Fig. 4. Kenneth Macpherson (l.), editor of Close Up. Image courtesy of Wikimedia.1 media/Fig 4 Kenneth Macpherson_thumb.jpg 2021-02-28T09:12:37-08:00 Jennifer Poulos Nesbitt 62bc3cb599d3c15be3205b879d3578d58552b092 5401 2 Fig. 4. Kenneth Macpherson (l.), editor of Close Up. Image courtesy of Wikimedia. plain 2021-02-28T09:22:24-08:00 Jennifer Poulos Nesbitt 62bc3cb599d3c15be3205b879d3578d58552b092
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Little Magazines, Postwar Internationalism, and the Construction of World Cinema
University of Central Florida
This essay explores how two interwar film magazines, Close Up (1927-33) and Experimental Cinema (1930-4), pioneered early forms of world cinema as part of wider postwar attempts to forge transnationalism, improved international relations, and humanistic dialogue among people and nations. I argue that both magazines presented the cinema as a form of global community through their establishment of film societies and clubs, inclusive contributor policies, turn toward Russian cinema, and staunch rejection of Hollywood cinema’s commercialism. These strategies enabled the construction of a shared, albeit idealistic, vision of world cinema centered on comparative approaches, anti-imperialism, and the preservation and documentation of a diverse range of global film experiments. I also explore some of the tensions that threatened each magazine’s distinct theorization of world cinema, such as the politics of inclusion/ exclusion, the experimental/ commercial dichotomy, the rise of nationalism, Hollywood’s anti-foreign movement, and the inevitable human conflicts that arose among experimental film groups and wider artistic networks.
Keywords world cinema / little magazines / Close Up / Experimental Cinema / H. D.
I saw “Joyless Street” (“Die Freudlose Gasse”) in Montreux, some two or three years ago when it was first “released” from Germany to take its tottering frail way across Europe towards Paris, where it was half-heartedly received, to London, where it was privately viewed by screen enthusiasts.
—H.D. in Close Up (1927)
In 1925, the American poet Hilda Doolittle (H.D.) visited a cinema in Montreux, a resort town on Lake Geneva, Switzerland. By the mid-1920s H.D. and her lover, Bryher, had lived in Territet, a small town a kilometer south of Montreux, for four years, having moved there in the summer of 1921.1 From Territet, Bryher, H.D., and the Scottish filmmaker Kenneth Macpherson would edit and distribute the film magazine Close Up. H.D.’s reflections on her visit to the Montreux Palace Cinema and the “first real revelation of the real art of the cinema” she experienced there appeared in Close Up’s inaugural issue of July 1927 (H.D. 26). In an article titled “Cinema and the Classics: Beauty,” H.D. ruminated on the film she had seen: Die Freudlose Gasse (translated as Joyless Street). Directed by the Austrian director Georg Wilhelm (G. W.) Pabst, Joyless Street was released in 1925 and brought to European audiences an unflinching account of postwar Vienna in its depiction of the reduced circumstances in which a government official and his daughter, played by Greta Garbo, are forced to live.
For H.D., the intensity of the subject matter coupled with Pabst’s adherence to the hyper-realism of the "New Objectivity" film movement captured the bittersweet nature of Europe’s emergence from the war. As this clip shows, the film’s opening shots of Garbo juxtaposed against an intertitle describing Vienna’s “state of acute disorder” encapsulated the alternating sense of order and chaos that defined tentative postwar recovery (Fig. 1).
It was this quality of the film H.D. most admired: “[t]his was a beautiful and young woman...stepping frail yet secure across a wasted city. Post-war Vienna really wrung our hearts” (26). Another comment H.D. makes reveals cinema’s often overlooked role in rebuilding some of the networks that were decimated in the war. “I saw ‘Joyless Street’ (‘Die Freudlose Gasse’) in Montreux,” she reflected, “when it was first ‘released’ from Germany to take its tottering frail way across Europe towards Paris, where it was half-heartedly received, to London, where it was privately viewed by screen enthusiasts” (26). This personified description of the film’s advance through Europe exposes the fascinating process through which cinema of the “golden age” (Weinberg i) navigated space between countries and continents, converting films from entertainment forms into politically-invested commodities that moved around the globe with an accelerated momentum often unmatched in such disciplines as literature and art.2
While several studies have explored the cinema’s status as a transnational postwar mediator, few have recognized the role of little magazines and periodicals in facilitating this mediation.3 It was, after all, in the pages of Close Up that H.D. shared her experience of viewing Joyless Street, presenting Pabst’s images of war-torn Vienna to readers who may not have been able to view the film due to constraints of finance, geography, or time. More important, however, was the symbolic process at play; in their promotion of films produced and directed by global figures like Pabst, film magazines such as Close Up presented the still-emergent genre of the cinema as one that transcended and sutured national boundaries, simultaneously opening up opportunities to cement cross-cultural, transnational exchanges in an uncertain postwar era. H.D.’s description of Joyless Street’s “tottering frail” (26) movement from Germany to London via Paris reminds readers of the troubling imagery of Germany’s wartime invasion of Europe, but replaces it with an alternative narrative in which the film’s movement through Europe reminds readers of the forms of artistic exchange and collaboration that can emerge when films (and by implication other forms of art) move from one nation to another.
