A Terrific Film on an Impressive Artist: Breaking the Frame (on Carolee Schneemann)

Most film people know Carolee Schneemann as the creator of a pioneering piece of avant-garde filmmaking: Fuses (1967).  She used a hand held camera, striking color effects, expressive editing, evocative sound and her own naked body to celebrate sexuality in a direct, sensous way.  Throughout the short film she and her partner (the composer, James Tenney) make love.  Far from pornographic, it is a loving, engaging tribute to the body, the act of making love and to cinema.

Beyond that Carolee Schneemann is not very well known but now we have Marielle Nitoslawska’s Breaking the Frame ) (2012), a feature length profile of Schneemann and her massive achievements as a performance artist, painter, and filmmaker over five decades.  Schneemann proves a highly articulate guide to her own work and life.  It’s a fascinating life, based on a farm from which she simply went further, more often and more daringly than many of those in the hot house climate of the great art cities of New York, Berlin, and Paris.  Perhaps too far and too fast.  A close friend of Stan Brakhage and a generation behind Maya Deren she has been a true pioneer since the 1960s  but remains overshadowed by both of them and by the wry, far more ironic film work of someone like Andy Warhol.  Unlike Warhol, Schneemann lacked a savy business sense and clearly was drawn far more to her art than her celebrity.  She never gained the recognition she was clearly due.  But the film is far less a  lament than a celebration. Still active, the film serves as a superb introduction to her work and life on its multiple, complex levels.