Anthology Film Archives

Michael Snow
on the occasion of "Retrospective: Michael Snow" at Anthology Film Archives, December 2021

“Phone for you, Brother!” My sister Dyse called upstairs to me, downstairs. Her name, Denyse, was family-contracted to “Dyse” and she and my father and mother all called me “Brother.”

That phone call changed my life. After I said, “Hello,” the caller explained who he was and why he called. We had in the past never met, but the caller said that he had been very much impressed by my exhibition of paintings and drawings at the University of Toronto art gallery. He wanted to offer me a job learning how to do film animation “on the job.”

He was George Dunning, who made fine animated films for the National Film Board of Canada – and perhaps is best known now for directing the Beatles’ The Yellow Submarine after he left Canada for London England.

Working at Graphic Films in Toronto was a new world. While working there as a junior animator, Dunning told me that I could make my own short animated film if the animation stand and the animation cameraman were free. The cut-out animation film A to Z (blue and white, silent, 7 minutes) which I made there in 1956, is my first film wherein I designed and drew all the elements.

Before George Dunning made his phenomenal invitation to hire me to make films, I had very little, almost no cinema experience, though I’m proud of my good taste despite limited exposure. A neighbourhood cinema, the Belsize, had Saturday afternoon screenings for children. We went occasionally. On one occasion I had the unforgettable experience of seeing Charlie Chaplin eat his shoe. The other early film memory is of a scene in a movie wherein the male and female stars got stuck seated in a night-time Ferris wheel halted by surprise in an amusement park.

I often visited New York, and moved there with my wife Joyce Wieland in 1961/2, where we began to go to screenings of so-called experimental films in various theatres, often organized by Jonas Mekas. We met others that way, made new friends, and when I was commissioned by Ten Centuries Concerts, a Toronto group, to make a film involving the music that I considered the most avant-garde being played in New York at the time, this led to the making of New York Eye and Ear Control in 1964. I was set on new paths. And not much later, I began working on Wavelength, which won the Grand Prize at the Knokke-le-Zoute International Film Festival in Belgium in 1967, having submitted the film at the urging of Jonas Mekas.

I wish to give my sincere thanks to Anthology Film Archives for arranging this film retrospective, which originated to celebrate the completion of the first archival-quality print of my film Back and Forth. Thanks to John Klacsmann and Jed Rapfogel for their essential work on the restoration and this retrospective. Anthology has been an important part of my life for a very long time. I feel very lucky that my films are still being looked at today.