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Codes of the North: difficulty in the origins of the Canadian avant-garde film

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posted on 2021-05-24, 18:26 authored by Stephen Broomer
This dissertation chronicles the formation of a Canadian avant-garde cinema and its relation to the tradition of art of purposeful difficulty. It is informed by the writings of George Steiner, who advanced a typology of difficult forms in poetry. The major works of Jack Chambers (The Hart of London), Michael Snow (La Region Centrale), and Joyce Wieland (Reason Over Passion) illustrate the ways in which a poetic vanguard in cinema is anchored in an aesthetic of difficulty. Such aesthetics enclose the various forms of avant-garde cinema, from the lyrical to the structural film, and signal work of an enduring radicalism. SImultaneously, this dissertation charts the origins of these artists, the circumstances that formed their aesthetic themes, and their maturation. In doing so, it attends to their individual origins and sources, and consequently, the individuation of their artistic activity. This research fills gaps in the literature of Canadian cinema by explicitly linking the origins of a Canadian avant-garde cinema to the forms of purposeful difficulty in modernism. Additionally, it offers new commentary on the idea of difficulty in art, and specifically, the resonances of difficult modern art in vanguard cinema. This study champions progressive poetic form in avant-garde cinema, identifying aesthetic strategies that have analogues in other art forms such as music, painting and poetry.



Doctor of Philosophy


Communication and Culture

Granting Institution

Ryerson University

LAC Thesis Type