Friendly Witnesses: The Worlds of Warren Sonbert

Friendly Witnesses: The Worlds of Warren Sonbert


Includes Newly Restored and Recently Rediscovered Films


The Film and Video Exhibition Program at the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum presents "Friendly Witnesses: The Worlds of Warren Sonbert" from April 21 through May 8, 1999, the first major retrospective of the filmmaker's work since his death in 1995. The exhibition features a selection of newly restored films from Sonbert's career, beginning with the rarely seen Amphetemine (1966), made when he was a teenager, through Whiplash (1997), completed posthumously according to his instructions. The series also features recently rediscovered films, including The Tenth Legion (1967) and The Tuxedo Theatre (1968), as well as both experimental and narrative works that place Sonbert in a larger social and creative context.


"Friendly Witnesses" was organized by the Film and Video Exhibition Program at the Guggenheim Museum in conjunction with The Estate Project for Artists with AIDS, which sponsored the restoration and distribution of Sonbert's films, working with Jon Gartenberg, archivist and film scholar. The program was guest-curated by Jon Gartenberg and organized by John G. Hanhardt, Senior Curator of Film and Media Arts, and Maria-Christina Villase-or, Assistant Curator of Film and Media Arts, Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum.


The series is made possible with funds from the New York State Council on the Arts, a state agency. Media support is provided by The Advocate.


Patrick Moore, director of The Estate Project for Artists with AIDS, noted, "The enormity of artistic achievement lost to AIDS is clearly seen in the films of Warren Sonbert. The Estate Project is pleased to be working in partnership with the Guggenheim Museum and the Academy of Film Archive to preserve these films and those of other important artists."


A key figure in the history of the American avant-garde cinema, Warren Sonbert (1947-1995) enjoyed an international reputation as an innovative artist who transformed personal filmmaking. Largely identified with a diaristic form of independent filmmaking, Sonbert traveled with his camera, developing a style of recording and editing footage that created a vivid impression of the worlds in which he lived.


Sonbert began making films in 1966, while a student at NYU. Immediately receiving wide critical acclaim, his works uniquely captured on film the spirit of his generation. These first films, including Amphetemine (1966), were inspired by the denizens of the Warhol art scene, and feature Warhol superstars Rene Ricard and Gerard Malanga. In the late 1960s, Sonbert began to incorporate footage from his worldwide travels together with sections from his earlier films. In later films, such as A Woman's Touch (1983) and Friendly Witness (1989), he built upon his early experiments in camera movement, lighting, and framing to create brilliantly edited masterworks through which he commented about art and industry, news reportage and its effects on our lives, and other contemporary issues. The exhibition also contrasts Sonbert's films with those of his contemporaries, including Andy Warhol, Stan Brakhage, Gregory Markopoulos, Jeff Scher, Nathaniel Dorksky, Abigail Child, Alfred Hitchcock, and Douglas Sirk, whose works provided an inspiration to Sonbert as well as were influenced by him.

Sonbert was a prolific theoretician and critic, writing on opera and music, poetry, painting, and Hollywood cinema, and demonstrating a probing and playful examination of the fundamental interplay between all the creative arts. All of these diverse worlds that Sonbert so fully inhabited enabled him to transform, in seemingly effortless fashion, globetrotting diaristic footage into exquisitely modulated visual symphonies of ritual, performance, and suggestion.

The films presented in the series are new prints struck from internegatives that have been preserved by The Estate Project working with the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, using the filmmaker's camera originals and original prints. The exhibition includes "outtake reels" from the estate of the filmmaker, as well as his later works, including A Woman's Touch (1983), and Friendly Witness (1990).

On April 28 at 6:00 pm, in conjunction with the series, the Guggenheim will present, "Rude Awakening: Restoring Warren Sonbert's Legacy," a panel discussion on the restoration of Warren Sonbert's films, featuring Jon Gartenberg, guest curator of the exhibition, Jeff Scher, independent filmmaker and restoration editor of Whiplash, and Michael Friend, director, and Mike Pogorzelski, archivist, Academy Film Archive. The series is presented in the Peter B. Lewis Theater at The Sackler Center for Arts Education in the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum. Tickets are free with museum admission and are available on the day of the screening at the admissions desk on a first-come, first-served basis. All programs and screening times are subject to change.

The Film and Video Exhibition Program at the Guggenheim Museum was inaugurated in 1998 to provide a forum for the history of and contemporary directions in film and media arts. It offers audiences and artists an opportunity to see and share this work, and to understand the contributions of these art forms to the culture of our time. The program presents a broad range of material from the world's cinema, video, television, and other media arts. The goal of the program is to examine and represent, in innovative ways, the central role of media arts in defining global culture.

For updated information, please call (212) 360-4321. To receive upcoming Guggenheim film mailings, please call (212) 360-4236.

March 8, 1999


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