Warren Sonbert is one of the seminal figures in American experimental film. A precocious talent, he had his first career retrospective before he turned 21 years old, establishing his reputation early as a key innovator in New York’s counter-culture during the 1960s. Encouraged to take up filmmaking by Gregory Markopolous, his early works were populated by denizens of Warhol’s scene such as superstar René Ricard and Gerard Malanga, as well as art critic Henry Geldzhaler. Often characterised as diaristic, his films pay close attention to intimate details of his surroundings and relationships that evolved from his living in New York and San Francisco, but also developed a unique lyrical form that transcends their quotidian detail to explore our individual human position in the world at large.
Defined by many contrasting influences from rock-and-roll to opera, from Douglas Sirk’s classic Hollywood melodramas to the montage theories of Dziga Vertov, his films constantly question the world around him and positions the minutiae of day-to-day experience in an epic, international framework. His complex editing style – cutting rapidly between time periods, cultures and continents – creates a polyphonic cinema embraced equally by film and by literary circles leading to his close association with the New York School and Language Poets from the San Francisco Bay Area (including Michael Brownstein, Larry Fagin and Anne Waldman as well as Carla Harryman and Charles Bernstein). The first complete retrospective of his work in the UK, this series will position newly restored works alongside films by his peers such as Stan Brakhage, Abigail Child, Nathaniel Dorsky, Gerard Malanga, Gregory Markopoulos, Jeff Scher, and Andy Warhol, as well as Douglas Sirk’s feature film Tarnished Angels (1957).
A special panel discussion with archivist Jon Gartenberg, writer Lynne Tillman and historian James Boaden, follows the Warren Sonbert: Where Did Our Love Go? programme on Saturday 26 October.
Co-curated by Jon Gartenberg with Tate Film. Individual screenings introduced by Jon Gartenberg