AMOS VOGEL – “SUBVERSIVE” CINEMA

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Film critic, curator and film historian Amos Vogel would have turned 100 years old on April 18, 2021. To celebrate this, the Österreichisches Filmmuseum in cooperation with the Viennale organised the retrospective Amos Vogel – Film as a subversive Art, which takes its title from the book of the same name written by the author in 1974. The cinema he researched is a cinema considered ‘different’, made by filmmakers who wanted to ‘free themselves’ from the demands of the big production companies and who would have hardly received the attention they deserved.

“Watching films is not a passive experience, but a way of thinking” A. Vogel

On April 18, 2021, film critic, curator and film historian Amos Vogel would have turned 100 years old. Numerous retrospectives have therefore been organised around the world – obviously also in Vienna, his hometown – in order to remember and pay tribute to one of the figures who most highlighted, over the years, provocative, often highly experimental and courageous films, eager to discover new film languages. In this regard, the retrospective organised by the Österreichisches Filmmuseum in cooperation with the Viennale Amos Vogel – Film as a subversive Art, which takes its title directly from the book of the same name written by the author in 1974, was particularly interesting. The cinema he researched, studied and analysed is, therefore, a cinema considered ‘different’, a cinema made by filmmakers who wanted to ‘free themselves’ from the demands of the big production companies and who would have hardly received the attention they deserved.

And Amos Vogel, for his part, has always felt very close to certain realities, to realities that deviate strongly from what the mainstream has to offer and that try by all means to ‘have their say’, to impress the viewer, to shock him, to provoke him and thus to make him think. Born in Vienna on April 18, 1921, Amos Vogelbaum had to immigrate via Havana to the United States with his family following the Anschluss. Already deeply shocked by European anti-Semitism, Vogel – as he would write in later years – was equally shocked by racism in the United States of America. Most probably, it was precisely these difficult youthful experiences that aroused in him the curiosity to ‘look beyond’, to discover realities otherwise doomed to invisibility. And so, after studying animal husbandry at the University of Georgia, Vogel realised that it was film that most interested him.

In 1947, he founded the famous avant-garde film club Cinema 16 in New York, where he presented to the audience for the first time the first feature films by auteurs such as John Cassavetes, Roman Polanski, Alain Resnais, Nigisa Oshima and Jacques Rivette, but also Maya Deren, Kenneth Anger and Sidney Peterson, just to name a few. This, however, was only the first of many exciting challenges that Amos Vogel faced during his career. In 1963, in fact, he co-founded the New York Film Festival with Richard Roud, to this day one of the oldest film festivals in the United States, particularly focused on experimental feature films. Vogel headed the New York Film Festival until 1968.

The 1970s were an equally exciting and insightful period for the author. In 1973, in fact, he founded the Annenberg Cinematheque at the University of Pennsylvania and in the same year obtained a professorship in Film History at the Annenberg School of Communications. There he continued to teach for many years, combining his professorship with numerous activities as an essayist and curator. Particularly noteworthy among his publications is the book Film as a subversive Art, which he wrote during these years and which fully expresses his theories on film fruition, the numerous tasks and potentialities of cinema, and the importance of always discovering new ways to tell reality in pictures.

Amos Vogel continued to work for many, many years until his death at the age of ninety-one on April 24, 2012 in New York. Today, all of his writings – as well as his private library – are kept at the Österreichisches Filmmuseum, where the special retrospective dedicated to him on the occasion of the centenary of his birth was recently organised. A retrospective that first and foremost wanted to keep Amos Vogel’s spirit alive in the search for new, interesting titles and new ways of understanding filmmaking. The subversive power of cinema is never dead. The important thing is to always have the desire to understand it, to discover it, to be pleasantly surprised.

Info: the page of Amos Vogel on the website of the Österreichisches Filmmuseum; the page of Amos Vogel on iMDb