In Precious Images, his 1986 Academy Award®-winning short, director Chuck Workman assembled a breathtaking eight-minute collage of singular images from classic Hollywood movies. In Visionaries, Workman brings alive, in counterpoint to the commercial film industry, the vibrant history of the American avant-garde cinema.
In engaging interviews with renowned underground filmmakers and critics including Ken Jacobs, Robert Downey, Su Friedrich, P. Adams Sitney, and Amy Taubin, Workman reveals how this artistic movement highlights subjective vision, sensory experience, and dreams over plot and storyline. The director skillfully intersperses these intimate conversations with a stylistically diverse array of extracts from experimental films of all stripes. Dating from the 1920s to the present, avant-garde films by such pioneering artists as Man Ray, Maya Deren, Stan Brakhage, Andy Warhol, and Sadie Benning vividly illustrate for the general audience a qualitatively different kind of moviegoing experience distinct from that promulgated by the commercial cinema. Workman's documentary pays special tribute to filmmaker, curator, and critic Jonas Mekas and Anthology Film Archives, the organization that he founded. It is the premier American institution dedicated to the preservation and promotion of avant-garde film culture, assuring a long-term home for this alternative cinema right alongside the Hollywood classics.
Director's Statement Collapse
There's an act of curiosity that is often an engine for a documentary. There's also an act of responsibility. I was a filmmaker in New York during the most prominent days of the experimental films centered around Jonas Mekas. But my films were either commercial works or leaned toward European art films. I certainly looked at a lot of the films of Mekas, Anger, Brakhage, and others. I learned a lot about filmmaking from them, but I was also influenced by the way they totally ignored the so-called rules of film as my friends and I saw them and the way they created real art.
I worked a little with Jonas when I made a film about Andy Warhol, and again when I made a film about the Beats. I was delighted when one of my shorts on movies was shown at Anthology Film Archives. But despite this contact over the years, I still wanted to learn more about this subject—that's where the curiosity comes in. And I suddenly wanted everyone to realize the importance of this man and the immense importance of the work of the avant-garde. I saw that as a personal responsibility, to tell the story a little but really to be true to the integrity of this art form and its artists. I wanted to understand this work, do right by it, and somehow get across what I discovered in working on the film to others. At the same time, I wanted to make a film that would work on its own, kind of in my own style.
The result of all this conflict, angst, inquiry, and discovery is Visionaries. I'm not a scholar in this area, but I hope I've done the subject some justice, although no one documentary could do it all. (Just watch the films themselves is my best advice.) But making this certainly affected me and my own attitude to film and art, and the way an artist should try to work and live, and I'm very happy to have had the experience.
Cast & Credits Collapse
Primary Cast Jonas Mekas, Peter Kubelka, Bob Downey, Kenneth Anger, Su Friedrich, Ken Jacobs, Amy Taubin, Scott MacDonald, Fred Camper, Flo Jacobs
Director Chuck Workman
Producer Chuck Workman
Editor Chuck Workman
Director of Photography Kevin Cloutier
Director of Photography John Sharaf
Director of Photography Miguelangel Aponte
Additional Music Gustav Holst
About the Director(s)Collapse
Chuck Workman directed the documentaries The Source, about the Beats, Superstar, about Andy Warhol, The People's President, and The First One Hundred Years, on American mainstream cinema, as well as the dramatic feature A House on a Hill. His short Precious Images won an Oscar®. He has been nominated for an Emmy 10 times.