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The Garden in the Machine explores the evocations of place, and particularly American place, that have become so central to the representational and narrative strategies of alternative and mainstream film and video. Scott MacDonald contextualizes his discussion with a wide-ranging and deeply informed analysis of the depiction of place in nineteenth- and twentieth-century literature, painting, and photography. Accessible and engaging, this book examines the manner in which these films represent nature and landscape in particular, and location in general. It offers us both new readings of the films under consideration and an expanded sense of modern film history.
Among the many antecedents to the films and videos discussed here are Thomas Cole's landscape painting, Thoreau's Walden, Olmsted and Vaux's Central Park, and Eadweard Muybridge's panoramic photographs of San Francisco. MacDonald analyzes the work of many accomplished avant-garde filmmakers: Kenneth Anger, Bruce Baillie, James Benning, Stan Brakhage, Nathaniel Dorsky, Hollis Frampton, Ernie Gehr, Larry Gottheim, Robert Huot, Peter Hutton, Marjorie Keller, Rose Lowder, Marie Menken, J.J. Murphy, Andrew Noren, Pat O'Neill, Leighton Pierce, Carolee Schneemann, and Chick Strand. He also examines a variety of recent commercial feature films, as well as independent experiments in documentary and such contributions to independent video history as George Kuchar's Weather Diaries and Ellen Spiro's Roam Sweet Home.
MacDonald reveals the spiritual underpinnings of these works and shows how issues of race, ethnicity, gender, and class are conveyed as filmmakers attempt to discover forms of Edenic serenity within the Machine of modern society. Both personal and scholarly, The Garden in the Machine will be an invaluable resource for those interested in investigating and experiencing a broader spectrum of cinema in their teaching, in their research, and in their lives.
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"This book is MacDonald's magnum opus: it represents a deep immersion in and advocacy for independent, experimental cinema."—Patricia R. Zimmerman, author of States of Emergency: Documentaries, Wars, Democracies
"This is a brilliant study--learned, authoritative, and often eloquent. One reads this book with astonishment at the wealth of thoughtful and playful and provocative work that has occurred in this medium--and astonishment too that most scholars of environmental literature and nature in the visual arts have had minimal contact with independent film and video. MacDonald provides an immensely valuable, readable overview of this field, profoundly relevant to my own work and that of many other contemporary ecocritics."—Scott Slovic, editor of ISLE: Interdisciplinary Studies in Literature and Environment
"The Garden in the Machine is clearly MacDonald's major work. It is very original and wide reaching especially in its analysis of the relationship of American avant-garde films to the poetry and painting of the native landscape. MacDonald's authority is evident everywhere: he probably knows more about most of the films he discusses than anyone alive."—P. Adams Sitney, author of Modernist Montage : The Obscurity of Vision in Cinema and Literature
"The Garden in the Machine reflects Scott MacDonald's career-long lived engagement with avant-garde film and filmmakers. With deep respect for the artists and a rich, wide-ranging curiosity about the cultural histories that inform these films, MacDonald makes a powerful argument for why they should be screened, taught, and discussed within the wider context of American Studies. Throughout, MacDonald analyzes themes of race, history, personal and public memory, and the central role of avant-garde films in shaping our possible futures."—Angela Miller, author of Empire of the Eye: Landscape Representation and American Cultural Politics, 1825-1875
Scott MacDonald teaches at Bard College. He is currently at work on volume 4 of A Critical Cinema: Interviews with Independent Filmmakers (volumes 1, 2, and 3 available from California). He is the author of Avant-Garde Film/Motion Studies (1993) and editor of Screen Writings: Scripts and Texts by Independent Filmmakers (California, 1995).
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