This article explores the role film magazines played in producing these forms of global cultural exchange in the late 1920s and early 1930s. Focusing on Close Up and an American journal, Experimental Cinema, I argue that these magazines performed globalizing functions in their advocacy for nascent forms of world cinema. The etymological meaning of the word “cinematography” (derived from the Greek kinematographos [kinema—movement, graphos—to write/record]) offers a useful analogy for the ways both magazines charted the emergence of cinema as a global, transnational phenomenon. In their inclusion of work by contributors from countries as diverse as Russia, China, Japan, the United Kingdom, the United States, India, and Australia, their pages recorded film’s existence as an inherently global, rather than national, medium. Their function was promotional as well as documentary. Through their championing of films by international directors like the Soviet Sergei Eisenstein and Brazilian Alberto Cavalcanti, Close Up and Experimental Cinema shaped early models of world cinema centered on reciprocal exchange, transnational collaboration, and anti-imperialist, pro-international politics. In their promotion of cinema as a world form that could bridge physical and ideological gaps between countries and cultures, little film magazines made significant, if unexpected, contributions to global postwar recovery. These contributions were often thwarted by the inevitable tensions that arose when heterogeneous filmmaking styles, political ideologies, and economic systems conflicted with one another. For both magazines, Hollywood cinema represented a perpetual threat to the ideal of an experimental world cinema. This shared mistrust of American mainstream filmmaking was grounded in aesthetic objections, but also in deeper anxieties about the disquieting rise of postwar xenophobia, anti-immigration attitudes, and exclusionary forms of nationalistic and imperialist politics that threatened to decimate artistic diversity and plunge Europe and America into a second global conflict.
Close Up and Experimental Cinema: The Beginnings
Close Up first appeared in July 1927. An advertisement Bryher and Macpherson placed in the April 1927 issue of transition described Close Up as “the first periodical to approach films from any angle other than the commonplace.” This claim was not without merit. While magazines like the American Moving Picture World (1907–27), French Le Film (1914–19), and cinema columns in The Daily Express reviewed films, Close Up was the first English-language magazine to actively theorize the genre in its own right (Donald et al. 10). As Kenneth Macpherson explained in his first editorial, “It has to be the film for the film’s sake” (“As Is,” July 1927; 14). Although Macpherson was listed as the periodical’s “Editor” and Bryher as “Assistant Editor,” in reality Macpherson, Bryher, and H.D. all played significant roles in editing Close Up. Thirty issues of Close Up were published between July 1927 and December 1933. Originally a monthly, the magazine switched to quarterly publication in January 1931. It was financed by Bryher and published by the POOL Group, another Bryher-backed collective which published various projects by members of its tight-knit clique, including Bryher, H.D., Macpherson, Bryher’s brother, John Ellerman Jr, and the Soviet film director Sergei Eisenstein (all of whom published in Close Up) (Fig. 2).
Close Up’s contributors were as diverse as its heterogeneous mix of film reviews, opinion essays, and poems (the magazine famously published H.D.’s “Projector” in its first issue). G. W. Pabst, the Hungarian photographer Andor Kraszna-Krausz, the German-American writer Trude Weiss, the American critic Harry Alan (H.A.) Potamkin, the Viennese Jean Lenauer, and the Japanese film theorist Yasushi Ogino are just some of the contributors whose work appeared in its pages.
The second pioneering film magazine I will discuss, Experimental Cinema, based in Philadelphia, appeared sporadically as five numbers issued between February 1930 and February 1934. Its American editors, the film critic David Platt and designer Lewis Jacobs (joined in June 1930 by the film critic Seymour Stern, Potamkin, and Lenauer as respective Hollywood, New York, and Paris editors), commissioned work by Eisenstein and a wide range of other figures including the French critic Leon Moussinac, the German actor Werner Klingler, and N. Solew, the magazine’s Moscow Correspondent. Many of Experimental Cinema’s contributors published in Close Up. Its content was also similar to Close Up’s: essays on global filmmaking, advances in cinematography, and reproductions of film scripts appeared in a typical issue (Fig. 3).
At the point Experimental Cinema published its first number, Close Up was into its thirty-second issue. World War I had ended just over a decade earlier. The Paris Peace Conference of 1919 and establishment of the League of Nations in January 1920 had instigated a tentative, yet promising cooperation among powers. This effort at international cooperation was further bolstered by the partial recovery of the global economy that saw increasing prosperity along with widespread improvements to national services, including housing, healthcare, provisions for unemployment, drug control, and the infrastructures of transport and travel. The Locarno Peace Treaties of 1925, acceptance of Germany into the League of Nations in 1926, and Kellogg-Briand Pact of 1928 brought America and such European nations as Great Britain, France, Belgium, Germany, Czechoslovakia, and Poland into a collective dialogue as they resolved disputed territories and agreed to renounce the use of warfare as a resolution to future conflicts. As the 1920s ended and the 1930s began, residual fears that the “spirit of Locarno” was a “fragile foundation on which to build a lasting peace” (Marks 82) were tempered by concerted efforts to ensure the success of postwar reconciliation.
