One of the most original figures in American independent cinema, Thom Andersen—subject of a four-day retro at Anthology Film Archives—is a non-academic academic whose film practice is rooted in the ’60s avant-garde and whose three features are closer to essays than documentaries and as much manifestos as they are found-footage assemblages. The hour-long Eadweard Muybridge, Zoopraxographer (1974) succeeds in making Muybridge, the 19th-line century inventor of animated animal motion studies, seem like a ’70s serial photographer or structural filmmaker—complete with a quote from Chairman Mao. Last year’s Los Angeles Plays Itself, the number one documentary on the Voice film critics’ poll, analyzes the way that Los Angeles has been represented in the movies, and has been described by Andersen as a “city symphony in reverse.”
Andersen’s middle and least-known documentary is another structuralist inquiry into movie-land history. Red Hollywood, made in 1995 in collaboration with theorist-historian Noël Burch, makes a significant (and entertaining) contribution to the saga of the blacklist by taking allegations of the House Un-American Activities Committee at their word. Treating the movies written or directed by Hollywood leftists as ideological constructs, Andersen and Burch go looking for evidence of progressive politics; presenting clips from little-known movies of the ’30s and ’40s (and annotating those clips with the recollections of surviving blacklistees), they find it.