Before Disney’s Fantasia (Joe Grant & Dick Huemer, 1940) introduced the idea of visual music to mass audiences, experimental filmmakers had been playing with the idea for decades. As early as 1909, Italian futurists were painting abstract forms onto film stock, attempting to translate the purity of classical compositions into moving image media.
Mary Ellen Bute was one such filmmaker. Primarily making films between 1933-1953, she produced some of the most technically innovative and formally complex examples of visual music from that period. In this video essay, I look at some of the things that make Bute’s films stand out.
The cinema has previously screened several programs in the Underground Film Series that might fall into the category of visual music:
- Devotion, Poetry, and Vision: Films of Nathaniel Dorsky and Jerome Hiler, November 2016
- Prismatic Music: The Short Films of Joseph Bernard (1978-85), March 2016
- Jordan Belson – Films Sacred and Profane, November 2012
Laura Ivins loves stop motion, home movies, imperfect films, nature hikes, and Stephen Crane’s poetry. She has a PhD from Indiana University and an MFA from Boston University. In addition to watching and writing about movies, sometimes she also makes them.