This conciliatory spirit is reflected in the arts and the little magazines that reported on them. The strongly international ethos of prewar modernist movements—Dadaism, for example, united artists and poets from Paris, Zurich, and New York, among other metropoles—enjoyed an intense resurgence after World War I as artists, poets, designers, and writers became trans- and almost anti-national in their thinking. As Philip Rupprecht contends, this “expansion of cosmopolitanism” impacted “almost all branches of culture” (67). In literature, the so-called Lost Generation contributed to this cosmopolitanism and drew on it, as writers such as Ernest Hemingway, Gertrude Stein, F. Scott Fitzgerald, and Claude McKay flocked to Paris and other cities in search of new forms of artistic community. In architecture, the establishment of the International Style replaced previous emphases on country-specific building styles with new models of universal design. The development of jazz reminded listeners that music, too, could cross barriers of nation, class, and race.
As forms of serial print media that were in touch with their readers on a regular basis, little magazines like Close Up and Experimental Cinema captured contemporary debates about nationhood, international relations, and the purpose of art in a postwar society with a freshness afforded to few other media forms. David Goldie has argued that the “revelatory, reconstructive enthusiasm of its editor [John Middleton Murry]” (35) was a key factor in the Athenaeum’s significant contribution to Britain’s recovery in the immediate postwar years. Similarly, in their staging of debates about cinema’s global, rather than national, function Close Up and Experimental Cinema capitalized upon and contributed to the increasingly pro-international spirit of the late 1920s and early 1930s. Serving as one of the earliest attempts to define “world-cinema,” Close Up’s front cover proclaimed its status as “an International Magazine Devoted to Film Art,” while Experimental Cinema’s tagline was “Projecting important international film manifestations.” In their considerably liberal attitudes toward sex, gender, immigration, and nation, both magazines evinced expansive, predominantly inclusive ideologies. Close Up’s entire editorial team—Bryher, Macpherson, H.D., and Oswell Blakeston (Assistant Editor from January 1931)—all enjoyed same-sex relationships and expressed at least partial sympathy with forms of socialist humanism that received condemnation in conservative circles (Fig. 4). Experimental Cinema derived its radical stance from its extreme anti-commercial impulse and assertion that avant-garde cinema stood as the only form of resistance to a Hollywood film industry that functioned as “an agent of American imperialism” (“Editor’s Note” 18).
Humanistic Impulses in the Promotion of World Cinema: “The cinema, silent conqueror of space, time and causality”
The diversity of their contributors was central to the magazines’ early promotion of forms of global cinema. Close Up offered special issues dedicated to filmmaking in various countries. There was a July 1928 anniversary issue that proffered “stills from Russian, German, French, British, American, and Swedish films,” a “Russian Number” of September 1928, and articles exploring the “the Japanese cinema world” (Sudzuky 17) or the Turkish national epic (Seton 312). Bryher and Macpherson aimed to garner a similarly global readership for the periodical, printing it in Paris through Maurice Darantière (who printed the original Shakespeare Press edition of Ulysses) and distributing it throughout Switzerland, Great Britain, Germany, France, Italy, and the United States. Potential subscribers could pay in currencies including U.S. and Canadian dollars, the German mark, and Swiss and French francs. By the time it folded in December 1933, Close Up had correspondents in Paris, Moscow, London, Hollywood, Geneva, New York, Berlin, and Vienna.
Whereas early articles in Close Up tended to discuss worldwide cinema praxis through the framework of postwar concerns—Bryher linked the success of Pabst’s Joyless Street to his “consciousness of [a postwar] Europe” (60)—the magazine soon began to define the meaning and function of global cinema in explicitly humanist, social terms that implied but did not directly explicate memories of war.4 As Amelia Defries, another frequent Close Up contributor, put it in a 1927 piece, the cinema was “as great in its way as Wireless” in its ability to move “all over the world” (53). It was central to the construction of national character: “It can build up character, it can Americanise, Japonise, Germanise, the world” (Defries 53). In an article for Experimental Cinema, one of the magazine’s founding editors, David Platt, echoed Defries’s identification of the cinema as a “tremendous force” (Defries 53), in his description of it as “one of the greatest single forces that history will record” on account of its ability to connect “immense masses of people” (Platt 1). “The cinema,” he marveled, was a “silent conqueror of space, time and causality” (1). In a postwar society cinema could unify people (as implied by Platt’s description of it as a benign, “silent conqueror” that transcended boundaries of time and space) or, as Defries’s note on national character implies, divide them. The cinema’s capacity to enhance tendencies toward global progressivism or limiting expressions of nationalism had important implications for the success of postwar reconstruction and recovery. As Defries observed, “[i]t can make wars, or it can prevent them” (53).
It is interesting that both Close Up and Experimental Cinema framed postwar advocations for a form of world cinema through the language of humanism. Macpherson’s September 1927 Close Up editorial clearly presents an early theorization of world cinema as a humanizing medium through which to secure postwar unification. Using the letters a, b, and c as prefixes, Macpherson constructed a series of lists espousing the key qualities of the medium. Film, he argued, was a “universal (a) language (b) educator (c) backbone.” It was also a remedial influence that fostered “international (a) sympathy (b) friendship (c) common-sense,” while dismantling nation and race in its status as a purveyor of “An inter-racial (a) goodwill (b) league of nations (c) peace-conference” (“As Is,” September 1927; 5) (Fig. 5). The lists in this editorial reinforced the call for internationalism Macpherson made in his first Close Up editorial when he argued that the key to a British film revival would be to recognize the potential for global collaboration: “Russia was getting its finger on something,” France was producing some promising “experimental stuff” and, after Joyless Street, the “Germanic thing” also deserved filmmakers’ attention on a wider scale, he had averred (“As Is,” July 1927; 7).
