging the then-wide gap between experimental and feminist cinemas. Larry Jordan's animations and live-action films, which explore the dynamic tensions between still and moving imagery, visual and tactile sensations, and surrealist, lyrical and ethnographic modes of filmic expression, constitute the focus of the third chapter. Considering the notions of repetition, transformation, layering, and materiality that dominates Jordan's films, I question how his films resist linear narratives by revealing alternative paths, multiple voices, and cyclical repetitions of histories.

Subject Area

Art history|Film studies

Recommended Citation

Pinar, Ekin, "Canyon collective artists: Micropolitics in West Coast experimental film, 1960-79" (2015). Dissertations available from ProQuest. AAI3706014.