Structural film was an avant-garde experimental film movement prominent in the United States in the 1960s. A related movement developed in the United Kingdom in the 1970s.[1][2]


United States

The earliest films associated with the structural film movement emerged during the mid 1960s. New York filmmakers from this period whose work was later associated with the term were Tony Conrad, Hollis Frampton, Ernie Gehr, Ken Jacobs, George Landow, Michael Snow, and Joyce Wieland.[3]

The Flicker (1966) by Tony Conrad produces a flicker effect with alternating solid black and white frames.

The earliest flicker films associated with structural film were made in 1966. Conrad, a minimalist musician, made The Flicker, where solid black and white frames are arranged in different frequencies to produce a flicker effect. Visual artist Paul Sharits made several flicker films—Ray Gun Virus, Piece Mandala/End War, and the Fluxus film Word Movie—in an effort to revisit "the basic mechanisms of motion pictures…working toward a new conception of cinema." The two filmmakers made their respective works with knowledge of neither each other's practices nor earlier examples of flicker films.[3]

Snow's Wavelength (1967) quickly became a turning point. The film shows a loft for 45 minutes from a fixed perspective, progressively zooming across the room with variations in the image coming from color gels, different film stocks, superimpositions, and negative images. It won the International Experimental Film Festival and was soon recognized as the movement's most significant work.[3][4]

By the late 1960s, the structural film movement coincided with a shift in experimental cinema away from 1960s counterculture and toward closer affiliations with academia and film theory.[5][6] In 1969 Film Culture magazine published P. Adams Sitney's essay "Structural Film", in which he coined the term.[7] He published two revisions in the following years.[3] Anthology Film Archives, opened in 1970, was established as an exhibition venue for avant-garde cinema and included structural films in its programming.[8]

In Tom, Tom, the Piper's Son (1969), Ken Jacobs rephotographs the 1905 Billy Bitzer film of the same name.

The structural film movement was concurrent with a renaissance of the Library of Congress's Paper Print Collection. Since the early 1950s, the library had been making film negatives from its archive of paper prints, used to establish copyright on early cinematic works until 1912. These new prints began to circulate starting in the mid to late 1960s.[9][10] The sudden availability of these prints generated interest in their intermediate state between still and moving image. Filmmakers such as Jacobs and Frampton made use of the Paper Print Collection as source material for new films.[9][11]

United Kingdom

In the United Kingdom, a related "structural/materialist" film movement emerged during the 1970s, similarly focused on the material properties of film. These filmmakers, often associated with the London Film-Makers' Co-op, included David Crosswaite, Fred Drummond, John Du Cane, Mike Dunford, Gill Eatherley, Peter Gidal, Roger Hammond, Mike Leggett, Malcolm Le Grice, and William Raban.[12][13]


The letter A
The letter Z
Zorns Lemma (1970) by Hollis Frampton uses the Latin alphabet as a structuring device.

The term was coined by P. Adams Sitney who noted that film artists had moved away from the complex and condensed forms of cinema practiced by such artists as Sidney Peterson and Stan Brakhage. "Structural film" artists pursued instead a more simplified, sometimes even predetermined art. The shape of the film was crucial, the content peripheral. This term should not be confused with the literary and philosophical term structuralism.[14]


Sitney identified four formal characteristics common in Structural films, but all four characteristics are not usually present in any single film:

  • fixed camera position (an apparently fixed framing)
  • flicker effect (strobing due to the intermittent nature of film)
  • loop printing
  • rephotography (off the screen)

It has been noted by George Maciunas that these characteristics are also present in Fluxus films.[15]

Key films

Key filmmakers


Ken Jacobs's Tom, Tom, the Piper's Son and Ernie Gehr's Serene Velocity were each inducted into the National Film Registry.[33][34]

Several structural films have been included on DVD sets, including the works of Hollis Frampton (released by The Criterion Collection as a part of A Hollis Frampton Odyssey[35]) and Standish Lawder's Necrology which appeared on the 2008 DVD set entitled Treasures IV: American Avant-Garde Film, 1947-1986.[36][37]

See also


  1. ^ Gidal, Peter, ed. (1978). Structural Film Anthology (PDF). London: British Film Institute. p. 150. ISBN 0-85170-0535.
  2. ^ Dictionary of Film
  3. ^ a b c d Cornwell, Regina (September 1979). "Structural Film: Ten Years Later". TDR: The Drama Review. 23 (3): 77–92. doi:10.2307/1145231. JSTOR 1145231.
  4. ^ Michelson, Annette (1971). "Toward Snow". Artforum. Vol. 9, no. 10. pp. 30–37.
  5. ^ Hoberman 1984, pp. 64–65.
  6. ^ Zryd, Michael (2006). "The Academy and the Avant-Garde: A Relationship of Dependence and Resistance". Cinema Journal. 45 (2): 17–42. doi:10.1353/cj.2006.0023.
  7. ^ Sitney, P. Adams (1969). "Structural Film". Film Culture. No. 47. pp. 1–10.
  8. ^ Hoberman 1984, p. 65.
  9. ^ a b Habib 2021, pp. 267–274.
  10. ^ Canby, Vincent (February 29, 1968). "Restored Films, Dating to 1894, Shed Light on Medium's History". The New York Times. p. 31.
  11. ^ Habib 2017, pp. 31–50.
  12. ^ Newland 2015, p. 78.
  13. ^ Gidal 1978.
  14. ^ Ways of Seeing: Yoel Meranda's Web Site - Structural Film
  15. ^ Fluxus Film: George Maciunas Manifesto, Avant-Garde, and Anti-Art
  16. ^ The Flicker - Tony Conrad - The Film-Makers' Cooperative
  17. ^ Wavelength - Michael Snow - The Film-Makers' Cooperative
  18. ^ Paul Sharits: Expanding Cinema to the Beyond - Offscreen
  19. ^ Visionary Film - Google Books (pg.356)
  20. ^ Ken Jacobs - Journal - Metrograph
  21. ^ 'Necrology': A great experimental joke by Standish Lawder|Far Out Magazine
  22. ^ Reading David Rimmer; pg.10 (PDF)
  23. ^ Zorns Lemma - Hollis Frampton - The Film-Makers' Cooperative
  24. ^ New Works by Ernie Gehr - Harvard Film Archive
  25. ^ George Landow obituary - The Guardian
  26. ^ "The United States of America". The Criterion Channel. Archived from the original on September 27, 2020. Retrieved June 10, 2022.
  27. ^ John Smith|Frieze
  28. ^ "Directed by Bette Gordon". The Criterion Channel. Archived from the original on June 26, 2020. Retrieved June 10, 2022.
  29. ^ Where to begin with Hollis Frampton|BFI
  30. ^ Daily|Standish Lawder, 1936-2014 - (KeyFrame)|Fandor
  31. ^ Scratching the Surface: The Birth of Structural/Materialist Film
  32. ^ Northern Light: A Sampler of Canadian Underground Film - Split Tooth Media
  33. ^ Brief Descriptions and Expanded Essays of Titles at National Film Registry
  35. ^ "A Hollis Frampton Odyssey". The Criterion Collection. Retrieved 2022-05-28.
  36. ^ Treasures IV: American Avant-Garde Film, 1947–1986 (Media notes). Los Angeles: Image Entertainment. 2008. NATD4737DVD. Archived from the original on 3 September 2011. Alt URL
  37. ^ Lim, D (March 1, 2009). "Avant-garde film gems in 'Treasures IV' collection," The Los Angeles Times. [1]