Almost three years later, Experimental Cinema echoed Close Up’s promotion of cinema as a tool through which to secure improved human relations. The inside front cover for the first issue of February 1930 reads as follows:
Experimental Cinema, published by the Cinema Crafters of America, is the only magazine in the United States devoted to the principles of the art of the motion picture. It believes there is profound need at this time for a central organ to consolidate and orient those individuals and groups scattered throughout America, Europe and U. S. S. R. that are working to liberate the cinema from its stereotyped symbolism. (“Announcement”)
Macpherson had used language that drew similarly on the idea of film as a unifying global network in his first editorial: “I want to arrange that people making films and experimenting in all sorts of ways shall be able to see what others are doing in the same way” (“As Is,” July 1927; 15).
Although the concept of world cinema was largely undeveloped, these early utterances present the cinema as a form of human community—a “rapport” as Macpherson put it—that drew its strength from its global diversity and preference for avant-garde experiment over the “Hollywood mediocrity” of commercial cinema (“As Is,” July 1927; 15). This aversion to Hollywood’s commercialism reenacts early modernism’s antagonism to mass culture, but crucially transfers this antagonism to a relatively new medium: film. The new possibilities offered by the still nascent film genre (the “talkies” and color film were, after all, only beginning to emerge in the late 1920s) rejuvenated earlier postwar attempts to use artistic cosmopolitanism as a peaceful weapon in the fight for renewed cooperation between nations in a postwar age. Film also held the potential to serve as a form of resistance to or liberation from commercialized forms of art that threatened to destroy networks of intellectual exchange and experiment. Against this backdrop Experimental Cinema’s “Announcement” projected a utopian goal of world cinema as both an aesthetic concept and a realized network of connected agents, its aim “to liberate the cinema” one of many examples of how magazine editors paradoxically drew upon the language of warfare to fight the very divisions it had wrought. Little magazines had both reflected and contributed to an “advance guard”; they operated as tangible countercultures against “commercial publishers” (Hoffman 3). Hence Experimental Cinema’s positioning of itself as “a vital force toward the creation of a worldwide cinema ideology,” its ambitious aim of serving “as the advance guard of a new motion picture art” underpinning its more specific objective to facilitate “the creation of a world-wide cinema ideology” (“Announcement”) (Fig. 6).
The issue of what, exactly, this worldwide cinema or its ideologies constituted remained contentious. In one sense, world cinema was a concept, an implicit and vaguely defined ideal of a unified cinema that stood as a microcosmic rendering of widespread hopes for postwar solidarity. Dorothy Richardson outlined this universal cinema in Close Up. Discussing the advance of subtitles as a new invention that could dismantle language barriers, Richardson argued that “by whatever means, the aim [of a film] is to unify” (62).5 In another indication of the humanistic slant of their attempts to promote world cinema, both Close Up and Experimental Cinema attempted to kickstart several societies, groups, and clubs through which members could advance experimental film as a global genre. Bryher’s “How I Would Start a Film Club” campaigned for a new club that would see members hire local cinemas and show the best foreign films:
Are there no English films to fill the programme? I do not think there are. Not to come up to the standard of Pabst, Pudowkin, Bruno Rahn, Czinner and half a dozen others. And if we are to evolve standards of criticism in England and the capacity to make films as great, we have got to see the best. And the best at the moment means foreign films. (33)
Bryher’s clear rejection of English films is almost anti-nationalist in its language, in keeping with the increasingly—almost desperately—internationalist stance of an experimental film industry that saw commercial cinema as having reached an intolerable, stultifying peak. It was amid this climate that the Hollywood Association of Foreign Correspondents was established in 1928 as a form of resistance to Hollywood’s apparently increasing insularity and anti-foreign direction. Despite being “recently inaugurated,” the association soon possessed “a list of a hundred members—men and women serving as cinema correspondents for newspapers and periodicals outside of the United States,” and represented “more than a score of nationalities” (Howard, “Hollywood Association” 77–8).
Their shared promotion of transnational film networks naturally brought Close Up and Experimental Cinema into dialogue with each other, and with other magazines for whom a global interwar cinema represented a means of defying artistic, national, and political hegemonies. In the first issue of Experimental Cinema an advertisement appeared for Close Up which used the magazine’s transnationalism—“Close Up has numerous correspondents in contact with film activities throughout the world”—as a key selling point. Similarly, advertisements in Close Up for Experimental Cinema highlighted the latter’s commitment to global cinema, with Seymour Stern’s “Principles of the New World-Cinema” showcased as a lead article. Advertisements in both magazines promoted a wide range of international film periodicals and clubs, including La Cinématographie Française which provided news (“nouvelles”) from “Angleterre, Amérique, Allemagne, Espagne, Italie,” the Berlin-based Volksverband für Filmkunst (People’s Film Movement), and the British Film Art which covered “avant-garde films from different countries.” Their publication of these advertisements reflected Close Up's and Experimental Cinema’s solid positioning of themselves in the “periodical community” of alternative film magazines (Delap 270) (Fig. 7).
