Skip to Main Content

Rajiv Vaidya Memorial Lecture 2014: New York's Cinema 16 Film Society: Programming for a Divided World

Scott MacDonald, visiting professor of art history, Hamilton College. From the fall of 1947 until the spring of 1963, New York City was invigorated by Cinema 16, the most successful and influential film society in American history. Established by Amos and Marcia Vogel, and directed by Vogel, Cinema 16 offered its audiences monthly film programs of great diversity and considerable intellectual and emotional challenge. At its height, Cinema 16 boasted 8,000 members, including many of the movers and shakers of the New York cultural scene, who came to see films that were unavailable or illegal to show outside the parameters of a membership film society. In this Rajiv Vaidya Memorial Lecture recorded on December 7, 2014, Scott MacDonald, film historian and author of Cinema 16: Documents toward a History of the Film Society, presents a program of films that were crucial for Cinema 16 audiences—organized so as to evoke the unusually challenging programming strategy Amos Vogel developed. The following films were screened: A Divided World (1948), a rarely seen nature film by Swedish filmmaker Arne Sucksdorff; Fireworks (1946), probably the first openly gay film, a psychodrama by 17-year-old Kenneth Anger; George Franju’s The Blood of the Beasts (1949), which exposes the surreal underbelly of normal urban life (no film caused more controversy at Cinema 16); Weegee’s New York (c. 1952), a New York City Symphony photographed by master street photographer Weegee and apparently edited by Vogel; Eaux d’artifice (1953), Kenneth Anger’s exploration of  the Villa d’Este gardens at Tivoli outside of Rome; and Canadian Norman McLaren’s Begone Dull Care (1949), a visual accompaniment, made by painting directly on the filmstrip, to an original composition by jazz great Oscar Peterson.