Visionaries -- Film Review

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With 3D comic book franchises pounding even more nails into the coffin of independent movies, Chuck Workman's "Visionaries" seems more important than ever. This vital documentary is a fascinating portrait of the pioneers of avant-garde cinema, featuring loads of clips that will hopefully whet the appetites of viewers for the full-length works. The film, which received its world premiere at the Tribeca Film Festival, no doubt will become a mainstay of university film courses.

As might be expected from this award-winning specialist in film montage, Workman provides a wealth of samples from the works in question, dating from the 1920s to the present day. Among the artists represented are Man Ray, Luis Bunuel, Maya Deren, Stan Brakhage, Andy Warhol -- seen in a vintage interview in which he provides typically deadpan, self-effacing commentary on his work -- Sadie Benning and many others.

Archival and contemporary interviews provide context for the films, with particularly interesting contributions by a clearly ailing Norman Mailer; Kenneth Anger, admitting that he made absolutely no money from his film but rather from his "Hollywood Babylon" books; Robert Downey Sr., frank about his frustrating film career and clearly proud of his "Iron Man" son (seen as an adorable tyke in a clip from "Pound"); Peter Kubelka; and influential critics like Amy Taubin.

The film does become problematic in its too-blatant focus on writer-filmmaker Jonas Mekas and the institution he founded, Anthology Film Archives. Although he is an important figure and Anthology is certainly a vital institution for the preservation and presentation of experimental cinema, the final section of "Visionaries" begins to take on the uncomfortable feel of an infomercial.

Venue: Tribeca Film Festival (Calliope Films)
Director/producer: Chuck Workman
Directors of photography: Kevin Cloutier, John Sharaf
No rating, 93 minutes
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