The Garden in the Machine

The Garden in the Machine: A Field Guide to Independent Films about Place

Scott MacDonald
Copyright Date: 2001
Edition: 1
Pages: 487
https://www.jstor.org/stable/10.1525/j.ctt1ppphb
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    The Garden in the Machine
    Book Description:

    The Garden in the Machineexplores 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'sRoam 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 Machinewill 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.

    eISBN: 978-0-520-92645-5
    Subjects: Film Studies

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-viii)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. ix-xii)
  3. List of Illustrations
    (pp. xiii-xviii)
  4. Introduction
    (pp. xix-xxvi)

    The Garden in the Machineis the result of two explorations, one more obviously professional, the other more obviously personal; or to be more precise, the eleven essays that follow are the product of a decade-long intersection of these two explorations. Since the late 1970s, nearly all of my scholarly and critical energies, and a substantial portion of my pedagogical energy, have been devoted to what is variously termed “avant-garde film,” “independent film,” “experimental film” (in recent years, I have included “video art” as well): that immense world of alternative media that has developed generally outside the commercial histories of...

  5. chapter 1 The Garden in the Machine Two American Avant-Garde Films and the Nineteenth-Century Visual Arts
    (pp. 1-22)

    One of the primary reasons I became interested in film studies was the seeming open-endedness of the field. Cinema wasnew, I reasoned, and would continue to be new, unlike other academic fields, particularly those devoted to historical periods: as a scholar and a teacher, I would face the future, endlessly enthralled and energized by the transformation of the potential into the actual. That my development as a film scholar-teacher increasingly involved me in “avant-garde film” seemed quite natural—a logical extension of the attraction of film studies in general: avant-garde film was the newest of the new, the sharpest...

  6. chapter 2 Voyages of Life
    (pp. 23-44)

    When I arrived in Utica, New York, in fall 1971 to teach film studies and American literature at Utica College of Syracuse University, I brought with me a set of aesthetic prejudices—common to my generation, I’m sure—that led me to admire the twentieth-century art at Utica’s Munson-Williams-Proctor Institute (the collection includes paintings by Dalì, Picasso, Gris, Mondrian, Sheeler, Hopper, Pollock, and Rothko) as fervently as I despised the highlight of the institute’s collection of nineteenth-century art: the 1840 version of Thomas Cole’sThe Voyage of Life(see figs. 3–6).¹ Cole’s four-part exposition of the stages of human...

  7. chapter 3 Avant-Gardens
    (pp. 45-88)

    In both of the creation stories in Genesis, the Garden of Eden is created separately from humankind. Actually, in the earlier creation story, no garden is mentioned: God creates the heavens and the earth in six days and places man and woman in charge of the creation. In the second creation story, God first breathes life into man, who he has formed from the dust; then He plants a garden in Eden and places man there, to till it and keep it, and finally creates Eve from Adam’s rib so that he’ll have company. When the serpent beguiles Eve, and...

  8. Plates
    (pp. None)
  9. chapter 4 Re-envisioning the American West
    (pp. 89-124)

    InDiscoverers, Explorers, Settlers: The Diligent Writers of Early America, Wayne Franklin defines three forms of narrative that developed during the first centuries of European expansion into North America, as a means of “domesticating the strangeness” of the vast new continent Europeans were in the process of “discovering,” exploring, and settling. In the “discovery narrative,” the writer stands in rapt wonder at the magnificent vista before him (the earliest writers were all, so far as I know, men), astonished at the immensity and the beauty of the reward God has provided at the end of his long ocean voyage. His...

  10. chapter 5 From the Sublime to the Vernacular
    (pp. 125-146)

    It is difficult to imagine a more typically American film thanTwister(1996). The focus, of course, is the tornadoes that rip through the American Midwest—particularly Oklahoma, North Texas, and Kansas—during the spring, annually pelting the region with hailstones the size of quarters, golf balls, or baseballs and tearing the roofs off of houses and, in some cases, the houses themselves off the land. IfThe Wizard of Oz(1939, directed by Victor Fleming) remains the best-known filmic rendering of a tornado, the advent of the Weather Channel has brought to the regular attention of millions of TV...

  11. chapter 6 The City as Motion Picture
    (pp. 147-222)

    I’ve long recognized that, whatever pretensions I have about being an individual, for the most part my experiences are typical of large numbers of people; and, therefore, if I say that in my lifetime I am aware of three distinct attitudes toward the American city, I do not mean to privilege my personal experience but to recognize it as an index to the experiences of at least a portion of a particular generation. As I was growing up in Easton, Pennsylvania, during the 1940s and 1950s (I was born in 1942), New York City was for me “The City” and...

  12. chapter 7 The Country in the City
    (pp. 223-246)

    On a map or from the air, nothing defines New York City more clearly than the rectilinearity of Central Park at the heart of the curvilinear island of Manhattan. And nothing encodes the paradox of the thinking that created Frederick Law Olmsted’s first great park—and simultaneously distinguishes it from many of the parks inspired by Central Park—than the virtually perfect geometry of its outline. The park simultaneously confirms the grid structure of the streets of Manhattan and dramatically interrupts this structure: streets that run vertically uptown and downtown or horizontally across town must, when they reach the horizontal...

  13. chapter 8 Rural (and Urban) Hours
    (pp. 247-288)

    From our perspective at the beginning of the twenty-first century, the fascination of so many nineteenth-century American painters with rural and wilderness landscape can seem—depending on one’s predilections—a poignant, quaint, or silly refusal to come to terms with the arrival of the industrial revolution in North America. Some painters saw that further development was inevitable but used painting to warn those indifferent to the beauties of nature about what, in a spiritual sense, the transformation of nature into modern culture might cost. Others saw development itself as the divine plan for the Western Hemisphere and traveled to the...

  14. chapter 9 Expulsion from the Garden
    (pp. 289-318)

    It [American scenery] is a subject that to every American ought to be of surpassing interest: for whether he beholds the Hudson mingling waters with the Atlantic—explores the central wilds of this vast continent, or stands on the margin of the distant Oregon, he is still in the midst of American scenery—it is his own land; its beauty, its magnificence, its sublimity—all are his; and how undeserving of such a birth right, if he can turn toward it an unobserving eye, an unaffected heart!——THOMAS COLE, “ESSAY ON AMERICAN SCENERY, 1835”¹

    Since the idea of America as...

  15. chapter 10 Satan’s National Park
    (pp. 319-350)

    The concept and the accomplishment of the American national park system and comparable, more localized accomplishments—the systems of state parks in New York and other states;¹ of Olmsted-inspired city parks in many cities and restored or protected historical landmarks—remain one of the more convincing arguments for federal governmental action in the public interest during an era of privatization and transnational capital. And the success of this concept and accomplishment is confirmed by the degree to which it has been emulated around the world by nations hoping to preserve some crucial physical remnants of their natural (and national) history...

  16. Plates
    (pp. None)
  17. chapter 11 Benedictions/New Frontiers
    (pp. 351-376)

    Few words are more likely to cause consternation in recent generations of American academics than “the spirit” and “spiritual.” Whether in the context of traditional religion or in the more recent New Age context, admitting to a spiritual connection seems to a good many educated people tantamount to admitting to a disease of the intellect. There are, of course, good reasons for this state of affairs. Those of us who grew up in the wake of the horrors of Nazism were quickly aware of how easy it has been to use religion as a cover for monstrous acts; the use...

  18. appendix Distribution Sources for Films and Videos
    (pp. 377-386)
  19. Notes
    (pp. 387-446)
  20. Index
    (pp. 447-461)
  21. Back Matter
    (pp. 462-462)