Beyond Fellini: Chuck Workman’s Visionaries

An accessible documentary about movies that are anything but, Chuck Workman’s Visionaries, which premiered at the Tribeca Film Festival this past Thursday, scans 70-odd years of American avant-garde cinema. “I felt in order to really understand what experimental cinema is, you should just go back and show a little history,” Workman explained over the phone from Los Angeles. “There are people that know Bergman and Fellini and Tarkovsky pretty well, but don’t have the faintest idea of who these people are.” He’s referring to pioneers like Maya Deren, Stan Brakhage, Kenneth Anger, Robert Downey, Sr.—and, perhaps above all, Jonas Mekas, the Lithuanian-born grandfather of this country’s experimental cinema.



An indefatigable filmmaker, diarist, writer, discoverer and promoter of talent, organizer of underground screenings, and founder of the East Village’s Film Anthology Archives (“the leading outlet for experimental cinema in the world,” according to Workman), not to mention a gnomishly warm and eager film subject—it would be an understatement to call him a willing participant in the film—Mekas makes an ideal tourguide. Workman cuts away from Mekas for lengths at a time to show clips and talk to other filmmakers and film critics, then swings back to him. Mekas is, after all, like the Anthology vault, a rich repository of experimental cinema. It’s not a stretch to say he got Andy Warhol into filmmaking, and he continues to draw young, non-mainstream filmmakers (including Lola Schnabel, who has a chat with him and Workman over wine at East Village Italian restaurant Lucien) into his orbit. Visionaries, a celebration of Mekas and his world, will only increase his gravitational pull.