Saturday 7 September 2019

John & James Whitney...again

These brothers were the fathers of Avant-Garde Abstract Animation Cinema and pioneers of Computer Graphics. Their work has also been called Visual Music! These guys should be as famous as The Beatles. A previous post from 2012 here. John and James are fascinating. They worked with Rene Leibowitz, Guggenheim, IBM, Hitchcock, Saul Bass etc. If a fucking documentary can be made about such hokey non-innovators as Wilco surely a Whitney Brothers documentary would be well deserved and warranted. Could the term visionary be any more appropriate for John and James Whitney. This is true pure cinema, it's not following literary traditions, there are no narratives here. This is absolute sound and vision synergy.

*More in future posts.


  1. love this stuff. did a lecture last year on the visual music lineage. the pre-computer era is the most interesting i think, some of the lengths and convoluted techniques these artists went to, to achieve their ends - astounding. incredible dedications, months, even years of fiddly work - using self-invented, self-made devices - to make a 6 minute film

  2. I would have gone insane doing that stuff. It's like mini pancakes. These people had such patience and commitment. I imagine they were quite eccentric fellows. I should try and dig up some interviews.

    Is your lecture available anywhere Simon?

  3. give me your email (i'm at simonreynolds at mindspring dot com ) and i'll sent it to you

    i also did a curated playlist of experimental animation for the 4:3, the Boiler Room's film + video site

    it was a bit of a nutty obsession last year, i downloaded about 1400 different films of youtube, vimeo, dailymotion etc etc (cos you never know when they're going to get taken down) but so far only watched about 45!

    also got into stripping the audio off as they often have weird electronic soundtracks that you can't find elsewhere, were never released on their own

  4. I sent you an e-mail.

    I'm disappointed that I only have one volume of
    History Of The American Cinema
    by David A. Cook
    Charles Harpole, General editor
    Published by Charles Scribner's Sons
    Macmillan Library Reference USA
    New York

    The volume I have is the 70s one
    Lost Illusions: American Cinema In The Shadow Of Watergate And Vietnam 1970 - 1979.

    I worked with an academic book distributor for a while in the 00s and got it on the cheap. I wish I'd bought them all.

    Anyway Chapter 12: Avant-Garde Cinema of The Seventies by Robin Blaetz was a reasonable chapter on the subject. I wish i had the previous 8 volumes. Now that I reside in the bush I don't have access to the state libraries, University libraries etc.

    My first experience of abstract cinema was at the Melbourne Cinematheque in the early 90s. This was the only way you could see this stuff until youtube. Criterion should do an anthology on Blu-ray. Wouldn't that be great.

  5. there are DVDS of this kind of thing you can order from an organisation for the archiving / celebration of visual music - they are a bit pricey though