Pauline Kael on Mainstream Versus Avant-Garde (1956)

“The responsibility is on the artist, even when he tries to evade responsibility. If, so far, American experimental and ‘little’ films haven’t received much support, most of them haven’t deserved it, either. All too frequently, after an evening of avant-garde cinema, one wants to go see a movie (at least a little fresh air comes in through the holes in Hollywood plots). Though avant-garde filmmakers don’t always know what they’re doing when they make a film, they demonstrate a marvelous talent for the post-factum scenario; often their greatest effort at composition is in explaining away the lack of it in their films. They become so adept at escaping consideration of their failures and limitations that they rarely develop at all; what they fail to put in they deride you for not seeing there. You’re supposed to find a whole world of meaning in that three-minute cinepoem. The times are out of joint: The poisonous atmosphere of Hollywood premieres is distilled to pure pretension at avant-garde premieres. Object to the Hollywood film and you’re an intellectual snob; object to the avant-garde films and you’re a Philistine. But, while in Hollywood, one must often be a snob; in avant-garde circles, one
must often be a Philistine.”