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the Complete Review
the complete review - film

Avantgarde Film

Peter Weiss

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To purchase Avantgarde Film

Title: Avantgarde Film
Author: Peter Weiss
Genre: Film
Written: 1956
Length: 208 pages
Original in: Swedish
Availability: Avantgarde Film - Deutschland
  • Translated into German and edited by Beat Mazenauer
  • Swedish title: Avantgardefilm

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Our Assessment:

B : informative overview of avant-garde film

See our review for fuller assessment.

The complete review's Review:

       Peter Weiss' survey, Avantgarde Film, was originally written in Swedish. The German edition expands slightly on the Swedish version, in a well-presented volume edited (and translated) by Beat Mazenauer.
       Peter Weiss was not only a world-renowned playwright and great (though, outside of the German-speaking world, grossly underappreciated) novelist. He was also a painter of considerable talent. And he was also a filmmaker. Weiss' films were generally short and experimental (and in Swedish), and never achieved wide circulation. Nevertheless, his fascination with cinema is obviously reflected in his writing, especially his focussed descriptive prose.
       Avantgarde Film surveys the history of avant-garde film from the beginnings (Méliès) until the 1950s. Short chapters provide overviews of the work of directors such as Buñuel, Vigo, and Carl Theodor Dreyer, or specific films such as Eisenstein's Que viva Mexico or Peixoto's Limite. The evolution of avant-garde filmmaking is followed, from its early peaks to its marginalization with the addition of sound (making filmmaking too expensive for many experimental efforts), to American, French, and Swedish experiments after World War II. (And yes, Weiss also discusses his own work.)
       There is much descriptive material here, as Weiss goes over the many artists and films that fit his definition of avant-garde film (extending as far as Orson Welles' Citizen Kane). His analyses are succinct, but still of value. The volume is also richly illustrated with black and white stills from many of the films under discussion -- particularly helpful, given the subject matter.
       Weiss believed:

Der Avantegardefilm spielt in der großen, allgemeinen Filmproduktion dieselbe Rolle wie die modernistische Lyrik in der Literatur.

(Avant-garde film plays the same role in the larger, general production of film as modernist poetry does in literature.)
       It is a small sliver, but one that was of interest to Weiss. He himself came to film in part because the static medium of painting was inadequate for his purposes. In specifically avant-garde cinematic efforts he saw great potential -- though he, like many others, was rarely able to fully realize it.
       The chapters dealing with what were then recent efforts in the US, France, and Sweden all remark hopefully on the many possibilities that remained to be explored.
       Weiss has a good understanding of the medium, and shows great familiarity with his subject matter. He conveys this quite well, though the book is only a survey rather than an in-depth study. As an introduction to avant-garde film it is certainly useful. It also offers insight into Weiss' own influences, interests, and aesthetic views.

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Avantgarde Film: Peter Weiss: Other works by Peter Weiss under Review: Works about Peter Weiss under Review:
  • Werner Schmidt's biography, Peter Weiss: Leben eines kritischen Intellektuellen
Other books of interest under review:
  • See also the Index of German literature at the complete review
  • See the Index of Film-related works

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About the Author:

       Peter Weiss (1916-82) was born in Germany. A remarkable artist, he was a talented painter who then turned to writing. Only slow to achieve recognition with his fiction he burst onto the international scene with the stunning success of his play, Marat/Sade. Winner of many West and East German literary prizes, he was also the author of Die Ästhetik des Widerstands, the most important German novel since The Tin Drum.

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