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Warren Sonbert

Warren Sonbert and Nathaniel Dorsky, 1977

Reaching out across space and time — to say nothing of the bonds of mortality — to say hi to my late friend Warren Sonbert, one of the most deeply romantic and yet serenely formalist filmmakers of the New American Cinema. I have long loved Sonbert’s films, especially his early work, such as Hall of Mirrors (1966).

As Jon Gartenberg writes of Sonbert’s early works,

“Warren Sonbert began making films in 1966 as a student at New York University’s film school. His earliest films, in which he captured the spirit of his generation, were inspired first by the university milieu, and then by the denizens of the Warhol scene, including superstars René Ricard and Gerard Malanga. In these loosely-structured narratives, Sonbert boldly experimented with the relationship between filmmaker and protagonists, through choreographed hand-held camera movements within each shot. The mood of these films was further modulated through chiaroscuro effects achieved primarily through natural lighting (in both interior and outdoor shots), combined with varying raw film stocks and exposures, and the use of rock-and-roll music on the soundtrack.

Sonbert’s early films were shown at the Film-Makers’ Cinematheque and at the Bleecker Street Cinema. In New York, and immediately received wide critical acclaim. Including reviews in the “Village Voice,” the “Independent Film Journal,” the “New York Free Press,” and “Variety.” A “Variety” reviewer wrote: “Probably not since Andy Warhol’s’ The Chelsea Girls had its first showing at the Cinematheque…almost a year and a half ago has an ‘underground’ film event caused as much curiosity and interest in N.Y.’s non-underground world as did four days of showings of the complete films of Warren Sonbert at the Cinematheque’s new location on Wooster St. last weekend (Thurs. – Sun. Jan 25-28). And as before, the crowds (many turned away each night) were attributed to press reports…”

Click on the image above (several frames from Hall of Mirrors, with Gerard Malanga) to see a brief video of Warren in a NYC café by Jeff Scher.

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About the Author

Wheeler Winston Dixon

Wheeler Winston Dixon, Ryan Professor of Film Studies at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln, is an internationally recognized scholar and writer of film history, theory and criticism. He is the author of thirty books and more than 100 articles on film, and appears regularly in national media outlets discussing film and culture trends. Frame by Frame is a collection of his thoughts on a number of those topics. To contact Prof. Dixon for an interview, reach him at 402.472.6064 or wdixon1@unl.edu. Visit him at his website wheelerwinstondixon.com.

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