There’s still time to nominate local icons for Best of D.C.
In the Soviet Union, art and commercial film grew up together, but scholars have long accepted that in the U.S., avant-garde cinema was a late-developing adjunct (or reaction) to commercial filmmaking. Film historian Bruce Posner disagreed, and he rummaged through a bunch of different baskets for evidence of early cinematic experimentation (The Fall of the House of Usher is pictured) in this country. His “Unseen Cinema” series includes examples of amateur filmmaking and excerpts from Hollywood films, as well as intentionally avant-garde works. The short films are grouped thematically, and some of the most astonishing ones are in a program titled “Picturing a Metropolis: New York Unveiled” (at 4 p.m. Sunday, Sept. 15). Highlights of that program include Star Theatre, where stop-action fast motion is used to document the disassembly of a large building—which might seem a fairly conventional gambit if the film didn’t date from 1902. That afternoon also includes Split Skyscrapers, a kaleidoscopic view of the city; Footnote to Fact, a 1933 montage of bleak Depression-era images that ends with a startling kicker; and the “Lullaby of Broadway” sequence from Busby Berkeley’s Gold Diggers of 1935, which combines city-symphony footage, elaborate choreography, and dream imagery in a showcase of Hollywood-style surrealism. Other programs in the series explore such themes as “A Mirrored Romance” (at 2 p.m. Saturday, Sept. 14), “Writing With Lightning: D.W. Griffith, Mary Ellen Bute, Busby Berkeley” (at 2 p.m. Saturday, Sept. 21), “Light Rhythms: Melodies & Montages” (at 4 p.m. Sunday, Sept. 22), “Cinema’s Secret Garden: The Amateur as Auteur” (at 2 p.m. Saturday, Sept. 28), and “Ecstatic Moments Along the River of Time” (at 4 p.m. Saturday, Sept. 28). The series runs to Saturday, Sept. 28, at the National Gallery of Art’s East Building Auditorium, 4th and Constitution Avenue NW. Free. (202) 842-6799. (Mark Jenkins)