Kino's second two-DVD set compiled from the collection of experimental cinema advocate Raymond Rohauer is a godsend. Covering 1928-1954, Avant-Garde 2 spans the generation that saw movies come into their own.
Mainstream cinemas flourished in these years, but beneath the majesty simultaneously grew an underground movement of artists, poets, thinkers and filmmakers who pushed boundaries with their groundbreaking constructions and deconstructions of image, sound and form. While not a complete, comprehensive collection from this era -- such a feat would be astonishing -- Avant-Garde 2 impresses nonetheless by gathering key films from such luminaries as husband-and-wife bohemians Willard Maas and Marie Menken, author/artist Sidney Peterson, gay filmmakers James Broughton and Gregory Markopoulos, painter/filmmaker Joseph Vogel, James Watson and Melville Webber, German Expressionist Paul Leni and Dimitri Kirsanoff. Of particular note are four early shorts from Stan Brakhage. These films find the young Brakhage working with narrative and sound, but with the rhythms that would exemplify his later hand-painted films can still be felt. The pièce de résistance of the collection is Jean Isidore Isou's 1951 film, Traite de Bave et d'Eternité (Venom and Eternity). The restored, 111-minute masterpiece is a philosophical treatise for a new brand of cinema sprung forth from the Letterist Movement. Under confrontational and wild urges for the abandonment of the image for the word, Isou physically mangles celluloid to create a film that is at once brilliant, brash and optimistically pretentious. Essential. (Phil Morehart) Grade: A