Both magazines presented “world cinema” as an adjectival signpost, a term denoting a form of politically aware filmmaking uniquely influenced by new forms of experimentalism, as well as a symbol of global collaboration. Seymour Stern’s “Principles of the New World-Cinema” was published in two parts in the first (February 1930) and third (February 1931) issues of Experimental Cinema and opened with a provocative argument:
The present is a period of emergence for the world-cinema. Everywhere, except chiefly in Hollywood and in England, the old structural forms are disappearing, and new ones, indigenous to film-art and no longer to literature and the other arts, are emerging. (15)
Stern’s piece, serving as one of the earliest attempts to define “world-cinema,” reflects the fervor with which magazines like Experimental Cinema promoted it as an inclusive, aggressively experimental art form. Fittingly, the films both magazines promoted were characterized by a dynamism and newness derived from their transnationalism, use of innovative techniques such as montage and color, and their tackling of difficult social topics. For example, Kenneth Macpherson’s Borderline (1930) was, as a product of the POOL publishing group, heavily promoted in Close Up. Macpherson’s only feature-length film, Borderline was, as the trailer here shows, transgressive in many ways: its exploration of interracial relationships, Freudian psychoanalysis, and characters who existed as “borderline social cases, not out of life, not in life” (Martz xi) ensured Borderline’s status as a piece of cinema defined by experimentation and the deconstruction of societal, interpersonal, and national boundaries (Fig. 8).
“Soviet Russia versus United States”
Soviet filmmaking played a central role in both magazines’ constructions of world cinema. Films from the USSR—especially those by Sergei Eisenstein and W. L. Pudowkin—offered a special source of admiration in Close Up largely as a result of Bryher’s longterm interest in Russia. Macpherson, too, held a genuine interest in Russian filmmaking. As H.D. noted, the deep “connection” Bryher and Macpherson shared in their mutual love of Soviet cinema resulted in the pair “getting on well” (Letter to Viola Jordan, 1 February 1929) for the duration of their editorship of Close Up. The magazine’s special “Russian Number” evidenced their reverence for Russian filmmaking, with Macpherson’s editorial describing Soviet films as “the arrowpoint of cinema progress” (“As Is,” Sept. 1928; 7).
Soviet cinema was also central to the ethos of Experimental Cinema. H. A. Potamkin reviewed Bryher’s book, Film Problems in Soviet Russia (1929), in the magazine’s first issue and every successive issue contained several pieces on Russian innovations.6 In February 1933, Experimental Cinema dedicated an entire issue to Sergei Eisenstein’s ¡Que viva México! (Fig. 9). Although the film was not released until 1979, Eisenstein’s presence in Mexico and decision to make the country the subject of a feature-length treatment received widespread attention from filmmakers and critics. Experimental Cinema’s embrace of ¡Que viva México! reflected the magazine’s drawing upon forms of global cinema as a means of enhancing experimental prospects. The ¡Que viva México! issue reproduced an article from the Soviet journal, Kino, that described how the Soviet director had “completely thrown off the fetters of the Hollywood system of picture-making” and included several photographs from the film set (Balázs 17).
An uneasy relationship existed between Soviet cinematographers and American filmmakers. The “Soviet Union versus United States” dialectic therefore underpinned the experimental/commercial film dichotomy (Moussinac 35), and challenged the establishment of a truly reciprocal global cinema. Soviet filmmaking was seen as antithetical to Hollywood’s commercial films:
Soviet film-artists have...established, in every point of formal structure and every concept of film methodology, complete emancipation from the tyranny of the former world-conquering Hollywood film-methods. In every sphere, thanks to Soviet attainments, we can at last record the disestablishment of that false, commercially inspired American technique which, for fifteen years, has dominated and retarded the entire conception and technique. (Stern “Principles” 15)
The anti-American rhetoric is implicit, yet undeniable; references to "tyranny," "emancipation," and "world-conquering" draw upon an uncomfortable militaristic register that exposes the link many experimental filmmakers felt to be present between Hollywood and imperialism. This link appeared as all the more dangerous in the interwar period. Interestingly, when Close Up came under “attack...for alleged propaganda for Russian films,” Bryher and Macpherson were quick to deny any political aspect of the magazine’s fondness for Soviet cinema:
While we are very interested to know that we are supposed to have done so much for Russia we must point out that our main object has been to provide a place where the intelligent English may read of new developments in cinematography and be kept in touch with the best films, whether made in England, Russia, Japan or the North Pole. Close Up is not and never has been a political paper. (Macpherson “Comment and Review” 67)
Nonetheless, in the very next issue of Close Up Bryher and Macpherson commissioned a piece that presented Hollywood as a metonymical symbol of apparently inferior American filmmaking whose techniques were dialectically opposed to aesthetically superior forms of Russian cinema:
A strange paradox, indeed. Eisenstein, the Russian socialist, an impregnable individualist. Hollywood, giant offspring of capitalism and commercialism, the subjugator of the individualist and enforcing a system of collectivism beyond anything yet attained in communistic Russia. Eisenstein and Hollywood. The positive and negative poles of the cinema. (Howard, “Eisenstein in Hollywood” 140–41)
While Close Up downplayed interest in Soviet politics, the socialist aspect of Russian cinema ensured its prominence within—and Hollywood’s rejection from—Experimental Cinema’s construction of a world cinema. Many writers for the magazine would have agreed with Lewis Jacobs’s assertion that “Eisenstein in concentrated images expresses cinematically the social forces released by the proletariat revolution” (4).7 The editorial “Statement” for Issue Three (July 1930) reminded readers of “the proletarian basis of our organ” and the magazine’s refusal on this basis to capitulate to Hollywood:
It is clear to the editors of EXPERIMENTAL CINEMA that Hollywood, while it is an almost inexhaustible source of stupefying “entertainment,” is also at the same time the tool of American imperialist political policy, which it serves so faithfully and so supinely through the medium of war films, anti-USSR films, news reels, etc...(3)
Russia's and Hollywood’s respective admission to and rejection from a conceptual world cinema network reminds readers that any network is governed by the politics of inclusion or exclusion. Russia was in; Hollywood was unanimously out.
