Stan VanDerBeek

Stan Vanderbeek
(Photo © Amy Drown)

I’m currently fascinated with the work of avant-garde filmmaker Stan VanDerBeek (1927-1984). There seems to be a dearth of information available about him online or in print which is a shame as he was a genius and innovator in so many respects.

In the mid-1950s, he began creating experimental collage animated films with a quick-cutting approach that prefigures the “MTV style” by decades. I’ve posted two of his shorts below–A la Mode (1959) and Science Friction (1960). The moment I saw these, I couldn’t help but be reminded of Terry Gilliam’s animation work, so it’s little surprise that in this interview, Gilliam cites Vanderbeek’s film Breathdeath (1964) as the inspiration for the animation style in Monty Python.

A La Mode (1959)

Science Friction (1960)

VanDerBeek was a relentless experimenter, even going so far as inventing a new type of theater, the MovieDrome, in which people watched films while laying on their backs. The theater used multiple screens to show “collaged projections of slides, film loops, hand-drawn animation, collage animation, live-action footage, and video images.” In other words, he was VJ’ing decades before the term even existed.


Another fascinating experiment of his was Violence Sonata, a public television special which mixed a prerecorded video work combined with a live studio audience’s response and interaction from viewers at home. When the show first aired in 1969, it was presented on two different channels, requring viewers to place two TV sets side-by-side to appreciate the full effect. More info and a short clip from the film can be seen here.

He collaborated frequently with avant-garde artists from other artistic discplines, such as filming the Happenings of Allen Kaprow and Claes Oldenburg, or working with John Cage and Merce Cunningham on the multimedia piece below (additional info about this project on its YouTube page):

VanDerBeek was also an early pioneer of computer animation, and worked to find ways of marrying art and technology. Here’s a 1972 video that shows him at work at MIT, followed by a CG short he made using the computer.

And to top it all off, he has a pretty awesome gravesite too.