#582) Glimpse of the Garden (1957)
OR “The Plot Thickens”
Directed by Marie Menken
Class of 2007
The Plot: “Glimpse of the Garden” lives up to its title as Marie Menken shows off beautiful glimpses of a friend’s garden. As the sounds of birds and insects provide the ambiance, Menken gives us a peek at the various flora the garden has to offer. And because Menken is an experimental filmmaker, we get quick cuts and unconventional angles just to keep things interesting.
Why It Matters: The NFR calls it “beautifully lyrical”, “surprisingly joyful” and “among the more accessible works of avant-garde filmmakers.”
But Does It Really?: Well, I’m lenient with every other experimental filmmaker on this list, might as well be for Marie Menken, especially since she’s one of the earlier experimental types on the NFR, and – as we’ll see – left quite an interesting mark on pop culture. Welcome aboard, Marie!
Everybody Gets One: Originally from New York City, Marie Menken started out as a painter, but her love of playing with light and her desire for a less-static medium led to her transition to filmmaking. Her first film was 1945’s “Visual Variations on Noguchi”, a short montage of sculptures by Isamu Noguchi. Menken was married to fellow filmmaker and poet Willard Maas, and their marriage was a tempestuous one, marked by long bouts of drinking and shouting matches. (Not fun, I know, but trust me, this will come back later)
Seriously, Oscars?: No Oscars for “Garden”, but the film won an award at the Exposition Universelle et Internationale de Bruxelles in 1958. You can see the award on the film’s Wikipedia page, which appears to be either a medal or a commemorative coin of some kind.
- The opening titles thank Dwight Ripley, a botanist and poet who socialized in some of the same New York art circles as Marie Menken in the early ’40s. “Glimpse” is filmed at Ripley’s garden on his farmhouse property near Wappingers Falls, New York.
- “Glimpse of the Garden” is an off-shoot of the “Staring at Water” movies that permeate this list that I have dubbed “Staring at Plants”. But don’t worry, they never stay on one plant for too long.
- This movie definitely proves how bad I am at identifying plant types. I felt like I was singing “Little Boxes” while watching this: “There’s a green one, and a pink one, and a blue one, and a yellow one…”
- As the film progresses, the shots get more artsy, with more quick cuts and extreme close-ups of the plant life. Some close ups are so extreme I’m still not quite sure what part of the plant I was looking at. As with many movies, it’s not what you’re filming, but how you’re filming it.
- Marie Menken would continue making films for another decade after “Glimpse”, most notably 1962’s “Notebook”, which was a collection of outtakes from her previous films. Menkin died on December 29th 1970 of an alcohol-related illness, and Willard Maas died four days later.
- Among those that Marie Menken influenced with her films were Stan Brakhage and Jonas Mekas, two names that this blog has taught me are a really big deal in the world of experimental film. Also learning at the foot of Menken: Andy Warhol, and I would love to actually see one of his movies someday. Menken even appeared in a few of Andy’s films, though I don’t believe she was ever one of the “Superstars”.
- Marie Menken is considered one of the earliest filmmakers to highlight the handheld camera effect. Before that, indie filmmakers felt compelled to emulate the smooth effect of a dolly shot, but Menkin’s work changed that. Shaky cam forever!
- According to Edward Albee, the tumultuous marriage of Marie Menken and Willard Maas was his inspiration for George and Martha in “Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?” Now you understand why I mentioned the drinking and shouting earlier.
Further Viewing: My personal favorite in the “Staring at Plants” subgenre: The ‘70s documentary “The Secret Life of Plants”. Based on the book of the same name, the film delves into the super trippy aspects of plant life, like their ability to remember and feel pain. All this, plus a Stevie Wonder soundtrack!