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Film Studies Research Guide: American Avant-Garde Cinema (Film 323: Terri Francis)

A guide to conducting research in Film Studies at Yale University, including key resources and crucial search strategies.

American Avant-Garde Cinema

American Avant-Garde Cinema
Film 323: Terri Francis



Subject Headings in Orbis


Books on avant-garde cinema do not always get subject headings indicating "avant-garde." Often the subject headings list the director (e.g., Stan Brakhage), genre (e.g., documentary), and/or national origin (e.g., United States), without any entries on style. However, there are hundreds of books using one of these subject headings:

Note that some of the article databases do have subject headings relating to avant-garde cinema.


Major Avant-Garde Cinema Journals of 1950-1980


Afterimage (London, England) [microform]: ___ [NOTE: Don't confuse this with the journal Afterimage published in Rochester, NY]


Artforum: Arts Library, N1 A814 (LC)+


Cahiers du Cinema:

1951-1964: SML Yale Classification, Hae60 C119 and CCL, PN1993 C34B

1964-current: SML Yale Classification, Hae60 +C119 (Oversize)


Cantrill's Filmnotes: SML LC Classification, PN1993 C35


Cineaste: SML LC Classification, PN1993 C55+ (Oversize)


Film Culture: SML LC Classification, PN1993 F556+ (Oversize)


Jump Cut: SML LC Classification, PN1993 J85+ (Oversize)


Millennium Film Journal: SML LC Classification, PN1993 M55


Positif: SML LC Classification, PN1993 P67 [NOTE: The Yale Library does not have 1952-1978]



Finding Articles and Reviews


NOTE: The databases give few or no citations before 1973, so you will almost certainly miss significant reviews and possibly articles if you depend only on the online tools. Be sure to look through indexes in print and other resources.


American Film Institute Catalog

SML Reference PN1998 +A43

Online catalog of every American film from 1893 to 1970. Searchable by keywords; film titles; cast, crew, and character names; subject; genre and more. Most records include extensive plot summaries and comprehensive filmographic information, plus citations to reviews and articles. See also Film Indexes Online.

Film and Television Literature Index

FTLI takes over where the Film Literature Index ends (see below). See below for further information.  By going into Advanced Search, one can search search for articles on a particular director (choose PEOPLE the field) or film title (choose the REVIEWS & PRODUCTS field). 

FIAF International Index to Film-TV

Continues: International Index to Film Periodicals. 1972- (New York: Bowker, 1973-)

SML, Reference Z5784 M9 +I58 (LC)

Indexes 65-80 international periodicals of "aesthetic or critical value." The paper version has separate volume of subject headings for this index. The online version also includes a number of specialized bibliographies (silents, Latin American cinema), and information about film archives and collections. NOTE: the FIAF database has subject headings (also called descriptors) for "Avant-garde films," Experimental Films" and "Underground Films."

Film Index International (Alexandria, VA: Chadwyck-Healey, 1994-98)

Film Index International covers all genres of film, from the first silent movies and art-house classics to recent sci-fi blockbusters. Content is very current and is updated twice yearly. FII offers Quick or Precision Search options for background on over 100,000 films from over 170 countries, including 55,000 personalities, 500,000 periodical articles on film and filmmakers, U.S. and international film award winners, and over 1 million cast and credit references. See also Film Indexes Online.

Film Indexes Online (Alexandria, VA: Chadwyck-Healey, 1994-98)

Film Indexes Online is a portal that allows one to simultaneously search both the American Film Institute Catalog and Film Index International. For descriptions of these databases, please see their entries on this page.

Film Literature Index 1974-2001 (Albany, NY: Filmdex, 1974-)

SML, Reference Z5784 M9 F55 (LC)

The print edition covers film criticism from 1974 to 2004; the online database only covers 1976-2001, and it has been succeeded by FLTI (above). FLI also covers articles on television and video (section two of the print version).  In addition to the usual types of searches, one can search search for articles on a particular person or film title.NOTE: the FLI database has subject headings for "Avant-garde," "Avant-garde film" and "Experimental Film."

Film Review Index. Ed. Patricia King Hanson. (Phoenix: Oryx Press, 1986)

SML Reference Z5784 M9 +F554 (LC)

Two-volume comprehensive index of movie reviews from 1882 through 1985.

The Hollywood Reporter

SML Microform Room, Film S3204 [1934 to 1990]

SML Stacks, PN1993 H65+ (LC) [1988 to present]


International Index to the Performing Arts

IIPA draws its current content from more than 130 international periodicals and also indexes articles and obituaries appearing in The New York Times and The Washington Post. IIPA covers nearly all aspects of the world of performing arts, including film, theater, and opera. Most IIPA records in the current file (1998 forward) contain an abstract.

MLA Bibliography (New York: Modern Language Association of America, 1921- )

SML Reference, Index Case [Z7006 M63 (LC)]

The MLA Bibliography indexes critical materials on literature, languages, linguistics, and folklore. It also includes film studies. The database provides access to citations from over 4,000 journals and series published worldwide, as well as books, essay collections, working papers, proceedings, dissertations, and bibliographies. The print volumes go back to 1921 and the database covers from 1963 to the present. The MLA Bibliography continues the Modern Language Association Annual Bibliography. For earlier volumes, check the SML Card Catalog under "Modern Language Association."

New York Times Film Reviews (New York: Arno, 1970-1998)

SML Reference, PN1995 +N49 

Photographic reprints of film reviews as they appeared in the the New York Times from 1913 to the present. The print edition has two parts. The first is a set of volumes covering 1913-1968, with a single name/title index. From 1969-1998, volumes are annual cumulations of articles. The New York Times 1980- and New York Times Historical databases also have film reviews, but they can be much harder to find.


See also: New York Times online through ProQuest, Lexis-Nexis, or Factiva.

Variety and Daily Variety 

SML Microform Room, Film S2206 [1905 to most recent microfilm reel; current issues in the Periodical Reading Room, Section X-9]  

Online sources:

  • Academic OneFile: Variety (Jan. 1997 to present) and Daily Variety (Nov. 2000 to present)
  • International Index to the Performing Arts Full Text: Variety (Aug. 2000 to present)
  • LexisNexis Academic Universe: Variety (Jul. 1993 to present) and Daily Variety (Apr. 1992 to present); or search both.
  • Factiva: Mar. 2004 to present (must search manually)

NB: Academic OneFile and IIPA have PDFs of the paper edition.  LexisNexis Academic and Factiva provide text only and do not include photos or charts.  Variety's own site at requires a paid subscription for its full resources.

Variety Film Reviews, 1907-1980. (New York: Garland, 1983-86)

LSF PN1995 +V34 1983

This 18-volume set reprints and indexes reviews from Variety. See also the Index to Motion Pictures Reviewed by Variety, 1907-1980 (above). Online full-text coverage of Variety (from 1993) and Daily Variety (from 1992) is available through the links listed under Variety, above. 

Librarian for Literature in English, Comparative Literature, and Linguistics