Sheri Chinen Biesen – Abstract

‘Kinesthesis’ and Cinematic Montage: An Historical Examination of the Film Theories and Avant-Garde Mediation of Slavko Vorkapich in Hollywood

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Early film theorist Slavko Vorkapich, a talented European émigré who became one of the first avant-garde filmmakers in the United States, articulated his conception of cinema as a unique, distinctive artistic endeavor. I will historically examine extensive original primary archival materials from the Slavko Vorkapich Collection to historically contextualize his film theories, montage techniques, and investigate how he envisioned his cinematic philosophy and visual aesthetic in his theoretical writings on motion pictures regarding “Film as a Visual Language,” “The Motion Picture as an Art” and “Motion and the Art of Cinematography” in 1926 which he went on to stylistically employ in his independent avant-garde films, such as The Life and Death of 9413 – A Hollywood Extra (Slavko Vorkapich and Robert Florey [with Gregg Toland]; US, 1928), and in montage sequences for an extensive number of Hollywood studio films, including What Price Hollywood? (George Cukor, RKO Pathé; US, 1932). Vorkapich’s diverse array of work embodies the dynamic representation of his aesthetic philosophy encompassed in both his studio and independent productions. Notable is that he manages to successfully bridge the conceptual economic and artistic abyss between the dominant commercial industry and the avant-garde. Moreover, an analysis of montage sequences in the commercial film What Price Hollywood? reveals how his avant-garde stylistic mediation functions to transform the overall narrative film text by appropriating his innovative experimental aesthetic techniques expounded on in his film theories within the mainstream commercial production environment of the classical Hollywood studio system.

Slavko Vorkapich, film theory, avant-garde montage cinema, Hollywood history