Mary Ellen Bute
CVM's Bute Research Pages
THIS PAGE: Upcoming & Recent Screenings
Seeing Sound: Bute Retrospective Program & About the Films
Selected Bibliography and Texts
Selected Statements by Bute About her Films
Production Material, Ephemera (coming soon)
About Finnegans Wake
RIP Cecile Starr (1921-2014), Film historian, critic, author and Bute's long-term distributor
About Bute's Abstract Films
A pioneer of visual music and electronic art, Mary Ellen Bute produced over a dozen short abstract animations between the 1930s to the 1950s. Set to classical music by the likes of Bach, Saint-Saens or Shostakovich, and filled with colorful forms, elegant design and sprightly, dance-like-rhythms, Bute's filmmaking is at once formally rigorous and energetically high-spirited, like a marriage of high modernism and Merrie Melodies. In the late 1940s, Lewis Jacobs observed that Bute's films were "composed upon mathematical formulae depicting in ever-changing lights and shadows, growing lines and forms, deepening colors and tones, the tumbling, racing impressions evoked by the musical accompaniment." Bute herself wrote that she sought to "bring to the eyes a combination of visual forms unfolding along with the thematic development and rhythmic cadences of music." (Ed Halter)
Known for her pioneering early abstract films (some of which were screened regularly at Radio City Music Hall, New York in the 1930s), Bute made a series of Visual Music films which she called "Seeing Sound." The Retrospective Program (see below) features all 14 of her short abstract films, including some rarely-seen films, in 16mm prints: Rhythm in Light, 1934; Synchromy No. 2, 1935; Dada, 1936; Parabola, 1937; Escape, 1937; Spook Sport (animated by Norman McLaren), 1939; Tarantella, 1940; Polka Graph, 1947; Color Rhapsodie, 1948; Imagination, 1948; New Sensations in Sound, 1949 (RCA Commercial); Pastorale, 1950, Abstronic, 1952 and Mood Contrasts, 1953.
See below for brief film descriptions.
NEWS: Three Bute films are included on CVM's new Visual Music 1947-1986 from CVM Archive DVD: Polka Graph, Color Rhapsodie and Abstronic. For private home use and classroom use, not for screenings.
Full details, ORDER INFO here. Also available at CVM's regular online store. Image above from Polka Graph.
Seeing Sound: Mary Ellen Bute Retrospective Program and other print rentals
Please visit this page for info on the Bute Retrospective film program, or to rent other Bute films
Bauhaus und Amerika exhibition at LWL, Munster, Germany included Bute's Rhythm in Light (digital). Nov 2018 through March 10, 2019 (digital display).
Two Bute films were included in the Art in Motion exhibition at ZKM, Karlsruhe, Germany. July 2018 through February 2019 (digital display)
December, 2018 - one film in CVM's screenings at Castle Rocco Sinibaldo, Italy
November - Polka Graph screened at Block Museum's Designers on Film series
October - one film in CVM's screening at Sonoma Film Institute, Sonoma County, CA
October - Rhythm in Light screened at Anim'est Festival, Romania
August - Three Bute fims installed (digital) in CCCB Barcelona's Inner Screen exhibition.
August 15-16, 2018 - Several Bute films (16mm and digital) screened at CVM's Visual Music Symposium, at Sebastopol Center for the Arts and Sonoma State University. Details on the accompanying 6 program Screening Series.
February 3, 2018 - CVM's Bute Retrospective screens at Museum of Fine Arts, Houston, TX, in association with Aurora Picture Show and CVM.
Past Retrospective programs and other screenings
October 19, 2017 - CVM's Bute Retrospective screens at Princeton University, in Light Industry's series
September 29, 2017 - 2 Bute films screened in CVM's Visual Music salon at Chroma Gallery, Santa Rosa, CA
August, 2017 - Bute Retrospective screened at Sight Unseen series, Baltimore, MD
April 30, 2017 - Bute Retrospective screened at Cinefamily, Los Angeles. TRAILER
October 11, 2016 - Polka Graph screened at CVM Salon at Horse Hospital, London. Also October 12 at Oxford University, Wolfson College.
October 27, 2016 - Mood Contrasts and Tarantella screened at Harvard Art Museums, Cambridge, MA.
