Avant-Garde Apocalypse: THE END (1953, 16mm) and 23RD PSALM BRANCH (1966, 8mm): Block Museum - Northwestern University
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Avant-Garde Apocalypse: THE END (1953, 16mm) and 23RD PSALM BRANCH (1966, 8mm)

Three 8mm film strips showing hand-painted and photographed images.
Stan Brakhage, 23RD PSALM BRANCH
6:30 PM

Event Details

Date & Time:

Thu May 30, 2024
6:30 PM


The Block Museum of Art
40 Arts Circle Drive
Evanston, IL 60208


Open to the public


Avant-Garde Apocalypse: THE END (1953, 16mm) and 23RD PSALM BRANCH (1966, 8mm)

In popular cinema of the 1950s and 60s, nuclear power was associated with biological mutation, causing humans and animals to change size and shape in strange and often frightening ways. But the atomic bomb also transformed American avant-garde cinema, compelling postwar filmmakers to look beyond the confines of personal psychodrama and address the collective anxiety of the twentieth century’s present and looming catastrophes.

San Francisco-based Beat filmmaker Christopher Maclaine’s 1953 film THE END is a watershed moment in this turn. A caustic and fragmented anthology of six tales of outsiders living their last day on earth, THE END is both dire in its predictions and stunningly inventive in form. THE END will be presented in its original 16mm format on a print from a private collection.

Avant-garde luminary Stan Brakhage called THE END “the first handling of [the atomic bomb] in art, and as a neurosis, that I know of”—a neurosis which Brakhage himself later explored in 1967’s long-form, small-gauge masterpiece 23RD PSALM BRANCH. Made in the amateur 8mm format for economical reasons, the film responds to the deluge of Vietnam War imagery witnessed on American televisions by incorporating newsreel and broadcast footage of war together with hand-painted film and home movies. Like THE END, 23RD PSALM BRANCH represents one of American avant-garde cinema’s most profound and troubling evocations of modern apocalypse. 

23RD PSALM BRANCH is most often shown in a 16mm blowup made by Brakhage in 1978. For this screening, Block Cinema will be presenting this signature work in its rarely-screened, original regular-8mm format, from a print held at the Austrian Filmmuseum. 

Presented with support from the Department of Radio, Television, and Film at Northwestern. 


A note on the projection: 

The screening will begin with introductory remarks at 6:30. Following THE END, there will be an intermission to allow for setup of the 8mm projection.

Projection of 23RD PSALM BRANCH will begin at approximately 7:30 pm. 

23RD PSALM BRANCH has a listed runtime of 69 minutes, which does not include reel changes.

8mm projection support by Josh B. Mabe. Special thanks to Michael Loebenstein and Florian Haag at the Austrian Film Museum; Fred Camper; Marilyn Brakhage; Gabe Klinger; Patrick Friel; Julian Antos; Karen Johannesen; Douglas McLaren and Ben Ruder.



(Christopher Maclaine, 1953, 35 min, color and b/w, sound, 16mm, courtesy of Fred Camper)


(Stan Brakhage, 1967, 69 min, color, silent, regular-8mm courtesy of the Austrian Film Museum)

nukea-500x377.jpgStill from THE END (Christopher Maclaine, 1953)


Contact The Block Museum of Art for more information: (847) 491-4000 or email us at block-museum@northwestern.edu