For the autodidact as well as the academic there is in your text much to appreciate.
The territory I meant to point to with the word revelatory,
a "making known of previously unknown or secret information",
strangely had little relation to the sexual dynamics of the story
or a critique of institutional power.
That part seemed relatively commonplace to me.
What was truly marvelous in my mind was the way
your "weave of voices" allowed for a non-hierarchical unfolding,
a mirror to the machinations and minutiae of the extraordinary milieu at Harpur College,
giving all participants equal weight in defining
the intellectual life they cultivated and inhabited together.
(Tribal affiliations much more than a teacher / student dichotomy is what I got from the book.)

The cultural / historical moment you give voice to must be considered as
one of the grand educational experiments,
akin to A.S. Neill's SUMMERHILL.
Now we can understand how, for a moment in time the circumscriptive norm of Academia was loosed thereby letting a major Hollywood director hard on his luck and an anarchistic film artist whose academic resume consisted solely of the fact that he studied briefly with the painter Hans Hoffman conspire along with a "Yale educated English professor lecturing on the Odyssey" to foment young people to THINK, to disassemble and reassemble familiar forms ( film )
in new and utterly unexpected ways.

Therein is a text "beset by ideas"
"avenues to explore I wouldn't have known about otherwise."

Thank you for explicating in your inimitable way this great adventure,


On Jan 3, 2016, at 10:32 AM, Scott MacDonald wrote:

Chuck is correct about the title. "Binghamton Babylon" was (in part) meant to be a lure. My personal goal (aside from documenting what for me, and I think for our field, was a crucial time and place) was to do a book with some scholarly value that reads like a novel. I wanted the title to suggest that my book might be fun to read.

But also I was alluding to Kenneth Anger's Hollywood Babylon, in two ways: first, I wanted to suggest the obvious: that whatever has come out of Hollywood is not the whole of cinema, that certain smaller places have also been exciting scenes that produced important films and videos; and second, I was alluding to the fact that Anger's book opens with several pictorial allusions to the Babylon section of Griffith's Intolerance where Babylon is portrayed as a great civilization, for a time a relatively humane urban center of cultural production.

The issue of power in American academe is complex. At every college I've taught, I've understood that fraternizing sexually with undergraduates is grounds for dismissal of faculty. But I've taught mostly at small colleges. In major universities with graduate departments issues of power seem somewhat different (since faculty do have power over individual students, though graduate students are generally older and so the power relations in these cases are not so different from those in the nonacademic working world). Art schools seem to be different too--though I've not had the opportunity to teach in those circumstances.

One of the new dimensions of small-college academe in the 1970s was the institution of anonymous student evaluations of professors. In the institutions where I've taught, these soon became and have remained very important in promotion and tenure decisions. Students suddenly had a kind of power over their professors that was never the case in earlier decades. I was, and am, a proponent of these student evals--partly because they provide information that helps us fine-tune our teaching. But they also are evidence that students are not powerless as they were in earlier generations.

Ultimately, though, Binghamton Babylon is meant to raise the issue of whether the tradition of in loco parentis is healthy for creative growth.


On Sat, Jan 2, 2016 at 6:40 PM, Chuck Kleinhans < > wrote: I stand corrected on the matter of only one person refusing to be interviewed; I had not completed the book when I wrote.

I think Scott is the best historian and critic of the North American avant garde cinema, and his study of institutions in a series of essential books is groundbreaking for giving us all a richer understanding of history and aesthetics woven together. But, you gotta admit that calling the book “Binghamton Babylon” does invite a certain kind of reading.

One question I have is how do we understand the interpersonal relations within of the organizations we have? Especially given that there is a level of insider knowledge that spans from gossip to legend? You can say that’s private, or personal, or not anyone else’s business, but we also know institutional histories and individual artist careers often change due to who is/was sleeping with who.

The other question I have is while we might hope "that the men and women in the Cinema Department were adults, equal to their teachers as human beings,” in point of fact the faculty had a lot more power: giving grades, privileges, scholarships and other financial aid, recommendation letters, etc. That power differential is exactly what is at stake in the current flurry of activity in the US around issues of sexual relations, sexual assault, discimination, and so forth in higher education referencing Title iX in particular. Certainly since the early 1960s, women artists have had quite a lot to say about "the expectation that they were equals sexually as well as politically.” And most of it doesn’t flatter men with power.

(People outside the US who aren’t familiar with the complications of Title IX and want to know more could start with two essays by Laura Kipnis : "Sexual Paranoia Strikes Academe," and “My Title IX Inquisition.” (


On Jan 2, 2016, at 5:19 AM, wrote:

Dear Chuck et al,

The late-Sixties-early-Seventies were (of course) an unusual and complex moment. From our perspective now, some of what went on back then (at Binghamton and in other places--think of the legendary nude faculty-student get-together at the San Francisco Art Institute!) can seem outrageous--and perhaps to some extent was outrageous, as certain "Voices" in the "Weave" of Binghamton Babylon make evident.

But it is also true that that generation of students certainly saw themselves as adults and expected to be taken seriously as adults. As various other "Voices" make clear, this included the expectation that they were equals sexually as well as politically. Even Nixon understood that if 18-and 19-year old young men were expected to put their lives in jeopardy in Vietnam--or put their freedom in jeopardy by refusing to serve in the military--then, 18-19-20-year olds should be able to drink a beer, and by extension function as full and equal adults in other ways as well.

The assumption that the men and women in the Cinema Department were adults, equal to their teachers as human beings (if not yet as accomplished intellectuals or artists), seems fully a part of the energy of that department at that moment and part of what allowed the Cinema Department to have powerful long-range effects.

Only one person refused to be interviewed for Binghamton Babylon. I was unable to track down a number of other folks whose input I had hoped for.


-------- Original Message --------
Subject: Re: [Frameworks] Noteworthy Publications This Year?
From: Chuck Kleinhans <>
Date: Wed, December 30, 2015 12:41 pm
To: Experimental Film Discussion List <>

On Dec 29, 2015, at 6:15 PM, David Baker <> wrote:

Scott MacDonald's revelatory,

Among the “revelations” are many references to (male) faculty having sexual encounters with (usually female) students, and other hanky-panky, in addition to drug and alcohol use/abuse. It seems to me this is the first real discussion of these sorts of events in the experimental film world. (well, historians have sometimes touched on this for the distant past, but most of the people here are still around).

I wonder how both people of that generation and the Millennial generation take these details. A hidden history? More of the same- old, same-old? Really dangerous under Title IX today (US law giving women equal access to education)?

MacDonald mentions that a fair number of people did not want to be interviewed, and there are very few women who are quoted. Reluctant to drag up old baggage?

It’s interesting that for all the “taboo breaking” poses of the avant garde, sexual politics of personal relations within the community are seldom discussed (with an exception for some gay filmmakers).

Chuck Kleinhans

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