September-November 2016 - Polka Graph screened (digitally, looped) in an exhibition at Laband Gallery, LMU, Los Angeles
October 17, 2015, Newark, NJ. Tarantella screened at Newark Museum in a program from Center for Visual Music, "Color in Visual Music," part of the Museum's Color Festival, Family Day programming for children.
October 1, 2015, New York: Bute films Spook Sport and Tarantella screened at Lincoln Center. Center for Visual Music and The New York Public Library for the Performing Arts, Dorothy and Lewis B. Cullman Center, presented a Cecile Starr Tribute Celebration on Thursday, October 1, at Lincoln Center, New York. 16mm.
March 25, 2015 - Mood Contrasts, 16mm print screens at Ann Arbor Film Festival.
December 17, 2014 - Mood Contrasts, 16mm print screens at Cinefamily, Los Angeles. Print courtesy CVM.
September 2014 - Seeing Sound: Mary Ellen Bute Retrospective at Harvard Film Archive, Cambridge, MA
August 2014 - Tarantella screened at Milwaukee Film
June 2014 - Abstronic screened in Code + Motion at New Media Art and Sound Summit, Austin Museum of Digital Art
April 2014 - Tarantella screened in CVM's "New Restorations and Discoveries" program at Bard College (Hudson Valley, NY)
March 2014 - Abstronic screened in Code + Motion at Vector Game + Art Convergence Festival, Toronto
Nov. 5, 2013 - Mary Ellen Bute Retrospective at Light Industry, Brooklyn NY
April 10, 2010 - Seeing Sound: Mary Ellen Bute Retrospective at Northwest Film Forum's special series, Visual Music:Sensory Cinema Seattle, WA
January - May 21, 2010 - Spook Sport screens in CVM's second Nonobjective Films 1920-1950 series at The Guggenheim Museum, New York
October 2009-February 2010 - Tarantella screens in CVM's Nonobjective Films 1920-1950 Series at The Guggenheim Museum, New York, accompanying the KANDINSKY exhibition.
October 3, 2009 - Bute Retrospective at Deutsches Filmmuseum, Frankfurt, Germany
September 19, 2009 - Bute Retrospective at Seeing Sound Visual Music Symposium, Bath Spa University, Bath, UK
September 2009 - Mood Contrasts screened in CVM's "Essential Visual Music: Rare Classics" program at Pacific Film Archive, Berkeley
April 2009 - Bute Retrospective at European Media Art Festival, Osnabrueck, Germany
January 2009 - Mood Contrasts screened in CVM's "Essential Visual Music: Rare Classics" program at Billy Wilder Theatre, UCLA Film and Television Archive, Hammer Museum, Los Angeles
October 2008 - Bute Retrospective at Cornell Cinema, Ithaca, New York
May 2008 - Bute Retrospective at Visual Music Festival at Gallery of Modern Art, Brisbane, Queensland, Australia.
2008-present, Mood Contrasts is included in CVM's Essential Visual Music: Rare Classics compilation program. This program has screened at UCLA Film and TV Archive/Hammer Museum; International House Philadelphia (Pastorale screened here); Cornell Cinema; GoMA Queensland, Pacific Film Archive, Berkeley; USC and other venues.
November 2006 - Centennial Program honoring Pioneer Animator Mary Ellen Bute, presented at Los Angeles Filmforum & USC, organized by CVM in association with Cecile Starr. As part of this Centennial Program, CVM screened the Retrospective Program and also presented Bute's rarely-screened feature film, Passages from Finnegans Wake, 1965-67, 92 mins, 16mm, b/w, screened at USC. SPECIAL GUEST: Cast member Peter Haskell ("Shem") speaks about the film and working with Bute. Prints courtesy Cecile Starr, Women's Film Preservation Fund and Yale University Film Study Center.
March 2005 - Museum of Contemporary Art, Los Angeles. An Evening of Visual Music Films curated by CVM, Presented by CVM and MOCA. Revelatory moments from the history of visual music, an exploration into the true lives of the kinetochromatic scientists, and a breathtaking leap into the now-and-beyond of an art form passionately devoted to purified sound and light. This event includes film and video by Fischinger, Belson, Bute, Brakhage, McLaren, Dwinnell Grant, Dockum, Neubauer, Baily, Ellis, and others. (More about this show)
Image courtesy CVM
Promotional Flyers produced by Ted Nemeth Studios. From the Collection, and courtesy of Center for Visual Music.
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