However, as with any binary, there are contradictions and problems which the little magazines’ respective promotion and distrust of Soviet and Hollywood film networks obscured. For Soviet directors such as Eisenstein, Pudovkin, and Dziga Vertov, freedom of expression and experiment were curtailed severely by Stalin-era censorship. While well-known directors like Eisenstein sometimes “found themselves in a position to negotiate with Stalin and got their way to some degree,” many did not (Belodubrovskaya 106). The ban on Eisenstein’s Ivan the Terrible (1945) that lasted throughout Stalin’s lifetime on account of the latter’s personal dislike of the film is just one of several examples of how Soviet directors were not as free or as able to innovate as little magazines like Experimental Cinema might suggest. Additionally, Hollywood—the oft-feared “enemy” of the avant-garde—was experiencing its own problems in the late 1920s when Close Up first emerged. Between 1927 and 1929, Hollywood was preoccupied with the process of re-tooling for film. Budgets were tighter than ever; a flop film had the power to bring down a production house, as seen with Sutter’s Gold (1936). After studio bosses declined to allow Eisenstein to direct the film, it was directed by James Cruze and “almost sank” Universal when it failed to recoup its $2 million-dollar budget (Bergan 208).
Nonetheless, Hollywood continued to function as something of a bogeyman for experimental filmmakers who viewed it as a symbol of flagrant capitalism. As if to remind readers of this, in June 1930 Experimental Cinema commissioned a piece by Werner Klingler in which he lamented how his proposed ending to All Quiet on the Western Front, reprinted in the magazine, was “considered by Universal Pictures Corp. but finally not accepted” (23). Cementing the link between experimental film and anti-capitalism, Experimental Cinema’s issuance of its most radical “Statement” in July 1930 coincided with a period of financial turmoil. Only after “six months of ceaseless effort to raise funds for its publication” was the magazine “finally enabled to appear” (“Statement” 3). Similarly, despite the significant financial backing provided to Close Up by Bryher’s family money, the magazine was ultimately unable to last longer than seven years. That Experimental Cinema only lasted five years is perhaps an inevitable result of having more limited finances on which to draw than Close Up.
Imperialism, Nationalism, and “the anti-foreign movement in Hollywood”
Along with its commercialism, Hollywood’s perceived affiliation with imperialism was regarded as another threat to the ideal of a unified world cinema. As Experimental Cinema’s “Statement” made clear, Hollywood’s function as “the tool of American imperialist policy” (3) reinforced the idea that a truly global cinema could only be achieved and sustained through noncommercial, avant-garde films that rejected imperialist agendas. In the late 1920s and early 1930s, the resurgence of nationalism and imperialist values—epitomized most disturbingly in Hitler’s January 1933 appointment to Reich’s Chancellor—imbued experimental film journals with an increased determination to preserve their egalitarian values. In an example of how Close Up—despite its editors’ protestations to the contrary—was ardently political, in December 1930 Bryher and Macpherson placed the blame for the magazine’s forthcoming switch from a monthly to a quarterly squarely at the door of rising nationalism, which compromised the success of a journal so evidently international in its aims and ethos:
Only by issuing Close Up as a quarterly are the editors enabled to cope with developments intrinsically and fundamentally. As films—through speech—are becoming more and more national, in proportion the function of an international journal such as Close Up is complicated. (“An Announcement”)
To combat the problem of intensifying nationalism, Close Up reverted to its documentary function, stressing that the magazine’s aim was to engage in “concentrated study...of films of different countries” in order to create “a record of permanent value in film history” (“An Announcement”). The implication is clear: Close Up’s editors feared a loss of the world cinema they had worked so hard to propagate and attempted to use the more durable character of the quarterly to preserve it.
These fears were not unfounded. With attempts to defend world cinema came equally vocal efforts to destabilize it. Disgruntled at the perceived “employment of so many foreigners,” and fueled by an outraged belief that “it is never pleasant...to have aliens take the jobs” (“Jingo Films” 4), in early 1928 several hundred actors formed the Hollywood Anti-Foreign Movement and lobbied the government for more stringent immigration requirements. Understandably, many contemporary commentators were deeply troubled by this sudden nationalistic stance on the part of studio workers, fearing that “[h]undred per cent Americanism has now reared its head in Hollywood” (“Jingo Films” 4). The negative implications were potentially catastrophic. As Macpherson observed during the movement’s early stirrings, “[t]he anti-foreign movement in Hollywood may stop or at any rate considerably check this migration, which was so very good for art, keeping things moving all the time, new talent, new modes, new ways” (“As Is,” July 1927; 11–12).
