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Underground Film Is Oregon Territory: Sheldon Renan Wrote The Book

April 7th, 2012 by Anne Richardson · 3 Comments · 1960's, Oregon writer

Everyone read An Introduction to the American Underground Film: A Unique, Fully Illustrated Handbook To The Art Of Underground Film And Their Makers when it came out in 1967. Everyone. It covers the work of Maya Deren, Kenneth Anger in Los Angeles; James Broughton, Bruce Conner in San Francisco; Harry Smith, Jonas Mekas, Andy Warhol and the Kuchar Brothers in New York, among others.

Its author? Oregonian Sheldon Renan.

Sheldon told me that when he was in high school, there were only three hip people in all Oregon City. He was one, and Walt Curtis was the other. I am dying to know who the third was. Sheldon went off to Yale, Walt to PSU. Both men made foundational contributions to independent filmmaking in Oregon.

Walt did this by writing Mala Noche, the novella on which Gus Van Sant based his first feature.

Sheldon did this by writing the first National Endowment for the Arts proposal for a network of regional film centers, launching the process which led to the formation of the Northwest Film Center.

Subtract Gus Van Sant and the NWFC from Portland’s current film scene, and you can see how large the contributions of these two Oregon City beatniks were.

Was Sheldon the first person to write a guide to American underground filmmaking? I believe he was.

Sheldon has returned to Oregon and continues to be hopelessly hip. The simplicity of his insight, “Devices can be small on the outside, but large on the inside”, provides the clinching argument for cyber anthropologist Amber Case’s description of Liquid Modernity.

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