Experimental Cinema’s decision to make Eisenstein’s ¡Que viva México! the focus of its February 1933 special issue was undoubtedly a reaction to the anti-foreign movement (Fig. 10). While xenophobia toward foreigners in Hollywood was often the product of genuine, desperate fears about job loss, the discrimination Eisenstein suffered in the late 1920s and early 1930s was based more on red-baiting and anti-Semitism. Those attitudes ultimately played a part in Paramount terminating their contract with him in late 1930. From his arrival in New York in May of that year, Eisenstein was subject to several anti-Semitic campaigns; from Major Frank Pease’s distribution of a pamphlet titled “Eisenstein: Hollywood’s Messenger from Hell” to the right-wing Congressman Hamilton Fish’s targeting of Eisenstein for allegedly communist leanings, Paramount was soon forced “to justify its support” for the foreign director (O’Mahony 133). ¡Que viva México! was essentially conceived as Eisenstein’s recovery project from this unfortunate period. Funded by the left-wing novelist Upton Sinclair and his wife, Mary, filming began shortly after Eisenstein was released from his Paramount contract.
Experimental Cinema’s enthusiastic embrace of the film—which was never fully completed and only released in adapted form in 1979—signified the magazine’s commitment to defending foreign filmmakers from ongoing xenophobia. As such, the ¡Que viva México! special issue included a wide range of staunchly anti-nationalistic pieces from even primarily international contributors. Work by Eisenstein’s Mexican assistant, Agustin Aragon Lieva, appeared, along with contributions by the Hungarian theorist Béla Balázs and J. M. Valdes-Rodriquez, a Cuban writer. Valdes-Rodriguez’s article, “Hollywood: Sales Agent of American Imperialism,” is introduced through similar metaphors of durability and permanence that Close Up employed: “In presenting this article by our Cuban correspondent, we feel that we are privileged to afford the readers of Experimental Cinema with a document whose importance to the study of film-culture cannot be overestimated” (Valdes-Rodriquez 18; my emphasis). Clearly, Experimental Cinema situated itself as recorder of historically important theorizations of film governed by the principles of transnationalism and inclusivity.
Just as H.D. used her first Close Up piece to try to give permanence to the profound experience of viewing Joyless Street in Montreux, metaphors of preservation and documentation continued to pervade both Close Up and Experimental Cinema even at the end of their lifespans. World cinema, although hazily defined, offered ways of theorizing some of the developments and positive productive capabilities that had evolved in cinema over the first three decades of the twentieth century. The abrupt manner with which the final issues of Close Up and Experimental Cinema appeared in December 1933 and February 1934 respectively suggests that their battles to document and forge forms of world cinema ultimately fell victim to financial obstacles. Neither magazine announced its cessation; the final number of Experimental Cinema contained the usual subscription forms.
While both magazines used the term “world-cinema” only a handful of times, their efforts to publicize, explore, and evaluate films from global perspectives shaped the idea of world cinema as both an aim and a concept. In a process that mimics the summation montage, a technique in which “elements...which have no geographical connection with each other” are “spliced together” (Stern, “Hollywood Montage” 47), the editors of Close Up and Experimental Cinema placed diverse contents alongside one another, bringing into dialogue filmmakers, artists, poets, and writers from different geographical regions, countries, and continents. This early implicit construction of world cinema, bolstered by the few explicit usages of the term, counteracted postwar isolationism and xenophobia. In their rejection of conventional American films and the commercial dominion of Hollywood, promotion of new techniques and technologies, and advocacy for forms of filmmaking—such as Russian cinema—that took place beyond rather than within national, racial, class, and disciplinary boundaries, both magazines pioneered a new form of film theory that, although embryonic, focused on approaches of international exchange and comparison that are now recognized as central components of comparative literature. Their early film theory was, then, a form of comparative cinema. The magazines also pioneered early forms of postcolonial film theory. Valdes-Rodriquez’s piece on Cuban film, for example, rejects the “exclusive influence of Hollywood” over Cuba and aims to rewrite filmic narratives which give “a wrong idea of the countries down by the Rio Grande as well as a perfect misconception of life among the peoples of Hispano-America” (18).
In its uncertain boundaries and juxtaposition of sometimes opposing elements, the construction of world cinema in Close Up and Experimental Cinema can be understood through Foucault’s concept of heterotopic space:
The heterotopia is capable of juxtaposing in a single real place [here, the film periodical] several spaces, several sites that are in themselves incompatible. Thus it is that the theater brings onto the rectangle of the stage, one after the other, a whole series of places that are foreign to one another; thus it is that the cinema is a very odd rectangular room, at the end of which, on a two-dimensional screen, one sees the projection of a three-dimensional space. (Foucault 6)
The little magazine here represents the cinema in itself: its two-dimensional pages contain projections of diverse film movements and productions. The notion of “juxtaposition” inherent to little magazines and world cinema reminds us that the success of either depended on the human values of cooperation, agreement, and reciprocity that both magazines had originally aimed to foster as part of their postwar intentions. Yet humans—filmmakers, artists, producers, and editors—hail from diverse national and socio-economic backgrounds, and accordingly hold often clashing beliefs. Attempting to unify diverse and sometimes disparate groups of people in a world cinema inevitably met with problems and failures that the advent of increasingly nationalistic policies and imperialist leanings threatened to amplify.
Close Up and Experimental Cinema’s construction of an inclusive world cinema operated on a paradoxically exclusionist axis which necessitated rejection of mainstream American (and often British) films and reflected a misunderstanding of the reality in which Soviet cinema was made. Such issues further problematize the concept of a unifying world cinema. How could cinema be truly global if dominant sections of the world were viewed with eternal suspicion? For Close Up and Experimental Cinema, world cinema meant a linking of likeminded individuals—be it audience members, directors, camera operators, or writers—but, crucially, only those who operated within the remit of experimental film. While this position is understandable given the mass/modernism dichotomy that underpinned experimentalism within the arts, provisions for at least a partial or conditional acceptance of commercial films into the world cinema network may have strengthened, rather than weakened, its development. Additionally, the continued dismissal of American cinema as incapable of producing any form of avant-garde value may have alienated some readers. Experimental Cinema published in its final February 1934 issue an article titled “Experimental Cinema in America” that, accompanied by a plethora of film stills, outlined recent achievements of American avant-garde filmmakers; but, before any mediation of the tension between commercial and experimental film could occur, the magazine folded. Close Up only later recognized that issues other than the role of director—such as acting and ease of travel were “at the very root of a world-cinema” (Coxhead 54). Elizabeth Coxhead exposes another weakness in the magazine’s constructions of global cinema networks: by privileging film direction as central to the theorization of film, even in the face of increasingly authoritarian dictums preventing Soviet directors from deviating from the script, Close Up missed opportunities. It failed to explore factors in film production such as finance and distribution, friendship networks, and how acting itself played an important role in the staging of film as a world form.
Disagreements and problems between the magazines further prove the susceptibility of idealized models of world cinema to trivial forms of human discord and dispute. When Experimental Cinema launched in February 1930, its decision to describe itself as “the only magazine in the United States devoted to the principles of the art of the motion picture” struck some at Close Up as a presumption. In retaliation, Close Up posed a controversial question:
Will it be necessary for Close Up to change its descriptive title to “The first Magazine Devoted to Films as an Art” for we have before us the first number of a new American monthly Experimental Cinema...which describes itself as the only magazine in the United States devoted to the principles of the art of the motion picture. (Stenhouse 69)
Other disputes continued to define the magazines’ problematic relationship. An Experimental Cinema article triggered a feud in its allegation that “Mr. Mcpherson, [sic] editor of Close Up,” and H. A. Potamkin, who was then working as New York correspondent for both journals, were purveyors of “eclectic humbug” rather than proponents of “correct” film theory (25). In response Potamkin left Experimental Cinema and published in Close Up a withering critique of the American magazine, dismissing it as “a compendium of the novice-mind” that possessed zero influence upon “even the periphery” of the film industry and for which he only agreed to work “out of personal sympathy for the editors” (“Film Novitiates” 319). Experimental Cinema rejected this article as an “unprovoked, savage vituperation” and questioned Potamkin’s loyalty (“Editor’s Note” 34). By early 1933 the feud appeared to be mended, with David Platt referring to Bryher as “our friend...who edits Close Up with Kenneth Macpherson” (“The Hollywood Code” 58).
The inability of both magazines to formulate a fully-defined, permanent articulation of world cinema should not, in the light of these contexts, be seen as a failure, but as the inevitable consequence of two still-emergent forms—the experimental film and the avant-garde little film magazine—mapping out then largely unnavigated aesthetic and conceptual terrain in a still war-ravaged world. As H.D.’s viewing of Joyless Street reminds us, cinema’s movement around the globe was a “tottering” one symbolizing both postwar uncertainty and recovery in Europe and beyond. In their documentation of world cinema’s early emergence and facilitation of the networks that enabled its continued development as a concept, aesthetic, and genre, little film magazines played significant roles in establishing cinema as a universally recognizable, comforting global community to which audiences would turn with increasing vigor as the 1930s closed and the once unimaginable threat of another world conflict became a disquieting reality.
1 Bryher was the nickname of Annie Winifred Ellerman. The daughter of a British shipping magnate, she had a prominent yet often hidden influence upon the development of experimental literature and film in the 1920s and 1930s, backing several avant-garde periodicals such as Life and Letters To-Day and Robert McAlmon’s Contact Press.
2 In 1927 when Close Up first appeared cinema was, of course, a fledgling media or art form. As Weinberg elaborates, “[t]he cinema was still new enough to be full of experiment and light-headed with rapture over the new medium, which suggested possibilities enough to make one swoon” (i).
3 See, for example, Orr and Taxidou; Wilms and Rasch; Robé.
4 See also Bryher’s discussion of how cinema explores the war “from three angles” (“The War” 16).
5 Bryher also argued that prior to the use of subtitles language barriers allowed directors to imbue their film with nationalistic qualities: “Contrary to expectation, Germany, France and other European states used the language barrier to re-establish native products on their screens” (“Hollywood Code” 234).
6 See, for example, the discussion of montage as a “password” that “advanced the young cinematography of Soviet Russia” (Pudowkin 5) and Honig’s discussion of Eisenstein’s work as one of the most important factors for the advance of the cinema” (4).
7 Some writers remained suspicious, if not outrightly antagonistic, toward socialism, such as Potamkin who rejected the “Russian social idea” as “decidedly dangerous” (“Film Problems” 4).
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